The ethical case for eating oysters and mussels

It was five years ago this month that I became vegan, or…well, ostrovegan. In this blog I oystersofficially come out of the closet, err, shell.  I am almost sure that cultivated mussels and oysters are ethical to eat. I argue eating these animals is completely consistent with the spirit if not the letter of ethical veganism and the tenet of causing less harm with our consumer choices 1. This blog is on bivalve sentience/ability to suffer; for further arguments, including nutrition arguments, see my second blog.

Are mussels and oysters sentient?

Dividing organisms up into types, or cladistics, is tricky business. Nature did not develop in a way that fits neatly into categories. Dividing up organisms on the basis of sentience, or the ability to suffer, may be even trickier. So, is there any evidence that mussels and oysters don’t suffer?

Argument 1- Oysters and Mussels are not motile

Let me start with a perspective derived from evolutionary theory about how organisms are designed. The function of pain is to help an organism avoid stimuli that may cause them bodily harm. Organisms that are sessile, or unable to move, cannot escape pain and thus there really isn’t any adaptive reason for them to feel pain. Sessile bivalves can open and close their shells but this is as simple an action as plants who close in the presence of noxious stimuli and for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here, plants don’t feel pain. The definition of vegan typically includes not consuming anything of animal origin. And, as animals are most often motile and thus have an adaptive reason to feel pain, this makes sense.

But, mussels and oysters are closely related to other species (e.g. scallops2, squid) who are motile and thus, by my logic, can feel pain, is it possible that they have some leftover capacity to suffer from a common ancestor?3

This is very unlikely because pain is biologically expensive4 In order to feel pain an organism must have to have a sensory system capable of differentiating ‘good’ or adaptive stimuli from ‘bad’ or harmful stimuli. On top of this, the experience of pain is often damaging in and of itself. Finally, in order to facilitate moving away from pain an organism’s priorities change. For instance, pain reduces hunger and the desire to mate. Given that no system is perfect and there is always some rate of misfiring, a sessile organism that experiences pain would get all the harm and none of the benefit of moving away from painful stimuli and thus be at a disadvantage.

-Oysters and mussels have a larval stage that is motile (see this and this). During this larval stage the animals react to stimuli and may even hitch a ride on fish to disperse more widely.  Also, freshwater mussels (which are not commonly eaten by humans) are more motile and can move (albeit slowly). During the larval stage there are neurons present however “many of the larval neurons disappear after metamorphosis“. Both of these facts make me less confident in the motility argument but I still think the other arguments below stand on their own. /Addendum

Argument 2- Oysters and mussels have rudimentary nervous systems and do not seem to use endogenous opiates or opiate receptors to inhibit pain

Mussel nervous system

“[The bivalve] nervous system includes two pairs of nerve cords and three pairs of ganglia. There is no obvious cephalization and the nervous system appears quite simple….to our knowledge there are no published descriptions of  behavioral or neurophysiological responses to tissue injury in bivalves (Crook& Walters 2011).


Translation: Bivalves have a very simple nervous system which is not aggregated in anything like a brain. Other invertebrates, like shrimp, show changes in behavior (e.g. grooming their antenna after injury) neurotransmitters or neural firing in response to injury, but previous studies have not shown this kind of response in bivalves.

My conclusion: Bivalves do not have hardware or response consistent with the ability to feel pain. Because they have no brain, or central processing unit for stimuli, there is no ‘there’, there. Just like a disembodied finger, there is no place for sensations to be aggregated into responses or changes in adaptive decision making.5

Many animals have opiate receptors, indicating they are making painkillers and regulating pain within their own nervous system. One way that animal pain is gauged is to administer opiates and see if it influences the behavioral response to pain (e.g.). There is some evidence that bivalves have opioids and opioid receptors but 1) there isn’t good evidence that bivalves have the genes that code for these receptors and 2) it seems that opiates are being used to signal the immune system not to regulate pain. To be honest this is the point on which I am least confident and on which science isn’t yet conclusive.

Argument 3- Eating cultivated oysters and mussels doesn’t doesn’t kill other (sentient) animals at a rate greater than agriculture

Line grown mussels

No food is completely deathless. When you eat plants or grains you are often supporting a  system that kills insects, rodents, and displaces wild animals. Let’s say that you eat shrimps because you doubt that they are sentient. Even if you are on an invertebrate only diet, many species are dredged or netted which involves bycatch, or the deaths of many other organisms after they are harmed by being brought up out of the water and thrown in again. With shrimp, for instance, the rate of bycatch is enormous, sometimes up to 98% of what is caught is discarded, and much of this bycatch is vertebrates. Surely, eating animals that aren’t sentient could not be ethical if it involved significant numbers of deaths for animals that are sentient.

Mussels and oysters, on the other hand are most often farmed in a way that doesn’t involve harm to other sentient beings. From what I can tell from reading in depth about cultivation:

-The only dredging involved in cultivation is collecting spat, or the “seeds” that become mature mussels, however rope cultured mussels don’t generally involve dredging for spat but collecting it on the surface thus not displacing other organisms.

-Oyster and mussel cultivation has been endorsed as good for water quality (e.g. they filter out excess nitrogen) doesn’t involve antibiotics and doesn’t involve killing other animals to feed to them as is the case with farmed fish (e.g. this source is not objective but details many potential environmental benefits from shellfish aquaculture).

-Eating oysters and mussels may involve less other animal death and displacement than eating grains or soy (although I have yet to do a proper calculation on this)

In the next blog I’ve argued that including oysters and mussels as ethically acceptable on a vegan diet undermines naturalistic, nutritional and emotional arguments against veganism thus promoting ethical eating. I’ll also speculate about whether there would be fewer vertebrate eating ex-vegans if ostrovegan was considered an ethically acceptable in a vegan diet. 


1-I’m not the first to argue this. This Slate piece from back in 2010 sketches the argument from sentience and Peter Singer has also been on both sides of this argument earlier endorsing and later renouncing the view that eating sessile bivalves is ethically neutral.

2-I endorse giving motile bivalves like clams and scallops the benefit of the doubt and not eating them. Scallops can swim away from predators and have eyes, which makes them a great deal more cognitively sophisticated.

