Thought for the day – Francione

Mary Martin deconstructs an editorial in today’s New York Times, which states in no uncertain terms that “animal husbandry has been turned into animal abuse.” I’d like to chime in on a quote Mary pulled from a Pew Commission report referenced in the editorial:

“The present system of producing food animals (sic) in the United States is not sustainable and presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health and damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise for food.”

(emphasis mine)

I was surprised Mary didn’t include a deconstruction of the hideously speciesist term “food animals” (i.e., nonhuman animals bred, confined and killed for the purposes of consumption), but she was already taking on a lot with that post, primarily the underlying assumptions in the editorial and these reports. It would seem that they all take for granted that consuming other beings is necessary.

As vegans know, there is some faulty thinking behind this assumption, and I wanted to expand on Mary’s post briefly by offering an excerpt of my own, from Gary L. Francione’s Introduction to Animal Rights, in which he works from the principles that inform our animal welfare laws and builds out from there, doing the proper mental math:

…we are supposed to balance our interests against those of animals in order to determine whether particular animal use or treatment is necessary. But because animals are property, and because we have great respect for property rights, we have decided–before we even start our balancing process–that it is morally acceptable to use animals for food, hunting, entertainment, clothing, experiments, product testing, and so forth. That is, we generally do not question whether particular institutions of animal use are necessary; rather we inquire only whether particular practices that are part of those various institutions are necessary.

(emphasis mine)

This is a very important distinction, but it is frequently overlooked even by animal rights advocates. Focusing on how animals are treated takes as its base assumption that using animals is necessary and acceptable in the first place. Those of us who purport to advocate animal rights ought to be focusing everything we have on exposing the inaccuracy of this assumption, not reinforcing it with activism that seeks to regulate the ways in which humans treat nonhumans.

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  1. At least I wrote: As you might imagine, the Pew report wants “food animals” to be treated well because they will be “healthier and safer for human consumption (38).Jeez, I didn’t let it go completely!There was so much offensive language in the Pew report. But as an editor, I know that every bit of that language is considered acceptable, and that’s the problem (or at least one of the many).

  2. Mary, my point wasn’t that you let it go. You didn’t! My personal surprise was that you didn’t deconstruct it, since deconstructing is your thing. But, as I observed, you were trying to cover a lot of ground. I simply saw an opportunity to expand on what you were saying with a thought that I had, which led me to quoting Intro.Actually, originally I was just going to quote Intro, but then I ended up adding more and more context to set it up. Anyway, I hope you don’t take that as an affront, because I most certainly didn’t mean it that way.

  3. Ah! Can you expand on the term “food animal” being “hideously speciecist”? I mean, it’s obviously grotesque and describes a situation that is rooted in speciesism, but would using this term (in the context of the MySpace AKC app for example) be counterproductive? Remember I can’t reference death or violence, as per MySpace TOS.

  4. Hi, Barna. I’m not sure it would be “counterproductive,” necessarily, but it might unnecessarily confuse matters, given the very, very tight focus of the widget. You don’t want to introduce a term that might need further explication when so many people are going to (hopefully) see it.So, w/r/t “food animal” being speciesist, such terminology (“lab animal,” “companion animal,” etc.) designates animals for a certain human use, which of course we would never do to human beings. By reducing a nonhuman being down to the human use for him or her, we are very clearly demonstrating our species bias and domination.

  5. Reminds of when i accidentally say things like “egg on your face” or “monkey on my back” etc. etc. It’s hard to be mindful of our words in speech and writing but that is where our advocacy work really starts. We really need to evaluate the language we use. Good call on this Eric.

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