Yearly Archives: 2010

A Lost Opportunity

Dear Colleagues:

I am always saddened when an issue comes up in the news and animal advocates pass up the chance to educate the public about veganism because they want to jump on the new welfarist bandwagon and make people feel better about animal exploitation instead.

The British newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, ran a story today in which it reports that a great deal of the meat served in Britain is halal, or slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law. Halal is similar to Jewish ritual slaughter, kashrut and involves making a deep cut on the animal’s neck, severing the jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides but leaving the spinal cord intact. Animals slaughtered in this way are not stunned and halal and kosher slaughter have been criticized as being cruel and as causing more pain and suffering than the stunning method of slaughter, which is supposed to render the animal unconscious before the actual killing occurs.

Many people in the U.K. are upset to think that the meat they are eating came from animals who were not killed “humanely.”

I would suggest that no animal consumed by anyone in Britain or anywhere else on the planet was treated and killed in a manner that could be called “humane” without making an obscene misuse of that word.

So the story afforded animal advocates the opportunity to explain to a concerned public that there is no such thing as “humanely” produced meat; that all meat—and all animal products—come from nonhuman animals who have been tortured under the very best of conditions. And we cannot justify killing animals under any circumstance when the only justification we have is that they taste good.

Did animal advocates seize the opportunity?

Nope.

Instead, they characterized the issue as one involving a practice of a particular religion. For example, Viva!, was quoted in the article:

Other practices which may be undertaken for religious reasons, such as polygamy or the stoning of adulterers, are not permitted in the UK.

Religious freedom does not override other moral considerations and the suffering caused by this form of slaughter is so severe that it cannot be allowed to prevent action to be taken. Consumers can do their bit by boycotting places that persist in selling meat from unstunned animals.

I find it terribly sad that Viva! chose to characterize this as an issue of a Muslim practice concerning how animals are slaughtered rather than that they are slaughtered at all. Unfortunately, Muslims do not have a monopoly on mistreating animals and Viva!’s comments encourage Islamophobia, which is already rampant in the U.K. and U.S. And, as mentioned above, Jews use a similar method of slaughter and the stunning method that everyone thinks is so much better than what either the Muslims or Jews use is also really quite horrible.

It is nothing more than sheer fantasy to believe that there is any significant difference between halal meat and “humane” meat. It all involves torture and death. It is simply dishonest to perpetuate the idea that we can simultaneously regard animals as members of the moral community but can continue to eat them and products made from them.

Everyone who consumes animals is, I am afraid, in the same boat as it were. There is no special boat designated only for Muslims or Jews. By criticizing halal or kashrut, we pretend that there is a morally significant difference and that those who eat meat from stunned animals are morally superior because they care more about animal welfare. We once again participate in the favorite new welfarist activity of trying to make people feel good about animal exploitation as long as it is done “humanely” and with regard for “animal welfare.”

I should say that much of the meat sold in the United States, particularly in the Northeast, is kosher slaughtered so the same issue exists on this side of the Atlantic as well.

In any event, the solution is not to ensure that you buy meat from stunned animals or boycott places that sell halal or kosher meat.

The solution is to ask yourself: if I care about this issue; if I object to torture and needless killing, why am I eating any meat or any animal products?

The response is either to acknowledge that you do not really care, or to start thinking seriously about going vegan.

It is a shame that groups like Viva! persist in insisting that veganism is too daunting for the average person to understand. It is not, and this patronizing position becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and facilitates the characterization of veganism as “extreme.”

What is difficult to understand is how a social movement that supposedly objects to animal exploitation can refuse to promote veganism as a moral baseline and is instead content to promote “happy” meat and animal products over those produced on factory farms or to perpetuate the idea that there is a meaningful moral distinction between flesh and other animal products.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is very easy, better for health and for the planet. And, most important, it’s the morally right and just thing to do.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione

An Inspiring Message

Dear Colleagues:

Yesterday, I posted a blog essay about the need to promote veganism as a baseline moral principle and to reject the negative (but very self-serving) attitude of large animal groups that omnivores simply cannot understand the vegan message. This morning, our site received an email, which was forwarded to me directly, from Professor Andrew Hunt, who is a historian at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

Professor Hunt stated:

Hello: I’m a professor of history at the University of Waterloo. Last year at this time, I was an omnivore who loved just about every type of meat under the sun. Now, I’m a vegan (and have been for about 10 months), and Gary Francione played a big role in that transformation. I listened to him and–instead of transitioning through vegetarianism–I went straight to veganism.

I do not know Professor Hunt personally. I have never met him. Before I wrote to him to ask his permission to quote from his email, I never had any contact with him.

Contrary to the propaganda of these organizations, people can understand the arguments in favor of veganism. People can take moral ideas seriously. People can be educated. People want to learn. People can change. Professor Hunt not only became a vegan; he has started a website that promotes veganism, nonviolence, and the connection between human rights and animal rights.