3-Hat tip to Ian McDonald for pointing out this possibility

4– Brains, often needed in motile organisms, are also biologically expensive:

“The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain anymore, so it eats it! It’s rather like getting tenure.” – Daniel C. Dennett

5David Pearce, who disagrees with me and thinks that we should give oysters and mussels the benefit of the doubt (partly because of possible opiate receptors) has conceded this:

“Just as I think it’s possible some of our peripheral ganglia feel phenomenal pain that is inaccessible to the CNS (cf. how one sometimes withdraws one’s hand from a hot stove before one feels the searing pain) it’s possible mussels and oyster ganglia feel something similar. But rights for individal nerve ganglia clearly can’t be high on our list of moral priorities”

196 thoughts on “The ethical case for eating oysters and mussels

  1. All irrelevant. What matters, is the oyster life. Life is important, as my life is important to me, so is the oysters life. Do we NEED to eat oysters to live? No we don’t. Therefore, it’s imoral to eat them. We can choose not to end their lifes. If it’s not necessary, we shouldn’t be killing and eating them. If we choose to “make an exception” on oysters, then we are being speciesists, considering that our moment of pleasure on one meal, is morally more important then an oysters life. It’s not. Life is always more important then satisfying our palate. And yes. Animal life IS more important then plant life. Animal life it’s complex life. You can kill an animal, like an oyster. You can’t kill a carrot or an apple. Animal life and Plant life are completely different things. And you know it.

    • In my case, while I don’t necessarily have to eat oysets or mussels (and generally don’t) I do have to eat meat. I am biologically adapted to eating meat (internal organ differences) and physically lack the ability to fully digest vegetable protein. My tribe lived exclusively on meat and fish for thousands of years which helps explain the selection pressure against vegetables. (Well, technically, even a Panda – which biologically adapted to eating meat – can choose to live only on vegetables. The problem is that I would have ti eat vegetables almost constantly and even then there is no guarantee I could eat enough)

      As far as plants not being alive? They are alive and they are capable of feeling pain. Maybe not as neurons, but they have the ability to experience and respond to stimuli. A carrot is alive, but an apple is not. Or rather, not alive in the sense that it is harmed by eating it.

      My argument is that since both plants and animals are alive it’s wrong to kill anything (not just animals), but since we must eat to live it is forgivable to kill when we must.

      In my area most Kale growers kill the plants each harvest and replant, but that’s not necessary. It’s morally wrong. I take care of them through multiple years harvesting from just the leaves and picking only at leaves that are blocking light to other leaves. In this way I can harvest without harm. When winter comes along I create a warm space for plants to come inside taking at least cuttings so that part of the whole can survive. I do this because I value their lives. I feel responsible for them. in return they provide me with vegetables that help to balance the meat I must consume.

      While many people can indeed live on vegetables only it’s important to consider the impact there as well. For example, if you buy your vegetables from a farm with chemical run offs into rivers those chemicals will feed to the ocean and ultimately kill animals. If eating vegetables results in the death of animals your salad is no different morally than a tuna sandwich. Of courde, if you grow most of your vegetables like I do, or get it from local sources that don’t use such methods you can side step that issue. But what about synthetics? If that synthetic coat pollutes an area and leads to dead animals how is that morally different from buying leather? I would argue that it is far better to use animals – the whole animal – than it is to harm the environment. Again though, not all synthetics have that problem, but if you don’t care enough to look that’s where it’s coming from its immoral overall.

      All life is sacred. Everything is connected. We are part of the whole, not separate from it.

      • I am biologically adapted to eating meat (internal organ differences)…Really When did carnivores learn to use the internet!

    • May I ask, what is it that differentiates the life of an insentient oyster and a plant? You can definitely “kill” a carrot or an apple. First of all the concept of “killing” is manmade and is basically the “purposeful ending of a life”. So what is your definition of life? What makes a clam more alive than a plant? The fact that it moves? Well, so can a venus fly trap. I feel that most people would argue that plants are very much alive.

      However, I continue to eat plants because they are not sentient beings that suffer, and with that logic, eating clams/oysters would be completely valid.

      I, myself, don’t eat clams or oysters- but I really can’t find a logical explanation as to why a vegan shouldn’t. Your argument reflects spirituality more than scientific evidence- which just doesn’t really speak to me.

      • Kill an apple? Are you kidding So you pluck an apple from the tree who dies? the tree is alive. If you don’t pluck an apple the apple falls off.
        So did the apple commit suicide? Jeez you meat eaters are just begging to be made fun of with such ridiculous arguments and then you blame vegans for being rude? You are being rude by insulting our intelligence with such arguments
        If you plant a carrot top in the ground it will grow again. Apple seeds will grow into a new tree where is the killing? Are you that deluded.
        Again the argument of Mobiliyt. plants actually need humans/animals and insects to reproduce. Bees/butterflies to cross pollinate and humans and animals to spread their seed.
        Just look around in nature.
        If a mango falls to the ground it will sprout into a sapling but will NEVER grow into a tree because the shade and roots of the parent tree will not allow it.
        A human or an animal has to throw the seed far enough for it to grow
        That is how all natural fruit orchids have come into existence.
        The only symbiotic nature between is between plants and animals.
        a study found 80% of nut trees were planted by squirrels They forgot where they buried the nuts and when it rained it sprouted into a tree.
        The fact that we humans get attracted to the aroma of fruits and vegetables tells us we are wired to eat it.
        Do you get attracted to the smell and taste of meat? Unless you are the same lion who has learned to use the internet and is commenting on this thread Humans and herbivores are not attracted to blood infact repulsed.
        While carnivores can smell their prey and they can smell blood upto miles.
        A dog would lick the floor of a slaughter house. Sane normal humans would not be able to eat a well perpared steak on the floor of a slaughter house.
        The aroma that you like is that of spices and in some case the reaction between protein fat and sugars in the meat when they are roasted.
        But this in my opinion is an acquired taste because a lot of vegetarians get repulsed by the smell of it.
        So no there is not killing in plants. Even grains and legumes Ever noticed the color of a wheat field ready to be harvested? Its brown Not green Becuase the plant has died
        This is important edmame will rot. It will not become hard like soy. Only when the soy plant dies(that is the last harvest) the bean will become hard and undergo a process that will allow it to survive for years.
        Same with other beans and legumes which are being eaten around the world. They pluck it a few times and the last harvest the plant is allowed to die a natural death to allow this metamorphosis and then they harvest it and plant the next crop
        So piece of advice stop arguing from your keyboard look around in nature its simple common sense.

