animal welfare

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

Introduction[1]

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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FOOTNOTES:

[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).

Animal Rights 101, part six: New Welfarism

Introduction

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.


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Proposition 2 and online debates

California’s Proposition 2 has stirred up plenty of controversy, both between the animal exploitation industries and the animal protection industry, and between animal advocates.

Proposition 2, a ballot initiative that will be voted on this November, is intended to eliminate certain confinement practices used by animal agribusiness, albeit with some exemptions. Basically it would require that, for the majority of each day, calves, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that would allow them to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely. In other words, it doesn’t eliminate confinement systems; it merely modifies some of them to be slightly less restrictive (in the case of California, this mainly affects egg production). Exceptions are built in for seven-days prior to a pregnant pig’s expected date of delivery, and for 4-H programs, rodeos, fairs, research, veterinary purposes, slaughter, and transportation. Violations of the regulations would be misdemeanors, restricting the potential fine to $1,000 and/or imprisonment up to 180 days.

Recognizing the disagreement between different types of animal advocates over Proposition 2, Doris Lin, the host of About.com‘s new animal rights topic, is hosting a debate on Proposition 2. Professor Gary L. Francione, author and abolitionist animal rights proponent, represents the con argument, while the the pro argument is offered by animal welfare proponent Paul Shapiro, the Senior Director of the Humane Society of the United States‘ Factory Farming Campaign. Shapiro calls the ballot measure Making History for Animals, while Francione calls it A Losing Proposition. Of course, it’s a strange debate because there’s no real back and forth between the two debaters, not to mention the fact that HSUS’s mission is modifying animal use, not abolishing it.

While you’re off reading online debates, you might be interested in some other topics hosted by Opposing Views. The site asks a lot of controversial questions, not just animal-related issues, and it seems to be fairly well designed and easy to navigate. In addition to calling on “experts” (mostly special interest groups) to debate the subject, Opposing Views invites your comments, involving you directly in the debate. The issue of “pet” ownership finds Francione and HSUS in opposition once again. You can also read their arguments and the arguments of other “experts” on a variety of related topics, including using animals in research, keeping animals in zoos, and “meat”-eating. There’s no debate on Proposition 2 over there as of yet, but they do take suggestions for topics, and maybe Opposing Views would provide a better format for that debate than the statements offered at About.com, seeing as how it allows for counterpoint and objections.

Back to Proposition 2, of course the animal exploiting industries are totally opposed. They don’t want animal advocates making any inroads on regulating how they use animals. They see the measure potentially leading to other regulatory reforms around the country, so they have more or less united in their opposition to it.

Seems intuitive how an animal-friendly person might vote, right? Well, consider that this measure does not come close to questioning animal use; it merely modifies how animals are used in such a way as to make it seem somewhat less objectionable. Also consider the following:

1. Veal crates and gestation crates (for pigs) have already been phased out or are being phased out by the industries in California as this debate goes on. At this time, there is no indication that doing so is harming the industries or reducing consumption of flesh products from calves and pigs.

2. Proposition 2’s regulations apply only to producers in California. It is not a ban on products produced using these methods. Stores seeking less expensive eggs to sell their customers may buy them from out-of-state producers, and egg companies that don’t want to follow the new regulations can move their operations out of state.

3. Proposition 2 does not end the confinement and torture of animals from their artificially-induced births to their untimely killings. If successful, sustained, followed, and enforced, Prop 2 will only allow certain animals a bit more space to move and adjust their position while they are being confined, and for only part of the day. Even then, all bets are off during transport and slaughter. It does not address the myriad other harms caused to animals throughout the production process.

4. Egg production systems in Europe have gone cage-free, and the barn systems they are using there have even received a seal of approval from the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, which leads consumers to believe that the animals’ welfare is being given top priority. The video below shows that there are plenty of problems inherent in cage-free systems.

What do you make of all this debate over Prop 2? What do you make of the proposition itself? Share your comments below

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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?

Background

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.”

Marginalization

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.

Thanking the Monkey

For today’s entry, I originally set out to review Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals (Harper Collins, 4/29/08, $19.95), a forthcoming book written by my friend, Karen Dawn, but I ended up churning out a somewhat rambling essay instead, which some of you faithful readers may have come to expect from me anyway. At this rate, publishers are going to stop sending me books.

