I can totally understand why many people are vegetarian or vegan. In particular, I can understand why they might not want to give their financial support to factory farming by eating the meat of animals raised under factory farm conditions. Similar considerations can apply to eating eggs and drinking milk - if the product was gained only at the expense of animal suffering, that seems, to me, to be a problem. Irrespective of whether we are somehow objectively bound to care about the suffering of non-human animals, I actually do care (this sentence can be ignored by everybody ... except for those few people who might want to pounce, and object, by asking me, "But, dude, aren't you some kind of moral sceptic?").
I "get" all of that, and I've read much of Peter Singer's work (for example) on animal ethics (or, rather, human ethics relating to the treatment of non-human animals). This post is, therefore, not actually about justifying the slaughter of non-human animals for food. Whether or not that can be justified in some or all circumstances is a much bigger, more general question than I'm raising here. Instead, I want to focus on a rather narrow point.
Over the last few days, I've seen quite a lot of people on Facebook sharing this article, which decries new legislation in the US that, supposedly, relaxes or ends a ban on slaughtering horses for food for human beings.
What I don't "get" is how such a species-defined ban could have been justified in the first place. If we don't ban the slaughter of bulls and cows for food, what is the justification for a ban on slaughtering horses for the same purpose ... assuming that the horses are treated no worse than the bulls or cows (which could be ensured by appropriate regulations)? Unless it's being suggested that horses are somehow more sensitive, and therefore suffer more (perhaps their greater intelligence makes them more aware of what is happening to them?), what is the relevant distinction here? No argument relating to different vulnerabilities or sensitivities is developed in the article.
It appears that the justification for treating horses and cattle differently is not based on the inherent cognitive and physiological properties (and associated vulnerabilities or sensitivities) of horses, compared to cattle. Instead, it seems to be based on the thought that the respective kinds of animals have different cultural significances in the US. But of course, the US is supposed to be a society marked by social pluralism, so why should that distinction be a factor for the law to take into account? The law should not be imposing a particular set of cultural significances merely for its own sake - at least not by means of outright prohibitions.
(As an aside, there might sometimes be justification for promoting certain cultural values through government programs that ultimately depend on taxes to underwrite them. Even if that's so, using outright bans, which leaves citizens no room to dissent in their own lives, is another matter. As with much else, I devote some discussion to this in Freedom of Religion and the Secular State.)
I confess that my stomach turns at the thought of eating horsemeat. That is simply because of the way I've been socialised. I recoiled in horror the one time I was actually offered horsemeat in a restaurant (this happened in Padua, Italy). But I don't expect the law to impose my socialised tastes on everyone else who lives in the same pluralistic society as I do (in my case, Australia, but the same would apply to the US). It's clear, moreover, that Western societies don't need laws that, in effect, ban eating horsemeat (Italy, for example, seems to get along just fine without such laws). Nor is this a situation where horses are an endangered species that we can continue to enjoy only if we take special protective measures.
So how are such laws (as opposed, say, to regulations requiring that horses which are slaughtered for food to be treated at least as humanely as cattle) to be justified?
Every time I read the article in question, it simply makes me question the rationality of the organisation concerned: the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Or if not its rationality, its intellectual honesty. The piece reads like blatant emotionally-manipulative propaganda. It could only have the effect of making me think of the organisation as less credible than I might otherwise.
By all means tell me what you think I'm missing here.