    • “All irrelevant. What matters, is the oyster life.”

      If the creature is sessile, feels no pain and can be grown and harvested ethically it is no different than consuming a plant. You are hugely over complicating the issue.

      Do you NEED the laptop/computer/phone you wrote your reply on to live? No? Than the pollution created smelting the elements to create your device makes using it immoral.

      Do you NEED to eat apples to live? etc etc etc etc

      I haven’t eaten any animal since changing to a plant based diet but until someone can make an argument deeper than “Do we NEED them to live?” as a reason to not eat something which feels no pain, has no brain and doesn’t move I can see no reason why there is anything wrong with eating them. Sure, it’s not “vegan” in that it’s an animal protein but I’d rather choose to try and live my life ethically rather than what fits into the confines of a label.

      • You know I have had a really hard time with a Vegan diet and I am O blood which needs meat, but I can not bear to eat it because I love animals too much. So for me mussels are basically better then eating eggs or dairy, less suffering and I am going to stick with that. People who think we do not need ti to live are fanatical, Know my body , I start to shake and my body needs meet protei, I get so irritable, I am on 100’s of suppements, protein shakes and it still does not work 100 percent. There is no point of living a life of pain for my self and being sick all the time, I use to not be able to get up in the morning and was hospitalized due to anemia and malnourishment due to years of vegetarian diet which was not balanced, I admit took very little protein, so to all those idiots who say that we absolutely do not need certai proteins, they are idiots, with my blood time, I am happy to eat mussels instead of beef any day and proud of it, So fuck you psycho vegans who have no compassion for people at all. Yes I agree I wish we can all live on air but its not so simple.

      • I think part of the problem is that we do not know weather or not it can sense pain.

    • All inaccurate comment.

      Yes, my life is important to me, but not because i’m alive : because i’m AWARE of being alive. Because I am SENTIENT. If you are not sentient, how in the world could your life be important TO you ? So opinions aside, from the moment we agree on oysters being sentient, your sentence about oysters’ lives being important to them is false.

      My opinion is that life has not such importance compared to sentience. My definition of veganism would be about not give pain to sentient beings and not kill sentient beings (’cause by killing them, even without pain, you prevent them to enjoy the future of their lives). My definition of veganism would not include the words “exploitation” or “animals”. I mean, if a vegetable is sentient, I will not eat it. And if an animal is not sentient, I don’t see a reason why not eating it.

      You accuse me of being SPECIST because I say that I could eat oysters but not pigs for instance. But if I say such a thing, it is not because of their different species, it is because ones are sentient and the others are not. If you don’t get my point, think about it this way : compare an INDIVIDUAL pig and an INDIVIDUAL oyster. I know that the first is sentient, and the other is not, so I eat the second. I don’t give a shit about the species… Maybe we had to think in terms of species to eventually conclude that all individuals of a particular specie is sentient or not, true, but that doesn’t make me a specist.

      And now the most ridiculous thing : after calling me a specist, you end up saying that animal life IS more important than plant life, because we can kill animals but not plants. Are you serious ? You pretend to be a “life” worshiper and you don’t even know that plants are alive too, which means it is possible to kill them ?
      Of course, as you say, plants are less complex than animals, yes, and the very first consequence/cause of this is that they are not SENTIENT. But oysters are neither sentient. You are the one being specist if you stupidly follow distinctions made by human beings with no real reason (animal vs plants). Use your brain.

    • You’re being completely anthropocentristic and ridiculous. Biology doesn’t work “in boxes” and the difference between animals and plants in nature isn’t as clear as you think. Of course you CAN kill a carrot, you can hurt the plant, you can exploit the plant, etc.

    • I’m just trying to understand other thought processes. I just ate steak so I’m not arguing for one side or another. Just an honest question. Your argument of a carrot or Apple made sense to me but what about plant life where what you are eating is the plant and kills the plant. Like Heart of Palm for instance. Is that unethical to a vegan?

    • That’s funny. To me no life is important.

      We’re just dumb machines.

      I’m vegan, but just because I care about my health and because I want to maximize my chances of success.
      Screw everything else and your morality.

    • If you are going to base the value of an organism’s life based on it’s complexity, by what measure are we to take it’s value (read: complexity). If it is by chromosome count that we draw deductions of complexity, than this argument is inherently flawed, as human beings, regarded as the most complex organisms (by humans, go figure), have 46 chromosomes, two of which are solely dedicated to sex characteristics; where the common potato contains 48. Pineapples have 50. The Adder’s-tongue boasts a whopping 1260. These organisms are not extraordinary in the way of plants, they do not get up and walk despite having more than enough genetic data to do so. Therefore, Clams and oysters, which show zero response to stimuli beyond rudimentary off/on systems for closing the shell, should be treated as similar to plants, similar in mobility and complexity of life.

    • So you are saying that plants aren’t ‘life’? Plants are living, moving, growing organisms and more highly evolved than humans based on gene count (rice has about 50,000 different genes, humans between 20000-25000) So when a vegan throws the word speciesist around, they are ultimately contradicting themselves by leaving out plants as a recognized life form. Also, eating oysters, and mussels is the most effective way to get a significant source of vitamin B12, there are no arguments against this. Take a B12 supplement you say? That just proves veganism is not sustainable. Since a supplement pill requires a laboratory, pharmaceutical company, distribution, and a working economy that you may be fortunate to have access to but there are many who don’t. Simply put, I would rather continue eat as a ‘vegan does’ with the exception that I don’t take supplements of any kind, and get my other nutrients from these invertebrates because with the evidence we have plants, mussels, and oysters do not feel pain as we know. It is ignorant to think that plant life and animal life are ‘completely different’, because they rely on each other as a system. Vegans tend to be close minded, I think to be labeled a vegan is insulting and all that it accomplishes is a culture of elitists who don’t have any connection or understanding of nature and the way life is intended to be. Until humans are able to create their own food from sunlight and water, things will die! Accept it, death is just part of life!