Karen’s activism was influential at a certain point in life when I found myself getting involved in animal rights activism (and it’s clear from this book that she intends for a great many other people to get involved in some form of animal activism as well). While we certainly share a number of opinions, and she has written plenty with which I can agree, Thanking the Monkey illuminates various ways in which I have come to see animal rights and AR activism differently from Karen.

Despite her efforts to remain as accessible to as many potential readers as possible–and, for the most part, I think she succeeds here–there are many who will likely reject the book out of hand due to a fundamental difference between her “loose” definition of animal rights and those who take animal rights very much to heart as an ethical matter. It’s no surprise, then, that Karen specifically addresses abolitionism very early on (page 5, “Anti-Welfare Warriors”), though it may be more surprising to some that elsewhere in the book she quotes one of the more outspoken proponents for the abolitionist approach, lawyer, philosopher and professor Gary L. Francione. For those just arriving to the party, abolitionism is summarized by Francione as “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.”

I’m not implying that self-described abolitionists will reject this book or be concerned about the impact it might have on readers solely because of this particular passage, thought it does unfairly and incorrectly suggest to readers that abolitionist animal rights activists (ARAs) are “anti-welfare” (not to mention “warriors”, which belies the peaceful foundation of abolitionist ideology). After all, I don’t know any animal activist actually opposed to a meaningful reduction in suffering for any being. Abolitionist advocacy is at odds with welfare advocacy not because it’s “easier to persuade people to stop eating veal while calves are crept in crates and deprived of iron,” as Karen puts it, but because pursuing husbandry reforms as an animal rights activist is defective on both empirical and ethical grounds.

It may well be the case that animal products with “humane certified” labels are more likely to be perceived as ethically acceptable food choices by the public, which may indeed make it more difficult to convince people on certain grounds that animals are harmed when we use them as a means to our ends. But that does not dissuade the abolitionist who knows that, as long as animals are subjected to commodity status by humans, they will continue to be harmed. No, the point is not that husbandry reforms make the job of ARAs harder, or any similar such dubious claim. That point is that husbandry reforms implicitly and explicitly claim that animal use can actually be made humane and, thus, animal rights is rendered moot. For an ARA, it simply makes no logical or ethical sense to promote a “gentler” use of animals that reinforces their status as human property while simultaneously claiming to oppose their use.

So here we have the primary reason most abolitionist ARAs are likely to dismiss Thanking the Monkey. In taking a relatively “loose” view of animal rights, Karen and others in the field of animal protection have stopped advocating animal rights altogether. As she writes, if the world were to go vegan, like Matthew Scully (author of Dominion), “would it matter, at least to the animals, whether or not he spoke about rights?”

Certainly animals don’t have any idea what a moral or legal right is, at least as far as we know. I’m certain, if they could answer us, they would ask us to simply leave them alone. But isn’t that the point of animal rights? It isn’t about their perceptions. It’s about their liberation. If everyone went vegan, of course there would be no profit in commodifying animals. And, certainly in such a world it would likely be easier to pass a law actually granting animals the right not to be used instrumentally. But, how can we ever expect the whole world to go vegan when the “animal rights movement” itself plays down the importance of veganism, and when the majority of activism centers around modifying the treatment of animals, rather than opposing their use altogether?

This “humane movement” has turned the animal rights movement into a loud call to reduce suffering, an honorable cause to be sure, but one which does not ask that people go vegan, and which does not even challenge the use that makes their suffering inevitable. Yet animal exploitation will not be abolished while all our attention is focused on how they are treated, and as long as the assumption that their use is justified goes unchallenged. It is this very assumption that is at the root of the problem that ARAs seek to address.

Over the past year or so, AAFL has made more of an effort to focus better on the roots of animal exploitation, which has led me to a greater awareness of what “animal rights” really means. At least two years of my life as an animal rights activist was spent doing work that, as I later understood, had nothing to do with animal rights. Sure I was raising awareness of institutionalized animal cruelty and promoting veganism, but I didn’t even fully understand or express the concept of “animal rights” until just over a year ago. You can imagine how floored I was once I actually “got it”, when I realized that “animal rights” activism as I had previously understood it was actually welfare activism, the pursuit of husbandry reforms within animal agribusiness, not advocating the basic moral right of animals to be free of unnecessary and harmful human domination.

