The Vegan Society is interested in working with local communities, governments, development agencies, businesses, academics and others to find sustainable local transport and agricultural solutions to dependence on draught animals.
The following article provides further discussion on this subject:
Veganism and ‘draught animals’
By Dr Matthew Cole
There are many issues on which non-vegans attempt to catch us out and expose the ‘impossibility’ of living a purely vegan life. Many of us have experienced accusatory looks at our non-leather footwear or disbelief that we can be sure that our tipple of choice hasn’t been tainted with isinglass finings. The motivation behind these inquisitions into supposed vegan hypocrisy is usually a way of deflecting attention from the discomfort that non-vegans feel about their own exploitative relationships with non-human animals.
However, there are some areas where the vegan goal of ending all forms of exploitation of non-human animals is difficult to achieve in practice. It is in acknowledgement of this that the Vegan Society defines veganism as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose” (emphasis added).1 One such example is the use of non-human animals as means of agricultural labour and transportation in the developing world, so-called ‘draught animals’.
Most human societies, including the UK, have long histories of dependence on other animals, including ‘draught animals’. The Vegan Society works tirelessly to untangle the deeply embedded patterns of non-human animal exploitation in the UK. While other animals are less often exploited for their labour power in the UK today, there remain instances where it is extremely difficult to avoid involvement in the suffering or killing of other animals, and where it is more difficult for vegan ethics to have an immediate effect in alleviating that suffering. For example, vegans and non-vegans alike rely on roads for personal transport and/or delivery of goods and services in the UK, which entail the death and injury of millions of non-human animals every year.2
However, these problems do not negate the efforts of vegans to avoid animal exploitation in other areas, such as choice of diet, clothing, toiletries or cosmetics. The goal of living a life that does not cause any suffering to others is very probably impossible to achieve. But that does not give us the right to carelessly act cruelly or exploitatively to others when we do have a choice. In most cases, we most definitely do have that choice to act compassionately.
The use of ‘draught animals’ is no exception to these general principles, and the fact that there may be difficulties in ending the use of ‘draught animals’ does not undermine the ethical force of veganism. The challenge is to research and provide sustainable development solutions that minimise the use of ‘draught animals’, with a long-term goal to end human dependence on them.
But what of the immediate situation, where millions of human beings, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America, are currently dependent for their subsistence on the labour power of other animals? 4, 5, 6 An analogy might be drawn with philosopher Michael Allen Fox’s argument that exceptions to the moral obligation of dietary vegetarianism can be made if, and only if, there is an unambiguous practical dependence on the use of non-human animals for subsistence. Fox’s argument rests on the contention that “while humans may have no greater right to live than members of any other species, they also have no lesser right to live”.3 The proportion of the human population currently living in situations of this kind is relatively small - Fox gives examples of the nomadic Nenets of Arctic Russia and Inuits living in the far north of Canada.
In the case of ‘draught animals’ it can similarly be argued that exceptions to the principle of non-exploitation of other animals can be made if, and only if, no viable alternatives exist to their use for human subsistence. However, the difficulty of the present problems does not absolve us from the moral responsibility to seek solutions in the long term, which can benefit human and non-human animals alike.
Therefore, The Vegan Society is interested in working with local communities, governments, development agencies, businesses, academics and others to find sustainable local transport and agricultural solutions to dependence on ‘draught animals’ and plans to do this over the coming year when our theme will be Global Food Security: highlighting the benefits of the vegan diet and livestock-free farming to overcome world hunger and provide future food security.
1. Memorandum of Association of The Vegan Society, Articles of Association (accessed 10 November 2008)
2."Neither the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency nor English Nature keeps statistics, but the conservative estimate is that at least 10 million birds and mammals are killed on our roads each year.” Source: Prince R. Roadkill: One from the road The Independent 7 September 2006 http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/roadkill-one-from-the-road-414972.html(accessed 28 April 2009)
3. Fox, MA. Deep Vegetarianism, Philadelphia: Temple University Press; 1999, p.160
4.Draught animals, “still play a vital role in many farming systems especially on smaller and poorer farms.” Source: Lawrence, PR. and Pearson, RA. Use of draught animal power on small mixed farms in Asia. Agricultural Systems 2008, 71(1-2): 99-110, p.99
5.“Without draught animals, many African farmers have no means of transport or power to pull heavy ploughs. They continue to till the land with hand hoes.” Source: Okhoya, N. Eradicating tsetse flies from Africa. Africa Recovery 2003; 17(1): 17 http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/vol17no1/171agri3.htm (accessed 28 April 2009
6. Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh Draught Animal News 2005; 43: 1-37 http://www.link.vet.ed.ac.uk/ctvm/Research/DAPR/draught%20animal%20news/Issue%2043/DAN43%20final%20screen.pdf (accessed 28 April 2009)