Month: February 2009

Animal Rights 101, part seven: New Welfarism (cont’d)


In my previous post, I introduced new welfarism, a term coined by Gary L. Francione to describe an ideology that pervades the work of the modern global animal protection movement, commonly known as the ‘animal rights movement’. New welfarists hold as their goal the abolition of animal exploitation (or animal ‘liberation’) but, understanding that abolition will not occur overnight, they pursue a strategy of welfare reform to incrementally achieve this end while fulfilling our duty to today’s animals.

While it is true that abolition will not occur overnight and that we have a duty to avoid harming today’s animals, new welfarism is a morally and empirically flawed ideology. Though it differs conceptually from traditional welfarism in being ideologically opposed to all institutionalized animal exploitation, in practice new welfarism offers nothing new at all, and so it should be rejected.

New welfarism at work: An example

In order to illustrate this claim, I will refer throughout this post to Proposition 2, a California ballot measure that was heavily promoted and backed by many activists and organizations guided by new welfarist ideology. After a long, costly campaign, voters overwhelmingly approved Prop. 2 last November, and now it is scheduled to become law in 2015.

In brief, the law will require that, for the majority of each day, calves, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow them to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely. Note that law will not abolish confinement systems; it will merely regulate how certain animals may be confined. Also note that the regulation includes numerous exemptions, including a seven day period prior to a pregnant pig’s expected date of delivery, as well as the use of animals for 4-H programs, rodeos, fairs, research, veterinary purposes, slaughter, and transportation.

The defects of new welfarism

With the foregoing in mind, let’s critically examine the three key new welfarist beliefs I identified in my previous post, AR101, part six.

1. The new welfarist believes that legal and institutional welfare reform campaigns offer animals increased protection and reduce animal suffering today.

Welfare reform does not lead to meaningful protection for animals’ interests

While it’s conceivable that a given welfare reform could meaningfully protect the interests of nonhuman animals, the record shows that hundreds of years of welfare reform have generally failed to achieve this goal. In Animals, Property, and the Law, Gary L. Francione examines the record in great detail. In short, he concludes that as long as animals are property they will lack any basic legal rights and their interests will count for less than those of their owners. Recalling AR 101, Part 4:

Without legal rights, even an animal’s most significant interests cannot be protected from being traded away in favor of any trivial human interest so long as that human interest is in some recognized end.

For example, a scientist who harms an animal in the recognized institutional end of seeking knowledge is legally justified in doing so, while a sadist who harms an animal for pleasure is not justified.

Some argue that the property status of nonhuman animals cannot prevent us from achieving institutional or legal reforms on animals’ behalf. But as long as animals are property, welfare reform will fail to protect their interests beyond measures which are cost-justified, stymieing attempts to reduce their suffering. As Francione puts it:

[B]ecause animals are property, animal welfare standards will generally only protect the interests of animals to the extent that the protection facilitates economically efficient exploitation.

Example: Prop. 2 fails to meaningfully protect animals’ interests

Prop. 2 was an attempt by advocacy groups to bypass agribusiness interests and lawmakers in order to force various animal-using industries into following regulations that are not cost-justified. Taking their case directly to the public, new welfarist advocates succeeded in passing that bill into law. But despite all the acclaim for this legislation, Prop. 2 does not provide any meaningful protection for animals’ interests.

First of all, despite its language, the measure will have no impact on the interests or welfare of calves and sows. The “veal” and “pork” industries in California were already voluntarily moving away from crate confinement systems before Prop. 2 was approved.[2] This leaves us to examine whether Prop. 2 will meaningfully protect the interests of hens.

Prior to Prop. 2, the egg industry in California had not made any overall shift away from intensive confinement operations. One can point to a variety of reasons for this, but with regard to protecting animals’ interests, the industry generally refers to research that demonstrates certain welfare advantages battery cages have over enriched cage, cage-free, and free-range operations. Indeed, an expose of RSPCA’s Freedom Foods welfare scheme reveals that ‘cage-free’ systems cause hens much suffering.

