Monthly Archives: January 2012

Replacing One Cage With Another

In 2007, Peter Singer, as part of a campaign to promote cage-free eggs, praised the Europeans for supposedly phasing out battery cages: “Battery cages are being phased out in Europe – why are we lagging behind?”

As I noted at the time, Singer’s connecting the European effort with cage-free egg farming was misleading:

[A]lthough the European Union has banned the traditional battery cage as of 2012 . . . . egg producers are free under the European ban to use “enriched cages,” which even conservative animal welfare organizations, such as Compassion in World Farming, maintain “fail to overcome many of the welfare problems inherent in the battery cage system.”

I wrote a subsequent essay on the EU “ban,” and, in 2010, I discussed it in my book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, which I co-authored with Professor Robert Garner. It’s not a “ban” at all.

Well, the supposed “ban” on battery cages supposedly came into force on January 1, 2012.

And Peter Singer is excited about it. Continue reading

The Paradigm Shift Requires Clarity About the Moral Baseline: Veganism

If we are ever going to see a paradigm shift, we have to be clear about how we want the present paradigm to shift.

We must be clear that veganism is the unequivocal baseline of anything that deserves to be called an “animal rights” movement. If “animal rights” means anything, it means that we cannot morally justify any animal exploitation; we cannot justify treating animals as human resources, however “humane” that treatment may be.

We must stop thinking that people will find veganism “daunting” and that we have to promote something less than veganism. If we explain the moral ideas and the arguments in favor of veganism clearly, people will understand. They may not all go vegan immediately; in fact, most won’t. But we should always be clear about the moral baseline. If someone wants to do less as an incremental matter, let that be her/his decision, and not something that we advise to do. The baseline should always be clear. We should never be promoting “happy” or “humane” exploitation as morally acceptable.

The notion that we should promote “happy” or “humane” exploitation as “baby steps” ignores that welfare reforms do not result in providing significantly greater protection for animal interests; in fact, most of the time, animal welfare reforms do nothing more than make animal exploitation more economically productive by focusing on practices, such as gestation crates, the electrical stunning of chickens, or veal crates, that are economically inefficient in any event. Welfare reforms make animal exploitation more profitable by eliminating practices that are economically vulnerable. For the most part, those changes would happen anyway and in the absence of animal welfare campaigns precisely because they do rectify inefficiencies in the production process. And welfare reforms make the public more comfortable about animal exploitation. The “happy” meat/animal products movement is clear proof of that.

We would never advocate for “humane” or “happy” human slavery, rape, genocide, etc. So, if we believe that animals matter morally and that they have an interest not only in not suffering but in continuing to exist, we should not be putting our time and energy into advocating for “humane” or “happy” animal exploitation.

Welfare reforms and the whole “happy” exploitation movement are not “baby steps.” They are big steps–in a seriously backward direction.

There are some animal advocates who say that to maintain that veganism is the moral baseline is objectionable because it is “judgmental,” or constitutes a judgment that veganism is morally preferable to vegetarianism and a condemnation that vegetarians (or other consumers of animal products) are “bad” people. Yes to the first part; no to the second. There is no coherent distinction between flesh and other animal products. They are all the same and we cannot justify consuming any of them. To say that you do not eat flesh but that you eat dairy or eggs or whatever, or that you don’t wear fur but you wear leather or wool, is like saying that you eat the meat from spotted cows but not from brown cows; it makes no sense whatsoever. The supposed “line” between meat and everything else is just a fantasy–an arbitrary distinction that is made to enable some exploitation to be segmented off and regarded as “better” or as morally acceptable. This is not a condemnation of vegetarians who are not vegans; it is, however, a plea to those people to recognize their actions do not conform with a moral principle that they claim to accept and that all animal products are the result of imposing suffering and death on sentient beings. It is not a matter of judging individuals; it is, however, a matter of judging practices and institutions. And that is a necessary component of ethical living.