    • That is ridiculous. Everyone knows you can kill a plant. You must be making a fruitarian appeal to emotion.

    • When a tree loses a large section of its limb, it will withdraw it’s sap to a healthy part of the tree, typically allowing the limb, where it is injured ro die. It then falls off, and eventually breaks down into nutrient the tree re-absorbs.. It is similar to how the human body restricts blood to the chest when it has low blood pressure, or is very cold. Similarly, the body cannibalizes unneeded tissue when food is in short supply.

      The venus fly trap, among several other species in the same phyla Not only has motile parts, but also a digestive sytem. It responds to stimulation the same way our knee jerks when tapped with a hammer. T

      The prothallus fern, in its undeveloped faze can scoot its self across the forrest floor, under its own locomotive power, to find the most beneficial site to take root.

      Bryophytes are a plant whose male and female sex cells behave the same way humans do. The male sex cells will swim across a body of water under its own locomotion, to fertilize female eggs.

      Nearly all photosynthesizing plants will rapidly expand their cell structure in response to less than ideal lighting conditions, so that the plant positions its self in maximum sunlight. Some of the plants do this so fast that they actually move fast enough fro the human eye to precieve this.

      the list goes on and on, I could do this all day. If these plants have atleast the came capacity as clams to move, then should we not eat them? Any plant most certainly is aware It is deiing, as exampled in the 1st paragraph.

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  3. The comments on this blog are extremely intelligent and thought provoking. Im finding it hard to make the decision on whether eating clams etc is ethical. Some of the comments on here have also really opened my eyes and developed my understanding to other issues. Its really hard to make the right choices sometimes we all need to just keep trying our best I suppose.

  4. Wonderful discussion. Thank you everyone. In my mind, sentient means something that knows it’s alive. That’s from a Buddhist perspective, and I mean the science behind Buddhism, not the religion so many people have made it into. The generally accepted definition of Buddha is someone that has awakened to reality (truth, whatever). I think we can stretch that a bit. Our companion cat lives a life of no harm, except for the occasional lizard that she catches. She certainly understands cause and effect, and she’s smarter anda better “person” than 99% of the people I have met, so I would say she is “awakened”. Would someone, no matter what the species, harm another being if they knew it would cause them death?

    I know from my own experiments that I carried out decades ago after reading “The Secret Life of Plants” that plants appear to feel empathy w/ the suffering of other plants. but I would argue that these reactions are essentially just that, reactions. Just like a dead frog, which is certainly not alive, can be made to move by hitting it w/ electricity. Does a plant have a nervous system and a brain? No, so eat ’em up! We do have to eat something to live. I myself like living. It’s the bomb, and beats the alternative. Give me a terminal disease and put me in dire suffering and I may feel differently, but until then I plan on dancing for as long as I can.

    Then there’s the slippery slope of more, and less, sentient beings. Quite a moral trap, but if someone, maybe for medical reasons ,has to eat dead living beings, then it’s smarter to choose the less sentient ones. Shrimp may indeed repair their antenna, but plants do repair and regrowth jobs on themselves too. Does a bivalve? I don’t know.. Does it have what we would call a brain and a central nervous system? No. Does it know it’s alive? No. Does it feel pain? I’m not up on my biology, so I don’t know? Is it a living being? Ah, that’s one for thought. Do we HAVE to eat them to live? That’s the issue to me? Well, I personally don’t. Would I eat them if I were offered them in a meal prepared by someone else? I’m not sure anymore, and this article has me thinking about my definitions of life. Thank goodness I can lead an ethical food life even in a fast food restaurant by choosing things like orange juice, french fries, and a salad. Some places offer a little more than that, but those will do me fine for an occasional outing. I’m not going to torture myself about whether or not chemical run offs killed or displaced other beings though. That’s too far. From that perspective you could argue that killing ANYTHING destroys living cells. so there would be nothing under the sun to eat but rocks and minerals and the like. Thanks again for putting this article, and the comments are excellent.

    • I don’t think concern about chemical run-off (along with other environmental impacts) is “too far.” That’s not to say it’s possible to live a life with no impact, but we can choose the option of least harm. (I.e. organic when possible, as local as possible, harvested sustainably (in the case of mussels, not dredged), minimally packaged, etc.)

  5. I have been vegan for over a year. Recently I started wondering about oysters, mussels etc (although I don’t actually and have never really like mussels), you know the whole theory about “don’t eat anything that can run, jump, swim, hop or walk away from you if it has to”? So I feel, that if an oyster can’t do any of that (and as I now found out scallops can so that is off the list), and I take all the ethical and environmental points in from above as well as the health benefit of B12, then why not? But I still don’t know if I would, and I think that in itself tells me my answer, if I have to wonder, and I don’t need them to live, then why should / would I? So I don’t know, maybe one day I will make a decision to order a plate, but again even after all this research, not sure if I want to? Too many “what if’s” for me…

  6. I was hospitalized due to not eating meat for years and was sick to a point where I can not get up in the morning. I am 0 blood, now I am vegan and I eat mussels for protein , plus I am on lik 100 supplements to be able to be vegan most of the time. I think its a great choice instead of eating chicken or beef. People who complain should shut up and they just show how much they do not care about the suffering of people who have different body conditions. Its hard to be vegan , at the same time I can not eat a cow, I just can not or a chicken, fish I tried but I can not. So you know mussels is definitely feeling less suffering then a cow who screams when they are killing it. I am not sure how can someone even have an argument here and tell me what my body needs, when I know my body, for days I use to sleep for 16 hours a day and could not walk and would lose my breath, thats because I was forcing my self not to eat meat. After a long time of supplements and trying to balance my diet I can do it 90 percent now, but I need mussels , or I will die. I do not appreciate the people who are so quick to know everything when they were not the ones who were sick on bed , not able to work and their life was destroyed, I was basically close to organ failure when the chiropractor checked my nerves, it was very very scary.Each body is different and I am happy to eat mussels and not die any time.

    • LIAR hospitalized for not eating meat!! hahah what was the condition? we never heard of “not eating meat” Doctor: you are suffering from a condition called “not eating meat for years” so you need to be hospitalized….LMAO!!!
      ATleast think before you lie

      • It’s actually quite common. Look up anemia, iron deficiency and low ferritin levels. If your ferritin levels drop too low due to lack of properly absorbing iron (heme iron vs. iron from plants) people are often hospitalized and in rare occurrences need blood transfusions.