Unsurprisingly, many activists within the “animal rights movement” are caught up in the welfare paradigm of “animal rights”. So many of us became vegan and got interested in helping animals due to the efforts of organizations that conduct these husbandry reform campaigns, which seems to have led to a type of circular thinking along the lines of “That’s how I went vegan, so it must work. Why fix something that isn’t broken?” The problem is that, while some people are disgusted enough by institutionalized cruelty toward animals that they go vegan as a result of husbandry reform campaigns, the actual animal rights message is left out, and activists end up spinning their wheels chasing after the myriad forms of suffering caused to animals that will continue so long as their use goes unchallenged.

I know that, when I went vegan, I didn’t have any real clue about animal rights, and part of the reason is because no one seemed to be talking about it. I figured, like so many others, that if the people at “animal rights” organizations call themselves animal rights activists, what they do must be what ARAs do, so I followed the recommendations of those who had been around for a long time and surely knew better than myself what I should be doing. And, hey, who doesn’t want to end animal suffering?

I didn’t understand the root causes of all this animal suffering until later on. Like other new activists, I was under the impression for a time that the best and most “pragmatic” way to help animals now was to pursue an agenda that focuses on means-to-an end tactics and panders to public sentiment, whether it be the health argument, the environment or reducing animal suffering. I’ve even been at a demonstration where one activist got in everyone’s face and loudly claimed that they’d never need Viagra if they only went vegan. It was offensive and embarrassing. All these approaches ignore the issue of animals’ rights altogether, apparently out of fear that the public will not relate or will tune them out. Of course, I saw a lot of people tuning out the Viagra message, too.

It’s a little like a popularity contest, isn’t it? Don’t challenge the status quo if you want people to like you. Dilute yourself to the point where you won’t offend anyone’s sensibilities–play down any differences you might have–and you will find more people accepting you. By pandering to the public and keeping sights aimed so low, this conformist strategy appears to have worked for the humane movement, at least in terms of mainstream acceptance.

Animal welfare organizations have grown rather prominent and–dare I say?–influential, prompting a lot of back-patting and general sentiment that animals are being taken more seriously than ever, but in what way? And to what effect? We’ve seen no discernible shift toward a world that understands animal rights, much less one that embraces its ideals. The number of vegans in our society is still statistically insignificant–a rounding error, if you will. I do see a lot more attention around “conscientious omnivorism” and “humane” labeling, but certainly an ARA shouldn’t be promoting or otherwise endorsing the exploitation and consumption of the very animals they seek to protect.

Unfortunately, animal rights ideals have been misappropriated and misrepresented in the course of compromising “the message” to connect with a wider audience. As some in the “animal rights movement” will tell you, “animal rights” is a really just a catch-all term that doesn’t necessarily refer to the moral or legal rights of animals at all. Ironically, the so-called “father” of the animal rights movement, Peter Singer, does not even accept the concept of rights (Karen also points this out in Thanking the Monkey). Like many in the humane movement, Singer prefers to use the term “animal rights” as a handy rhetorical device, or a banner under which to operate dramatically in the public eye, which is a clear misrepresentation.

When polls indicate that a majority of the public agrees with certain AR views, what we are seeing is merely an agreement with the diluted, “loose” perception of animal “rights” as being anything meant to improve the conditions of animals exploited for human benefit. In effect, that sympathetic portion of the public associates AR with improvements in animal treatment, not the abolition of their use altogether (though traditional welfare advocates are doing their best to make sure that their constituencies are clear on what both abolitionists and new welfarists[1] ultimately want). Of course, the only people I’ve come across that disagree with improving conditions for animals are those primarily concerned with keeping the cost of their hamburgers, burritos and pizza low, no matter what the cost is to the animals.

