Animal Rights 101, part three: Animal Rights


As with the term “rights,” there is a great deal of confusion about the term “animal rights.” Much of this confusion has been caused not just by the media and the industries that exploit nonhuman animals, but also by activists and animal advocacy groups using the term to loosely describe any actions purported to improve the conditions of animals used by humans. In other words, rather than promoting the moral or legal rights of animals, some so-called “animal rights activists” focus on regulating animal welfare–how animals are treated.

Further confusing the issue, some animal rights activists seek legal rights for only a select category of sentient nonhuman animals (such as great apes), based on characteristics such as higher-order cognitive abilities. The rights theory I put forth here–laid out in far greater detail in Gary L. Francione’s highly recommended Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?–holds that any sentient being has at least one basic moral right simply by virtue of that being’s sentience: The right not be treated merely as a means to another’s end.


To be sentient is to be conscious or self-aware, capable of perception or feeling. Sentient humans and nonhumans feel sensations of pain, pleasure and so on. When a being is sentient, s/he will naturally have interests. For instance, the capacity for sentient beings to feel pain provides them with a clear interest in not feeling pain.

In recognition of this particular interest, we generally consider it unacceptable to inflict pain on another sentient being unless there is an extraordinarily good reason. Take the example of a boy who harms a nonhuman simply to satisfy his morbid curiosity. He straps an ordinary dog down on a table and cuts her open to have a look inside. As he does this, the dog yelps, howls, and struggles, but the boy keeps cutting, ignoring her cries.

I think it’s safe to assume we all find the boy’s behavior objectionable. Various reasons may be offered for this, from our concern that the boy has psychological problems–and that these problems could lead to him harm other humans some day–to our concern that the dog might belong to another human who has an emotional attachment to her. But these are not the fundamental reasons for our objection. We are upset by the example because we recognize that the boy is causing the dog unnecessary pain.

If the dog was not sentient, then she wouldn’t have an interest in not being caused pain (because non-sentient beings are unable to sense pain), and so there would be no harm done. But, of course, we know that the dog is sentient, and we know that the boy’s actions cause her much pain.

Now, if we were to agree that the pain was for some justifiable reason necessary, we might be distressed by what is being done to the dog, but we would not object to it as a moral matter. For instance, if the boy was attacked by the dog and killed her to protect himself from a similar fate, we might be saddened by her death, but we would say that it was justified in this particular situation. However, it cannot be reasonably held that the boy needs to harm the dog merely to satisfy his curiosity.

This example illustrates how, as long as a being is sentient, we recognize–as a moral matter–that the being has an interest in not being harmed, which cannot be ignored or overridden unless it is truly necessary to do so. This belief is based on no other characteristic than the being’s ability to feel that pain. No other characteristics beyond sentience are necessary to merit moral consideration.

Equal Consideration

The principle of equal consideration holds that, as a basic moral matter, we ought to treat like cases alike. Viewed in terms of interests, the principle requires that the like interests of various beings must be given equal consideration. As described above, nonhumans and humans are alike in at least one important, morally relevant respect: they are sentient and, as such, they have interests that must be considered. Extending the principle of equal consideration to all sentient beings requires that we give nonhumans’ interests equal weight to humans’ interests. Where our interests are the same, we must weigh them equally.

So how does this work?

Let’s examine a simple case involving humans. Morally, we disapprove of killing other humans without justification (e.g., self defense). This is because we recognize that human beings have an interest in not being killed. We take this interest very seriously, protecting it with a legal right. A person’s interest in not being killed does not derive from skin color, sex, or cognitive abilities. When we give equal weight to the interests of white and black people, people of any sex or intelligence level, we recognize that they all have an equal interest in continued existence, and we accept that we might protect this interest equally.

Species is not the basis for an interest in continued existence, either. Humans do not have an interest in continued existence because they are human, but because they are sentient. As previously discussed, all sentient beings have interests, including a fundamental interest in staying alive.1 According to the principle of equal consideration, to whatever extent we respect a human’s interest in not being killed, then we must also respect a nonhuman’s interest in not being killed. If we accept that a human’s interest in continued existence cannot be outweighed by another human’s interest in pleasure, then we must accept that a nonhuman’s interest in continued existence cannot by outweighed by a human’s interest in pleasure.

