The animals we love and eat, ethical questions, and Jane Goodall


We feel more empathy for our pets, which have names, feelings and personalities, than for the animals we eat; even though once they all used to live together on family-run farms and were all treated the same way. How and when did our reserves of empathy get polarized to create this abyss? In honor of Jane Goodall, soon to celebrate her ninetieth birthday, and her mission of a good world for all, I wanted to share a few thoughts on animal ethics. 

By Kathelijne Bonne.

All animals are noble in their own way and how we treat them defines our humanity. (KB)
All animals are noble in their own way and how we treat them defines our humanity. (KB)

Could it be the massifying of everything that has caused this gaping abyss to open up? Everything is being globalized and swinging out of control on a massive scale, under the guise of an economy that must grow, while traceability and transparency go down the drain.

The same is true for all branches of industry in which animals are involved. From cod to cow, salmon to sow, chicken to chimpanzee.

Today, millions of farm animals – who are sentient beings just like our pets – live degrading lives in factory farms, conveniently out of sight, like prisoners in concentration camps. They are kept in small, barren cages, where they are raised to slaughter age as quickly as possible, fed on fodder from developing countries with little respect for nature, lax standards and underpaid workers. As the idea of this industrial system has now long been engrained in our brains as 'normal', the connection that once existed between our capacity to feel compassion and the suffering of these animals, is broken. 

Due to this broken relationship, we not only close our eyes for the suffering but have allowed that the mind-boggling number of farm animals alive today has expanded to such an extent that their very existence destroys the environment and affects the climate.

Inherently cruel

Animal factories are inherently cruel, Jane Goodall argues in her recent Essay on factory farms, co-authored with Belgian ethicist Koen Margodt. We will all benefit, they conclude, from putting an end to factory farms; human, animal and environment.

For if we allow this massive suffering, how are we, the self-proclaimed 'wise man' or Homo sapiens, any more than beings deprived of any compassion and wisdom?

Besides being unable to conduct normal behaviour and being locked in cages, the factory animals undergo other forms of abuse and cruelty. There is a lot of information about that on the internet, and there are brave photographers and journalists recording it. I have decided not to reproduce details of those atrocities.

A living being with feelings and personality. It looks at the camera, out of curiosity, playfulness, hunger?
A living being with feelings and personality. It looks at the camera, out of curiosity, playfulness, hunger?

The entire modern animal-based industries, which have caused the ordinary consumer to become dislodged from the origin of his or her food, symbolize the downfall of our own humanity, in which human workers are treated like beasts, and beasts like objects.

The massive environmental impact is no longer a secret, and fortunately many people and organizations are denouncing the ethical cost, such as the Jane Goodall Institute, and Jane herself.

Until I die


Jane Goodall, one of the few people in the world with titles Dame and Doctor, will turn 90 on 3 April 2024 which will be celebrated extensively. Long ago, she replied in a TV show to the question: how long are you going to be involved with the chimpanzees (and their fate)? 'Until I die', she replied, 'but I don't know when that will be'. Now decades later, she is as active as ever, and a growing number of dedicated people walk the trail she blazed. I won't dwell on the details of her persona here (more on that in the blog post on when I met her in 2022). She'd want us to focus on her mission, which is to create a world where animals, people and nature live together in harmony. To eat less meat is one of the least complicated things we can do to reduce our environmental and ethical impacts.

This too is an animal. Showing off dead animals has something disconcerting and degrading (photo: Pexels).
This too is an animal. Showing off dead animals has something disconcerting and degrading (photo: Pexels).

Three hearts 

Besides pets, which have names and personalities, and factory animals, which are anonymous instruments on a conveyor belt, there is a third group of animals, which are experienced differently, the charismatic wild animals we know from documentaries. They are either extremely cute, formidable or strange, like pangolins, whales, or sloths. They all have something that makes them attractive for trade and enrichment. But with their charisma, they strike a sensitive chord and it is more common to protect the special species and find them endearing than cows, pigs, chickens, tuna, salmon, etc.

For example, a petition is circulating to ban an octopus breeding facility in the Canary Islands. Thanks to the documentary My Octopus Teacher, common mortals now also know how intelligent, cunning and sweet this creature with three hearts can be, how much pain and pleasure it can feel, and how it sometimes plays with fish.

Philippine pangolin, endangered because its scales are thought to be healing in Asia (Photo: Shukran888 / Wikipedia)
Philippine pangolin, endangered because its scales are thought to be healing in Asia (Photo: Shukran888 / Wikipedia)


Chickens (there are sixty billion of them), only rise from the treacherous quicksand of industrial anonymity when we keep them as pets. For example, we had two beautiful brown hens at home that were much loved by my nephews. One died and the remaining one, Tokkie, became the darling of one of the brothers. When she too went missing and died, she was deeply mourned. But Tokkie was among the lucky ones. She was allowed to roam freely out in the open. Most chickens don't know the 'out in the open' exists at all.

Chickens are individuals with personalities.
Chickens are individuals with personalities.

A major pillar in the work of the Jane Goodall Institute is advocacy against cruelty to animals. Through my volunteer work for the JGI, I am increasingly exposed to material on animal ethics, like the earlier mentioned essay on factory farms, and the enormous efforts being made to alleviate animal suffering worldwide and stop cruelty to animals. Such as shedding light on the plight of chimpanzees and other primates in the illegal trade and as test animals in laboratories, to the plea to return all captive cetaceans to the ocean. For example, one day I hope to hear that Yulka and Kylu, the belugas at Oceanografic in Valencia, will be returned to the sea, just as Little White and Little Grey were flown back to arctic waters by airplane.

No petting zoo

The cozy word farm evokes images of friendly farmers, pitchfork in hand and wearing muddy boots, busying amongst the pigs and cows they know by name. The origins of our food are presented as friendly, bucolic places (I can't help thinking of the disarmingly smiling sea captain printed on boxes of fishsticks), yet most modern farms are no petting zoos. Most of the animal protein on our dishes comes from factory farms. Should we visit there for a day, our highly sensitive souls and pampered hearts would suffer permanent damage. Nor is that surprising. If you ask Jane what she thinks of when she thinks of the conditions in factory farms, her answer consists of three words:

Pain. Fear. Death.

Cultivated meat in Italy

Italy wants to ban the production of cultivated meat, although it could be a solution to reduce the ethical and climate impact of the regular meat industry. As in everything, the opponents of cultured meat are motivated primarily by personal interests and enrichment. But they explain their motives as cultural, for health and for preserving the "virtuous relationship between earth and man". But that relationship has long since ceased to be virtuous, the earth does not interest them one bit as obvious in the Gulf of Naples where a volcano of single-use plastic is erupting, and for public health it would be better to eat less meat anyway.

Noble animals

A few last thoughts on horses, which today are sport, show and recreational animals or status symbols. The multi-million-dollar individuals among the Equidae are receiving deluxe treatments that they do not really benefit from, such as supposed superfoods and airplane travel, while a multitude of other horses and donkeys suffer neglect. Expensive breeding stallions don't necessarily have more flirting fun than their cousins in the wild. Mating is a high-tech affair with an immobilized and harnessed mare or a dummy and without any kind of natural courtship. A champion mare will never have a foal by her side, but becomes a living factory of egg cells and embryos destined for implantation in surrogate mares so that she can produce an unnaturally high number of offspring without doing the risky and consuming job of nursing and mothering.

These stallions and mares suffer much less pain, fear or death as a "head of cattle," but it illustrates how even their animal dignity is pushed aside as soon as money and business are involved.

Noble animal. (KB)
Noble animal. (KB)

Horse meat is taboo in some places because they are considered noble animals. But isn't that absurd. Noble because they are considered beautiful and brave, an ideal image after man? How noble is a donkey? Why only horses and not all animals? Those who know me will find it strange that I downgrade horses' nobility here, because I'm a horse lover. But it's not about the horses themselves, who deserve no more or less respect, feel no more or less pain, fear or an impending death, than any other animal. 

Inner wellspring

We live in a crazy world where kidnapped pangolins, leased stallions and exchanged whales are carried aboard on transcontinental flights. A world in which we are disconnected from the origins of our food and prefer not to know where it comes from, and care primarily about the monetary cost, not the ethical one. 

Can the abyss ever be bridged? 

Jane asks all of us to draw deeply from our inner wellspring of compassion in every choice we make.

Thanks to her lifelong work spanning already six decades, paradigms are slowly shifting. And as long as there is compassion for each living being, there is hope. Like Jane for her chimps, and children and young people like my nephew for his Tokkie who went missing.

I still remember how he searched the garden, calling her name.


Read more, for example on the so-called sustainability of Argentine beef, and how drought and ranching are linked, and with Nitrogen, a story about food, war and bacteria. More anecdotes about Jane Goodall here. Or read about the environmental problems in the Gulf of Naples, one of the most beautiful and dirty places on earth. One of the articles I most enjoyed writing is the one about Earth as the Ocean Planet, there we revisit the cute white belugas and also talk about other whales that once walked, four-legged, on land. They must have been formidable! Or maybe not, since they were not that big, their current size being one of their water adaptations, which also humans have.


Goodall, Jane & Margodt, Koen, 2024, Essay on Factory Farms: Reasons for adopting a plant-based diet

Kirby, J.N., Steindl, S.R., Doty, J.R. (2017). Compassion as the Highest Ethic. In: Monteiro, L., Compson, J., Musten, F. (eds) Practitioner's Guide to Ethics and Mindfulness-Based Interventions. Mindfulness in Behavioral Health. Springer, Cham.

El País, Clima y Medio Ambiente, 23 Jan 2022, Las macrogranjas, paso a paso: un proceso industrial para criar 53 millones de cerdos al año.

Aryn Baker, Time, 3 April 2023, Italy Wants to be the First Country to Ban Cultivated Meat. That Would be a Big Climate Problem.

The Conversation, 2019, Breeding Thoroughbreds is far from natural in the race for a winner.

Plant Based Treaty, STOP Octopus Farming,

Foto Pangolin: By Shukran888 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

factory farms, animal factories, jane goodall 90, jane goodall animal ethics, eat less meat, eat meat less, animal dignity, koen margodt