Palm Oil: Is It Vegan?

Quite often I hear on forums, on social media and in person that foods containing palm oil are not vegan friendly. I’m not sure if this is an experience specific to me, but it certainly is a big-bear of mine and it’s also a position which seems to have gone largely unchallenged in a formal way.

I want to present the case that Palm Oil should be considered a vegan food. I present a three-part defence of the traditional view in response to what I take to be the argument put against it, and finish with a fourth pragmatic reason why we ought to consider it to be vegan too. However, I want to be clear from the beginning that this does NOT mean I believe Palm Oil to be an ethical food source, or that we shouldn’t be listening to the Anti-Palm Oil lobby when they say we should boycott it. I only want to show that it should not be seen as an additional tenant of veganism.

Before we begin, in case people are unclear about the context of the debate, I will give a brief account of the history and claims of the anti-palm oil lobby. Palm Oil refers to oil from the imaginatively named “Oil Palm”. Palm Oil is grown in tropical regions of the world, particularly Indonesia for its uses in food and to a lesser extent biofuel. Anti-Palm Oil sentiment originally came from Indigenous Indonesian people who were turfed off their land to make way for Palm Oil plantations. However the majority of the issues that the anti-palm oil lobby (and specifically of interest those who believe Palm Oil =/=Vegan) focuses on today is the devastating environmental impacts of its cultivation. For example, the WWF estimates that 300 football fields of rainforest are destroyed every hour to make way for palm oil production. (Source: Most often though, the lobby relies on use of the animals effected by this deforestation to illustrate its claims. Currently 1/3 of all Indonesian mammal species are considered critically endangered due to habitat loss at the hand of palm oil cultivation; in particular campaigners have highlighted the plight of the Orangutan as the flagship for their efforts,as well as other large mammals: the Sumatran Rhinoceros, Sun Bear, Forest Elephants and Clouded Leopards. In 2010 Greenpeace ran a campaign to stop Nestlé buying Palm Oil for its products by producing a video showing a man eating the finger of an orangutan instead of a finger of KitKat chocolate bar.

These concerns are obviously of great weight, and are very difficult to ignore. It is also not surprising with a campaign so focussed on the animal victims of palm oil production Palm Oil is often framed as a concern that can be encompassed by veganism. Again, it is not the purpose, or my intentions in this essay to dispute the claims that the palm oil industry is horrendous, nor that we should dismiss with the arguments and solutions proposed by the anti-palm oil lobby. I simply want to dispute the way it is framed as an issue for vegans.

It is therefore important to have a starting definition for veganism to use throughout this essay; for we can only hope to decide whether or not palm oil should be considered vegan if we have knowledge of what it means. The definition which I will be using is :

“Veganism is abstaining from the use of animal products, or products which require the direct and coercive use of animal labour; for ethical reasons.”

I think this simple definition nicely captures what I take to be the specific “flavour” that veganism as a philosophy has separate from other “ethical consumerism” concerns. It foremost excludes both “vegetarian” and “plant-based diets”, which are obviously similar, but distinct concepts (vegetarians are ok with eating/using some animal products provided that the animal is not killed to provide them, and “plant-based” conforms to the rules of veganism in terms of diet, but does not necessarily encompass the other concerns that vegans would have about the use of animals in say sport, or clothing production). It also captures the specific characteristic of veganism that it is a choice inspired by an ethical world view which is inconsistent with the use of animals in food, clothing and to some extent recreational purposes.

With this definition in mind, we can now begin to examine whether or not the concept of veganism travels to include palm oil. By conceptual travelling, we mean that the definition we are using for veganism can encompass abstaining from eating/using palm oil, without the meaning changing in such a way which detracts from the distinctive characteristics of the original concept. Put simply; does veganism still look like what we think veganism is, if we include as one of its tenants abstaining from Palm Oil? Is it still the same concept? I think it is fairly convincing that it does not.

