Letter published by WaPo in re: Whole Foods rating system expose article

Nice to get one like this out there in the public eye.

Rating degrees of animal cruelty is the wrong metric

November 29

The Nov. 27 Economy & Business article “Whole Foods turkeys treated inhumanely, animal activists say,” focused on “humane” use of animals as an empirical matter (i.e., can we, practically speaking, provide humane treatment to animal property?), as do many articles on the plight of animals used for human pleasure and convenience. But it failed to question the underlying assumption that it is acceptable to use animals at all. All animals are sentient beings, self-aware and sensate, and so we are obligated to not cause them unnecessary harm. This is the opposite of exploiting them for food, clothing and entertainment, for which any number of harms are routinely inflicted for the sake of “proper” use of the animal, even in the most “humane” operations.

Once we understand that we have no moral justification for putting animals into situations in which the harms we cause them can be graded on a level of severity, we may finally begin to regard animals as members of the moral community and accord them the respect they deserve not to be used as our things in the first place. That starts by going vegan, not by purchasing animal parts highly rated by Whole Foods.

Eric Prescott, Jamaica Plain, Mass.

Decision-making criteria in animal rights advocacy

tl;dr – When setting out to achieve any objective, if you properly understand your desired outcome and what is necessary to achieve it, then you find built-in decision-making criteria for how to make the most effective use of your time. This common sense approach to productivity is roundly ignored by those who support the abolition of institutional animal exploitation but who engage anyway in reformist activities which do not meet the decision-making criteria that derive from an understanding of the aims of abolition–why abolition is the objective and what is required to bring it about.


There’s nothing like an impending deadline to help clarify what has to be done right now (with the recent closing on the first home my wife and I had ever purchased, and the subsequent remodel, I can definitely speak to this), but when one is pursuing long-term goals–in the case of animal rights advocacy, very long-term goals–one often needs some help to determine what next actions to take. In anticipation of the upcoming launch of the International Vegan Association, which was occupying a lot of my time outside of work, and the impending closing on our house, I needed to step back and take stock of all my various personal long-term projects and, after determining which were still priorities, I clarified my objectives for those projects so that I could arrive at some decision-making criteria that would help me better determine how best to spend my time in pursuit of those projects. The criteria helped me to be confident that I was focusing only on those activities which would contribute meaningfully to my objectives. If any proposed actions didn’t fully align with my objectives, they were simply dropped off the to-do list. As I took the time to evaluate my plans with this ‘high-altitude’ approach, it occurred to me that there was a useful lesson here for animal advocates.

The conventional wisdom

One of the most disturbing tendencies in the realm of animal advocacy is to downplay or even to criticize theory and critical thinking. Reading books doesn’t ‘help animals,’ the line goes. “They’re suffering while you’re sitting around talking about theory.” “Get off your butts and ‘do something’ for animals.” And many people heed this call. After all, how can doing something to ‘help animals’ be wrong? Besides, it’s a lot easier get volunteers to commit to holding up signs in front of a restaurant or circus, to canvas for signatures, and to distribute pamphlets encouraging people to eat less meat than it is to get them to read and critically think about animal rights ideology.

JDD Protest 09-20-2006 [use for blog to illustrate past activism?]And for the volunteers, hey, it feels kinda good to be ‘doing something,’ even if one is not sure what is being accomplished in the overall scheme of things, other than ‘helping animals.’ Not that people think much about it. I mean, I should know. I held up banners, signed petitions and all that for years before I started thinking about what I was doing and why–how I fit into the big picture and how what I did might contribute to the end of institutional animal exploitation. Eventually I realized that I had been flailing around, playing Whac-A-Mole, never really addressing the underlying problem facing animals. How can we be effective advocates for animals if we don’t understand the fundamental obstacle to meaningfully protecting animals and what is needed to secure that protection? What are we even advocating at that point? I hadn’t even known about the fundamentals of animal rights, much less understood or addressed them in my advocacy. Indeed, once I started educating myself about animal rights, it blew up my understanding of animal advocacy, and I saw more clearly when people in the mainstream ‘animal protection’ movement rejected actual animal rights ideology. It was truly perplexing. And still the vast majority of animal advocacy done on behalf of animals continues as I had experienced–pursuing welfare reforms, regulations, confusing single issue campaigns, and the like. What an extraordinary waste.