I get many messages like this. They keep me going. Creative, nonviolent vegan education can and does work.

It is not necessary to promote vegetarianism and given that there is absolutely no coherent moral distinction between flesh and other animal products, animal advocates should not do so. And all of the “happy” meat/dairy/other products propaganda has nothing to do with helping animals or achieving abolition. It has to do with making humans feel better about exploiting nonhumans.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It’s easy. It’s better for you and for the planet. And, most important, it is the morally right and just thing to do.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione

Important Announcement: No Factory-Farmed Small Fish Friday

Today marks the beginning of a new and important campaign for the animals.

No Factory-Farmed Small Fish Friday

The goal of the campaign is to encourage people not to eat factory-farmed small fish on Friday and, instead, to consume other animal products, in order to raise public awareness about the plight of factory-farmed small fish.

Why fish?

Although it is true that all animals suffer and the suffering of each animal is her or his suffering and is something that s/he does not want to experience, and although we cannot, without begging moral questions, rank the suffering of one animal over that of another, we decided to focus just on fish and not any other animals and to propose not eating factory-farmed fish rather than proposing veganism.

Our reason was simple: the public is simply not intelligent enough or emotionally prepared to confront the fact that all sentient beings are…well…sentient. That is, all sentient beings, by virtue of being sentient, do not want to experience pain, suffering, distress, and other negative states. So although in this sense all sentient beings are morally indistinguishable, we decided to draw an admittedly indefensible distinction between fish and other nonhuman animals because we need to bring the public into this gradually. The truth might shock them and overwhelm their cognitive capacities so we decided that it was better to pretend that eating fish is morally distinguishable from eating other animal products, or wearing or using animal products.

This cutting-edge campaign, focused on small, factory-farmed fish, is really a “gateway” campaign, part of an overall strategy aimed at eventually proposing veganism as a moral baseline. Based on present circumstances, we will do that in about four centuries from now, but we will have to go very easy even then. We are presently planning to announce “No Factory-Farmed Small Fish Thursdays” sometime in 2020. A revolution starts with the first step!

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Commentary #19: Talking With Non-Vegans About Veganism: Five Principles

Dear Colleagues:

In this Commentary, I address a topic that I have been asked to cover by a number of you: how do we talk with non-vegans about veganism?

I present five general principles:

Principle #1: People are good at heart.

Our default position when we talk with people ought to be that they are good at heart, and interested in, and educable about, moral issues. There is a tendency among at least some advocates to have a very misanthropic view of other humans and to see them as being inherently immoral or uninterested in issues of morality. I disagree with that view.

Principle #2: People are not stupid.

There is a tendency among animal advocates to believe that the general public is not able to understand the arguments in favor of veganism and that we must “go easy” and instead of talking about veganism, we should talk about vegetarianism, “Meat Free Monday,” “happy” meat and animal products, etc. I disagree with this very elitist way of thinking about other people. There is no mystery here; there is nothing complicated. People can understand if we teach effectively.

Principle #3: Do not get defensive; respond, don’t react.

Yes, some people will try to provoke us or will ask questions or make comments that we find insulting or that we take not to be serious. If someone is really not interested in what we are saying, they will, as a general matter, walk away. Treat every comment and question—even the ones you find abrasive, rude, or sarcastic—as an invitation being offered to you by someone who is more provoked (in a positive way) by you and engaged than you might think.

Principle #4: Do not get frustrated. Education is hard work.

You will get the same question many times; you will be asked questions that indicate you must start at the beginning with someone. But if you want to be an effective educator, you have to answer every question as if it is the first time you heard it. If you want others to be enthusiastic about your message, you have to be enthusiastic about it first.

Principle #5: Learn the basics. You have to be a student first before you become a teacher.

Many animal advocates become excited about abolitionist veganism and the next thing that happens is that they set up a website or start a blog that is motivated by the right feelings but not informed by clear ideas. Before you teach others, learn about the basics. Take advantage of abolitionist vegan resources, such as the videos, pamphlets, and other materials available on this site and materials available on other abolitionist sites such as animalemancipation.com and the Boston Vegan Association.

The sad fact is that the biggest obstacles to vegan education are the large, new welfarist groups that have become partners with institutional animal exploiters to promote the consumption of animal products by giving various forms of “animal rights approval” to animal exploitation (see, for example 1, 2).

These new welfarist groups are part of the problem; they are not part of the solution.

I hope you find the Commentary to be useful. As I indicate, I will be pleased to do future Commentaries in which I address further issues related to vegan advocacy depending on the feedback I receive on this Commentary.

Go vegan. It is easy. It is better for your health and for the planet. But most important, it is the morally right and just thing to do.