If we take the position that an assessment that veganism is morally preferable to vegetarianism is not possible because we are all “on our own journey,” then moral assessment becomes completely impossible or is speciesist. It is impossible because if we are all “on our own journey,” then there is nothing to say to the racist, sexist, anti-semite, homophobe, etc. If we say that those forms of discrimination are morally bad, but, with respect to animals, we are all “on our own journey” and we cannot make moral assessments about, for instance, dairy consumption, then we are simply being speciesist and not applying the same moral analysis to nonhumans that we apply to the human context.

When we discuss veganism with vegetarians or other consumers of animal products, we should never convey the message that we think that they are “bad” people. We should instead focus on how any form of animal exploitation is inconsistent with the moral principle that they themselves claim to hold: namely, that animals are members of the moral community and that the imposition of suffering and death on any member of that community–human or nonhuman–requires a compelling justification. And whatever constitutes a compelling justification, taste preferences, convenience, fashion sense, etc., do not.

Finally, we should always be clear that animal exploitation is wrong because it involves speciesism. And speciesism is wrong because, like racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, classism, and all other forms of human discrimination, speciesism involves violence inflicted on members of the moral community where that infliction of violence cannot be morally justified. But that means that those of us who oppose speciesism necessarily oppose discrimination against humans. It makes no sense to say that speciesism is wrong because it is like racism (or any other form of discrimination) but that we do not have a position about racism. We do. We should be opposed to it and we should always be clear about that.

Veganism is about nonviolence. It is about not engaging in harm to other sentient beings; to oneself; and to the environment upon which all beings depend for life. In my view, the animal rights movement is, at its core, a movement about ending violence to all sentient beings. It is a movement that seeks fundamental justice for all. It is an emerging peace movement that does not stop at the arbitrary line that separates humans from nonhumans. Changing a hierarchical paradigm of pervasive exploitation that has dominated for millenia requires a great deal of hard work. And that hard work requires clarity.

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If you are not vegan, please consider going vegan. It’s a matter of nonviolence. Being vegan is your statement that you reject violence to other sentient beings, to yourself, and to the environment, on which all sentient beings depend.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: Right About British Rose Veal

British celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, promotes “happy” British Rose Veal. He’s not alone. Large animal welfare groups, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Compassion in World Farming, ever eager to make the public feel better about continuing to exploit animals, are also promoting “happy” veal.

Fearnley-Whittingstall says: “To be honest, if you drink milk or eat cheese, it’s crueller not to eat it.”

He is completely correct.

The distinction between meat and other animal products is total nonsense. Vegetarianism is a morally incoherent position. If you regard animals as members of the moral community, you really don’t have a choice but to go vegan.

******

If you are not vegan, please consider going vegan. It’s a matter of nonviolence. Being vegan is your statement that you reject violence to other sentient beings, to yourself, and to the environment, on which all sentient beings depend.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Animal Rights, Animal Welfare, and the Slavery Analogy

Many vegans become irritated with non-vegans who claim to care morally about animals but who continue to consume them. The former will often invoke an analogy to human slavery. It goes like this: we all agree that the use of humans exclusively as resources—the condition known as human slavery—is morally abhorrent. Similarly, if people think that animals are members of the moral community, then we ought not to be treating them exclusively as resources either and we ought to oppose animal slavery. And if one opposes animal slavery, one adopts and promotes veganism.

Does the analogy work?

Yes and no. The slavery analogy, which I have been using for two decades now, is not particularly compelling if one maintains that nonhumans, unlike human slaves, only have an interest in not suffering and do not have an interest in continued life or in autonomy. And that is a core belief of the welfarist position going back to Bentham—that animals can suffer and have interests in not suffering but are cognitively different from us in that they are not self-aware and do not have an interest in continued existence. To put the matter another way: welfarists maintain that animals do not have an interest in not being slaves per se; they just have an interest in being “happy” slaves. That is the position promoted by Peter Singer, whose neo- or new-welfarist views are derived directly from Bentham. Therefore, it does not matter morally that we use animals but only how we use them. The moral issue is not use but treatment.

