Ethical Dilemmas of Consuming Animals

2-day seminar in Helsinki, 27-28 August, 2015
In the 17th century, the French Philosopher René Descartes claimed that the animals were acting without consciousness and animal sounds were just automatic responses to external stimuli. Since that time the view on animals has changed radically and today’s general opinion is that animals have consciousness, are capable of expressing emotions and should be treated respectfully.

Most people in Europe consume meat deriving from mass production farms. From time to time there is some debate about the welfare of animals living in such farms. An increasing consumer demand for meat, in combination with profit maximizing strategies from meat producers have led to intensification of farming in the past decades. The strong pressure on meat producers to deliver large output at low cost has led to concern about the welfare of the farming animals. Meat producers, on the other hand, argue that today’s treatment of animals is better than before, as animals now have housing, ample access to food and water, and are looked after.

Our contemporary society’s consumption of animals has also been criticized on the background of health and ecological reasons. Diseases and health problems among farm animals are a problem, when animals are kept together in small spaces. Giving animals antibiotics as a preventive measure, rather than only to treat diseases, can contribute to the development of potentially life-threatening antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics.

Unnecessary waste and high consumer demand for affordable meat adds to the problem. About one third of food for consumption is wasted globally, according to FAO.

Today, there are inconsistencies between consumers’ beliefs and behaviour. The consumers on one hand express dissatisfaction with modern farming methods but on the other hand they are buying meat products from these modern farms.

Another criticism of our society´s consumption of animals come from those who believe that animals should not be regarded as the property of human beings. From this perspective, animals have the right to be treated as an end in oneself and not as a means to someone else’s end.

If we look into the future, how would we like the view and the behaviour of the human being to develop concerning this consumption and how could we reach this goal?

The purpose of this seminar is to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges of consuming animals in a Nordic context. The aim is to raise ethical questions, foster discussion between different interest groups, assess current practices, and formulate key questions and problems that need to be addressed.

The seminar is free of charge.        

For more information about the event, please contact Atte Korhola or Hanne Silje Hauge


From the Helsinki airport: The most convenient option is to take a taxi to Viikinkaari 1 (about 40 euros)

From the city center: Bus No. 68 which leaves from the eastern side of the central railway station every 15-20 minutes. The bus will stop right ahead of the Biocenter-3 (the next stop after the rounded Info Building in Viikki). The trip duration is about 30 min. For more information, including all the stops, see



12:00 – 13:00 Lunch and registration

Ethics of animal consumption

Chair: Atte Korhola

13:00 – 13:10 Opening words (Atte Korhola)

13:10 – 13:40 “Animal ethics in theory and praxis” (Helena Röcklinsberg, SWE)

13:40 – 14:10 “A journey in the past – History of animal consumption” (Hannele Klemettilä, FIN)

14:10 – 14:40 “Animal rights from the perspective of law” (Birgitta Wahlberg, FIN)

14:40 – 15:10 “Science and skepticism: Can we know the minds of other animals?” (Elisa Aaltola FIN)


Ethical issues in current practices

Chair: Janne Nikkinen

15:30 – 16:00 «Livestock and climate change» (Atte Korhola, FIN)

16:00 – 16:30 “The ethics of the meat paradox” (Lars Øystein Ursin, NOR)

16:30 – 17:00 «Farm animal welfare – The gap between ideals and reality” (Peter Sandøe, DEN)

17:00 – 17:30 “Animal welfare and ethical food production” (Laura Hänninen, FIN)

17:30 – 18:00 “Whale meat again? How consumption of non-endangered species gives rise to an ethical dilemma” (Henry Alexander Henrysson, ICE)


Policy/Sociology issues

Chair: Hallvard Kvale

09:15 – 09:45 «The Human Meaning of Non-Human Animals: Religious and Philosophical Perspectives» (David Clough, UK)

09:45 – 10:15 «The status and future of animal welfare: A Nordic perspective» – (Sari Salminen, FIN)

10:15 – 10:45 «Education and meat normativity» (Helena Pedersen, SWE)

10:45 – 11:00 Student presentation by Sandy Stiles Andersen, PhD student at the Institute of Culture and Society, Århus University, Denmark


12:00 – 12:30 «Why treatment of animals is an ethical issue» (Siri Martinsen, NOR)

12:30 – 14:00 Panel discussion (with selected speakers as panelists)

Moderator: Gunhild Isfeldt

14:00 – 14:30 Closing remarks (Atte Korhola, FIN)