      • You are a liar Anemia is not caused by not eating meat. The biggest proof is that meat eaters get anemia too. If that was the case nobody should have had iron deficiency. Read this links
        This is not a vegan website and they say to avoid dairy, and eggs and to restrict meat. Anyone with research credentials would know this Now off with your lies

      • The main condition would be anemia, from the lack of iron from not consuming hemoglobin from animal protein. Also, without protein and fat from animal tissue, the nervous system can begin to deteriorate. How about you do some research before you decide to open your mouth and make an ass out of your self.

      • @bunnyboi. Just one line to bust your bullshit. People who have been eating meat all their life also get iron deficiency. So stop making a fool of yourself.
        This is the most funniest and stupidest argument ever. B12 and iron, you meat eaters act as if these deficiencies never existed and only vegetarians have them. hahah. Meat eaters have a higher rate of iron, calcium, b12 and vit D deficiencies. Do some research not google search.
        There have been supplements and doctors treating these deficiencies even before veganism started 50 years ago. Also only 5% of the population if vegan But 60% of the meat eaters are at a risk of b12 def. Go figure.
        Stop peddling lies

    • Your blood type does not determine what your body needs to eat. People may reach differently to various diets but the blood type thing is a totally discredited theory. I’m not telling you to not eat your mussels if you like them, but if you base your choices on scientific evidence rather than creak theories you might avoid being hospitalized for malnutrition.


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  9. On point 1: “Both of these facts make me less confident in the motility argument but I still think the other arguments below stand on their own. /Addendum”

    On point 2: “To be honest this is the point on which I am least confident and on which science isn’t yet conclusive.”

    On point 3: “Eating cultivated oysters and mussels doesn’t doesn’t kill other (sentient) animals at a rate greater than agriculture”

    So, really, the one argument without doubt isn’t actually related to sentience. There’s a utilitarian argument for cultivating oysters instead of plants – perhaps this causes less harm to sentient insects as an example, and this is one of many difficult choices a vegan will have to sort out – but it’s not necessarily an ethical argument.

    Having said that, it’s clearly impossible to live a truly cruelty free lifestyle – our houses are often built via the displacement of animals, our cars smush lots of insects, our fruit is pollinated by bees…so in this vain, the utilitarian argument is probably as close to pure ethics as we can get.

    Nevertheless, giving up oysters and mussels doesn’t seem like a very difficult undertaking, so just as vegans who refuse to eat non-sentient animals may be “stubborn”, so seem to me ostrovegans who seek out mussels just because they can. I believe there is power in the vegan message “no animal products” as a philosophy moreso than the ostrovegan message “do no harm”, even if the later may be more intellectually defensible.

    • One thing that is absolutely ridiculous though is the idea that we should harm MORE animals and the planet, in defense of not eating meat (especially if you consider oysters as meat). Thats where the false pride of carrying a label “vegan” actually starts to become a dogma rather than a way of causing less harm. Its the equivalent to someone saying “ill kill 10 animals if you dont eat one” and you say “im sorry but go ahead and kill those 10 animals im vegan i wont eat even one”.. how much sense would that make?

      • By your argument you would easily become a Cannibal. If someone told you eat a human or we will kill 10 would you?
        If someone is killing animal and telling me to eat an animal that is already dead I would probably do it. But I don’t think you could say the same about humans. Stop trying to find holes in Veganism. Then when we respond you play the victim

      • If someone told me they kill 10 people if I didn’t eat one I would to save those 10 ppl… Logic takes a higher perspective of open mindedness and I know from my own experience being vegan veganism is a dogma and has no tolerance for any evidence contradicting it

    • The main problem with your line of thinking is that it completely ignores that oysters and mussels are incredibly nutritious and can fill the nutritional gaps of a vegan diet. The big one of course is vitamin B12, which can be taken care of this way instead of seeking a vitamin B12 supplement.

  10. I have been considering more ethical eating myself. I am 100% vegan but it’s recently dawned on me that eating local chicken or fish might actually save lives and the environment especially if we consider insects are sentient beings. I would assume the soy I eat for protein comes from South America (where rainforest is often destroyed to grow it) and then that soy is shipped in trucks and/or boats to North America where it gets to me in Mass. Do you have any idea how many insects, small animals, and bugs are killed in the shipping process? Not to mention the environmental impacts of soy and CO2 emissions. Is it possible that eating meat as a protein from local farms is MORE vegan than eating soy from South America? I’ve brought things like this up to other vegans before and they immediately dismiss the idea because all they hear is “eating meat” rather than the entire argument … Your thoughts?

    • Most of the soy that is grown is for livestock, not your soy-based foods . If you eat chickens, they eat a lot of grain, resulting in a lot of small animals (including bugs) being killed in the process. Either way, it seems weird to me to factor in an insect’s life above a chicken’s life, as it’s not really clear how sentient insects are; I for one would rather have a few spiders get squashed than my dog get stabbed.

      You don’t have to eat soy from South America, its even grown in my country (New Zealand)! Moreover, dairy farming is the biggest contributor for carbon emissions in our country, it also causes pollution in the waterways.

      Eating meat is an inherent cause of animal deaths and in most cases suffering. That’s not really vegan. In the case of mussels and oysters, they are at least highly unlikely to be conscious. Whereas you are talking about eating chickens, why not instead eat local foods like legumes, green beans and eggplant (and locally-grown soy)?

      • I live in Massachusetts where there is no locally grown soy, or legumes for that matter.. Vegetables only grow a few months a year here… Actually in America before the whites killed the native Americans there were 6 billion Bicen in our lands.. We slaughtered them to make space for agriculture (plant genocide) and now we have about 60 million cows… So to say that cow emissions are destroying the planet when 100x the amount was roaming our lands 500 years ago raises questions

      • I’m with you, Dani. I place a higher value on the lives of animals than insects, and the people I’ve met in life, vegans included, tend to do the same.

        Dan, where are you getting your Bison figures from? Google tells me there were approximately 30 million bison, and that there are almost 90 million cows in the U.S. today.

