While sometimes considered indispensable for crops protection, pesticides are basically weapons of mass destruction aimed at insects and other animals that eat crops. Can food produced with the aid of pesticides still be said to be vegan, considering the deaths of animals it causes by proxy?

This question touches topics which could allow for rather opinion-based answers and so I am asking about a general consensus of sorts - for example, whether food produced with the use of pesticides can be labeled as vegan etc.

  • Food for thought: There are a lot of plants that evolved pesticidal traits themselves... – rackandboneman Apr 7 '17 at 11:04
  • @rackandboneman Well, yes, just like many animals evolved carnivore traits themselves. Is that relevant to the large-scale industrial farming and today's meat consumption standards of our species? If some plants evolved pesticidal traits then great, it is their strategy for survival, just as other plants take on a different stance and maintain their place under the sun by being a sought-after food. This is a question about dumping a couple of million of tons of chemicals on a couple of billions of insects that naturally use these plants as food every year. – Alexander Rossa Apr 7 '17 at 11:38
up vote 6 down vote accepted

general consensus...hahahahahaha ;o)

Steve

I'm afraid there will be no consensus any time soon. While food produced with pesticides kills animals in the process, it usually doesn't contain animal parts (in contrast to organic food, which may contain the odd bug or two), and would be considered vegan.

Vegan ethics & pesticide

However, many vegans choose their consumption style based on ethics (be it related to the environment or animal welfare), and won't support food produced with big amounts of pesticide (i.e. most conventionally produced food). Others may choose to be vegan based on health or taste reasons, and they wouldn't bother (except because of health concerns related to pesticides).

How unethical is pesticide use from the viewpoint of an ethically motivated vegan? Quite unethical, since not only many insects suffer and die, but also many insect-feeding animals are deprived of their original habitat (due to lack of their natural food sources), or are poisoned when eating insects that were poisoned with pesticides in the first place (bioaccumulation).

Pesticides are also harmful for humans. They pollute the ground water, and many of them are poisonous to humans. Millions of people working in agriculture, especially in the developing countries, are poisoned by pesticides in their lives, and thousands die.

Organic farming

How much better is organic farming in this respect? Considerably better, but still animals will suffer and die. Most organic regulations still allows some types of "organic" pesticides, and organic factory farming exists and makes use of them. Harvesting involves lots of mechanical processes that kill animals, ploughing kills animals, and so on. Farming in general sculpts the land and changes the habitat type. Where do we want to stop, then? Building a house kills animals. Drilling a tunnel kills moles. Driving your electric emission-free Tesla kills animals on the road. Walking kills insects. You have to make your personal choice at some point on how much impact you want to accept for yourself, and go with it.

I personally have made my peace with organic vegan food (i.e. without pesticides and synthetic or animal-based fertiliser). In German, the term "biovegan" is on the rise for this concept. I understand that I have some negative impact on the world just by continuing to live, and I find the amount that comes from my food consumption, acceptable. There are organic farms that don't use animal based fertilisers (see Can a modern diet be vegan, organic and sustainable?), and I buy from them. The farm makes for a better wildlife habitat than monocultures.

Invertebrates vs. vertebrates - is it bugging you?

Another thing anyone needs to find out for themselves is how much compassion one wants to bring towards insects and other invertebrates. This question is covered here: Can those who eat insects be considered vegetarians?

  • A plant pest, at least, is an animal that you have a reason to fight since the two of you are fighting over the food :) – rackandboneman Apr 7 '17 at 11:07
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    @Turion It doesn't matter what the article mixes up, it was an arbitrary choice among thousands, so pick your favorite. It's not US-specific, the EU standards are different but, as with the US, they limit types of pesticides but do not limit the amount used or prohibit them. The EU and US laws are similar enough that imports can be used freely with some minor conditions. AFAIK there are no countries anywhere that prohibit pesticides. – Jason C Apr 20 '17 at 13:11
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    @JasonC, thanks for the information, I've edited and hopefully improved my answer. – Turion Apr 20 '17 at 13:17
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    +1 for addressing the question whether invertebrates and insects deserve the same moral recognition. At least moral intuition strongly suggests that killing a worm and killing an ape are moral light-years apart. – henning Apr 20 '17 at 16:47
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    @JasonC the pesticides that are allowed under the relevant EU regulation for organic food are much less toxic. The most problematic one seems to be copper sulfate (ld50 450-790 mg/kg in rats). Other permitted substances include harmless stuff like pheromones, beeswax etc. On the other hand, a widely used pesticide like glyphosat (Roundup) which the WHO considers 'probably carcinogenic' is banned under this regulation. – henning Apr 20 '17 at 17:15

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