Why it doesn’t work

The fact is, most of us simply wouldn’t accept this ‘just do something’ or ‘do anything’ approach in our professional or personal lives if we wanted to be successful, and the reason is simple: we can’t be successful at anything without fully understanding just what success looks like. What is our objective? Is it the right objective? Why? What steps are necessary to achieve that objective? We use this sort of natural planning model in other walks of life, almost taking it for granted as the logical way to get things done, and yet this approach is routinely ignored in animal advocacy. Many activists I’ve talked to about what we should be doing with our time have thought less about our endgame and the actions necessary to achieve it than they’ve ever thought about what it will take to pull off a successful job search or house move.

But if you need a job, to go with that example, you don’t typically just ‘do anything.’ You do that which helps get you gainfully employed. So, logically, you think about what actions are required to achieve that outcome and set about doing them in the order needed to get there. This isn’t to say that everything has to happen in a precise order for all objectives, or that everyone is going to go about getting a job in the exact same way, but clearly updating your resume is going to come very close to the top of your list, and you’re probably not going to add ‘plan vacation’ to your list of actions necessary in order to get a job. You’re going to assess the viability of a job-seeking task based on its relevance to accomplishing your objective, and you’ll surely want to avoid counter-productive activities.

This is not to suggest that abolishing the property status of animals is equivalent to a job search, but it should be clear that, to achieve abolition, there will have to be performed a series of actions directly related to that objective. These actions won’t always have to occur in a specific order (though often there is a best next action), but when we carry out specific tasks or physical actions in the service of our objective, it’s because we have good reason to believe that they will move us toward our objective in a practical and meaningful way. We don’t want to waste our time, nor do we want to work against ourselves by engaging in activities that, for example, reinforce the notion that our sole moral obligation to animals we use is to use them more gently. I’m reminded of the notes I was reviewing how Stephen Covey identified the problem with setting a ladder against a wall and reaching the top only to find the ladder was placed against the wrong wall–you waste precious time and energy only to find that you’ve been working against yourself. If non-abolitionist advocacy does actually offer us steps anywhere, it is up a ladder on the wrong wall.

Unlike the natural planning model, the ‘do anything’ approach fails to provide us with the sort of decision-making criteria we need to understand how best to spend our time in the service of what nearly all of us seem to say we want–the abolition of institutional animal exploitation. ‘Helping animals’ and ‘reducing suffering’ (a key rationale behind many animal protection campaigns), while noble in intent, aren’t concrete objectives. It more or less amounts to ‘Be kind to animals,’ which pretty much every decent person already agrees to anyway. On the other hand, abolishing the property status of animals is a very clear, specific outcome–a measurable one, no less.

Applying the natural planning model to animal rights advocacy

In order to bring about abolition, which most ‘animal protection’ advocates claim to support, there are simply a finite number of things we can do at any given time or in any context in order to make progress toward that outcome. We need direction and focus to take on those most needed actions. Frankly, given the enormity of this objective and the sheer number of things we could be doing at any given moment, the natural planning model should be welcome for its enormously helpful decision-making criteria. It’s quite helpful to have a means for filtering out all the things you could be doing with your time but which wouldn’t necessarily serve your most vital interests in the all-too-brief amount of time we have to make a difference in this world. Not everything we ever do in life has to help us achieve abolition, of course. We have to refresh ourselves sometimes, for example. But these must be conducive to achieving our goals and not work against us. Certainly if we are hoping to achieve any meaningful outcome, then it is necessary to focus on those activities which directly produce progress toward that outcome. Otherwise you’re spinning your wheels, or worse.

Abolitionist animal rights thought would enter the public debate faster and in a more impactful way for animals if all would-be abolitionists together used the same abolitionist decision-making criteria to guide their activities. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers could be marshaled into a more potent force as their work becomes aligned with the objective of abolishing animal use. Simply applying the natural planning model to animal rights advocacy would lead to abolitionist actions. If a potential action conflicted with abolitionist principles, it would simply be avoided. Activities which, by way of not being clearly pro-abolitionist and so fail to challenge the current paradigm, would be avoided as well. That would leave those activities which undermine the property paradigm. And while that leaves plenty of room for creative, vegan advocacy, it also narrows the range of activities and offers the greater strength that comes from focus and clarity of purpose. If, properly understanding our objective, decision-making criteria helps us determine that, yes, a given action aligns with our objective directly (it promotes a consistent abolitionist message), then we know we’re pointed in the right direction and doing work that will meaningfully contribute to our goal of abolition, bringing it that much closer to reality.

