Birth Defects: Vegan Diet or Just Not Enough B-12?

Dear Colleagues:

I read an article in today’s Telegraph, a British newspaper. The title of the article is Vegan diet increases the risk of birth defects, scientists warn. The subtitle of the article is: “Women who are strict vegetarians or vegans may be [at] greater risk of having a child with birth defects because they are likely to be deficient in vitamin B12, researchers warned.” The article discusses a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

But apart from the title and subtitle of the article, there is no further mention of veganism or vegetarianism.

So I went to my university library site to download the article but it was not yet available as the issue in which the article appears has just come out. But I was able to find the abstract of the article on line.

Interestingly, the abstract does not even contain the word “vegan” or “vegetarian.” The words “vegan” and “vegetarian” do not appear in the list of key words describing the author.

We will have to wait to see what the actual article says but unless the authors did a poor job describing their article in the abstract (and that may well be the case), it appears as though the study only shows a correlation between low B-12 levels and certain birth defects and does not focus on vegan diets and B-12. As a general matter, and as the Telegraph article states, women are advised to ensure that folate levels are adequate during pregnancy to protect against these birth defects. The journal article does not appear to be an indictment of a vegan diet; rather, it appears to make the claim that adequate levels of B-12 may further reduce the risk of these birth defects.

All vegans know (or should know) to be careful about ensuring adequate B-12. This can be done in myriad ways, including eating certain foods that have or that are enriched with B-12. Women who are pregnant, whether they are vegan or not, have to be conscientious about their folate levels and, if this study is correct, about their B-12 levels. Vegans need to be concerned about ensuring that they get their B-12 from their plant sources just as eaters of animal products have to make sure that they get an adequate supply from flesh sources. It is, however, irresponsible to suggest in any case that vegan diets are correlated with birth defects.

A vegan diet can surely present health problems. I would imagine that if someone ate nothing but brussel sprouts every day three times a day, that person would suffer ill effects. But so would someone who ate nothing but steak every day three times a day.

It is inadequate nutrition and not a vegan diet that is correlated with birth defects.

For those who claim that a vegan diet is not “natural” because vegans have to be concerned about B-12, please remember that everyone has to be concerned about B-12 and must consume some food to get that B-12. I consume nutritional yeast; carnivores consume meat. To say that yeast is less “natural” than meat begs the question.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

More Translations of Abolition Pamphlet

Dear Colleagues:

We are very pleased to make available four new translations of our Abolitionist Pamphlet: in Dutch, Greek, Japanese, and Norwegian. They are provided in U.S. Letter and A4 formats.

You can download the Dutch version here: Letter | A4

You can download the Greek version here: Letter | A4

You can download the Japanese version here: Letter | A4

You can download the Norwegian version here: Letter | A4

Thanks to all of our marvelous translators who have worked very hard to help disseminate the abolitionist approach in their native languages.

More translations are coming soon!

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

Happy Meat and Sexism

Dear Colleagues:

Two things came to my attention this morning that really speak volumes about the very sad state of what is referred to as the “animal protection movement.”

The first item is an article from The Times of London. The writer, Tessa Williams, proclaims that after 25 years as a vegetarian, she is now eating meat again. She points out that she is “not the only staunch veggie to give up a lifetime devotion to pulses and tofu in the past year. The Food Standards Agency in Britain states that the number of people eating a partly or completely veggie diet fell from 9 per cent in 2007 to 7 per cent in 2008.”

The reason for Williams’ return to meat:

I see my decision to return to meat as part of a bigger change in Britain’s food culture. We’ve shifted away from the old-school “meat is murder” approach, and now well-sourced meat is seen as healthy and natural.

We’ve been swayed by Jamie, Hugh and Gordon. They seem to love animals, yet have no trouble killing well- brought up specimens and putting them in a pie.

Recent advances in food labelling have also made it easier to understand where our meat is from, and how it is raised. The Soil Association stamp means that animals have been reared under strict organic guidelines on welfare. Guilty former vegetarians are also reassured by Freedom Food labels, which guarantee that animals have been kept in RSPCA-approved conditions.

Moving to the country also changed my outlook. I now live near a village butcher, who rears much of the meat he sells. I can see his happy pigs snuffling in their field from my office window. And I walk past his cows and sheep every day. Their journey to his shop window, via the abattoir, is shorter than my school run.

The article ends with a section prividing step-by-step instructions on “how to be a born-again carnivore.”

This is where the happy meat/animal products movement is leading. And it is certainly not confined to Britain. In the United States, animal protection organizations promote initiatives such as California’s Proposition 2, which will do nothing to help animals but will falsely reassure humans that animals are being given significantly improved “humane” protection.

The underlying premise of the modern “animal protection” movement is that it is acceptable for humans to use animals as long as they are treated “humanely.” Those who support this position may want better treatment than the welfarists of the 1940s or 1950s sought, but the principle is the same: use does not matter; only treatment does. That is a fundamental difference between the abolitionist approach and the approach adopted by the large new-welfarist organizations. The abolitionist position rejects all animal use and sees creative, nonviolent vegan education as the primary strategy to employ.

The second item involves NBC refusing to air PETA’s Veggie Love ad during this year’s Super Bowl because the ad, which has models in various stages of undress caressing themselves and otherwise using vegetables in suggestive ways and claims that “vegetarians have better sex,” is too sexually explicit.

It is unclear to me why PETA and those who think that this sort of thing is acceptable do not recognize that sexism and speciesism are very closely linked. As long as we continue to commodify women, we will continue to commodify nonhumans. Sexism is not only inherently objectionable; it is a most ineffective way to increase consciousness about nonhumans. PETA has been promoting its sexist anti-fur campaign for about 20 years now. Has it had any effect? The fur industry is stronger than it has ever been.

Moreover, Super Bowl ads cost a great deal of money. Putting aside the other issues raised by this ad, how can anyone think that this is a good use of money? How can PETA be killing 85% of the animals it rescues when it apparently has money to waste to make and market ads of naked women licking pumpkins and appearing to masturbate with vegetables?

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that groups like PETA, HSUS, and the other corporate welfare groups do not think that they are doing the right thing. Indeed, I am quite sure that they think that they are. It is my view that they are in error.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

I Will Emerge Soon!

Dear Colleagues:

I apologize for not publishing new blog essays recently but I am at work trying to finish a new book on animal rights vs. animal welfare. The book, which will be published by Columbia University Press, will be in a “debate” style and will be co-authored with Professor Robert Garner, who is the foremost defender of animal welfare theory.

I hope to resume blogging soon. Stay tuned and in this hiatus, be sure to take a look at the other materials on this site, including our video page, which presents various aspects of abolitionist theory in a way that I hope is accessible to all.

Gary L. Francione