    • You don’t need to eat Soy you can eat locally grown beans that offer the same protein. Where do you live? if in the USA then you should know that Black eyed Peas are complete protein.
      But then that is again a myth as amino acids are stored in an amino acid pool to be used later when required so you don’t even need to mix proteins in one meal.
      And those foods that are not complete protein do contain all essential amino acids they only contain a few MCG less that the prescribed formula for complete protein.
      So in the 4.5 grams of protein in Rice 4 grams is complete.
      So you could survive on a 2500 calorie of Rice alone and you will get your daily protein requirements.
      So why are you creating strawman arguments? You simply don’t eat soy.
      I know many people in Euorope who eat locally grown soy. Many farmers grow it locally.
      You can eliminate it totally and eat other stuff local.
      Now coming to the point about killing animals less well that falls flat.
      Because animals eat soy feed too.
      So there goes double the damage.
      Second you cannot compare to killing an animal raising it specifically to eat as compared to insects and animals dying after living their natural life It is an accident.
      Do you know how many humans die to get your soy probably one or two, what does that make you? A Cannibal?

  11. Also it is very ignorant for some vegans to say plants do not feel pain or contain sentience …plants have what is called tropism which is response to external stimuli. It’s just that a clam responds instantly and MOST plants take days or weeks to respond does not (some plants respond instantly like the Venus fly trap or the “touch me not” plant) …. Also consciousness has NEVER been proven to come from the brain, so I’m not sure what science has shown that just because plants don’t have a brain means they don’t have consciousness

    • that is not pain. Do some research response to stimuli and pain is different.
      Also how can you even think of that in this article when mobility has been discussed.
      Someone was arguing that plants feel pain from God perspective. I just told him if God made plants and made them feel pain he must be really cruel. He made them feel pain but no way to run away and avoid it.
      And from evolution point of view it does not add up either

      • Turtles feel pain.. And God didn’t make them able to run to avoid it… If u abuse one side of a plant over weeks or months it will grow in the opposite direction it does have a response in the same way u are just assuming your perception of time is THE perception of time and what you deem as immediate response is the only indicator of pain

      • Given that there are humans born without the ability to feel pain, and given that we as genetic engineers understand the gene responsible and have the ability to genetically modify animals to have the same trait, would you consider it ethical to eat animals if they were engineered to be unable to feel pain? I mean, the core of your position is the ability to feel pain, right?

        Of course, that introduces the ethical issue of removing an animal’s ability to respond appropriately to danger – simple things like fire and physical mutilation wouldn’t cause any response to it and I would consider it unethical to introduce that trait into an animal, but just for the sake of argument where would you draw the line?

      • I’m a research scientist (Genetic Engineer; human gene therapy focus) and here’s my take on it: The ability to respond to stimuli is important for all life. In order for the organism to know that a given stimuli is “bad” is must have some pain-like response. Many different organisms have a different approach to this, but just because it doesn’t function in the exact same way does not mean it’s not analogous to pain. Pain is simply defined as “physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury.” so if there is an injury that causes discomfort this is, in fact, pain. Regardless of how different it is. We might reason that since we can remember pain it means more to us, and that might be true, but if someone inflicted pain on you and you couldn’t remember it that wouldn’t make the pain any less real.

        We know this is true because there are humans who were born without the ability to experience pain. What happens? Well, one of them only chewed off his own tongue as a baby because he didn’t have any sensory information to tell him what was good or bad for him. Since he is incapable of experiencing pain you could easily rip his body to pieces and he wouldn’t feel a thing. Would that be ethical? No! Despite his inability to feel physical pain, he lives with the fear of dying from an illness whose primary symptom is pain. The inability to feel pain causes a great deal of problems from an evolutionary perspective. Any organism that arises without this ability has difficulty surviving.

        Even Bacteria require this.

        As an example: Last year (when I was still an associates student – now I’m a B.S. student) I genetically engineered a Spirulina sample. (this was an experiment of my own design) That’s a single celled organism grown as food. Bacteria. First I had to test grow from a very small sample since I didn’t have much plasmid DNA to work with. Phototoxicity was a major concern. Although they need the light to grow, the light will also kill them. I observed that in response to the light they seem to go through convulsions of sorts if they didn’t have any protection from it, but when there were enough of them together they forms a protective cluster where they move around each other to allow enough light without too much light. They clearly depend on some kind of sensory information which tells if what is “good” and what is “bad” for it. Once I had the growth conditions right, and after testing that Ampicilliin (an antibiotic) would kill them I had to introduce a chemical that would open them up. Some of their plasmid DNA spilled out, and by chance some of them took in some of the plasmid DNA I wanted them to take up. I had to put them into ice because they literally went into shock and would have died if I didn’t slow down their metabolic activity. I observed them to make sure they were still alive, and the way they were moving was like an animal in horrible pain. (which is why I only subjected this to a minimum required) They recovered quickly though. I then had to transfer them into the Ampicillin medium which would kill any that did not take up the new DNA.

        Now, you might wonder why I did this? It is, after all, against my religion to kill without purpose. Well, I wanted to give them the ability to convert ultraviolet light into visible light so to improve their ability to thrive in denser aquariums. A problem I noticed is that if the aquarium is too thick their density significantly decreases. Unfortunately, although the experiment was a success, the medium was contaminated with E-Coli. Spiruina is self sterile and would normally kill any other Bacteria present, but the E-Coli took up Spirulina DNA and became recognized by the Spirulina as one of them and also gained resistance to the cyanotoxins and so the E-Coli quickly overtook the Spirulina. So essentially a failure.

        The point though overall is the observation of even a single celled organism responding to what is done to it and being able to experience “pain”.

        For reference, here’s what they look like:

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  13. You’re rationalizing because you just want some meat, and you know it. You don’t need to eat oyster. Hey, even I don’t eat it even though I’m far from vegan. There are many other aspects to whether it feels ethical or not when it comes to eating. And notice I said “feel ethical”, not “is ethical”. You need to admit it’s a subjective thing. You can’t just write a blog post enumerating these “evidence” and think you can prove whether something is ethical or not. As a thought experiment, let me ask you this question, let’s say there’s this human being who’s completely paralyzed and unable to move, and unable to feel any pain or perceive anything. Basically just a piece of meat. Would you eat him? “Ethical” is just how you feel about some phenomenon and naturally subjective. If you decide to believe that eating mussels is ethical, it’s your decision and it’s OK, but just know that there are tons of other people who will think it’s not. Just like how vegans think meat eaters are not ethical.