This theme runs throughout Prof. Gary Francione’s work <http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/books/#.UxnLdNzUz4g>, making its first extended appearance in Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement <http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/books/rain-without-thunder-the-ideology-of-the-animal-rights-movement/>. Francione has long observed an ‘animal protection movement’ comprised of individuals who themselves generally claim to want an end to the abolition of animals’ property status. But what distinguishes the ‘protectionists’ from the abolitionists is that, rather than pursuing means which directly resemble our end of abolition, they–for various reasons Francione describes in Rain Without Thunder–actually reinforce the existing property paradigm by promoting vegetarianism, larger cages or other forms of more ‘humane’ exploitation, and so on, rather than challenging the notion of using animals in the first place. In focusing their resources on animals’ interest in not suffering, animal groups educate people not that they can’t in good conscience use animals, but that animals want to suffer less, and so consumers learn simply that they need to do a better job of sourcing their animal products from ‘responsible’ animal users. When we look to match up our actions with our desired outcome, we can readily see the problems with this sort of approach.

If it’s important for us to consider how to achieve our objectives in any other aspect of life, think about how much more critical it is that we critically examine the things we do or propose to do as activists. There are only so many resources available to try to counter the forces that would keep people using animals, and there are so many ways in which we can go off track. As Prof. Francione says, it is a zero sum game. When we work on behalf of animals’ rights, we simply cannot afford to bypass the decision-making criteria offered by rights theory. How can we expect to be make meaningful progress toward the outcome of abolition if we ignore what’s necessary to achieve that outcome?

Harrison’s Worth

Written by Eric J. Prescott

Unlike the stately courtrooms portrayed in typical on-screen dramas, most real-life American courtrooms tended toward the institutional. The whitewashed, windowless chamber in which Kevin and Becky Anderson awaited the outcome of their case had been stocked with a government seal and furniture appropriate to carrying out a trial. The centrality of the judge to this whole process was established by virtue of the bench’s position below the seal at the front of the room. But, other than this special layout, Kevin and Becky could have been waiting in a generic room in any number of utilitarian government facilities.

The stark environment didn’t reassure Kevin of a favorable outcome for their claim against Dontanville County Animal Care and Control, whose employees were responsible for killing their dog, Harrison, after he burrowed his way out under the backyard fence and had the misfortune to wind up in a cage at their facility. This though Kevin had successfully tracked down Harrison and received assurances from the shelter that they would hold on to the dog until Kevin could get there from work to pick him up.

Kevin, still reeling from the news of Harrison’s death upon arriving at the shelter, stood astonished in a dingy office as the shelter director asked whether he wouldn’t be so kind as to take home one of the other animals caged there on death row. Of course Kevin didn’t want any more animals to die, but he had only just learned that Harrison had been killed–by this very shelter–and it sure did seem as if the shelter director was suggesting that it would be perfectly acceptable to simply swap in another dog.

Say what you will about dogs; Kevin had certainly said his share. He had delighted in mocking the slobbery, needy, gullible Harrison as he’d spent more and more time with Becky and her dog in the early months after they had first met out jogging three years ago. But anyone who has ever known a dog knows that they’re not interchangeable.

Kevin had initially been so enthralled by his unexpected and implausibly successful romance with Becky–he’d all but given up on meeting someone in whom he could invest himself so fearlessly–that he hadn’t noticed how much he’d also grown to care about her dog. But eventually Kevin had became aware of the relationship that had developed between them, a genuine relationship between two individuals. A limited one, certainly, but real and unique all the same. Not that this ended Kevin’s good-natured mocking; one of the benefits of the language barrier was that Harrison simply adored it when Kevin made fun of him, seeing as how it always put him at the center of attention, right where he loved to be. His tail would thrash from side to side as Kevin scratched his chin and, in his sweetest baby voice, he called Harrison a pathetic goober.

Having never been responsible for another animal, nor even a child, Kevin had learned from Harrison what it was like to look out for someone else’s best interests. Harrison had depended completely on Kevin and Becky for his health and safety, thriving under their care. But then he got loose, in a world more dangerous for dogs than Kevin ever would have imagined. There really was no place for a dog out alone in the world, so it wasn’t long before Harrison was collected and taken to a shelter. And dependent though he was on humans to take care of him, he had been betrayed by them.

At a shelter.