Perhaps it’s these very people that have convinced many would-be animal rights activists that we shouldn’t be focusing on spreading abolition of animal use by promoting veganism and animal rights. After all, people like those described above will “never” go vegan, or so the story goes. Instead, we’re told we should be seeking to engage a broader population that agrees that factory farming is horrible and will support efforts to make animal agribusiness more “humane”. In this way, we will at least reduce the amount of suffering encountered by billions of animals every year. If, in the meantime, our campaigns manage to shock some of the more sensitive types into going vegan altogether, then so much the better.

But isn’t this backward? Shouldn’t animal rights activists be promoting veganism and, you know, animal rights? Shouldn’t husbandry reforms be a “side effect” of our work, as the industry responds to the inroads we’re making with veganism and AR, instead of veganism (and more often vegetarianism or “conscientious omnivorism”) being a side effect of “animal rights” activists promoting the consumption of less-cruelly-treated animals and their secretions?

Why would animal rights activists behave like traditional or “classical” welfarists when their end goal is abolition? New welfarists are doing the sort of work that you would think should be done by traditional welfarists and the industry or, in other words, by the very people who believe it’s acceptable to harm animals by using and killing them, so long as they lead “happy” lives in the span between their artificially-induced births and prematurely-induced deaths.

The ethically consistent stance of an ARA, on the other hand, is that it is never acceptable to harm sentient beings unnecessarily, and that our means should resemble our ends. We should not be partnering or otherwise aiding animal exploiters in profiting off the bodies and deaths of animals. We should clearly, consistently and rationally–even emotionally–promote veganism and animal rights together as inseparable concepts.

Surely if we lead unwaveringly with this stance, a society that is already horrified by a variety of unnecessary animal uses will eventually follow. By focusing consistently on veganism and AR as moral imperatives, we push the envelope, dragging everyone else behind us (despite some kicking and screaming), thus sparking reactionary husbandry reforms as the animal use industries vainly struggle to salvage their profits. This can be done without having to compromise our own vision and ethics in the process, and without resorting to the same “ends justify the means” mentality people use to rationalize animal use and consumption.

Just because it’s conceivable that a welfarist approach may someday meaningfully reduce some of the most egregious suffering caused to animals does not make it animal rights work. It’s welfarism, plain and simple. Now, new welfarists are obviously different from traditional welfarists in that, unlike the classical welfarists, new welfarists claim to seek abolition, but they do believe that continuing the centuries-long welfare tradition of attempting to reduce the suffering of institutionally exploited animals will somehow inexorably lead to animal liberation, or will at least pave the way for a world that accepts that animals ought to have rights.

This view has led people who once sought the complete abolition of animal use to pursue activism that is inconsistent with their belief that it is wrong to use animals, typically in order to achieve apparent compromises from industry. But this assumes that any sort of gain in the negotiations between animal exploiters and reform advocates results in progress for animal rights, which is simply not the case. These compromises are only accepted by the industry when they are good for PR or otherwise improve the bottom line, with very little exception.

The animal use industries will, of course, fight with every last dollar any action meant to totally abolish its use of animals. There are obvious, deep-rooted reasons of self-interest for this, not to mention fundamental ideological differences, and that is precisely why any “victory” claimed by “animal rights” advocates in this situation cannot be said to be a victory for animal rights. The only regulations with any chance of being approved are those which merely specify how animals may be used, not whether animals may be used for a given purpose in the first place.

What’s more, much new welfarist activism actually supports the efforts of classical welfarists and even the animal use industries itself. Examples include partnering with or applauding “humane” label certification programs, generating reports to demonstrate how certain husbandry reforms are more efficient and profitable, publicly honoring slaughterhouse designers, and promoting companies like Wolfgang Puck and Burger King, which traffick almost exclusively in the flesh and secretions of sentient beings. These campaigns make it rather hard to tell the difference between the new welfarist and the traditional welfarist.

Now, this isn’t to say that those working at organizations who partner with agribusiness don’t personally believe in abolishing animal exploitation. Clearly many of them believe that, somehow, by engaging in these compromises and trade-offs that keep animals entrenched as property in an exploitative system, they will someday get them out of it. But it just doesn’t add up, logically, nor in terms of moral consistency. I don’t write these things to belittle or otherwise denigrate anyone’s beliefs or the work they have done and continue to do to try to help animals. However, I think it is vitally important for all of us to think very critically about our activism, and how we go about living animal-friendly lives, and that is why I am asking you to strongly consider my words.

