Question: As Buddhists, is consuming birds’ nest drink or soup justifiable since it has lots of health benefits? The swiftlets are not harmed and they can always build new homes when their nests are taken.
Answer: In case you do not know, bird’s nests are known to cause anaphylaxis for some, a life-threatening allergic reaction. As you can see at http://www.asiaone.com/Health/News/Story/A1Story20110627-286260.html, some bird’s nests could be generally dangerous for eating. Anyway, just because something has some health benefits does not make it ethical for consumption. For instance, eating humans provides nutrition to tigers, but no human thinks it is alright to be eaten. As vegans do not use products derived from exploiting the toil of animals, from their point of view, bird’s nest consumption is unethical. However, one does not have to be a vegan to decide if consuming bird’s nest soup is ethical or not, as we shall see. (It is vegetarian as it does not contain meat.)
Let us put ourselves in the position of a swiftlet… Imagine having painstakingly built a house with your mouthfuls of saliva. One day, you return and it is all gone — your entire home. Next, imagine rebuilding from scratch again, only to have your home taken yet again when completed. This is the undeniable harm done. The birds need their homes for survival more than us to make soup out of them. To remove a sentient being’s possessions without asking is stealing, which breaks the second precept. Thus, as conscientious precepts-observing Buddhists, we should not support bird’s nest consumption. As below, demanding bird’s nest is slavery and can lead others to break the first precept of not killing too.
From http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/The-Deadly-Delicacy-Allure-of-bird-s-nest-soup-2720734.php, ‘When a swiftlet’s cup-shaped nest is taken before it can lay eggs, the bird is forced to build another one. In the caves, collectors shimmy up bamboo poles lashed together with liana vines. Death and injury from falls are not uncommon. The climbers typically take two nests from each bird, allowing the bird to rear its young in a third so the population can regenerate. But high demand has increasingly caused gatherers to take that nest as well, and baby birds are sometimes thrown away.’