Betrayal. Anger. Sorrow. Kevin’s emotions surged, as they had many times since the incident. Sharpening his own grief was the anger he felt for Harrison: Harrison had lost his life. One day he was tearing up grass in the backyard, chasing birds and living life to the fullest, and the next day his life was ended. But the judicial process had no room for that loss. Didn’t, in fact, recognize that loss. To explain why, Kevin and Becky’s lawyer, Gary, had explained that the law divided all before it into two legal categories: persons and property. Harrison had the misfortune to fall into the wrong category.

“Persons possess legal rights to protect their various interests, property rights being among the most important. Property has no legal rights. It cannot sue or be sued, like a person can. Property is basically a thing, something a person uses to further their interests. So, in cases like these, the law is merely concerned with addressing harms to the right-holder caused by the property loss, not with addressing any harms to the property itself.” In other words, even though Harrison was practically family, the law regarded him as little more than any of Kevin and Becky’s many other things. So, no matter what Kevin and Becky might feel about conducting the trial on Harrison’s behalf instead, the court would and only could recognize Harrison as the object of their property loss claim.

How had it come to be that someone as conscious and full of joy as Harrison could be lumped into the same legal category as unfeeling things, a mere object with no recognized value in his own right? It made no sense. It was hardly a secret that animals were capable of feeling. This was, in fact, why there existed numerous anticruelty statutes. But those laws were embedded in a legal context that systematically placed animals’ interests below those of humans, fatally undermining any protection the statute might have offered. No, the law was not for animals–except perhaps in cases of egregious neglect or sadism, and even then the concern was over the impact such inhumane behavior might have on people–the law was for persons. And Kevin couldn’t see how, as long as animals were considered property, cases like his and Becky’s would ever amount to anything more than humans suing each other over their stuff. And this is what had him feeling like these proceedings were a sham.

Becky squeezed Kevin’s hand.

“It’ll be all right.” She spoke quietly, a bid at privacy in the sparsely-populated courtroom.

When he looked back at her, he could tell that she was having misgivings, too, despite her words. She knew as well as he did that, whatever the outcome, Harrison was gone forever. It wouldn’t be all right. Nothing would really change, regardless of what Judge Spooner said. Having come around to this view, Kevin had a hard time seeing the point of sticking around for a verdict. He didn’t think he could be more disillusioned about the justness of the legal system at this point.

Despite many a person’s grand projections onto the legal system about its ability to provide emotional redress, or even justice, this was, all told, nothing more than a venue for processing cases through a judge’s interpretation of the applicable laws. If watching legislators make laws was supposed to be like watching sausage get made, to what could one compare watching those laws get interpreted and upheld? How does one begin to capture what it is that we call justice? Regardless, whatever it might look like, Kevin was confident that ‘justice’ was not imminent.

A nondescript door in the wall behind the bench swung open. With the return of Judge Spooner, the courtroom staff smoothly resumed their well-rehearsed roles. There was no jury. The shelter director had opted for a bench trial in order to reduce the risk that a jury’s emotions would play into the verdict.

“All rise.” The bailiff addressed the room, another of the many formalities.

Kevin wasn’t fond of formalities, generally, and he was feeling fairly resentful about the whole situation by now, but choosing not to rise out of some misplaced disgruntlement wouldn’t be particularly conducive to–well, anything good–so he joined the others, feeling unusually heavy as he stood. Becky noticed and draped a supportive arm around his waist. Feeling her pressed next to him, warm and alive, helped him drop his tensed shoulders a little. He wrapped his arm around her, too.

“Court is now in session, the honorable Judge Lillian Spooner presiding.” The judge finished crossing the distance to the bench and gathered herself and her robe comfortably into her seat. She drew a document closer for a brief inspection before dropping it back again.

“Please be seated.” Other than the bailiff, the scattered handful of people assembled in the gallery retook their pews. Judge Spooner surveyed the room, lingering thoughtfully on Kevin and Becky for a moment before shifting her sharp gaze to the shelter’s director. His attorney seemed to have a sense of the verdict already, looking ready to grab her briefcase and go.

“Mr. Fisher, your staff was informed that the animal in question belonged to the plaintiffs. Further, you have acknowledged that the plaintiffs had claimed and intended to collect their animal the day it was put down. Finally, the record shows that your staff neglected to take a basic, mandatory procedural step to avoid this error. You have mounted no defense, merely excuses.” Spooner held her withering look on Fisher and his attorney for a moment longer before proceeding.

“The court finds that the defendant willfully, improperly, and negligently destroyed the plaintiffs’ property, entitling the plaintiffs to compensation for their loss.”

