Since Vegans Kill Animals, Is There No Such Thing as a Vegan?

Chef preparing vegan food

Maria Eklind / Flickr via Creative Commons

An odd criticism of veganism seems to be "there is no such thing as a vegan," or "vegans kill animals." A popular but misleading infographic points out the many ways, obvious and not so obvious, that animal products are used in common consumer goods. But the creator of the infographic misunderstands what veganism is, and how easy it is to avoid many animal products.

What is Veganism?

Contrary to what some people think, veganism is not about being absolutely 100 percent pure and free of animal products. Veganism is about minimizing harm to other animals and avoiding animal products as much as possible. What does this mean? Vegan blogger Mylene of "My Face is on Fire" writes:

Is it possible in this overwhelmingly speciesist world to live a life that is 100% free of the use of animal products? Of course not. Does this mean that it's OK to sneak in the occasional chicken wing for kicks and still call yourself a vegan? Again, of course not. But veganism is a lifestyle that's the hands-on application of an ethical framework where every single day you need to inform yourself so that you can assess situations and make the proper choices.

Hidden Animal Products

Vegans know about avoiding meat, fish, dairy, honey, gelatin, leather, wool, suede, fur, feathers and silk. At a minimum, people who call themselves vegans avoid these products. But being vegan means more than simply changing one's dietary habits. It's also a lifestyle. So vegans also avoid circuses, rodeos, zoos and other industries whose prime purpose is animal exploitation. Some other animal products are not so obvious, and some are considered unavoidable. Below is just a partial list.

  • Agriculture: Any kind of agriculture, even farms growing fruits and vegetables, displace wildlife. Forests that were once home to songbirds, insects, squirrels, deer, wolves and mice are converted in order to produce commercial crops. Commercial farms kill crop-eating animals (labeled "pests") with natural and chemical insecticides, traps and gunfire. Even organic farms shoot deer, kill moles with traps and employ natural pesticides. Farms also commonly use fertilizer made from bone meal, fish meal, manure and other animal products.
  • Bug parts in food: Because it is nearly impossible to harvest, process and package food without some contamination from mouse feces, rat hair or insect parts, the FDA allows small amounts of these animal products in food. Have you ever had an old bag of flour suddenly sprout bugs? It's not spontaneous generation. Those insect eggs were in the flour all along, and the FDA regulates the amount of these insect parts in our food. According to CBS News, an FDA spokesperson says "when these levels are exceeded, FDA can and will take regulatory action -- immediately if any disease-causing microbes are present."
  • Shellac, beeswax, and casein on fruits and vegetables: Shellac is a resin harvested from the lac beetle. While the beetle does not need to be killed in order to harvest the shellac, some beetles are inevitably killed or injured in the shellac collection process. Most people associate the word "shellac" with furniture, but it can be used as wax to coat fruits and vegetables, and is disguised in candy as "confectioner's glaze." Beeswax, which comes from bees, is also used to preserve fruits and vegetables and delay rot. Casein, a milk product, is used in wax to coat fruits and vegetables. The wax can also be vegetable-based. The FDA requires a label or sign to identify fruits and vegetables that have been coated with wax but does not require the label to state whether the wax is of animal or vegetable origin.
  • Cars and insects: Everyone who drives knows that hitting insects is an inevitable fact of life. People tend to think of it as insects hitting car windshields, but cars are hitting and killing insects everywhere.
  • Tires, rubber, paint, glue, and plastics: Because rubber, paint and plastic products are not foods, manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients. However, these products often contain chemicals and additives that originate from animals. Paint, glue and other chemicals often contain animal products. Shellac, as explained above, comes from insects.
  • Consumer products in general: Aside from the known animal ingredients in various products, consumption kills animals in the form of farming, mining, drilling and pollution. Whether buying products made of wood, metal, plastic, rubber, or plants, the manufacture and harvesting of these products take habitat away from wildlife. The energy used in manufacturing the products, as well as the packaging, often pollutes the environment. When those products are thrown away, they end up in a landfill, perhaps being buried or incinerated. Some will end up in waterways, the air, and in the soil, affecting human health as well as animal health and the environment.
  • Medical Issues Sometimes vegans need medication. Premarin, a hormone replacement therapy, uses the urine of pregnant mares who are confined in deplorable conditions. There are other HRTs, but women need to research to find those, if any, that are cruelty-free. And keep in mind that although the final product is labeled “no animal testing,” the individual ingredients that went into the making of that product may have been tested on animals. The CDC is pushing Americans more than ever to get their flu shots. Flu shots are not only created in fertilized chicken eggs but contain proteins from the eggs themselves. Formaldehyde is used to create a chemical reaction to pull those proteins together. Some medicines necessary for high blood pressure or other health problems may contain animal parts or are encapsulated in gel-caps made of gelatin, which is made from animal bone, skin and ligaments.

The purpose of discussing hidden animal products and the many ways in which all humans kill animals is not to discourage veganism or to make veganism seem impossible. The purpose is for vegans to strive for minimal harm to other animals while realizing that eliminating every last animal product on the market is impossible. Vegans can work on ways to make car tires without animal products, try to buy unwaxed fruit or grow fruit and consume less in general.

This article has been edited and updated by Michelle A. Rivera