Gary L. Francione
© 2010 Gary L. Francione

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Response to George Monbiot

Dear Colleagues:

Guardian UK columnist George Monbiot, who expressed support for veganism, has recanted his support and, in an editorial entitled, I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly, Monbiot jumps on the “happy” meat bandwagon.

I wrote a brief comment that was posted on the Guardian website:

Dear Mr. Monbiot:

I have three comments:

First, putting aside whether Fairlie is right about the environmental issues, you are missing a fundamental point: the consumption of animal flesh and products cannot be justified as a moral matter apart from environmental considerations. Think about it. We all agree that inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on sentient beings is morally wrong. We can argue about what “necessity” means, but if it means anything at all, it must mean that we cannot inflict suffering and death for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience. But those are the only arguments that exist in favor of consuming animal products. No one maintains that eating animal products is necessary for human health (quite the contrary) and animal agriculture is still a significant ecological problem even if Fairlie is right. The only justification that we have for inflicting pain, suffering, and death on 56 billion animals (not counting fish) is that they taste good and we enjoy eating them.

If that constitutes a moral justification, then animals have no moral value and we should just acknowledge that they are outside the moral community altogether rather than hypocritically maintaining a moral principle about unnecessary suffering and death that is wholly without meaning.

Second, I have yet to read Fairlie’s book but your description of his environmental arguments makes it appear that his analysis of the issues is questionable at best.

Third, your position that we ought to make animal production more “humane” is unbelievably naive. Animals are property; they are economic commodities. They have no inherent value. Animal welfare reforms provide very little protection to animal interests and If you looked at the history of animal welfare reforms, you would see that, for the most part, they do little beyond making animal production more economically efficient. These are reforms that industry would have implemented anyway. Consider the move away from veal crates. Veal crates increase animal stress and result in higher veterinary costs; small group units decrease costs and do not lower meat quality. The same analysis supports moving away from gestation crates for pigs, adopting controlled-atmosphere killing of poultry, etc.

The economic inefficiencies of intensive agriculture, which developed in the 1950s, are becoming increasingly clear. There will be changes in factory farming and some of these changes may arguably provide a marginal welfare benefit to animals. But that is all that will happen. Large animal groups in the US and UK, which make millions off promoting these inevitable reforms, turn these small changes into big campaigns for “humane” treatment and that makes people think that progress is being made.

Could animal welfare standards be much better? Sure-in theory. But any significant departure from intensive agriculture would mean much higher costs and given the reality of global markets and the inability to stop import of lower welfare products, it’s simply not realistic. Moreover, if consumers (or rather, those affluent consumers who could afford it) cared enough to pay the much higher costs that would be involved, they would probably care enough about animals as a moral matter not to eat them at all.

In any event, even if animal welfare standards increased dramatically, our treatment of animals would still represent torture if humans were involved. Water boarding someone on a padded board is marginally better than using an unpadded board but it is still torture.

There is no way to do animal agriculture in a way required to feed billions (even if they consumed fewer animal products) without inflicting torture on animals. I am astounded that you apparently think to the contrary and have jumped on the “happy meat/animal products” bandwagon.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University
Newark, New Jersey
www.abolitionistapproach.com

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It is sad to see a progressive person like George Monbiot buy into this welfarist, reactionary nonsense.

Gary L. Francione
© 2010 Gary L. Francione

Ingrid Newkirk on Principled Veganism: “Screw the principle”

Dear Colleagues:

In an article in Time Magazine, PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk discusses “flexitarianism,” or “[p]art-time vegetarianism.”

The goal for many activists is simply to get more people to eat less meat. “Absolute purists should be living in a cave,” says Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “Anybody who witnesses the suffering of animals and has a glimmer of hope of reducing that suffering can’t take the position that it’s all or nothing. We have to be pragmatic. Screw the principle.”

We can make several observations about Newkirk’s statements:

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Commentary #18: A Step Backward, the Importance of Veganism, and the Misuse of “Abolition”

Dear Colleagues:

In this Commentary, I discuss several topics:

First, I talk about the announcement by the new welfarist Mercy for Animals that the retail giant Costco has taken a “step forward” by agreeing to market “humane” veal. I maintain that having animal advocates praise this as a “step forward” and characterizing the issue of eating veal (as opposed to all animal products) as an important issue is a step backward.

Second, I address the argument made by certain large organizations that because we cannot avoid animal products altogether, any baseline moral principle that we should adhere to veganism is just artificial “personal purity.”

Finally, I talk about the misuse of “abolition” by those who advocate welfare reform and violence.

I also discuss briefly the abolitionist workshop that we held at Rutgers in late May and my forthcoming book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, which is being published by Columbia University Press.

I hope you enjoy the Commentary.

Gary L. Francione
© Gary L. Francione

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