“Stocking density” in cage-free operations is still rather tight (just over one square foot per bird by the RSPCA’s standards); the rate of injuries are higher than with battery cage systems; hens are more liable to live in the waste that gathers on barn floors, leading to diseases that produce higher mortality rates; and birds may have diminished access to water and food, particularly less aggressive hens who are pecked away by more dominant hens (click through the links in the previous paragraph for specific references).[3]

However, this may all be moot. Rather than converting their facilities to cage-free systems, California operators are generally expected to exit the business. But because “national egg demand [will] not change significantly,” egg ‘production’ will continue. Other states will step up to meet the demand.[4] This means that hens will still find themselves confined to standard battery cages–just not cages located in California.

So, while Prop. 2 was sold as a just “modest measure” to reduce suffering, we can see that it won’t even do that much. In effect, by 2015 Prop. 2 will have at best redistributed the business of the U.S. egg industry.

In the long run, as the human population grows and the demand for eggs grows with it, the number of exploited birds will grow, too. By prolonging animal exploitation rather than curtailing it through vegan campaigns, welfare reform could well be responsible for more animal suffering.

2. The new welfarist believes that, by raising public awareness of the cruelty caused by institutionalized animal exploitation, reform campaigns will prompt people to reduce or even eliminate their use and consumption of animals and products derived from animals. Under this belief, new welfarists support and promote non-vegan vegetarianism as a way to reduce one’s contribution to animal suffering.

New welfarism misleads the public and it does not reduce animal exploitation

While new welfarists certainly do present the suffering of exploited animals to consumers and voters in their calls for reform, they leverage this awareness in ways that mislead the public. Welfare reform perpetuates the belief that animal use and consumption are morally acceptable. Promoting ‘humane’ animal products and non-vegan vegetarianism further reinforces this belief.

Misleading the public

Welfare reform perpetuates the belief that, though some practices may be unacceptable in the course of exploiting nonhuman animals, there are acceptable ways to exploit them. This reinforces arbitrary moral distinctions between animals and how they are exploited, ignores their right not to be used as property in the first place, and directly conflicts with the rights view-that animal exploitation is morally unjustifiable.

Prop. 2 offers a text book example: Apart from being deliberately misleading[5], the campaign in support of the measure misled the public by suggesting that chicken eggs are acceptable products for human consumption so long as they come from hens who can spread their wings and stretch their necks, that calf flesh is morally acceptable so long as calves are able to turn around during their lifelong confinement, and so on. This is entirely consistent with the traditional welfare review that regards animals as property, not with the rights view.

While it might be ‘better’ not to confine nonhuman animals in cages so small that they can barely move (and it might not), such a debate completely misses the underlying point: we have no moral justification for purpose-breeding nonhumans into lives of mutilation, confinement, and slaughter in the first place.

Welfare reform facilitates acceptance of animal exploitation

When the public is misled into believing that the central moral issue with respect to our relationship with animals is that we should treat them better, it doesn’t hear that exploiting animals is harmful to the animals. It doesn’t hear that nonhuman beings deserve the same moral consideration for their interest in avoiding pain and suffering or that they have a moral right not to be used as property in the first place. The public only hears the vague admonition that it should reduce its contribution to animal suffering, the idea being that “everyone can agree that farmed animals should be treated with kindness.”

Remember that though traditional welfarists believe that the animals who ‘sacrifice’ themselves ‘for’ us deserve ‘better’ treatment, they have no moral issue with using animals as resources. Because traditional welfarists are inclined to change their behavior in ways that fit their current view of nonhumans, and because welfare reform fails to challenge this view, we should not be surprised when most people respond to reform campaigns by continuing to consume animals and their products.

Indeed, welfare reform reassures people that it’s acceptable to consume animals and their products because it creates the impression that pigs, hens, and calves are being treated more ‘humanely’. Is it any wonder that consumers think they are doing animals a favor by voting for welfare reforms like Prop. 2?

‘Humane’ animal products and vegetarianism

Though the abolition of animal exploitation requires at its very basic level that we abolish our personal use and consumption of animals (i.e., we must be vegan), even vegan advocacy organizations pitch veganism merely as “a tool to reduce suffering” rather than the least one can do to respect the moral rights of nonhuman animals. We also commonly find veganism downplayed as difficult, “extreme“, and even optional. ‘Humane’ animal products, non-vegan vegetarianism, and ‘flexitarianism‘ are hailed as “a step in the right direction“, undercutting the essential message that use is the problem and further misleading the public into believing that the use and consumption of animals and their products is morally acceptable (it only has be to done ‘right’).