The first point is fairly simple, and I believe uncontroversial. Is Palm Oil an “animal product or product which requires the direct and coercive use of animal labour”? The simple answer to this is no, it is not; palm oil is a type of vegetable oil produced from the kernels of the African Oil Palm. It’s a plant product in the same way other cooking oils like sunflower or rapeseed are; and these products are uncontroversially considered to be vegan products. Therefore, Palm Oil is vegan.

However, this is of course a strawman and unfairly misrepresents the arguments of the Palm Oil=/=Vegan camp. In order to contest this position honestly, we should consider a stronger version of the argument. For those holding the opposing view, the destructive nature of Palm Oil production, in particular the impact it has on the lives of the animals whose lives are lost in the clearing of rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations is what renders it non-vegan. The debate now becomes: “Do the unintentional animal victims of a products production make that product non-vegan”?. Can our original definition of veganism stretch to also include the unintentional animal victims as well as those whose use is intention (as in food, clothing and sport)?

To this second point, it seems we again have to answer, no. This is a more controversial point by far; saying that animal suffering is only a vegan issue when it’s intentional is surely a point to raise contention, but bear with the argument here. My issue on this point is that Palm Oil is not by any stretch of the imagination the only product that causes unintentional animal victims, by a long way. Palm Oil is just a particularly well publicised case of this, more on that later. My main point is that all crops have by-kill. Animals are unintentionally killed in the harvesting and cultivation of (to my knowledge) nearly all crops – either during the harvesting process because of the use of mechanical harvesters, or through the use of pesticides on the crops, which either kill outright, or cause ecological disruption which results in the deaths of animals further down the line. Furthermore, the problem of unintentional animal victims applies even for products which are not related to food production. If you own something made in a factory (which you do), it’s near certain that somewhere along that production process, animal products were used (for example, animal fat as a component part of glycerol used as an industrial lubricant). The sorry fact of the matter is that modern life will, at some point, despite our best efforts, make us compliant in the unnecessary death and suffering of animals.

What this means is, to prevent the concept of veganism just being a fruitless and nihilistic effort, we have to accept that it should be limited in scope. Unless you are willing to say that almost no products at all are actually vegan it seems that you are going to have to concede this point. Furthermore, it seems right that the concern of ethical veganism ought to be the intentional and unnecessary killing and exploitation of animals in the food, clothing, medical, chemical and (to a certain extent) the sport and pet industries. This seems to best fit with the specific moral “flavour” that our thinking about veganism traditionally has. In the interests of veganism having any sort of useful normative claims, its focus needs to remain steadfastly on these issues, rather than fighting an impossible battle to oppose all possible human links to animal suffering.

Of course, there is now room for a third, further point of contention where the Palm Oil=/=Vegan camp can continue to dispute. This seems to be that Palm Oil is so destructive that it needs to be considered a special case, and this warrants it being included in a definition of veganism. Again, I think this argument fails.

First of all, this is at least in part an empirical claim – it makes reference to the amount of suffering caused, and it seems likely that the reason for thinking that Palm Oil causes more suffering is perhaps because its by-kill of unintentional animal victims is higher than other product production. There is reason to be suspicious here. Finding statistics on the amounts of animal deaths caused by varying types of crop production is very hard. I am actually unaware if at the time of writing (October 2016) if any cross-comparative review of this type has ever been done. However, if we are being generous to this claim, we might believe that because rainforest is some of the most densely inhabited form of environment, and pastureland is some of the lowest, we could be safe in the belief that Palm Oil production is some of the most harmful. However, this claim seems to me to fail for two reasons, which can be determined without necessarily requiring any empirical data on actual animal death amounts.