Fisher looked annoyed, but the verdict was what everyone had pretty much expected. The negligence had been so glaringly obvious that the Fisher had admitted immediately their failure to properly remove Harrison from the kill list after Kevin had called in. The shelter had publicly apologized to the community, too, but Dontanville County Animal Care and Control had been raked over the coals in the local news anyway. This had sparked a larger national discussion about whether shelters should be killing animals at all, though that broader discussion had already fizzled out with the ever-shifting news cycle.

So a guilty verdict had been a foregone conclusion, but what was still in question was whether the suit had been a total waste of time. The damages were the only reason to have shown up at the court that day. From the beginning, Kevin and Becky had been pushed by a desire to punish the shelter, and had determined that the whole thing would be pointless if the court found that Harrison’s death merited little more than the reimbursement of his original adoption cost, which was a real risk. Gary had made it clear from the time they first retained him that, while their case was unusually open-and-shut, they shouldn’t expect much in the way of damages.

“Judgments are typically based on the fair market value of property, which can vary,” Gary had instructed. “A court might find that a shelter animal is worth practically nothing, while a purebred dog or horse might be valued higher if the market value can be demonstrated. However, some courts have more recently offered damages in recognition that the animal property in question had a special value beyond that of any common thing. Such damages are generally limited to what a court might provide if the property in question were something particularly unique, like an irreplaceable family heirloom.”

The best case they could expect, then, was recognition from the court that, from the standpoint of determining a monetary award, their dog was a special kind of thing. That was the closest thing to justice that this court was capable of providing Harrison.

“Mr. and Mrs. Anderson,” Judge Spooner continued. “I own a dog myself, the sweetest little terrier, and it does pain me to consider what it must be like to be in your shoes right now.” Leaning forward on her elbows and addressing them very plainly, she looked quite sincere. Pained, even. Kevin was taken aback. In both Gary’s prep work with them and the judge’s demeanor up until now, he had been led to expect the judge to be more or less impersonal, coldly logical, and even conservative in applying the law and rendering a verdict. But Judge Lillian Spooner was indeed human. A human who also loved a dog. Though Kevin didn’t believe she could possibly know what it was like to be in his and Becky’s shoes at the moment, despite her apparently sincere efforts.

“We expect our shelters to do the right thing when it comes to animals. Lives are quite literally on the line. And when staff are negligent and cause the needless death of a loved one, it harms all of us: You lose your beloved Harrison and the community loses trust in its shelters.” No mention of Harrison’s loss, of course. Kevin hadn’t expected any. But he was amazed again at the person Harrison had helped him to become, to be able to hear so keenly Harrison’s absence from that list of stakeholders, and to comprehend how absolutely typical it is for that absence to go unnoticed, even among those who claim to love animals.

“Now, the matter before us is strictly a property case. Your property was destroyed negligently, and that requires compensation to the owner in accordance with that property’s value, immeasurable as it might be.

“I understand that losing Harrison is unlike losing any old thing you could go out and buy again, like a car, and I know that no one could ever expect you to assign a monetary value to him, but the court must do its best under the law to compensate you for your loss. To my mind that means also recognizing Harrison’s sentimental value.” Judge Spooner leaned back into her seat again, that intimate demeanor fading back into business as usual as she reviewed the damages.

“The defendant shall pay the plaintiffs $70 for the fair market value of plaintiffs’ property. To this the court adds $5,000 for special value and an additional $5,000 penalty in light of the egregious failures on the part of the defendant which led to the destruction of the plaintiff’s property.”

Becky squeezed Kevin’s hand hard, startling him. Despite himself, he was actually glad to see her feeling good, considering how down they’d both been, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to feel it, too. He felt numb.

They’d gotten what they came for, and it was a big award, no doubt. Not the biggest he had come across when reading about cases similar to Harrison’s on the web–and there were too many of those–but it was still a rather sizable award. The shelter had been punished. Despite this best-case outcome, despite it not being a “waste of time,” Kevin felt empty. At the end of this long road to a judgment, he was no longer interested in punishing the shelter. The underlying problem was much bigger than Dontanville County Animal Care and Control.

“Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, I know full well that this award cannot compensate you for your loss–none can–but perhaps it can go some way toward putting Dontanville County Animal Care and Control and other shelters on notice. Having entrusted them with our most precious property, they must regain our trust. I don’t want see any more people in my courtroom who’ve been betrayed by a so-called shelter.”