Under the same misguided belief that these are ‘steps in the right direction’, we find certain animal advocacy organizations partnering or otherwise collaborating with animal-using corporations and slaughterhouse designers. Out of these relationships we’ve seen the emergence of ‘humane certified‘, ‘sustainable and humane certification‘, and ‘Freedom Foods‘ programs, which amount to a sort of ‘greenwashing’ that allows people to feel good (or at least “less bad“) about purchasing and consuming products that are deeply problematic. They obscure the fact that animals exploited under these programs are still molested, artificially inseminated, mutilated, confined, transported, and killed to produce products that serve only our trivial interests, again reinforcing the idea that animals can be used and consumed without causing them harm.

Certainly some people will boycott certain animal exploiters or animal products from time to time, especially when information about specific forms of ‘egregious’ animal cruelty comes to light, but this is not due to any fundamental objection to animal exploitation. Consumers who boycott Pilgrim’s Pride because its workers were caught inflicting “sadistic abuse” on birds still purchase bird flesh from other companies guilty of “routine, standard cruelty,” and they have no reason not to return to Pilgrim’s Pride products after the workers are fired and measures are put into place to supposedly avoid similar incidents occurring in the future. Similarly, they support reforms like Prop. 2 but they continue right on eating eggs, satisfied that they are fulfilling their obligation to treat hens ‘humanely’. We also find that, once reassured that ‘foie gras‘, ‘veal’, and so on are being ‘humanely’ produced, people return to eating these previously taboo ‘foods’, too.

But what of non-vegan vegetarianism? Why isn’t that ‘a step in the right direction’? Veganism and vegetarianism represent two entirely different ideologies. Veganism holds that all animal exploitation is unjustifiable while non-vegan vegetarianism holds that using animals is acceptable (e.g., for their eggs and milk). Far from being a step in the right direction, vegetarianism perpetuates a morally arbitrary distinction between consuming the flesh of animals and consuming their eggs and milk, which are produced in ways that arguably cause more suffering than flesh products[6]. Even a vegetarian who consumes the smallest amounts of animal products accepts the belief that it is acceptable to exploit (and thus harm) animals for trivial purposes, which is consistent with the traditional welfare view, but not at all consistent with the rights view. We should not be so stunned, then, to find that┬ávegetarians are returning to eating animal products. Selling veganism as a tool to “boycott cruelty” is problematic for similar reasons. Given that cruel treatment was regarded as the fundamental problem all along, and not use, we meet “cheating” vegans, “flexible” vegans, and even those that have slid back into full-blown carnism.[7]

Demand for animal products will not end as long as advocates keep asking the public to replace one form of exploitation with another, perpetuating the belief that animal exploitation is morally acceptable. Abolition will not come as long as advocates continue to focus on how animals are treated and leave the discourse over use off the table, as long as ovo-lacto-vegetarianism, “cage-free” eggs, and “humane meat” are regarded as morally viable options, and as long as adherence to veganism is presented as being extreme, unnecessary, too difficult, or even “fanatical.” Animal rights advocates need to ask themselves what they are doing perpetuating any of these views.

3. The new welfarist believes that reform campaigns will damage the animal-using industries.

Welfare reform causes little financial impact, if any

Though it is quite easy to find industry complaints about the cost of complying with new regulations-and, in some cases, smaller operators do indeed have trouble staying in business-welfare reform campaigns fail to fiscally damage agribusiness overall and, in certain cases, may even immunize exploiters from financial harm (the foie gras ‘ban’ in California is one example of the latter[8]).

Let’s return to California’s Proposition 2 to understand how welfare reform fails to damage animal exploiting industries. First of all, though touted as a “monumental victory for farm animals,” this particular measure will not have any impact on the ‘veal’ and ‘pork’ industries, despite how the bill is worded (as previously discussed). But what about the egg industry? Prop. 2 will effectively bar California’s $336 million egg industry from confining hens in battery cages as of 2015.