The first response is that it is of course true that Palm Oil is not the only crop whose cultivation is responsible for the destruction of rainforest. Vegans are often the first to point out how cattle raising and the associated cultivation of feedstock causes rainforest deforestation; although this is less often framed in terms of comparative unintentional animal victims. (although perhaps it ought to be However, all manner of crops and human activities are responsible for deforestation – and these are very rarely, if ever ,considered to be non-vegan because of it. Coffee and sugar production are major causes of rainforest deforestation, but so is logging for hardwood, used to make furniture, as well as seemingly innocuous activities such as road building. I have yet to see anyone make the case that vegans should, on account of their veganism, not use roads in forests because of their unintentional animal victims.

Secondly saying Palm Oil is especially destructive shifts to the Palm Oil=/=Vegan camp to explain at what point a product becomes so destructive (causes enough unintentional animal victims) to cause it to move into the realm of special consideration as a vegan issue. This is problematic for a number of reasons. If we are to place a threshold on products, where after a certain number of victims, they are no longer vegan we move into an indeterminacy problem. It seems impossible to determine at which point the threshold for special consideration ought to exist. For example, we might say that if a product, on average, produces over 1000 unintentional victims to produce X amount of product, then we consider it to now be a vegan concern. This seems to be a neat way to divide it, but it also seems to be an incredibly arbitrary way to determine our concerns. Given (as most vegans do), that all beings with the capacity to experience suffering are worth of a special kind of moral consideration, selecting an arbitrary amount over which a product can now be considered vegan seems to relegate their interests to the kind of utilitarian calculations which these rights based arguments seek to avoid. It causes the lives of 999 victims to be rendered inconsequential. On the other hand, merely seeking to avoid being compliant in products which intentionally and necessarily cause animal suffering seems to be a much simpler and more workable way of determining what products should and shouldn’t be considered vegan. As such, I think threshold amounts of harm for determining whether Palm Oil is a special case are a spurious argument.

My final point on this particular argument that Palm Oil is a special case is simply that I am suspicious of the actual motives for concern from the Palm Oil=/=Vegan camp. It seems to me at least that the primary reason why Palm Oil has been successful in elevating itself to the position of special concern is because of the kinds of animals that are affected by deforestation in Indonesia. We mentioned this earlier, but the animals which tend to pop up in anti-palm oil campaigns are the large mammals that everyone loves and finds particularly easy to love: leopards, rhinos, elephants and orangutans. To me, this smacks of speciesism- one of the foundational principles that veganism seeks to oppose. Speciesism, as described by Peter Singer, is a belief, akin to sexism or racism that claims that some species of animals (including humans) are more morally valuable than others – without reference to any other morally valuable characteristics. The same point is often made by vegan activists to represent the disconnect people have from the animals which they love as their pets, and those which they put on their dinner plates. It’s hard to prove, but I suspect that the reason why Palm Oil draws such ire from the vegan community, when by-kill from other agriculture fails to provoke the same rage is because of the cuteness and icon status of the animals involved. The privileging the suffering of these animals because of characteristics they have which are not morally relevant (how cute they are for instance) is diametrically opposed to the underlying beliefs of veganism.

Finally, as a possible fourth point and conclusion; I worry that by subsuming issues which are undoubtable issues that “ethical consumers” should worry about like Palm Oil, into the concerns of veganism creates separate problems. Veganism is a distinct concept, which cannot and should not just be a stand in term for ethical consumerism. In the first case, as I hoped to show earlier, it loses the distinct flavour of veganism when the concept becomes associated with issues beyond the intentional suffering of animals used for food, clothing, testing and entertainment. I also suspect that it alienates support for the cause by adding additional concerns and things for people to be worried about; it adds to the myth that veganism is hard, and turns people off when they realise that they also have to abstain from an additional subset of other products which are also deemed immoral. I think a more useful understanding of what veganism entails should limit its focus firmly on the key elements of human caused animal suffering.