There is simply no non-arbitrary difference between humans and other animals that justifies treating their like interests differently.2 Remember, we accord equal consideration where our interests are alike. Because there is no characteristic possessed by sentient nonhumans that justifies giving their like interests less consideration than our own, they ought to be protected equally. This brings us to animal rights.

Animal Rights

Recall from my previous AR101 post that rights protect one’s interests against those who would disregard those interests. All sentient beings have interests, both human and nonhuman, and so they all belong in the moral community of rightholders. When we say that nonhuman animals have moral rights, we are basically acknowledging that some of their interests are like ours and that these interests must be given equal consideration to our own. So, if we have a moral right not be killed (even if it might benefit someone to kill us), then our understanding of the principle of equal consideration leads us to the conclusion that nonhuman animals have that moral right as well, as they have the exact same underlying interest.

As discussed previously, we expect that, at some point, legally defined rights will reflect the moral rights that we already accept. Moral and legal rights for animals, then, derive from the notion of equal consideration for their basic interests. Saying that animals have rights is the same as saying that animals are rightholders. It doesn’t necessarily say which rights animals have morally, and which they should be granted legally. Moral rights would, of course, become better understood as we begin to give the interests of nonhuman animals equal consideration. The expectation is that legal rights would follow along the same lines.

While we may not agree on all the specific moral rights possessed by sentient nonhuman animals, but there must be at least one fundamental moral right they hold if any other rights are to make sense: The right not be treated as a thing, as merely the means to another’s end. This must also be granted as a legal right if any other legal animal rights are going to mean anything. Nonhuman beings simply have no legal rights as long as they are regarded as property, i.e., a means to the ends of a person. Remember, property cannot have rights, only persons can.

In my next post, part four of AR101, I will discuss in more detail how property status relates to animal rights, along with its implications.

Next post: Property Status

Previous post: Rights

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1. Remember, if one is not sentient, one simply has no interests to speak of.
2. There are certainly some interests sentient beings do not have in common. For instance, nonhumans do not have a demonstrable interest in voting, bearing arms, and so on, and therefore we are not obligated to consider those interests. After all, you cannot give consideration to an interest if it does not exist.


Vegan Education Made Easy: An Abolitionist Pamphlet

Gary L. Francione just posted a self-produced vegan education pamphlet at his blog, The Abolitionist Approach. It’s a double-sided document, so it will be easy to reproduce and distribute. A lot of people have been clamoring for a resource like this, and now you finally have it, from the very person behind the abolitionist approach. If that’s not good enough for you, I don’t know what is! Get out there and spread the message far and wide.

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Book Review: Animals as Persons

Animals as Persons: Essays on on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation was released May 23rd, but it has taken me a while to finish reading Gary L. Francione’s latest book because I’m perpetually swamped lately. However, working it into my ridiculous schedule was relatively easy, in part because the book is comprised of individual, self-contained essays that allowed me to conveniently break my reading up into manageable sessions as time permitted. You might find this helpful as well. While the essays range in length, none of them are terribly long (particularly after the first two), and together they all provide an excellent and highly readable introduction to Professor Francione’s abolitionist theory of animal rights. If you are one of those people who have put off reading his earlier books due to time constraints or for any other reason, this might be an ideal place to start.

I recommend not skipping over the introduction, particularly if you’ve never read Francione before. In it, he gets right to the pivotal assertion that the animal advocacy movement is, in effect, two very different movements: one that seeks to abolish animal exploitation by eradicating the property status of animals, and the other a movement that seeks the regulation of animal-using industries while failing to effectively challenge the property status of animals.

He expands on the core concepts of abolitionism in the first chapter, “Animals as Persons.” That essay is itself a relatively brief but thorough presentation of Francione’s theory as developed more fully in Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? (ITAR) While it is not a substitute for reading that book, “Animals as Persons” is a very clear essay that will quickly have you up to speed on the basic concepts.