Feeling the judge’s sympathetic gaze, Kevin nodded in acknowledgment. That was more intense experience than anything he expected from the court. Still, it kind of missed the point. Harrison himself was betrayed. All animals were. We could claim all we want that we care about animals and that we want to protect them, but this was pretty much the best we could ever hope to do for them. And, despite Judge Spooner’s words, there was truly nothing to keep this from happening again. The penalty wouldn’t make a dent in the underlying problem–couldn’t, in fact–because the underlying problem wasn’t that staffers at animal shelters were occasionally careless. The problem was systemic. As long as animals’ lives counted for so little that shelters extinguished millions of those lives every year–as long as animals continued to be regarded as mere things in the first place–there would inevitably be more Harrisons.

Now that he and Becky had taken their case as far as they legally could, Kevin wanted to get out of that courtroom. Barely present, he waited for the formalities to conclude, shook Gary’s hand, promised to call him, and accepted Becky’s hand as she guided them to the exit.

° ° °

Drinking a beer an hour later and barely tasting it, Kevin sat listening to Becky in a booth at one of their favorite restaurants. It was one of those places that helps justify its entrée prices with trendy art and fixtures, white table cloths, rich woods, leather upholstery, and strategic mood lighting that helped make the large space feel more intimate. Coming here was a weak stab at restoring normalcy, but the conversation was still drawn to the verdict.

“Of course it doesn’t make everything all better. I know that. But I think it means something that the judge recognized that Harrison had “special value.” And the five grand award for that, plus penalties… She practically threw the book at the shelter. It’s everything we were hoping for.” Her eyes sparkled. As she almost always had in their relationship, she had found some way to focus on the positive.

Kevin shrugged. “I’m sure we did just about as well as anyone could under these circumstances, but that’s sort of my problem with this whole thing. What’s the award supposed to accomplish? We don’t need the money, it won’t bring Harry back, and nothing will change in the long run. Honestly, at this point I’m more concerned about whether our award is going to deprive the shelter of funds it needs to take care of other animals. Now that we’re at the end of it, I just don’t see any upside.”

“We’ll donate the money, of course.” She seemed a bit deflated now. The sparkle had faded. But she hadn’t hesitated. “Definitely I would want it to go back to directly helping animals.” She grew thoughtful. Kevin nodded, glad that Becky had brought that up. She’d always cared about animals; Harrison was a rescue. Her compassion for animals had rubbed off on him. They had even done walks and runs to raise money for animals. But what he wanted for her to see, that he was now seeing, was that animals needed more than compassion if they’re going to be properly protected. How best to explain where he was at when he could barely articulate it to himself? It was right there, had been in the courtroom, connected deeply to the property problem, he knew it. He frowned in thought.

“There’s something fundamentally wrong with the whole thing.” Kevin stopped, dissatisfied with the vague start. Becky leaned in, picking up more of the overhead lighting in her face, looking almost angelic as she attentively watched him search for the right words.

“Remember the way your cousin, Krista, bought that dog last year because she wanted a small, apartment-friendly dog that was supposedly non-allergenic and good with kids?”

“She researched it on the internet and everything.” She shook her head. As someone who could never buy an animal while millions were dying in shelters, she’d tried to talk her cousin out of it, but couldn’t convince her. She had to have that particular dog.

“She did. She was educating herself as a consumer,” Kevin elaborated, “the way someone picks out the right TV or car for their lifestyle. That whole situation annoyed me, too, but back then I didn’t understand why it bothered me so much. Now I do.” He spoke slowly, deliberately. “It’s because she saw that dog as a thing. Not the way we saw Harrison. She was looking for something that was part companion, part accessory. The dog was a commodity in a marketplace. And that’s what Harrison was in that courtroom today, as far as the law was concerned: our thing. To suit our interests. I hated that feeling, as if Harrison was just some thing we could go out and replace at a pet store. Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Of course,” she stated it as obvious, with a shrug, but then she seemed to sort of drift off for a moment. In her eyes Kevin could see her thinking.

“I did have that sense that we were basically talking around him the whole time,” she revealed. “Like, the whole case was about us when it should have been about him.”

“Exactly.” Kevin leaned in eagerly, getting somewhere. “In that court, Harrison’s interests as a dog, as a being, were totally ignored–totally irrelevant. But the law couldn’t disregard animals like that–it would actually protect them–if we all stopped seeing them as commodities, as our things.” Kevin paused and chewed on that, now that he’d said it out loud. It was a big statement.