Tony Blair on Trial? Retroactive Legislation and Upholding Moral Standards

The day before the publication of the Chilcot review, which is expected to be a damning indictment of Tony Blair and his role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq,  Geoffrey Robertson published an article in The Guardian arguing that Jeremy Corbyn and Alex Salmond’s ambitions of putting the former Prime Minister on trial for war crimes is “fantasy”.1 This is because Tony Blair never broke the law, and an essential feature of a rule of law society is that it does not apply laws retroactively- meaning it cannot criminalise actions which were performed before the law came into effect.

In most cases this feature of legality is something we ought to be grateful for: it underlies the principle that the law exists to guide our behavior in certain beneficial ways. Our behavior cannot (in most circumstances) be guided by a law which does not exist, and therefore to prosecute us for breaking non-existent laws seems to be a grave injustice. It is clear that the law operating ex post facto is a virtue of a good legal system which we should be wary of abandoning. However, I argue that in the case of certain actions, which are not necessarily illegal, but are serious violations of other moral principles, the law ought to be able to act retroactively. This is because I believe that “the principle that law should not be applied retroactively, is less important to a good legal system, that the principle that the law (or lack there-of) should be able to shield people from the severe moral failings”. More on exactly what is meant by this later.

I originally made this argument in a long essay for Dr Christopher Bennett’s “Philosophy of Law” module at the University of Sheffield, in 2015, where it received a first class qualification. However, that essay was written with the focus on the use of retroactive legislation in trying Nazi Party leaders at the Nuremberg Trials, in Jerusalem, and subsequent trials of people complicit in the Nazi atrocities continuing until today. What follows from here is an abridged version of that essay; and therefore any hyperbole in the argument comes from the fact it was originally written with the atrocities of the Nazi party, rather than Tony Blair’s Labour government in mind. None the less, I maintain that the case for some limited use of retroactive legislation in extreme circumstances ought to be allowed.

The point that I hope to establish is that:

The principle of non-retroactivity in law is less necessary to law than the principle that law (or the lack there-of) should not be able to “shield” people from their severe moral failings.

By “shield people from their severe moral failings”, I mean that if the legal system refuses to prosecute cases such as War “Criminals” who have obviously breached moral codes in a significant way, because of the principle of non-retroactivity, then this principle protects people from being held to account for their crimes.The fact that no law existed at the time when the moral violation occurred (in this case, the invasion of Iraq) , that made such an action criminal means that the person who committed the violation is protected by the existence of legal principle from being put on trial, and going through the process we generally agree “brings people to justice”.

The idea of there being “principles” that make up/underpin the legal system comes from legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin. According to Dworkin, principles make up a necessary part of law, and fill in the gaps that hard codified law necessarily cannot always cover. Laws by nature have to be general, and it would be impossible, and probably unnecessary to codify for every possible outcome that can occur. A good example of what this looks like is the principle that: “People should not be able to benefit from their wrong doing”. This principle does not exist as a written part of law, but is accepted by judges and legal official as an important part of the intention of legal system. As principle it would prevent a murderer from inheriting money from his victim, even though codified inheritance law might not necessarily prevent this from happening. However, a judge acting under this principle could prevent this blatant injustice from happening. Legal Principles often add an element of common sense into what is often a cold and calculating way of solving social problems. I believe that given its similarity to the commonly acknowledged principle of “no benefit from wrongdoing”, we ought to recognise “not being shielded from severe moral wrong doing by other legal principles” as an existing principle of law.

Furthermore, I believe that this principle ought to be understood as having an essential role in good legal systems. This is because although criminal law, especially of the truly exceptional sort that deals with “war crimes”, makeup only a tiny part of legal system, cases like this are the most dramatic and high status of all cases. So despite their rarity it is essential that legal systems provide some kind of satisfying response to these cases. This must be true, because what use is a legal system if it does not  aim to reflect established and recognised moral codes?

