I'm still unswayed by any of the other arguments though for what it's worth.
Gelert wrote:Back to bivalves. A colleague of mine recently had a government funded research project to use mussels as indicators of ecosystem health by screening their metabolome and analyzing for biomarkers of stress or intoxication. The idea is roughly: healthy mussels = healthy ecosystem. He did this for two reasons, firstly their tendency to bioaccumulate toxins. Secondly as I've said before they are keystone species which initiate the formation of a natural habitat upon which diverse species depend.
If there was some debate about whether beavers were sentient or not, there would be strong grounds upon which not to kill them because of the attendant effects on an entire habitat comprising many unquestionably sentient species. So it is with bivalves in the aquatic habitat. Which, ocean acidification aside, is largely untouched.
Except that this is irrelevant because farming bivalves (at least as currently practiced) has little to no impact on wild bivalve populations so their position as indicators is unharmed.
At this point I will rebutt your arguments about carrots. Land based agriculture has been in existence for many centuries and its consequence is major habitat manipulation. Very few if any areas used for farming bear anything like a resemblance to their native state. The horse has bolted - centuries ago. The land is as industrialized as any factory zone.
I'm sorry but I have to completely disagree. The harm caused by conventional farming (erosion, runoff, fish death, topsoil loss, petroleum reliance, heavy carbon footprint, use of animal manure, etc etc) is ongoing and will have to change and soon if we're going to have a sustainable food supply. Humans are actually getting quite good at returning lands to something resembling their native states (search habitat reclamation for examples). Despite that, we don't need land in its native state, but we do need sustainable practices likes permaculture/forest gardening. The Permavegan blog is an asset there (this post is a good primer on why we need veganic permaculture http://permavegan.blogspot.com/2010/01/ ... unity.html)
We better hope that horse hasn't bolted, because if it has, we're all fucked.
I am very glad to see that you are one of the few vegans open to the possibility that sentience or at least related phenomena are not exclusive to the animal kingdom.
I suppose I'm open to the idea enough that if someone showed me strong evidence to that effect, I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand, but I certainly don't believe it exists. It seems strange to me that you would use the possibility of plant sentience as a reason in favor of veganism. It's true, eating farmed plants instead of animals that eat those plants is more efficient and would harm fewer sentient beings if plants were sentient. However, think of how virtuous it would be to hunt wild rhinos or gorillas. You'd be preventing the deaths of countless sentient plants.
who is to say that a flux of ions and release of salicylic acid in plants does not amount to the same thing as a flux of ions and a release of arachidonic acid in humans?
I had kind of expected you to say something about how consciousness is not uniform so the death of a more conscious creature is worth quite a lot more than the deaths of many (many) plants. Instead you went the opposite direction and tried to illustrate that plants could be just as conscious as humans! If all things are equal (ethically), then why should we eat like they're not?
I'm not convinced by your cell signaling analogy though. What is the plant equivalent of the cerebral cortex? I don't doubt that information is channeled in plants causing them to act in specific ways, but you've given me nothing to indicate how a plant could possibly have awareness of these goings on. There are thousands of chemical conversations going on in my body right now, but I'm not aware of any of them and that awareness is what matters.
On top of that, a rose is sufficiently different from a frog that you could say there are alternate biological processes at work with considerably more plausibility than you can an oyster, which does have a nervous system. It's just an extraordinarily primitive one. What possible evolutionary advantage could there be to an oyster having two parallel nervous systems- one operating how all known nervous systems operate and simultaneously, one completely foreign and undiscovered?
The trouble with sentience is that it is bandied around by many to convey whatever they want. If we settle on the best-accepted definitions it is to be able to sense your environment and be aware of it. Websters' goes further to distinguish between sentience and the ability to think.
Using that definition, most of life is sentient. There are fungal spores that can sense they have landed on a plant's leaf
Sensing and awareness are completely different things in this context. My computer keyboard can sense my finger pressure and responds by sending data to the cpu. It is not aware of my fingers in any meaningful way though.
Now if you want to deny the mussels' sentience, then I'm afraid you are willfully ignorant of what sentience means. Enhydra Lutris (and as it happens she is a scientist with an MSc and a PhD in aquatic biology and over ten years' experience in the field, so I do take her word about bivalve bothering seriously!) mussels are sentient. They sense a danger (from poking) to theirselves, they take defensive action (clamp shut) and ultimately take evasive action (by swimming away). They do this by making a decision that the danger from your poking is more significant than the danger from losing out on available resources by staying put, and so bugs out. It is exactly as sentient as taking a sip deciding a cup of tea is too hot and will scald you even on a cold day.