Becky leaned back into her seat and they sat, regarding each other over an empty table as they weighed the implications of his conclusion. It was a pretty big leap to make, he thought. Big for her, because they had only just started talking about it, but it was kind of a big leap for him, too. Despite having thought about this stuff for a little while now, he had only recently come to think of all the companion animals like Harrison who might end up in a shelter. And it was only at this very moment that was he making a connection between Harrison and pretty much any other animal. He could feel his perspective shifting, like a seemingly immutable constellation had changed while he looked away. This wasn’t where he thought he was going when he started talking to Becky, but it made logical sense. She leaned back in, having grabbed hold of an idea. Her eyes were bright again.

“If the best we can do for even our most beloved animals is to regard them as ‘special’ things, something is pretty messed up.” He nodded, recognizing his earlier thought. He liked that Becky was thinking along these lines, too. Made it easier to consider these thoughts when they were on the same page.

“No doubt,” he said. “So what about all the other animals, for whom we have no special feelings? What’s the best possible scenario they can experience as someone’s property?” He hadn’t only asked her. He thought about it for himself, too, trying to imagine the best practical scenario for animals used for human pleasure and convenience. It wasn’t good.

“If the best we can do for a given animal is what was done for Harry,” Becky replied, “then the protection provided to animals who don’t have his ‘special value’ must be practically non-existent.” She looked pensive, deeply saddened by this revelation. It hurt to see, and it hurt to think about it, too. But he knew he couldn’t put the thought out of his mind. He couldn’t comfort her, or himself. They had to face reality. Harrison had one more lesson to teach them.

One of their regular servers, Brian, stopped by the table to deliver their usual comfort dinner: Kevin, a thick, chargrilled steak; Becky, roasted chicken with rosemary. These dishes had become routine favorites out of comfort and familiarity, the way the crisp grilled flesh felt under the teeth and the juices slid over the tongue. But as the plates were set in front of them, Kevin stared back at his, wrestling with nagging thoughts. Becky regarded her plate, too, doubtful.

“Bon appétit!” Brian, an affable lifer in his late 30s, observed that something unusual was going on this evening, and so the server quietly slipped away with the serving tray.

Leaden, Kevin picked up his fork and knife and cut open the chargrilled steak to reveal the pink muscle inside, a gaping wound staring back at him. He stopped cutting and let his fork and knife clank hard against the table. Becky saw Kevin’s expression slacken and she leaned forward again to put her hand on his. He could feel her watching him. He wanted her to see what he was seeing. Better yet, how he was seeing. He didn’t know how to put it into words, but he had never seen it quite so clearly: Sitting in front of him was muscle tissue carved from another being. It was part of someone else’s body. He thought of Harrison’s too-mortal flesh, also meat. Meat he never would have dreamed of eating. He had never thought of it this way before, never even thought of thinking this way before. He supposed he hadn’t had to. Human privilege had its benefits. But now he did think about it this way. He intuited that he must.

To eat the steak before him would require believing that the animal from whom it was taken was meaningfully different from Harrison, the moral equivalent of a thing. But no meaningful differences came to mind. The fact that Kevin had known Harrison personally didn’t change whether it was wrong to eat him. It didn’t matter that Harrison was bred for a non-food purpose, as the only reason some animals were used for food and some animals for other purposes was simply because of tradition. Because someone said so.

Here it was, staring him in the face, the thing that tied it all together: There simply was no morally relevant difference between Harrison and other animals. That changed everything.

He looked at his plate again. The animal from whom his steak had been cut had been an individual, like Harrison. Like Harrison, he would have had interests of his own–interests in avoiding suffering and death, for example–interests far greater than Kevin’s own transient and trivial interest in eating a steak that he’d forget by dessert.

He couldn’t look at the plate in front of him anymore, much less eat it. He kept seeing Harrison there instead. It was a dark, cruel twist that caused him to make that connection, but it couldn’t be unmade, and he knew it would haunt him. Still, if anything worthwhile was going to come of Harrison’s death, it was going to be the understanding that Kevin couldn’t continue to use animals for his own benefit any more than he’d ever thought of “using” Harrison for his own benefit.

If Becky agreed with what he felt they must do–and, given that she had already covered her plate with her cloth napkin, he was pretty sure she would–she would no doubt find the positive in it. But first he had to get out of there.

Kevin unfolded his napkin and placed it over his plate, too. Then he shuffled some money out of his wallet and onto the table. Together, he and Becky left the restaurant.