Regulating animal enterprise’s treatment of animals does not address the fact that they are being used in the first place, which is of course the root of the problem. We cannot solve the problem without addressing it directly. Using the closest human example of slavery as an analogy, requiring slave owners to exploit their property more gently would have done nothing to get slaves out of servitude. While slaves might have welcomed a gentler whip, or a cap on the number of lashings they might have received per day, they would still have remained the property of other human beings and, as property, their interests in pretty much anything would have remained necessarily subservient to those who owned them, even the most “humane” masters.

Similarly, despite all the cries of victory when a husbandry reform is approved to phase out a particular method of animal treatment in, say, 10 or 20 years, such regulations (assuming they are not overturned or circumvented) do not lead to the abolition of animal use. Animal rights is not even on the table, and most welfare-oriented organizations–craving “legitimacy”–are eager to keep actual rights for animals away from the table, out of concern that AR is simply too radical a position to put forward for mainstream acceptance.

Of course, animal rights won’t come at the legislative level any time soon, and that will continue to be the case until a much larger percentage of the population accepts the moral right of all animals not to be treated as a means to our ends. But this doesn’t mean that ARAs are doomed to fail, or that we should set our sights on a completely different kind of activism. Laws are passed in response to voter demand, which of course changes over time. One day the public will be as outraged over the use of animals for unnecessary purposes like food, clothing and entertainment as they currently are about dog- and cock-fighting, but only if we convince people that such uses are morally similar, not if we give them the impression that certain uses are acceptable as long as they do not involve the most egregious cruelties.

The effect of demand holds true for the corporations that exploit animals as well, for obvious reasons. Some day, animal enterprises will either have to shift to a vegan model in response to evolving market pressures or fold. Of course, neither the laws nor the industry is going to move away from our current paradigm unless voters and consumers do. But public demand will not shift away from animal use as long as we settle for “Humane Meat,” “Free Range” eggs, etc. These labels, and other public relations “carrots” offered to animal exploiters, have the effect of promoting “gentle” animal use, which has lead to a rather profitable market segment characterized by people (including former vegans) who believe that it is acceptable to use and consume animals as long as they are not being treated certain ways. How can we say that this leads us to a vegan world?

In effect, the activism of some very outspoken (former) animal rights advocates has, on the surface anyway, become nearly indistinguishable from the traditional welfarism that existed in Western culture for hundreds of years before animal rights rose to prominence in the 1970s. A movement that once sought to banish the use of animals for any purpose now trades away the lives of some animals in expectation of reducing the suffering of others, figuring that those sacrificed for gains today can be addressed when the winds of change are more favorable to them. Such an approach may be expedient, but it assumes that this “pragmatic” trade-off will succeed in achieving narrowly defined goals, and it tramples all over the moral rights we claim to accept for all animals.

For instance, in order to help end the annual Canadian seal slaughter, the humane movement has traded away the interests of other sea animals who are considerably less cute and, thus, less popular with donors who want to keep eating animals and their secretions, but don’t see the value in killing baby seals. People are told quite plainly by animal activists (frequently called animal rights activists by the media) that, if they boycott Canadian “seafood”, but eat “seafood” from other regions, they will help save seals from being massacred.

Someday, this campaign may actually generate enough support to pressure Canada’s government into abolishing the seal hunt, but history has shown that to be fairly unlikely. In the meantime, “animal rights” activists are trading away the interests of fishes and other sea creatures to benefit seals, which is just fine by “cuddlytarian” supporters, who have nothing to lose. They don’t benefit from the exploitation of baby seals, so ending their slaughter doesn’t negatively impact them. But asking them not to eat any animals from the sea does, so that campaign is swept under a rug, presumably for a later day.