The next chapter is an essay called “Reflections on Animals, Property, and the Law and Rain Without Thunder.” In it, Francione responds to various critics who have argued that the property status of animals does not necessarily prevent advocates from improving animal welfare, and that animal welfare regulation is an effective way of moving incrementally toward recognition that animals have more than the value that we assign to them.

You don’t necessarily need to have read the two books to appreciate “Reflections,” though I’m sure I got more out of it because I had. I found the essay particularly interesting because Francione deconstructs real-world legislation such as Florida’s gestation crate ban and California’s foie gras ban. While he frequently deconstructs current events on his blog, as he did with the announcement that KFC Canada would adopt a controlled-atmosphere killing policy, these case studies offer new readers relevant and useful applications of his abolitionist theory.

In his third essay, “Taking Sentience Seriously,” Francione focuses on flaws in the “similar-minds” theory, a critical analysis all the more relevant in light of news that Spain’s parliament plans to extend legal rights to life and freedom for great apes. Based as it is on cognitive abilities rather than sentience, this pending legislation is a case in point for Francione, so you’ll definitely want to read chapter 3 if you don’t know why this seemingly good news is a bad precedent for animal rights.

Returning to his critics, chapter four’s essay, “Equal Consideration,” focuses specifically on Cass Sunstein’s review of ITAR, in which he claims that Francione fails to justify why animal advocates should not focus on regulating human treatment of animals rather than abolishing animal use. This gives Francione an excellent opportunity to point out some fatal flaws in Sunstein’s thinking, along with that of Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer, who seem to believe that some sentient beings have no interest in continuing to live, despite the logical implication that their very sentience gives these animals an interest in continued existence.

Francione’s fifth essay examines the justifications for vivisection, which he also covers in IATR (along with descriptions of numerous specific experiments). Here, too, he observes that even if there is some plausible empirical claim for necessity, this form of animal use cannot be morally justified. “The Use of Nonhuman Animals” is one of the clearest, most concise critiques of vivisection I have read, from both the empirical and moral points of view. While the empirical section should be sufficient in and of itself to clear up any confusion as to whether vivisection is as valuable as is usually claimed, Francione footnotes our way to additional resources, and of course he follows this up with a moral critique that is impossible to refute without engaging in hypocrisy.

His next essay, “Ecofeminism and Animal Rights,” is actually a 1996 review of Beyond Animal Rights: A Feminist Caring Ethic for the Treatment of Animals, in which he examines arguments made against animal rights and for an “ethic of care.” Like Cass Sunstein’s review of IATR, essays in Beyond Animal Rights suggest that we do not need to end the institutionalized exploitation of nonhuman animals in order to include them within the moral community, and even go as far as to actually legitimize that exploitation, ironically perpetuating speciesist hierarchy at the same time that they condemn the rights view as hierarchical. Francione swiftly and effectively counters these views.

Finally, Francione turns his attention to perhaps the world’s best-known animal rights author and philosopher, Tom Regan, who in his seminal The Case for Animal Rights makes a sustained, comprehensive, and complex philosophical argument for animal rights. In the course of his argument, which can be seen as a case for which criteria are valid for inclusion in the moral community, he presents the “lifeboat case” as an example of a conflict between rightholders. The lifeboat case is a hypothetical scenario Regan resolves in part by claiming that death is a greater harm to humans than it is to nonhumans such as dogs. Francione critiques this view with “Comparable Harm and Equal Inherent Value,” a 1995 essay updated with a 2008 postscript to respond to the new preface Regan wrote in 2004 for the second edition of The Case for Animal Rights, in which he responded to critics of his lifeboat example.

One of the few drawbacks of gathering together all these different essays is that, even though the case studies and responses to specific criticisms may prompt you to understand Francione’s abolitionist theory more clearly, you frequently end up reading the same thing you’ve read elsewhere in his work, including other essays in this book, and sometimes nearly even verbatim. However, it is that very deja vu experience that reminds you how so many supposedly different debates always come back to the fundamentals, which we would do well to learn… and that may just be the reason Francione keeps repeating them.