That fits the bill for sentience by agreed definitions. QED?
Yes, if you could prove to me that they actually made a decision rather than reacted automatically based on evolved subconscious defense mechanisms. It's possible, but I'm still not convinced that they're conscious at all, much less as conscious as an ant. If you're willing to believe reaction to disturbance is enough to indicate sentience, then the proof that insects are sentient is overwhelming and the willful consumption of produce is still harming more sentient creatures than oyster farming (provided there isn't a microbial outbreak or something). And again, plants respond to disturbance too. Are trees deciding to release alarm chemicals when they're disturbed or is that an evolved defense mechanism?
I strongly disagree with the idea that this is in any way arbitary. Firstly for the reasons shown above - bivalves are sentient.
You haven't demonstrated to me that they're more sentient than plants and you even seem half convinced that plants are sentient anyway.
Secondly, even if not, there is clear and unambiguous evidence, from traditional methods right on through to DNA and other molecular analyses that robustly place bivalves within the animal kingdom.
I'm not saying that placing them in the animal kingdom is arbitrary. I'm saying that within a system of ethics that intends to avoid harm to sentient creatures, protecting animals that are not any more (and probably less) sentient than the insects killed in the production of our plant food - that is arbitrary.
If we were having arguments about poriferans, I might be more ambivalent, but not about bivalves.
I'm guessing you'd be more ambivalent because they have no nerve cells whatsoever? But neither do plants and you were just making a case for their sentience.
I anticipate your counterargument here to be about the potential for sentience not to be exclusively animal, and while I agree that may be the case, there are many good reasons to make the distinction in the first instance.
1. Quality of evidence. The evidence base is stronger and better established for animals than other organisms and therefore the argument is better rooted
2. Pragmaticism. If everything is sentient, what do we eat? We are not well adapted to chemolithotrophy.
3. Ease of discussing the matter with non-specialists. If something is perfect in principle but impossible in practice it is still impossible. I look forward to the day when we better appreciate the amazing diversity of life on this planet for how it really is rather than how we percieve it. But that day is a long way away.
4. An argument of energy. Is this not wasted energy? As much as I enjoy this discourse, it is a luxury and a displacement activity from issues that are far more significant with regards to veganism. People get hung up about reading ingredients lists as it is.
All four of these amount to "it's easier to lump the few potentially non-sentient animals in with other animals." That is not particularly persuasive to me as to whether or not it's ethical to eat a bivalve. As Peter Singer discusses in Practical Ethics, lumping causes major ethical problems. For instance, women on average score lower than men on standardized math tests. Does that mean it's right to say that women are not as good at math as men? No, because there is a range of values on both sides and a given woman could be better at math than a randomly selected man. Evaluating cases individually and rigorously is essential to understanding and progress in many pursuits including ethics.
5. An utilitarian argument of most good. If you think plants are sentient, the best thing to do is to be vegan. You will still consume them, but by cutting out the unquestionably sentient middleman of a cow, you are being a lot more efficient in the amount of plants consumed per calorie of energy derived.
Unless you're hunting and eating wild bison or other large animals that are eating vast amounts of plants.
So it is with other resources, and there are solid arguments to be made that the environmental benefits of not consuming animals (mitigating CO2 & CH4 emission, reducing habitat destruction and water use) will benefit ALL of life.
In general, I strongly believe in the environmental benefits of veganism, especially if we ever achieve widespread veganic permaculture. However, I don't think the environmental argument works well in this instance. Algal toxins and microbial poisoning aside (yes, that's a bit of a caveat hehe), current bivalve farming techniques are far superior environmentally to conventional (or probably even organic) farming for all the reasons I've listed repeatedly. Additionally, aquaponic farming is starting to take off. An aquaponic farm that grows veggies and bivalves (using their waste as fertilizer) is pretty hard to beat for sustainability.
So, eat oysters if you will, but please, it ain't vegan
I've never had oysters, never plan to and never said they're vegan. I just don't see why we can't accept that there might be another diet that's also ethically sound.