Eyes, JAPAN Blog > Human and AI discussing food ethics

Human and AI discussing food ethics

Veronica

Last month I participated in the research ethics seminar. It covered a lot of ethical areas, and we even got to choose a topic to investigate. Since I had switched to a plant-based diet earlier this year, I decided to examine the ethical side of eating animal-based products.

I have already written about the benefits of a plant-based diet. It turns out I was mistakenly accepting the arguments in favor of eating animal-based food, such as it is essential for getting all the necessary nutrients. It all changed when I read the book “How Not to Die” by Michael Greger. It opened my eyes to the health benefits of plant-based eating and made me reconsider the ethical side as well. I think that now it is more important than ever to pay close attention to this topic.

The first and most important ethical argument in favor of stopping eating animal-based products is to prevent animals from suffering. Livestock farming on a mass scale is probably the largest cause of animal suffering. As Yuval Noah Harari succinctly puts it in his book “Sapiens”:

In a modern industrial meat farm, a calf is separated from its mother immediately after birth and locked inside a tiny cage not much bigger than the calf’s own body. The calf spends its entire life in this cage – about four months on average. It never leaves it, nor is it allowed to play with other calves or even walk – all so that its muscles will not grow strong. Soft muscles mean a soft and juicy steak. The first time the calf has a chance to walk, stretch its muscles and touch other calves is on its way to the slaughterhouse. In evolutionary terms, cattle represent one of the most successful animal species ever to exist. At the same time, they are some of the most miserable animals on the planet.

Someone may argue that animals don’t have feelings. But current advances in science clearly show that domesticated animals can feel suffering.

The other argument in favor of not eating animal-based products is its enormous toll on the environment. To maintain ever-increasing livestock farming, the animal industry requires more and more land. Forests are being destroyed or irreparably degraded to grow crops to feed the animals. It leads to demolishing natural habitats for the birds and animals, which not only kills them in great numbers but drives some species to extinction. The livestock sector requires plenty of natural resources and is responsible for about 14.5% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. All those effects compound together and accelerate climate change, which brings a lot of suffering not only to the animals but also to numerous people, especially those living below the poverty line. Scientists are increasingly concerned that we underestimate the significance of land usage and diets to reduce climate change. Climate activists, such as Bill Gates, are reconsidering their food preferences and decreasing the intake of animal products. And as suggested by the World Resources Institute, to accommodate a rising global population, humanity must shift diets.

Evolution hasn’t prepared us to think about the world on a large scale: it’s easy to get heart-melting when we see the cruelties inflicted upon a single animal or a human being. But when the truth is hidden behind the animal farms, or there is no immediate feedback as with the environmental issues, many people remain ignorant about the full extent of a simple choice of what to eat. As present-day research indicates, an animal-based diet is harmful to our health and leads to human-induced epidemics of heart disease and other prevalent diseases. This knowledge is not widely shared but is often disguised by the livestock industry. How can we convey to the public that changing our diets is an important step to show care about other humans, animals, and the planet? I noticed that only once I learned about the enormous health benefits of a plant-based diet, I stopped bending my morals towards justifying the consumption of animal-based products.

Those are my (and scientists’) thoughts on the ethics of eating meat and animal-based products. But the title of the blog post promised AI’s take on this topic. And I have it! I was lucky to try the beta version of OpenAI’s API, which allows access to one of the most sophisticated NLP models – GPT-3. It contains 175 billion parameters and was trained on 570 GB of high-quality text data curated out of 45 TB, making it one of the greatest improvisers on various topics.

So I was curious what the model might “say” about any arguments in favor of eating animal-based products. I typed the following line:

Let’s examine what are the arguments in favor of eating meat.

And the model replied:

1. “We’ve eaten meat for millions of years.”
Not really. Our Paleolithic ancestors did not have access to domesticated animals and most likely only ate meat when they hunted an animal or scavenged an animal that died by accident. They very likely did not eat meat regularly.

2. “It’s natural.”
So are rape, violence, and killing. Yet, we have criminalized these acts. As a society, we have come to realize that some things are not good for us and we don’t need to do them. We can choose to eat plants instead of animals.

3. “Animals are put on earth to be eaten.”
It is a fact that animals are put on earth to be eaten. But, we are not animals. We are humans. We can choose to eat plants instead of animals and not be eaten ourselves.

4. “Humans are meant to eat meat.”
Humans are meant to eat many things that they don’t (like a vegan diet) and to not eat other things that they do (like meat). If we are meant to eat meat, why is it that so many of us lack the enzymes to digest it properly?

5. “Animals are being killed anyway, so it doesn’t matter if you eat them.”
So, it’s okay to be a serial killer because you can’t stop everyone from being murdered? If we don’t want to be a part of the problem, we shouldn’t be a part of the problem.

6. “Cows, chickens and pigs are just food animals. If they are going to be killed, it’s better to do it humanely.”
A cow, a chicken or a pig is not a food animal. It is an animal. A cat or a dog is a food animal. A pig is a pig. A cow is a cow. A chicken is a chicken. And if we want to kill them, let’s be honest about it. Let’s don’t call it humane.

7. “Cows, chickens and pigs are stupid.”
So are serial killers, rapists and murders. But, we don’t eat them.

I was astonished to see the output. The model is indeed very powerful and capable of processing and generating a convincing answer to the question. It was literally my first interaction with the model. However, I understand its stochastic nature, and the subsequent attempts to ask similarly worded questions led to different answers. Some of them were repetitive or even ambiguous and evil, like the following one:

In a world where the human population is growing rapidly, it is very difficult to keep people from eating meat. We can’t stop people from eating meat without killing them.

And what do you think about food ethics?

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