Plants are incredible living beings. They can see, hear, smell and respond. They fight for territory, seek out food, evade predators and trap prey.1
But do they feel pain? Almost certainly not.
They have no central nervous system and no pain receptors, and pain is a sensation designed to make us react quickly, to fight or to flee, and most plants cannot react quickly, and none can flee. There is no biological need for them to feel pain and no advantage in them feeling it.
What is really interesting, however, is that no one can be sure that anyone other than themselves feels pain. You say you do, and you are believed but for other beings who cannot speak, scientists rely on two things: do they have all the necessary physiological attributes to feel pain? And do they behave as though they feel pain? In this way, we know that our dog who treads on a thistle and squeals feels pain. We know that a pig in a crate, a chicken in a cage, a cow on a feedlot and a sheep in a truck on the way to the slaughterhouse all feel pain. Research is increasingly indicating that fish feel pain. But plants?
It is possible that one day we will find that plants feel something that we might compare with pain and if this matters to us more than, say, animals feeling pain, then we would still be wise to be vegan. That is because vegans eat a lot less plants than meat-eaters.
What?! It’s true.
This is because farmed animals eat one-third of the world’s cereal harvest2 and 70 percent of the world’s soy harvest,3 but they give back less in meat, milk and eggs than they eat in plants. And when we eat animals, we are responsible also for all those wasted crops they ate.
So, we can reduce any potential suffering to plants significantly by being vegan, while at the same time reducing actual suffering to animals.
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