Add to this that most welfarists are utilitarians—they maintain that what is right or wrong is determined by what maximizes pleasure or happiness or interest satisfaction for all of those affected—and you end up with the view that as long as an animal does not suffer “too much,” and given that the animal does not have an interest in her life, her having lived a reasonably pleasant life and ended up on human plates is better than her not having lived at all. If we provide a reasonably pleasant life and relatively painless death for animals, we actually confer a benefit on them by bringing them into existence and using them as our resources.

Therefore, it is understandable that, if one is a welfarist, one does not accept the slavery analogy. “Happy” slavery is not only not a problem; it is a good thing. The problem with human slavery is that even “humane” forms of slavery violate fundamental human rights in continued existence, autonomy, etc. But if animals do not have those interests, then “humane” slavery may be just what is needed. And that is precisely the thinking that motivates the “happy” meat/animal products movement and the entire welfarist enterprise of trying to make animal use more “humane,” more “compassionate,” etc.

I have argued that this sort of thinking is problematic in at least two regards:

First, the notion that nonhuman animals do not have an interest in continued existence—that they do not have an interest in their lives—involves relying on a speciesist concept of what sort of self-awareness matters morally. I have argued that every sentient being necessarily has an interest in continued existence—every sentient being values her or his life—and that to say that only those animals (human animals) who have a particular sort of self-awareness have an interest in not being treated as commodities begs the fundamental moral question. Even if, as some maintain, nonhuman animals live in an “eternal present”—and I think that is empirically not the case at the very least for most of the nonhumans we routinely exploit who do have memories of the past and a sense of the future—they have, in each moment, an interest in continuing to exist. To say that this does not count morally is simply speciesist.

Second, even if animals do not have an interest in continuing to live and only have interests in not suffering, the notion that, as a practical matter, we will ever be able to accord those interests the morally required weight is simply fantasy. The notion that we property owners are ever going to accord any sort of significant weight to the interests of property in not suffering is simply unrealistic. Is it possible in theory? Yes. Is it possible as a matter of practicality in the real world. Absolutely not. Welfarists often talk about treating “farmed animals” in the way that we treat dogs and cats whom we love and regard as members of our family. Does anyone really think that is practically possible? The fact that we would not think of eating our dogs and cats is some indication that it is not.

Moreover, a central thesis of my work has been that because animals are chattel property—they are economic commodities—we will generally protect animal interests only when we get an economic benefit from doing so. This means that the standard of animal welfare will always be very low (as it presently and despite all of the “happy” and “compassionate” exploitation nonsense) and welfare reforms will generally increase production efficiency; that is, we will protect animal interests in situations where treatment is economically inefficient and welfare reforms will, for the most part, do little more than correct those inefficiencies. For example, the use of gestation crates for sows is economically inefficient; there are supposedly more “humane” alternatives that actually increase production efficiency. Similarly, “gassing” chickens is more economically efficient than electrical stunning.

So I understand why welfarists have a problem with the slavery analogy. I think that they are wrong in multiple respects but they never really engage the arguments. Instead, they claim that I am “divisive” and “do not care about animals suffering now” because I make these arguments. Some get even more dramatic.

The rights paradigm, which, as I interpret it, morally requires the abolition of animal exploitation and requires veganism as a matter of fundamental justice, is radically different from the welfarist paradigm, which, in theory focuses on reducing suffering, and, in reality, focuses on tidying up animal exploitation at its economically inefficient edges. In science, those who subscribe to one paradigm are often unable to understand and engage those who subscribe to another paradigm precisely because the theoretical language that they use is not compatible.

I think that the situation is similar in the context of the debate between animal rights and animal welfare. And that is why welfarists simply cannot understand or accept the slavery analogy.

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If you are not vegan, please consider going vegan. It’s a matter of nonviolence. Being vegan is your statement that you reject violence to other sentient beings, to yourself, and to the environment, on which all sentient beings depend.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione