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Home arrow Environment arrow Pets and People: The Ethics of Our Relationships with Companion Animals


I am thankful for helpful discussions with a variety of people who have engaged with me on this topic. My particular thanks go to my doctoral supervisors—David Archard and Jeremy Watkins—Christine Overall, and the participants (including Matteo Bonotti, Jens Tuider, Anne Barnhill, Jan Deckers, Chris Thompson, and Aaron Crowe) at the Political Theory and the Normative Challenges of Food Governance panel, MANCEPT Workshops 2015, University of Manchester. Thanks are also owed to Katherine Wayne, who originally got me interested in the topic of companion diets and introduced Christine to my work. Finally, I thank the Department of Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland, which provided funding for my research at Queen’s University Belfast.


  • 1. In private correspondence, Cochrane has told me that companion diet is an issue to which he has given considerable thought. Like me, he considers it an important ethico-political issue, and not simply a question of veterinary nutrition.
  • 2. Readers unhappy with this assumption should consider a world in which many products are made with slave labor. (Note that I am not making a claim about the comparative badness of slavery and animal agriculture.) We may worry about the effect that we as individuals can have on the institution of slave labor, and we might be surrounded by family and friends who happily consume the products of slavery— perhaps they talk about how it is “natural" “normal" “necessary" or “nice" to use slaves (cf. Piazza et al. 2015). Nonetheless, we would surely have an obligation to avoid the products of slavery, especially if it was easy for us to do so, and given that our abstention could convince others to refrain.

One might object that this thought experiment would only have an effect upon the current question if we held that the consumption of NHA-derived foods was just as bad as human slavery. However, the fact that we would and should continue to abstain from the products of slavery in the imagined case shows us that the stated concerns are not overridingly significant; the burden of proof would be on the person who objected to veganism to illustrate why these counterarguments were convincing for veganism but not slavery.

  • 3. I have borrowed the tripartite split of NHA dignity accounts into relational, individualist, and species-based from Federico Zuolo (2016). Hybrid positions are possible; Anderson’s account is a hybrid species-based/relational account, for example.
  • 4. Nussbaum talks ofhuman dignity, but there is no reason to think that NHA dignity is any different.
  • 5. Thanks to Anne Barnhill for this point.
  • 6. This is not a speciesist claim. Physiological differences are, here, morally relevant.
  • 7. Thanks to Chris Thompson for this observation.
  • 8. This divergence is not unique to the current problem. For example, in the UK, all medicines are tested on NHAs, so vegans face a dilemma when ill. Refusing medication cannot be the answer, but neither can we ignore the ethical demands upon us. As individuals, the best solution may be to accept medication tested on NHAs, but nonetheless demand that it does not contain NHA-derived ingredients—to minimize impact. As with companion diets, though, our moral and political obligations diverge in interesting ways; even if we are reliant on the products of vivisection, we retain an obligation to oppose it politically and socially.
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