Are Vegan Diets Unethical?

Nutrition researcher Lindsay Allen certainly found herself in the middle of a firestorm in February after numerous news reports quoted her as dismissing vegan and vegetarian diets. For example, according to the BBC, Allen said,

There’s absolutely no question that it’s unethical for parents to bring up their children as strict vegans.

That brought Allen a lot of grief from vegetarians and vegans, but Allen claimed she was misquoted. In a written response posted on VegSource.Com, Allen aid,

The news reporter ‘hyped’ my concern about vegan diets for pregnant/lactating mothers and infants/children by not adding the sentence I was emphatic they keep in, namely that vegan diets were unethical UNLESS those who practiced them were well-informed about how to add back the missing nutrients through supplements or fortified foods.

Allen’s research does have interesting things to say about the common animal rights claim that the entire world would be better off if vegetarianism were universal. Allen’s research has looked at the effect of supplementing the diets of poor Kenyan children with small amounts of meat. Previous research she participated in found that supplementing the diets of Kenyan children with meat increased plasma vitamin B-12, but had little effect on other micronutrient deficiencies.

In the research she was reporting on where she was misquoted, Allen found that children given just 60 grams of minced beef daily showed up to an 80 percent greater increase in upper-arm muscle development than a control group that was un-supplemented. Children whose diets were supplemented with milk rather than meat saw a 40 percent greater increase. Allen said of the children,

The group that received the meat supplements were more active in the playground, more talkative and playful, and showed more leadership skills.

But, of course, we see animal rights activists angered when someone dares to give people in the developing world access to animal agriculture, such as through charity Heifer International.

If anything, the main criticism of Allen’s research should be why she’s bothering to study the obvious. I wouldn’t think the hypothesis that malnourished children could be helped by supplementing their diets with meat would be considered controversial or non-obvious by anyone except the vegan and vegetarian extremists.


Kenyan school children have multiple micronutrient deficiencies, but increased plasma vitamin b-12 is the only detectable response to meat or milk supplementation. Jonathan H. Siekmann, et al, Journal of Nutrition, 133:3972S-3980S, November 2003.

UCD professor’s comments on vegan diet hotly debated. Christian Danielsen, The California Aggie, March 2, 2005.

Children ‘harmed’ by vegan diets. Michelle Roberts, The BBC, February 21, 2005.

Meat diet boosts kids’ growth. Michael Hopkins, Nature, February 22, 2005.

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