Assuming there is no reversal or delay before then, Prop 2 will no doubt have some fiscal impact on California’s egg industry, the 6th largest in the United States, which relies primarily on battery cage systems and would be forced into costly retooling or shutting down their operations entirely. Though it might be tempting to view this as an example of an industry being forced to accept a measure that is not cost-justified[9], the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) itself, the main proponent behind Prop. 2, released an economic report suggesting that California’s egg industry could well survive Prop. 2 to become the “nation’s prime producer of cage-free eggs.” As it was, California’s egg industry had been in decline (54% since 1970), so this sort of move could actually have a positive long-term impact if California’s new “humane” egg industry finds itself the go-to source for ‘cage-free’ or ‘free range’ eggs.

Even if this is not the case, the national egg industry will absorb California’s demand for cheap, battery-caged eggs, and so we will see no meaningful impact on the institution of egg production (or on consumption) as a whole. Thirty percent of shelled eggs (non-liquid egg product) sold in California are already produced in the Midwest, for example, and businesses outside the state will continue to meet California’s demand for eggs.[10] We should therefore expect “little, if any, cost increase and no substantial impact on prices to California consumers.”[11]

One might argue that, if bills like Prop. 2 are enacted all over the United States, it would destroy the national egg industry, too, but that is short-sighted. If laws like Prop. 2 pass were enacted in all 50 states, the U.S. egg industry would of course incur the costs of re-equipping in the short run, but rather than destroying the industry as a whole, we should instead expect increased corporate consolidation as deeper-pocketed egg producers survive and smaller egg ‘farms’ are bought up or shut down. Further, unless legislation is passed banning the importation of eggs from other countries, there would still remain the possibility of obtaining eggs from battery caged hens.

There is simply no reason to believe that welfare reform will impact the demand for eggs in the long run, since the consumption of eggs has not itself been challenged.[12] A slight increase in the price of eggs will at best cause only a short-term impact on purchasing habits, and this is to say nothing about whether some people will eat more eggs or return to eating eggs because now they think doing so is less harmful to hens. And of course the U.S. population continues to grow, growing the U.S. egg industry along with it as people continue to demand eggs.

Welfare reform economically enhances exploitation

I noted above that despite the widespread belief (and message) that Prop. 2 would fiscally harm the egg industry, HSUS identified the potential for Prop. 2 legislation to economically enhance hen exploitation. We don’t have to look far to find additional corroboration for the notion that welfare reform economically enhances exploitation. Ironically, that evidence is often provided by the new welfarist animal advocacy organizations themselves, including the world’s largest ‘animal rights’ group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

These organizations work directly with corporations pitching various reforms as economic enhancements. In support of the controlled atmosphere killing of chickens, for example, PETA prepared a report for the industry that stated, “CAK increases product quality and yield.” HSUS also produced a report, concluding that “a plant processing 1 million broilers per week with an average dressed carcass weight of 4.5 pounds and wholesale price of mce_marker.80 per pound would increase annual revenue by $1.87 million after adopting CAK.” One look at the long list of industry endorsements for CAK and CAS (Controlled Atmosphere Stunning) reveals that PETA and HSUS’s ‘adversaries’ agree with them.

Because welfare reforms like these are “cost-justified’, they are accepted by the industry, resulting in ‘victories’ for both advocates and corporate animal exploiters. For example, last year KFC Canada’s president, recognizing that he and PETA “had no differences of opinion about how animals should be treated” and not wanting anything “negative attached to [KFC Canada’s] brand,” agreed to “[p]hase in purchases of 100% of its chickens from suppliers that use controlled-atmosphere killing (CAK)”[13] In exchange for this ‘concession’, PETA dropped a 5 year-long pressure campaign against the chain.

The failure of welfare reform to damage the animal-using industries reveals the fundamental flaw of attempting to effect social change through legal and institutional reform: trying to eliminate demand by reforming the supply is completely backward. California’s Proposition 2 exemplifies the problem with this approach. When it comes into effect in 2015, Californians will not suddenly stop eating eggs, nor will they suddenly start paying more for eggs laid by hens confined in cage-free facilities. They will still be consuming cheap eggs sold by companies based outside of California, because nothing will have fundamentally changed.