In recapping his abolitionist animal rights theory and defending it with such precision, clarity, and authority, Gary Francione successfully reasserts the view that nonhuman animals will not be meaningfully protected from unnecessary harm so long as they are considered human property, and that welfare reforms or variations on the theme are incapable of leading to their emancipation. Animals as Persons is a must-read for anyone claiming to support or to even simply be interested in animal rights. Right now you can purchase it and all Columbia University Press animal studies titles at a steep 50% off until August 1st.

While you await your copy, you can read the publisher’s interview with Francione and listen to his most recent interview (part 1) on Vegan Freak Radio (part 2).

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Animal Rights 101, part two: Rights


The term “rights” is widely misunderstood. It will be helpful here to distinguish between moral and legal rights. These classes of rights are similar in at least one respect: in both cases, a right protects a person’s interest by providing that person with a claim against any party who interferes with the satisfaction of the person’s protected interest.

An example

Let’s look at an example in which a person is protected by both kinds of rights.

Person A is an average human being whose interest in continuing to live we can hopefully agree is important enough that it should not be arbitrarily ignored by any other person. When we say that Person A has “a right to live,” we are more or less stating that Person A’s interest in continued existence is protected by a “claim” against any person and/or actions that would prevent Person A from continuing to live. Another way of looking at this is that the right protecting Person A’s interest in continued existence imposes a duty on other people not to ignore this interest.

Of course, there are limitations on this protection. If Person A attempts to kill another person, then most people would not object to the other party defending herself with lethal force, or to Person A being shot and killed by an officer of the law. Person A’s interest in continuing to live has not evaporated, but his actions have provided appropriate justification for ignoring that interest.

With this example in mind, let’s take a look at the difference between legal and moral rights.

Legal rights

The law identifies that certain interests ought to be protected, even if infringing upon those interests would serve the interests of another person, or the interests of the greater good. When a person’s legal right is violated by another party, then the right provides the person with a justified legal claim against the violating party.

Valid legal claims can lead to various legal sanctions against the violating party, including financial penalties and/or imprisonment. Legal rights are generally codified and enforced by a political institution, such as a government, and they are held by certain entities functioning as legal “persons,” such as humans and corporations.

Moral rights

Moral rights derive from objective morality, not from governmental authority. They can be understood to have approximately the same logical structure as legal rights, but they are not backed up with the same sort of protection offered by legal rights. However, the claim a person has against another party who infringes upon a moral right is no less valid. Consequences for violating moral rights can range from a personal demand for an apology to being ostracized by one’s community.

The relationship between moral and legal rights

Moral rights and legal rights are distinctly different, but they are closely related. We can think of a moral right as an underlying, pre-legal form of a right. Whatever moral rights a being holds will ideally (if not now, at least some day) be reflected in the legal system. For instance, our moral right to liberty is reflected in our legal right to that liberty. As public opinions about right and wrong shift, laws generally evolve along with them. Humans enslaved in the United States before 1865 had the same basic moral rights as every other human, but these moral rights were not reflected in the law until the 13th Amendment was passed.

It is possible for legal rights to clash with moral rights. For example, some animal rights advocates believe that all sentient beings have at least one basic moral right: the right not to be treated exclusively as a resource by others. This moral right conflicts directly with the morally indefensible legal right humans have to own nonhumans.

Other considerations

A right typically does not need to be understood by someone who possesses that right in order to receive its protection. For example, the interests of children and mentally incompetent persons are protected by rights. Claims to these rights can usually be made on their behalf.

Because nonhuman animals are legally classified as property instead of persons, they cannot possess legal rights.


In my next post, I will describe animal rights. It will be helpful to keep in mind the above discussion as we consider what interests nonhuman animals have.

Next post: Animal Rights

Previous post: The Need

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Animal Rights 101, part one: The Need

This is the first in a series of posts I am writing to introduce readers to the most basic fundamentals of the abolitionist approach to animal rights as laid out by Gary L. Francione. I have also read works by Joan Dunayer and Lee Hall but, for my purposes here, Francione’s body of work currently offers the most thorough and original explication of abolitionist animal rights and our duties as animal rights advocates.