  14. YOUR life is important to YOU. But where does this ethical dimension come from? Seems like a category error, some kind of projection, and anthropomorphization. Your life matters not to the oyster. To the lion, you are a potentially tasty meal. To orcas, birds, sea lions, and fish are food. You simply fear the conclusions that the obvious leads to and so disingenuously hide in your childish world where fish sing and lions confer wisdom on your journey through a snowy land. Nature, my friend. The new age spiritualization of it is blindness to its reality.

    Also, why is suffering given so much emphasis? If so, why not drug the oyster before consuming it? Why not drug any organism you wish to kill so that it does not suffer? Lots of ungrounded assertions here.

    Perhaps you miss the taste of flesh and need a way to incrementally move back into your natural omnivorous condition? Sort of how feminism today is a reaction against feminism of yesterday combined with capriciousness, a mendacious longing for the days of old?

    • Ever known someone who is in a coma? Ever poked one with a stick and tried to test this theory out? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Try it out some time maybe?

      BTW, that’s also why we call them “vegetables” or say they are in a “vegetative state”. Because they don’t FEEL – just like plants DON’T FEEL.

  15. Nice article. Just one problem. Oysters, mussels and shellfish filter the ocean so you shouldn’t eat them — especially when you consider what modern man is dumping into the sea on an ever increasing scale now. We’re talking heavy metals, toxic chemicals, raw sewage, etc.

    Stay away from shrimps, prawns, crabs and crayfish for the same reason. These are the cockroaches of the sea. Don’t eat anything from the sea that does not have scales and fins if you want to stay healthy.

    • Complete and utter nonsense right there. Oh yeah, I’ll go eat a shark that has accumulated thousands of times the amount of toxins during its lifetime because it has scales and fins. Thanks buddy. BTW, most available oysters and mussels are not wild-caught. It’s incredibly easy to find farm-raised ones. So that’s another non-issue that your post failed to address.

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  18. 1) The blog says that one can eat oysters because they don’t move, like plants, therefore they don’t experience pain as their biology has not invested in registering and reacting to pain. However, (i) when one observes a similar consequence, it does NOT follow that it should be attributed to the same cause. It may or may not be caused by the same thing. Both sharks and dolphins swim, etc. but one is a fish, the other a mammal. Both conservationists and AR advocates want to preserve animal habitats, one group, among other reasons, for hunters to hunt or for businesses to fish, the other so free animals are left alone to live undisturbed; (ii) the blog admits that oysters DO move at the early stages of their lives; for whatever reason, they have evolved to attach themselves to rocks as they have no legs, or fins, etc, it doesn’t mean that they have devolved into plants. 2) The blog argues that it’s ethical to eat oysters because they have a simple nervous system and no brain. This is a classic specisist argument that uses a rigged system to evaluate animals, favoring what is closer to humans and discounting those that differ as deficient, therefore not sentient, etc. 3) The blogger takes uncertain conclusions that although oysters produce opiates, which animals typically use as pain-killers, oysters use them in a completely different way. This may or may not be true. Human scientists often explain nature in ways that are speciesist and anthropocentric, cherry picking evidence or rationalizing their motives. For all these reasons, one should err on the side of caution and assume that oysters are sentient. Most importantly, one should assume that as animal organisms, they have an interest in life, survival, being unharmed, and free. The blogger argues that because when oysters are “cultivated” (a speciesist term), no other animals are killed, and
    eating them is ethical. This assumes that oysters have no interest in being unharmed themselves independently of the interest of other animals, which is speciesist and a logical flaw I can characterize as begging the question (assuming the answer in the question). This, again, means leave them alone.

    • Not sure about your mammals/fish argument.

      I am going to assume you do not have a problem with killing plants, because they differ from us biologically – I don’t think thats speciesist, because it takes into account the objective properties of living things, as opposed to their DNA.

      “Most importantly, one should assume that as animal organisms, they have an interest in life, survival, being unharmed, and free. ”
      What evidence do you have that oysters have an interested in their own lives, considering having an interest is necessarily dictated by the ability to think, and they lack a central nervous system. btw I am a pretty strict vegan do not eat oysters or mussels, largely because I never liked the taste, but I do not see what the big deal about it is, certainly it’s not comparable to killing a cow/chicken/dog, and they are even less developed than insects.

  19. I was under the impression that oysters made pearls when grains of sand entered their shells. The sand irritates the oyster, and it secretes a substance to coat the irritant. Over time, the oyster creates a pearl. If the oyster has a senses to feel the grain of sand and the ability to try and remove the irritant, on some level they are able to “feel”, or at least sense, pain?

  20. I am vegan but have never been happy with the let’s end all suffering to animals argument. Whenever a field of crops , say beans or wheat, is harvested thousands and thousands of small animals are killed. These are insects, spiders, snails as well as the suffering caused to mice and birds who would feed on these invertebrates. The only way we could grow food that harmed no animal life is to use intensive greenhouse or hydroponic systems. Vegans, myself included have to realise that we too cause some suffering by our very existence . We are just choosing to keep that suffering as low on the sentience scale as possible, which is our best ethical choice. I find the arguments that mussels and oysters are low sentience are convincing. I am neutral on whether we should go out of our way to cultivate them and eat them but have no strong objection.

  21. Thanks for this article on Oysters. As an omnivore I don’t see much of a problem eating meat, but I do have a problem with causing undue suffering. To that end, I recently had a discussion with some one on the internet about Ikizukuri (fair warning, as a meat eater I was disgusted and angered. I can’t even begin to imagine how a vegan would feel about this) and he pointed out that in western cultures we sometimes eat live Oysters. My question to you is this: are these even remotely similar practices?