Conclusion: We can’t march toward abolition by walking away from it

The abolition of institutionalized animal exploitation is a revolutionary goal that depends on a sweeping societal shift away from the traditional welfare view-that animals are mere resources-toward a view that regards animals as right-holders. Of course, no one expects abolition to occur overnight, but new welfarism takes this observation to the extreme and untenable conclusion that abolition is an “all-or-nothing” “hypothetical future goal” devoid of incremental possibilities.

New welfarists seek to “ease the suffering” of animals, in large part by reforming the ‘low-hanging fruit‘ of animal agribusiness (a direct critique of which can be found here). Though this strategy derives from the reasonable belief that we ought to try to help today’s animals, it also relies on the unfounded belief that reform campaigns will systematically eradicate the animal-using industries’ ‘worst’ abuses one by one, protecting animals’ interests to a greater and greater degree until there are no more ‘worst’ abuses to eradicate.

But because welfare reform obscures (and even contradicts) the message that using nonhuman animals as mere resources is the fundamental problem, it is incapable of bringing about abolition. Rather, welfare reform is fully consistent with the traditional welfare view we’ve had for hundreds of years. It is incoherent to suggest that we can precipitate a shift away from the traditional welfare view by reinforcing that view. And support for the back-up claim that welfare reform helps today’s animals consistently fails to materialize.

What about the claim that welfare reform fosters a climate that is conducive to abolition? It’s hard to see how reinforcing traditional welfarism could be conducive to abolition, but ‘evidence’ is usually presented in the form of vegetarians who later become vegan or those new welfarist vegans like myself who eventually became abolitionists. It’s suggested that surely this is a path to abolition offered by new welfarism. But this is no ‘proof’. There’s no doubt that vegans have taken this path. Many have. But it is not the path, or even the best path, stategically.

In effect, those ‘converts’ that new welfarism does win over to veganism amount to a collateral, sometimes even ephemeral, win. As I described above, there are serious problems with promoting veganism as ‘merely a tool to reduce suffering’. It perpetuates the traditional welfare mindset-that cruel treatment is the problem-and runs the very real risk of even vegans ‘cheating’ or sliding back into consuming animals and animal products. I don’t mean to suggest that all vegans are at risk of going back to using and consuming animals, but we know of highly prominent ‘vegans’ who see no problem with “indulging” in the “luxury” of animal products (some of them are more discreet about it, such as the noted animal advocate who asked me how ‘strict’ I am in my veganism before going on to eat animal products in front of me).

There is no empirical evidence to support the belief that non-vegans are less willing to listen accept an abolitionist view than a welfarist view, and there is no evidence that vegans who are never exposed to the rights view will come around to this view on their own. So it’s wrong to suggest that new welfarism leads to abolitionism. Rather, abolitionism leads to abolitionism. So, as people who are supposedly hoping to build a social movement capable of shifting the dominant paradigm to one that respects animals’ moral right not to be treated as property, shouldn’t we stop misleading people about what’s at stake? Shouldn’t we stop perpetuating use? Shouldn’t we as animal rights advocates be encouraging people to go vegan for abolitionist reasons?

Taking the rights view seriously means rejecting new welfarism in favor of an incremental approach that is morally and logically consistent with the end goal of abolition, and I will discuss just such an approach in the next installment of AR101.

Next: Abolitionism

Previous: New Welfarism

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[1] For more on the defects of new welfarism, read Gary L. Francione’s blog entry, The Four Problems of Animal Welfare: In a Nutshell at Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach.

[2] Egg producers at odds over Proposition 2, San Diego Union Tribune by way of San Diego Farm Bureau (September 28, 2008).

[3] We should also not forget that whether a hen is confined to a battery cages or another system of confinement, her life before and after those 18 months of captivity are pretty much the same. She is still bred to produce eggs at the debilitating rate of 300 per year, her bones are still depleted of calcium (leading to breaks that prevent her from accessing food and water), and she is still captured and killed if she survives all of that long enough to be ground into food.

[4] Economic Effects of Proposed Restrictions on Egg-laying Hen Housing in California, University of California Agricultural Issues Center (July 2008).