Walking to the car, Kevin broke his silence.

“They didn’t deserve to die any more than he did.”

“I know. It’s okay. I get it. We don’t have to participate in that.”

Kevin stopped and looked at Becky closely in the dim light out front of the restaurant. A weight seemed to be lifting. He took her hands in his. She looked up at him with the strength of love and a shared certainty of purpose, a sparkle in her eyes. For the first time in a long while, Kevin smiled.

Creative Commons License
Harrison’s Worth by Eric J. Prescott is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
The source can be found at https://ericprescott.com/2014/02/08/harrisons-worth/.

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 vegetarians 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?, wattpoultry.com (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, WorldPoultry.net (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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Animal Rights 101, part six: New Welfarism


In order to respect the basic moral rights of nonhuman animals, we must abolish their use. Once we’ve done this in our own lives by becoming vegan, we are left with the question of how to abolish the use of animals in society at large. Given that the use of animals will not end overnight, and that we have a duty to help today’s animals, the question can be more specifically framed as, “What sort of advocacy leads incrementally to abolition?”

Much of the modern global animal protection movement’s advocacy work is grounded in the belief that we can bring about abolition–or at least animal “liberation”–by focusing on how nonhuman animals are treated by humans. Broadly speaking, the idea is that advocating welfare reform and educating the public about animal suffering will incrementally reduce that suffering, eventually leading to the abolition of animal use or to greater consideration for the preferences of nonhuman animals. In his work, professor Gary L. Francione calls this ideology new welfarism.[1]

New welfarism

There are at least two major strands of new welfarism recognizable within the modern global animal protection movement.

The first is comprised of people who consider themselves abolitionists. Their objective is to eliminate animal use. The second strand includes those utilitarians who, like Peter Singer, seek as their objective the equal consideration of interests or preferences, not abolition. Because utilitarianism is not inherently opposed to animal use, this position can be difficult to distinguish from traditional welfarism, which holds that it is acceptable to use nonhuman animals as a means to human ends. But unlike most traditional welfarists, Singer-style new welfarists believe that humans and animals are equal and that their preferences must always be weighed equally.

Regardless of their differences, what all new welfarists share in common is that they focus their efforts primarily on improving the welfare of exploited animals—i.e., their treatment—rather than directly challenging the notion of animal use.[2] They believe that that their objective can be achieved through welfare-based reforms and by educating the public about how animals are treated. Below are some key beliefs characteristic of new welfarist ideology. A new welfarist need not hold all these beliefs, nor should this list be seen as exhaustive.

  1. The new welfarist believes that legal and institutional welfare reform campaigns offer animals increased protection and reduce animal suffering today.
  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.
  3. The new welfarist believes that reform campaigns will damage the animal-using industries.

In the next installment of AR101, I will examine these beliefs in more detail to determine whether they are well-founded or whether we should look to another incremental approach to abolition.

Next: A Closer Look at New Welfarism

Previous: Utilitarianism

1. See Chapter 2 of Gary L. Francione’s Rain Without Thunder for a more thorough introduction to new welfarism.
2. For an extended discussion of use versus treatment, read Gary L. Francione’s “Introduction / The Abolition of Animal Use versus the Regulation of Animal Treatment” in Animals as Persons.

I hope you’re finding this series useful. I’ve enjoyed the reading comments I’ve been receiving so far, so please continue to share your thoughts by commenting below.

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Should Animals Have the Same Rights as People?

I was invited to participate as an “Expert” over at Opposing Views, a site that sets up debates on various topics by asking “Experts” to weigh in with their arguments (OV’s About page). I mentioned the site previously in a post on California’s Proposition 2.

The topic I was asked to take on was Should Animals Have the Same Rights as People? As of now, Bob Torres and I represent similar viewpoints, while two other viewpoints are set forth by Tibor Machan and Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J..

I’ve laid out only three arguments at this point, mainly to pick apart the question and to support my views with very basic posts regarding animal rights (you may recognize some of the content from the AR101 series I’m running here). Please take the time to visit and read them:

You may offer your thumbs-up under each argument as a recommendation if you like, or even offer comments in support of or against. Please let me know if you feel there’s something else I ought to be arguing, either here in comments or via email by using the “Contact” link above.

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

Enjoy AAFL? Use the permalink icon to share this entry with your friends or to link it from your blog, submit to a service using the share button below, and consider making a small donation to support this site and my work. Thanks!