Though this blog is obviously not the best forum for me to be completely comprehensive, that is not my goal. If you’re looking for that, you should be reading the following books anyway: Rain Without Thunder, Introduction to Animal Rights, and Animals as Persons. Instead I will attempt to distill in my own words the basics of abolitionist animal rights advocacy that I have learned over the past 18 months or so. I will work through the basics, beginning with an understanding of the term rights, and working through what it means to be an animal rights advocate.

Post One:  The Need

The animal rights “movement” has been diluted by welfare-oriented advocacy to such an extent that the term “animal rights” has come to be widely understood merely as a catch-all label that refers to any activity carried out on behalf of animals, whether the activity is related to the moral or legal rights of animals at all. Most often it is not. 

“Animal rights” advocacy has for years had little to do with the moral rights of animals. Instead advocates have often focused on how animals are treated. In other words, they have concerned themselves with how humans treat their animal property, not whether or not the animals are rightfully considered the property of others in the first place. 

For instance, the media and many activists frequently call efforts to get hens out of battery cages “animal rights” campaigns, but these activities are focused entirely on the treatment of animals (i.e., their welfare), and not on their use (i.e., their right not to be used merely as a means to human ends). Hens in cage-free operations still suffer and are still bred, mutilated, confined, dominated, and killed for the sake of human pleasure and convenience. These are trivial interests when compared to a hen’s rather significant interest in staying alive.

Animal welfare campaigns do not address the underlying premise that allows humans to take the lives of nonhumans at will: hens and other animals belong to humans. Even if these campaigns succeed in regulating a specific activity, like caging animals, many other harms would continue to be permissible, and welfare advocates would continue to push until they found themselves at a point where average people simply didn’t see the harm anymore. After all, by then they will have succeeded in getting rid of the most egregious cruelties, which is all they ever cared about anyway.

Of course, even if reforms succeeded in ending every imaginable physical form of abuse to nonhuman animals and their lives were all terminated through some painless process, every animal on every farm would still be unnecessarily–and thus unjustly–imprisoned and killed, as the co-founder of the Vegan Society observed over 80 years ago after visiting his Uncle George’s farm : 

the idyllic scene was nothing more than Death Row, where every creature’s days were numbered by the point at which it was no longer of service to human beings.

Further, when a supposed “animal rights” group favors one type of confinement or killing over another, it implicitly (and even explicitly) condones using animals for human benefit (so long as it is done less cruelly). This of course runs counter to animal rights advocacy, which seeks to liberate hens and other nonhumans from human oppression altogether.

It is vital that the core of the animal rights movement–the abolitionists–reclaim “animal rights” for what it is. How? By widely and clearly restating the animal rights position, which is what I intend to do over the course of this series. As we come to understand the basis for the human oppression of nonhuman animals and the changes required to liberate those animals from this oppression, the path forward becomes much more focused and even simpler than many would have you believe.

By reclaiming, clarifying, and amplifying the abolitionist position on animal rights, we draw attention to what we specifically mean when we say “animal rights,” defining better for ourselves and others what exactly it is we seek on behalf of nonhuman animals. In returning to our basic mission, we refocus our efforts and the public eye on what is ultimately at stake: the interests of nonhuman animals in not being used exclusively as a means to human ends. That is an animal rights movement. 
After all, if we do not talk in terms of rights, then how can we even call ourselves animal rights activists? By openly, actively, and intelligently promoting animal rights and the abolition of animal exploitation, we have the potential to move the dialogue on animal rights forward in a meaningful way.

With greater clarity, precision, and stronger claims-making, our movement will be more coherent as it strikes at the roots of animal exploitation, rather than spending vast resources on efforts for nonhuman beings that on the surface seem good, but which ultimately do very little for them individually and may well further entrench their status as property for humans to use for the foreseeable future.

The goal of this series of posts, then, is in line with the mission statement at Francione’s own website:

to provide a clear statement of a nonviolent approach to animal rights that (1) requires the abolition of animal exploitation; (2) is based only on sentience and no other cognitive characteristic, and (3) regards veganism as the moral baseline of the abolitionist approach.

Next Post: Rights

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Chicago’s foie gras ban repealed

Foie gras prohibition has been repealed in Chicago, and it comes as no surprise. Mayor Richard Daley was hell-bent on defeating the ban from the get-go.

However, I originally saw the near-unanimous support for this ban among Chicago’s aldermen as an encouraging sign. I supported the campaign at the time, thinking it was an incremental step toward abolition (though I confess to having little idea what abolition really meant back then). Here we had not a regulation of animal treatment, but an outright prohibition on selling a certain kind of product derived from animals. Good news, or so it seemed. Right away, Chicago restaurateurs made a mockery out of the ban by giving foie gras away for free with the purchase of another product, or turning into “duckeasies”.

But loopholes weren’t the only problem. The fundamental flaw with this ban, as I have come to understand it, is that it was based on the cruelty of foie gras production in particular (primarily the forced feeding), as opposed to the immorality of unnecessarily using any animals as an instrumental means to our ends. In other words, this was a ban on a certain type of product, not any sort of incremental legal admission that animals deserve the right not to be used as property.

It’s actually kind of amusing to review a post a wrote in September 2006 [the post has since been deleted], as it reads almost identically to some of the letters and comments I’ve received about my “Abolitionists: Fringe or Core?” post, suggesting as it does that this anti-foie gras campaign, even if unsuccessful, would promote “a national awareness of the cruelty inherent in the modern diet, and an alteration in people’s food choices.” Well, unless the alteration we are talking about is the rise of “happy meat”, I was being awfully unrealistic.

I experienced a major shift in thinking here at AAFL a few months after this ban was passed–not all that dissimilar from when my paradigm shifted toward veganism–and I have come to reject as counterproductive measures that reduce animal advocacy to addressing certain “most egregious” cruelties and that do not strike at the root of our collective presumption that it is acceptable to use animals in the first place. Chicago’s foie gras ban is a perfect case in point. Single issue campaigns like these (and those against other “low-hanging fruit” like fur, for example) fail to change the popular view of animals because they perpetuate speciesism by implying that certain forms of exploitation are worse than others (they even suggest that foie gras would be more acceptable if forced feeding was not being used), and they typically fail to address the interest animals have in not being used instrumentally as a means to our ends.

In reality, a wide array of animal uses cause unnecessary harm, and of course all animal advocates know this. So why aren’t we all focused on abolitionist vegan advocacy? Apart from the political value of focusing supporters on a single campaign goal, it has also been said that such an approach is unrealistic. But we have here evidence that reductionist animal advocacy is unrealistic, seeing as how it expects to deliver animals from suffering without addressing its root causes.

Now, I don’t write this to perpetuate “infighting”, as some would suggest. I seek to critically examine what we do on behalf of animals, and to explore ways we can act that are most consistent with our beliefs and that are most effective for animals in the long-run. If we do not allow for critical thinking, then we have already lost. I mean, who do we think we’re fooling? Even the mainstream media understands the inconsistency of focusing on one form of animal exploitation over another. As Jeffrey Steingarten writes for Men’s Vogue:

When we buy the flesh of a mammal, bird, or fish in a restaurant or food shop, we are an agent in the slaughter of another living thing. We are taking life. This is a serious act, not a casual one. But our purpose is not survival or even sustenance; most of us can live comfortably without eating meat. No, our goal is pleasure, pure sensory pleasure. We chew on the succulent muscle of a steer, crunch through the crackling skin of a pig or turkey, suck out the marrow from the shin of a calf. If we are willing to kill for our pleasure, shouldn’t we also be willing to force-feed ducks for our pleasure?

Ultimately, if we want to see enough popular support for an effective, permanent ban on animal-derived consumer products, we have to shift popular opinion in favor animal rights, and that means spreading a consistent message about vegan ethics far and wide, not the message that only certain forms of animal use are bad. Only after that shift occurs will we have the broad-based support we need to promote legislation that recognizes the interests of nonhuman animals and abolishes their exploitation on the basis that unnecessarily using them for our pleasure or profit harms those interests.

Abolitionists: Fringe or Core?