[5]A few quick examples:

  • As mentioned above, California’s small “pork” industry was already phasing out gestation crates. Still, images of pigs (both confined and “happy“) were used to mislead activists, donors, and voters into believing that Prop. 2 would have a direct impact on the well-being of sows.
  • Likewise, campaigners asserted that calves would be treated better if the measure passed (images of calf confinement were also utilized), though California’s even smaller “veal” industry was already phasing out crating systems under the American Veal Association’s resolution to convert the entire industry to ‘group housing’ methodology by December 31, 2017.
  • The one California industry that Prop. 2 has the potential to affect is its egg industry. Prop. 2 supports were misled into believing that they would improve the wellbeing of hens even though eggs will still come from the same sorts of operations as before when the measure goes into effect in 2015 (examined in response to Belief 3).
  • Furthermore, the campaign conveniently left out that the Prop. 2 does not explicitly ban all confinement systems (such as enriched cage systems), and the campaign ignores the welfare problems veterinarians observe in other sorts of operations, including ‘cage-free’ operations.

[6] Unlike steers bred for their flesh, for example, cows purpose-bred for their milk spend their entire lives in confinement and are exploited intensively until they are ‘spent’, at which time they too are sent to slaughter to become ground ‘beef’. Adding to the suffering, despite the toll it takes on their bodies (calcium depletion, infections, and more), ‘dairy cows’ are kept continuously impregnated in order to maintain a high volume of milk production. Calves are a natural byproduct of this artificial insemination, and those that are not retained to become ‘dairy cows’ are shipped off to become ‘veal’. The vegetarian’s demand for eggs also ignores the 260 million one day-old male chicks that are discarded, ground up, or suffocated at hatcheries in the U.S. every year [Metheringham J. Disposal of day-old chicks-the way forward. World Poultry 16(11):25, p. 27 (2000)], along with the inevitable “depopulation” of “spent” hens, who are by that point best suited to be processed into animal feed.

[7] See this AAFL entry regarding a Good Magazine article that highlighted a former PETA-supporting vegan who delights in the benefits of “humanely raised” beef, calling the transition from activist for the animals to someone who cares for then kills her own animals a ‘transformative experience.’

[8] The California ‘foie gras’ ‘ban’, which wasn’t a ban on ‘foie gras’ at all. It merely regulated how birds may be fed. In terms of immunizing exploiters against fiscal damage, it nullified any pending lawsuits against ‘foie gras’ producers. Sonoma Foie Gras, California’s only ‘foie gras’ producer, hailed the new law as a victory. The company’s president, Guillermo Gonzales, said the interval before the law goes into effect would be used “to demonstrate that foie gras production is safe and proper.” Even if this research and lobbying effort fails to cause the law to be repealed, Sonoma could adopt a ‘humane’ process for producing ‘foie gras’ that would meet the standards set by the law. This would in effect shield the ‘foie gras’ industry in California and protect its continued profitability.

The case studies go on and on. For example, another strong precedent is the Animal Welfare Act. The act did not end vivisection, of course, nor did it meaningfully protect animals from harm. It has allowed researchers to use the AWA as ‘proof’ that animals are well cared for even as it shields them from legal action. For more details on this and other welfare reform failures, see Animals, Property, and the Law (Part III), by Gary L. Francione.

[9] Among other financial advantages, battery cages offer the industry greater “stocking density” and reduced feed costs over other confinement methods.

[10] Following Proposition 2: Where do we go from here?, (Nov. 17, 2008).

[11] Economic Effects of Proposed Restrictions on Egg-laying Hen Housing in California, University of California Agricultural Issues Center (July 2008).

[12] For example, in May of 2004, Austria banned battery cage systems (battery cage operations were to have been shuttered by January 1, 2009), but there the production of eggs between 2004 and 2007 has actually gone up. There is no empirical evidence to indicate that it will go down.

[13] KFC Canada and PETA reach agreement, (June 2, 2008).

Free abolitionist vegan pamphlets announced

I’m pleased to announce that, thanks to the support of a kind and generous donor, the Boston Vegan Association has launched a major new initiative. Effective immediately, the organization will fund the printing and distribution of its full-color abolitionist vegan outreach pamphlet to qualifying advocates throughout North America.

To learn more about the program and how to apply, visit the pamphlet application page.

I like to hear from you. Comment below or email me.

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