This discussion topic reminds me of the controversy over Japanese whaling. In 2008, Animal Planet aired a show called Whale Wars, about a group of environmental and animal rights activists who travel around in boats harassing Japanese whalers. Whaling is a practice that originated at least by 12th Century Japan, and it adopted more efficient, industrialized technologies after the Meiji Restoration opened Japan to the West. After World War II, MacArthur encouraged whaling to help solve the food shortage crisis in Japan and to provide the US a trading partner in valuable Whale Oil. Today, there is a IWC (International Whaling Commission) moratorium on whaling, but Japanese fisherman have found a loophole by claiming their whaling is done for scientific research purposes. Facing heavy criticism from other activists in other countries, Japan accuses these activists of not understanding Japanese culture, of fallaciously assigning whales anthropomorphic attributes, and even of racism.
It seems to me that you can’t attack a distinctly different culture’s practices on the grounds of animal rights. To do so would assume that everyone has the same conception of animals’ place in the world. People’s ways of thinking about animals vary greatly even within our own country, so naturally they must vary throughout the world as well. However, serious discussion about the scarcity of a natural resource should not be avoided under a retreat to a vulgar form cultural relativism. The same is true for resources like Tuna and CO2 emitting fossil fuels.