Ethics can be hard
When it comes to people challenging my veganism, there have not yet been many questions I couldn’t answer or ignore and still feel like I had a solid argument. One question that I have had difficulty providing a solid refutation to is, “What about oysters?”. I decided to do my research, and what I found was that I had no firm response for not consuming mussels. Now, at this point I know that there will be some that just stop reading, some will even share this berating me for my lack of veganism. That’s ok, you have that right but before you do, you should know that I actually don’t eat mussels as I haven’t been able to come to a definitive answer.
The question was posited by a friend of mine who is a vegetarian, mostly for environmental reasons but a vegetarian nonetheless. Initially I brushed it off as an attempt to undermine my veganism but the more I got to know him, the more I realised that this was a genuine question about ethics, morality, and environmental impact, he was engaging me on something that he himself struggles with.
Mussel farming is sustainable
The environmental impact of farming mussels is prodigious, ethical and sustainable. Some bivalves such as oysters, filter around 70 to 100 litres of water per hour. Some studies speculate that a 2D raft, 40 feet by 40 feet (12m x 12m), could filter up to five million litres per hour; to give some context that is roughly 2 Olympic sized swimming pools. Spain alone cultivates around 180,000 tonnes per year. The impacts on the environment are positive even after you take out the carbon footprint of setup. Environmentally that is probably a big green tick.
Do mussels feel pain?
Let’s look at the biology of an oyster. I use oysters as the example as they are, for the most part, the most commonly consumed bivalve. They have no brain, no central nervous system and it is unlikely that they feel pain the way that any sentient being does. That is to say that they have a nervous system that is there to detect predators and environmental changes but not for a pain response. The jury is still out on whether or not mussels feel pain. Much like Pascal’s Wager, it is probably safer to assume that they do feel pain. For me that is a little red cross.
The health issue
The health aspect could be something worth considering; the fat content is pretty average with 4.6g per 100, and 100mg of cholesterol. For those vegans that don’t get the B-12 we need, 100g of oysters offers 480% of our recommended daily intake. The same amount gives 19g of protein, even though it is animal protein which has been identified as a potential health risk.
When all cards are laid out on the table it is hard to say what the right choice is. Animal Liberation author, Peter Singer, has himself had difficulty making the ethical decision, although he describes himself as a ‘flexible vegan’ which is potentially something that stoic vegans will find a bit of a cop out.
Personally, I will continue to abstain, although the environmental impact is clearly a positive one the potential ethical and health implications are, in my opinion, not worth the risk.
“Steamed mussels. Vietnamese style” by vietnamfriendly is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Polio Vaccination Campaign in South Sudan” by un_photo is licensed under CC BY 2.0