In its May+June 2008 Reader Letters section, VegNews magazine is taken to task by its activism advisor:

In the recent article about the humanecalifornia.org ballot initiative (“Taking the Initiative,” Jan+Feb 2008) to ban some of the worst confinement practices on factory farms, I was disappointed to see equal weight given to statements by a fringe group opposing such bans. Attacking progress may make the critic feel relevant but does not result in meaningful change for animals. Such negative views are not widely shared in the animal protection movement and should not be portrayed as if they are to newer activists who can sometimes easily be pushed to a counterproductive approach.

The author of this letter is activist/attorney Bryan Pease of Animal Protection and Rescue League, an organization that actively promotes husbandry reform campaigns such as the initiative favorably discussed in the article.

Writer Mat Thomas begins the piece by claiming that, if passed, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act would “set a new precedent for animal protection by improving the lives of more farmed animals than any voter initiative in US history.” He goes on to repeatedly quote the senior director of HSUS’s Factory Farming Campaign in support of the act’s benefits. HSUS is, along with Farm Sanctuary, one of the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act’s main proponents. Thomas sets aside just one paragraph in the middle of the article to ‘balance’ the piece with a perspective from Friends of Animals’ legal director, Lee Hall.

After briefly paraphrasing Hall’s question as to whether “husbandry campaigns truly cultivate respect for animals or merely reinforce their status as commodities,” Thomas wraps up the paragraph with a single quote. Hall asks where society can find a coherent message, if not from vegetarian activists, “Steadfast support for the movement to opt out of animal agribusiness would cultivate and strengthen genuine respect for animals and the ecology.”


For the crime of including this single bit of animal-friendly critical thinking, Pease expresses his disappointment that “equal weight” was “given to statements by a fringe group.” Maybe he expected readers not to go back and examine the Jan+Feb issue, but anyone who does so will see that Hall didn’t receive anything resembling equal weight in Thomas’s article. Equal weight for the abolitionist viewpoint would have meant offering a more meaningful opportunity for Hall to describe how husbandry campaigns reinforce animals’ status as commodities, which is ultimately at the crux of this debate. Of course, such a discussion would have undermined Thomas’s thesis.

Still, Thomas’s lop-sided approach is not enough to satisfy Pease. Unable to brook any dissent, he attempts with his bullying letter to debase an animal rights activist who was simply asking us all to ponder whether husbandry reforms are actually effective animal advocacy and to suggest that it would be consistent with vegetarian ideals to ask people to opt out of consuming animal products altogether. In addition to calling such a view “negative,” Pease packs his brief letter with other loaded, unsupported and biasing terms or phrases, like “attacking progress,” “may make the critic feel relevant,” “counterproductive” and, most notably, the marginalizing “fringe,” when describing Hall’s group, Friends of Animals.

In effect, by browbeating readers–and even VegNews’ editors–with his authoritarian argument that abolitionist statements should not be given “equal” weight, Pease demands that the magazine suppress opposing views. Even more pernicious, and in the same vein, he patronizes newcomers to animal advocacy by trying to prevent them from hearing other points of view, a suggestion that newer activists are incapable of thinking for themselves.

In light of his predilection for censorship, it should come as little surprise that Pease does not mention Friends of Animals or Lee Hall by name in his letter. It’s as if he is afraid of bringing further attention to them. But perhaps his greatest disservice to FoA, to animals and, frankly, to the animal rights movement is his cavalier dismissal of the organization as a fringe group. I wouldn’t object here if you found Pease’s attempt to marginalize abolitionist animal rights activists to be eerily similar to ongoing efforts made by those profiting from animal exploitation to marginalize vegans and animal advocates (poke around the Center for Consumer Freedom’s website, animalscam.com, if you don’t know what I mean). His VegNews letter is a very deliberate attack on a group promoting animal rights and veganism, and from the same guy who claims that Hall is attacking “progress”.

A false corollary

So, what sort of “progress” is Pease claiming? He doesn’t tell us. If, as many modern animal advocates do, he means progress toward the abolition of animal exploitation, then his claim is untenable. This is the message Hall was trying to deliver. Unlike Hall, who recognizes that husbandry reforms are inconsistent with an abolitionist approach, Pease and others believe such reforms will somehow lead to abolition, as if there was a correlation between regulating the treatment of animals and abolishing their use. But there is no correlation.