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  25. Oysters and muscles respond to the stimuli of grit rubbing upon them by coating it in a cementitious layer again and again until a pearl is formed.
    They are very much ‘alive’ as are plants. As far as the moral argument for food goes it seems that fruit is the obvious winner, second comes the produce with the least negative effects (in my case it is local, no added chemicals produce from my land).
    Food isn’t the case though. Buy from charity shops, don’t believe the hype, be kind, stay fit and healthy. Taking part in a negative societal system which profits from war and slavery isn’t ‘my bag’

  26. I am fully aware that mussels and clams are not sentient beings, however; my concern is environmental. Could the harvesting of mussels and clams create dead zones in the sea and kill dolphins, fish, whales, etc by accidentally getting caught? I suppose the same might be said for harvesting sea weed? I’m also not 100% convinced that shrimp can experience pain or real suffering.

    As far as people saying that life matters to the mussels/oyster – that is irrelevant. I should suppose that life is also important to lettuce and to other fruits and vegetables but the question is: can it suffer? Plants are categorically animals just as you and I are in the animal kingdom. The idea behind being a vegan is to cause as little suffering as possible. We know that eating a pig, cow, sheep, chicken is immoral because not only is his or her life valuable to them but because he or she can feel pain and fear.

    Further, for those saying they are best to eat meat because your body has adapted to eating meat or because you have a certain blood type: bullocks! In no case would you be required to survive on meat, period. This claim has repeatedly been debunked over and over. There simply is no need for flesh nor is there a diet for each blood type.

  27. It sounds like many here are afraid of causing themselves bad karma, or guilt.
    “This creature is ok to eat but not that one.” Unfortunately you cannot live without killing something. My own 45+ years of Buddhism teaches a “life-is-not-Hierarchical” understanding of all living things so that, as my zen master taught me many years ago, “When you eat a cabbage you’ve killed a cabbage.” Also when you walk around, breathing, you are murdering microbes, even in your sleep you are killing something as the bacteria war with each other inside your body. The truth is you’re alive, so you cannot escape creating karma or killing. No “excuses.” We’re all born killers of something. Forget arguing that this being or thing has sentience so it’s more worthy to stay alive than that thing etc. (this sort of judgement is arrogant) How can you know what kinds of sentience exist? Can you communicate with a worm or a tomato? Whose fault is that? There is so much in this world that we know so little of that often the best educated guess is wrong. The produce section of the grocery store is as much a cemetery as the meat section is. Accept that you are complicit even if you only eat plant life. It’s still “life.” The “I’m-better-than-you-because” argument is senseless. You are not better than. Even scientific proof of pain or sentience is irrelevant. Accept that you are human. You kill. You are responsible for what you do. Just do as little harm as you can. You will accrue karma no matter what. Remain aware, mindful of all you do and keep your own counsel within.

    • Hey, Sullivan would you rather someone walked up to you and cut your head right off, or someone walked up to a tree and cut that off?

      PS if there was a prize for the silliest comment on this page, I’d vote for you.

      • Hello Dani,
        Unfortunately you seem to have misinterpreted and/or misunderstood my post. However I’m glad you at least found it entertaining.
        To me, a tree cut down or burned up is as sad an event as is the destruction of other living things. Especially when done with cruelty. And I do regret that I cannot avoid killing living things just by being alive myself. One of the burdens of being a sentient human is the ‘awareness’ of our impact on other life forms and enduring this regret.
        For me another’s sentience or lack of sentience is irrelevant. I think “Who am I to judge the value of this creature’s life?”
        There is so much we do not know, maybe we can never know. After all it is ‘their’ life and though I might not think much of it or even understand it, it’s theirs not mine. I must ‘accept’ it is valuable to them regardless of my egocentric judgementalism.
        I believe we humans too often compare ourselves to other life forms and then judge incorrectly, elevating our own worth above all others. We tend to measure the worth of others’ lives when we don’t even understand what is valuable to them. If a worm is at home in dirt or mud and I am not, so what?
        What is “silly” to me is the ‘Competition’ I see here. What appears as some trying to out-do others by asserting one is more sentient (therefore better) than others because they eat only plants or whatever their claim to purity is that day.
        No one becomes a saint by this means.
        I appreciate that all these people are at least trying to be aware and as kind and thoughtful as possible.
        Yet, for better or worse the conundrum remains: we all kill. .

  28. All I wanted to know was “the kindest way to kill an oyster” . An hour and a half later have not found an answer. In a moment of unthinking I bought 3 oysters on their sell-by date, put in fridge for the night, do I lever them open and swallow them, plunge them into boiling water, or put them in cool salted water and bring to the boil? Fourth option, chuck them out into the compost heap, equivalent to what would have happened if I hadn’t bought them. (Fifth possibility, not to kill them at all but keep them in a saltwater tank and feed them! and then what?) I have now taken the third option (cool salted water, bring to the boil) and eaten them. No, I didn’t need to, but no point in wasting them. However going forward I shall probably revert to picking up roadkill (if there’s no car behind me) and veggie permaculture. Time spent reading all the comments has been instructive and may well go through it again. Thank you all.

  29. I am just like you. I stop buying plant milk fortified because all the b12 I get from the littleneck clams 36 cents each. (and calcium from Kale/Broccoli)
    Thank you for this wonderful blog!

  30. And the venus fly-trap thing opens and closes the mouth and kills flyes. Bivalves are NOT that complex. And the ones we eat less so. I am happy as a clam to eat clams.

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  32. I believe bi-valves have a heart and lungs an also take a dump. Does that change anything? Also, if there was a chicken who by birth mutation, couldn’t feel pain, would it be morally higher ground to eat it?

  33. I believe we can only get an understanding of sentience if we take an information based approach. Sentience has the same origins in Latin as sentinel , or something that watches. To watch you need sense organs and a place where sense data is processed and analysed and most important a virtual model, however approximate, of the environment around you that changes with time and includes you as an actor within it. To have such a model you also need memory. So we can ask for each of these watching qualities, “are they possessed by this creature?” We can go up and down the tree of life asking these questions about each organism. Sometimes the answer is a clear yes , sometimes a clear no and sometimes its cant say at the moment. I conclude that sentience exists somewhere in all branches of the animal kingdom , but not in the plant kingdom. Those animals that fail the sentience test in my opinion show a small range of responses to stimuli, and don’t appear to vary their responses with experience. Shellfish are in this category. I’d love to see research into response variability and memory in shellfish but don’t know of any. So I eat them.

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