Although out of fashion now within the sphere of philosophy of law, this relationship between our accepted moral standards and the legislation that governs our community is best touched upon by Natural Law Theorists. Natural Law Theory holds that unless legislation is in accordance with our moral codes, it simply is not law at all: there cannot be laws which are immoral because we can never be bound to do an immoral thing. Now, this view is justified in Natural Law Theory by its proponents belief that there are in fact objective and identifiable moral codes, bestowed on us by God, which naturally supercede any existing human institutions; but I think the basic principle is still, and ought to be applicable in a modern secular democracy. We don’t need to believe in an existent absolute, unchanging, set of moral laws to recognise that some actions are held almost universally to be wrong. (e.g The atrocities committed by the Nazis). Given this, then it stands to reason that our legal systems ought to be able to reflect this view and respond accordingly. This gives us a strong imperative to accept the principle of “not being shielded  from severe wrongdoing by the absence of relevant legislation” as an actually existing principle in our legal framework.

Specifically in the context of the Chilcot report, we might be tempted to view the findings of the report as an expert opinion on the rightness or wrongness of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and given its findings use this as the impetus to use retroactive legislation to put Tony Blair on trial using retroactive legislation. This is of course a less clear cut case than the trial of the heads of the Nazi Party put on trial at Nuremburg, and we should be very clear not to conflate them. In the latter case, the awareness of moral outrageousness of the Nazi crimes is a clear cut thing, as good as objective moral opinion as we are ever likely going to get; the Iraq War much less so. Moreover, we should also be exceptionally wary in this case of allowing a government report to speak for the moral consciousness of a nation: something which would set a very unsavory precedence. Never the less, I hope to have made a convincing case that if our legal system is to be worth its salt, then it needs to have the flexibility to bring its ability to prosecute exceptional instances of wrong doing in line with accepted moral principles.


Identifying and Deconstructing Dichotomies in “Zoopolis” and Maximizing the Agency of Animals.

In their landmark 2013 work “Zoopolis”, Kymlika and Donaldson [Here on K&D] argue for a group differentiated relational theory of obligations towards animals. What this entails is a varying sets of duties that political communities owe to different groups of animals based on their relation to the community in question. I intend to shed some light on a possible problem in Zoopolis regarding the difficulty in generalizing how animals relate to human communities and identify some possible dichotomies in K&D’s work, particularly on the intersections involving animals that K&D identify as being “Domesticated”. A close look at the types of animals that exist at these intersections may provide insight into how just future relationships with non-human animals can be constructed in a way that maximizes the ability for animals to pursue lives separate from human interference.

Brown argues that one of the key problems with group differentiated theories of rights generally (not specifically to animals) is the difficulty in identifying which groups are entities deserving of rights. [Grounding Cosmopolitanism, 2009]. For example, we might believe that indigenous communities have certain rights against the state to continue speaking their own language, continue traditional cultural practices, or to simply inhabit the spaces that they have historically inhabited. Sometimes these rights are reflected in law. However, we would probably be less likely to view youth subcultures (such as Goths, for instance) as being deserving of protective rights against the state. The problem arises out of the unclear nature of what mechanism it is that causes, or at what point an identifiable group becomes  one that is deserving of these rights.

A similar problem should be noted in how K&D identify the relational roles animals have with political communities. In Zoopolis they categorize groups of animals into three relational types: Domesticated Animals, Wild Animals [sic] and what they refer to as “Liminal Animals”. This final group includes animals that physically occupy our communities but not as domesticates. This can be rats, foxes or pigeons that we often regard as being “pests”, but also garden birds for example that we tend to encourage. As always in philosophy we should be very wary about the existence of rigid catagories and dichotomies as they often betray a simplistic understanding of what is more often than not a nuanced and difficult issue. Identifying the presence of “Liminal Animals” is one way Zoopolis attempts to avoid this. They write that:

Members of the same or related species can be found in all three categories: there are truly wild [sic] rabbits in the wilderness, for example, as well as liminal rabbits living in urban parks, and domesticated rabbits. Moreover, it is possible for animals to move along this continuum. So we have a matrix of human-animal relationships here, in which different animals show different and evolving degrees of interdependence, agency and relationships.” [Zoopolis, p.216-217].

However it is still useful, as well as interesting, to examine closer what relationships exist at the intersections of these categories. Competing definitions for “domesticated” are present in the literature. This can be broadly understood as between the biological model and the social model. The biological model of domestication argues that animals are domesticated when they have undergone significant physical divergence from their wild ancestors – for example; it is plain to see the differences between the domestic dog (in its many forms) and its natural ancestor the wolf. The same is true of the domesticated cow, and its now extinct ancestor, the auroch, often depicted in cave paintings across Europe. The alternative model, advocated by Juliet Clutton-Brock is the social model. This model understands domestication as occurring when animals have been incorporated into human social groups :

“bred in captivity for the purposes of economic profit to a human community that maintains complete mastery over its breeding, organization of territory and food supply” [The Walking Larder, p.7].

Importantly this second definition would include animals that live in zoos and circuses, but also importantly some animals that Clutton-Brock identifies as only being “Semi-Domesticated” such as Camels and Reindeer, or animals that are raised as “game birds” to be hunted and shot. These animals are incorporated into human social systems in a way that would satisfy the social criterion for domestication, while not satisfying the biological, because for the large part they remain identical to wild populations of the same species. This is important, because it changes the kinds of relationships we can have with these animals, compared to animals that have been physically altered to become dependent on human care (in varying extents) by the process of domestication.

Part of what is argued in Zoopolis is that domesticated animals have a “Right to Place” in human communities because the processes of domestication has rendered them incapable of flourishing outside of human care, and therefore a “wild” [sic] life does not provide a genuine alternative for them. This is of course, less true if the biological processes associated with domestication have not taken effect in a species. When considering just future relationships with animals; those that remain physically similar to their wild ancestors have a greater scope for a life outside of human influence and can adopt a free-living existence as a genuine alternative to life with human beings. This is especially important when looking at how in hypothetical future relationships humans can maximize the agency of animals to live a life in accordance with their individual preferences for or against human inter-species contact. Indeed, it seems likely that many of the relationships involving these kind of social but not biological domesticates began as freely chosen inter-species relationships. Clutton-Brock (and others) have suggested that Reindeer were probably attracted to human settlements by smoke from fires that aids in keeping away biting insects. This presents the first way that the dichotomy of Domesticated/Free-Living is broken down.

Another reason why we should be wary of this dichotomy comes from Gamborg, et al., in their 2010 work on De-Domestication. Their case study of Oostvaarderplassen, in the Netherlands, one of Europe’s nature restoration experiments, revealed the very real ethic and legal problems that come when animals exist at the intersections of the Domestic/Wild dichotomy. Part of the ongoing “restoration” project at Oostvaarderplassen involved using Heck Cattle and Konik Horses (back-bred breeds developed to resemble their wild ancestors) to occupy the ecological niche of Aurochs and Tarpans in post-ice age Europe. Arguably these animals satisfy neither the biological or social (they roam and breed freely in the nature preserve with no supplemental feeding) models of domestication; however they exist in a legal grey area in terms of legislation on animal health and welfare. Although these animals resemble free-living animals and act how we expect free-living animals to act, including exhibiting behaviors that are characteristic of free-living and not domesticated populations such as synchronized births and swimming, they:

seem to continue to fall under regulations covering farm animals, requiring the identification of individual animals, the killing of animals in slaughterhouses, the protection of animal welfare and the monitoring of animal disease”. [De-Domestication, p.67].

This legal issue has caused problems for the management of Oostvaaarderplassen who want to maintain the park in as natural state as possible and minimize human goings on in the animal populations. However it also touches on the different ethic status we usually afford to domesticated and free-living animal populations. When we think about the treatment of domesticated animals, either on farms or as companion animals in our homes, this is usually presented as an individualist consideration. The language that is employed revolves around “welfare” or “well-being”. What matters in these cases is how the life of an individual farm or companion animal is going: are they getting enough water, food, space? Are they being maltreated? Are they sick? The concern is directed towards the individual needs of a specific animal.At the other end of the scale the prevailing way to evaluate the well being of free-living animals tend to ignore the individual concerns of animals and focus instead in maintaining populations of animals, or often in modern conservation keeping an environment or habitat in a certain state. In these cases the moral obligations to individual animals is of secondary importance to other concerns of maintaining the “naturalness” of an environment or sustaining certain population dynamics.* In the case of De-Domesticated animals, ethical problems are certainly raised when embarking on nature restoration projects that involve this special group of animals when releasing formerly domesticated animals into minimally managed parkland leads to sacrificing the individual welfare of the animals.However, as I have briefly mentioned above, when imaging just future relationships with domesticated animals, de-domestication could provide a way to increases their ability to pursue lives away from human communities. Although we might worry that human interference in the breeding of domesticated animals is an unacceptable infringement on their rights in a way that would not be permissible in a hypothetical just future relationship.

This idea is brought up in Zoopolis briefly when K&D discuss Feral Animals. Feral Animals are formerly domesticated animals that have (usually through human mistreatment) escaped direct human control – although often their populations, especially in urban areas are managed by humans through either catch-neuter-release programs or violent strategies. In many cases, feral animals are unlikely to survive outside of human care, and so K&D propose that the right answer in these situations is returning them to the original state of domestication. [Zoopolis, pp.224-225]. However they are clear this is not always true, as many feral animals are either truly “re-wilded” [sic] or have flourishing relationships in symbiosis with human settlements; in which case returning them to their pre-feral state would seem to be profoundly unjust. K&D importantly recognize that like de-domesticated animals this process has a role in increasing the agency of domesticated animals. They write:

Feral animals may provide a unique window for understanding domesticated animals and a possible future relationship between humans and domesticated animals in which animals exercise greater agency and independence in establishing the terms of their relationships with us.” [Zoopolis, p.226].

Feral Animals present a further way in which the Domestic/Free-Living Dichotomy is broken down. However what is not discussed in Zoopolis is under what terms this process should be allowed to happen, if at all. K&D recognize that often animals come to be feral because of some wrong-doing or lack of care on the human part to begin with. Furthermore, they also note that for many animals, often due to the biological processes (that promote dependency on humans) of domestication, are unsuited to life outside of human care: in these cases feralization can hardly be seen as constituting either a flourishing life or a genuine alternative to domestication. What remains to be seen is whether or not this would be more or less permissible than some kind of de-domestication project that aimed to maximize the agency of formerly domesticated animals.

Also important to consider is how de-domesticated animals interact with other free-living species.  The impact of feral animals and introduced exotic animals (Invasive Species) on “natural ecosystems” may be problematic for K&D who in Zoopolis advocate a sovereignty for Wild Animals [sic] over the spaces they inhabit. While often portrayed as being devastating to local ecosystems (and they often can be) the effect of this tend to vary wildly and there are many examples of species becoming integrated into the “natural” environment with little to no adverse effect. K&D do believe that the sovereignty rights of animals in the release zone for exotic animal are breached, [Zoopolis, p.224] but they are unclear on whether feral animals that move into these areas after either escaping, being released, or being de-domesticated and opting out of human relations, should be seen in the same way.

This essay is not intended to present arguments against K&D’s conclusions in Zoopolis, however it does hopefully shed some light on and raise questions about how animals at the intersection of the domesticated/free-living dichotomy should be seen. It is possible that animals at the intersections of the Wild/Free-Living divide can inform us on how to maximize autonomy for animals in hypothetical future relations, although how this can be done in a manner that respects the rights of other animals remains to be seen.

(*1: For proper discussion of the exact relationship between individual animal welfare and conservation, see Jamieson, 1995 and Norton, 1995 or for and attempt to marry these concerns see Swart, 2005.)