The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act is not progress toward abolition because it does nothing to address the root causes of animal suffering. Instead, it superficially focuses on the symptoms of their use as property: their ill treatment in factory farm operations. Further, assuming the act is passed and not later overturned–and that it is actually enforced–we won’t necessarily see any empirical reduction in animal suffering. The suffering will simply look different, as animals are transferred out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak. Now, if someone has developed a new-fangled gauge for quantifying the suffering of animals for the sake of comparison, please let me know, but this would still miss the point: The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act intends to replace one form of animal exploitation for another. Even if someone could empirically prove that this act would meaningfully reduce the suffering of animals, it is hard to see how one can call it progress for animals when its aims are not even pointing down the right ‘slippery slope’.

Regardless of any regulations successfully mandated by husbandry reforms, the industry will go on using animals in hatcheries, on farms and feedlots, during transport, at stockyards and in slaughterhouses. After all, there’s nothing to stop them. Farmed animals are property of the industry, things for owners to use for their own benefit, and laws regulating the treatment of animal property further entrench the commodity status of animals, as Hall suggests.

Paving the way… to happy meat?

Worse, such laws make the use and consumption of animals seem more palatable. As far as traditional welfarists (i.e., those who accept the use of animals for human ends) are concerned, their moral obligation to reduce the suffering of those whom they wish to eat will have been discharged by this act, and now they will proudly eat their ‘humane’ animal products. If I had a dollar for every time someone responded to my veganism by stating that they only eat cage-free eggs or free-range flesh, I could probably cover the hosting costs for this blog.

Speaking of money, another way ‘humane’ organizations undermine abolitionist advocacy is by selling animal exploiters on the improved economic efficiencies, the potential for increased demand, and the market premiums associated with adopting husbandry reforms, going so far as to produce research reports supporting these claims. Why are animal protectionists promoting husbandry reforms as a means to increase demand for animal products? Such tactics, like the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, facilitate the enhanced exploitation of animals, without doing anything to prevent animals from being used as a means to human ends.

In order to abolish animal exploitation, wouldn’t it make sense that the means to this goal resemble the ends? In other words, shouldn’t animal rights activism be focused on eliminating the roots of animal suffering–that is, the instrumental use of animals for human benefit? It is hard to see how such an approach can be construed as ‘counterproductive,’ as Pease claims. On the contrary, abolitionists are critically engaged in pursuing effective campaigns to foster veganism while engendering respect and meaningful protection (rights) for animals, which seems to me rather more productive than easing the consciences of those who consume animal products.

Fringe v. core

Perhaps Pease is correct in one sense. While it is hard to see how any rational being might consider Hall’s views negative, it is clear that they “are not widely shared in the animal protection movement.” This should come as no surprise, given the widespread shift toward husbandry reform campaigns carried out by activists participating in what is still frequently referred to by many as the ‘animal rights movement’.

The appeal of the phrase ‘animal protection movement’ is no doubt its value as a generic, catch-all phrase calculated to create as broad a band of supporters as possible to negotiate non-rights husbandry reforms with industry or to push legislative initiatives, while not scaring off supporters and potential supporters with the term ‘animal rights’. Even when the term ‘animal rights’ is mentioned, it is often used to describe non-rights protections or activities, either as a “loosely” defined term or “as a rhetorical tool as part of a political campaign”. In effect, ‘animal rights’ has become rhetorical shorthand to refer to any ostensibly pro-animal activity, even those that have no direct correlation with securing basic rights for animals.

To achieve and maintain ‘legitimacy’ with institutions and the public, the ‘mainstreaming’ of the animal rights movement into the animal protection movement–a rebranding, if you will–has led to the suppression, marginalization and even outright rejection of those who promote the movement’s core animal rights ideals. Activists that advocate for an abolitionist approach to animal rights are labeled ‘fringe’, ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’ in a bid to put as much distance between them and husbandry reform advocates as possible. Now, I don’t know about you, but it would seem to me that–in a movement claiming to be in favor of animal rights–the activists whose means are consistent with the movement’s abolitionist ends should be considered the core, not the fringe.

Learn more about the arguments discussed above by reading Gary L. Francione’s Rain Without Thunder.