But if ARAs don’t stand up for animal rights and veganism now, who will? How will AR and veganism ever be widely accepted if we are constantly downplaying their importance or backing away from them? If we don’t fully embrace AR and veganism and “own” their ideals unapologetically, then we have given up before we ever started, and that’s a great way to sell ourselves, the animals, and our fellow humans short. When we tell people that the only obligation they have to animals is to reduce their suffering, when we tell them that veganism is too hard or even optional, and when we distance ourselves from the idea that using animals as a means to our ends is unnecessary and harmful to animals, we “give away the store”. What a pessimistic approach.

There is no way that path will ever lead to animal rights. It leads away from the abolition of animal exploitation, and we would do well to pull out our compass right now and reorient ourselves. To use another metaphor, we cannot build an abolitionist house on a foundation that views unnecessary animal use as potentially ethical.

So how do we build an abolitionist foundation?

Start by first understanding that animals will never be free from unnecessary harm so long as they are dominated by humans, regardless of how they are treated by some. Recognize that animals must be granted the right to not be treated instrumentally by humans if they are ever to be free from this subjugation. Our use of animals must simply be abolished. Of course, this means abolishing animal use in your own life by going vegan, if you haven’t already. This is very much living the idea of being the change you wish to see in the world.

Next, learn to discuss with others how their behavior is inconsistent with their belief that it is wrong to unnecessarily harm animals, and encourage them to also go vegan. Promote the view that using animals as a means to our ends violates their basic interests as sentient beings and that, as fellow sentient beings, we cannot tolerate this lack of respect and consideration.

Spread these views throughout your circle of influence as far as you can, as intelligently as you can, and with as much confidence as you are capable of mustering. You will be taken more seriously and, consequently, so will the animals for whom you advocate. A movement grounded in this level of respect, clarity and consistency is the only long-term path to abolition.

[1]Defined by Gary L. Francione as “animal advocates … who claim to embrace abolition as the long-term goal, but who argue that welfarist regulation in the short term is the only thing that we can, as a practical matter, do now to help animals.”

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse…

BusinessWire: Eggology Becomes First Egg Products Brand “Certified Humane” By Animal Welfare Auditor, Humane Farm Animal Care

According to Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), and their partners at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Eggology egg products are humane. There you have it. No reason to go vegan, you crazy animal huggers. Animals like to be killed for trivial reasons, such as the taste of scrambled eggs.

How is anyone supposed to explain that veganism is a moral obligation when HSUS, the ASPCA and HFAC are all saying that eggs can be produced humanely? You certainly can’t do it by stating that eggs are inherently inhumane. Why? Because that “radical animal rights organization,” HSUS, and other animal lovers say they can be produced humanely; you just gotta follow some simple guidelines…

With certified humane egg products on the market, you’ll be hard-pressed to convince the average Joe that an omelette made with Eggology, Hope Acres cheese and Prather Ranch ham is bad for animals. Heck, if you subscribe to the utilitarian point of view, you may be morally obligated to eat this breakfast, since those animal exploiters brought much happiness into the world by breeding, raising and killing those animals so that Average Joe could enjoy his tasty, “humane” breakfast. 

I am so disgusted.

If you are wondering why vegans and vegetarians have gone back to eating certain animal products, wonder no longer. These folks have, unfortunately, bought into the notion that it is humane to extinguish the life of another being for the sake of profit, to utilize others as a means to our ends when it is entirely unnecessary to do so.

If there is any doubt that animal welfare activism (masquerading as animal rights activism) harms the animal rights and vegan movement(s), I should hope this would make you think about it differently. We may well end up with a few countries in which the vast majority of animal products consumed by people that can afford it are produced outside of typical factory farming conditions. 

This may mean fewer people eat animal products. It may even mean that fewer people will be eating animal products than if we saw a doubling in the number of vegans over the same time period. But animals would still be human property. Their basic, primal interest in continued existence would be negated by our desire for food that we have become accustomed to, and which many people find delicious, but which is by no means necessary for our own continued existence. Their deaths would still be unnecessary blood on our hands. It would still be unjust.
Now, seriously, you can go into vegan outreach with your game face on, because you know that it is never humane to kill another being simply for our own enjoyment, but that conversation is becoming harder and harder than ever, and it’s all because of our friends at various animal protection organizations working so hard to help animal exploiters prove that animal products can be produced humanely!
Good luck, activists. You’re gonna need it.