Monthly Archives: September 2012

One For Your “Humans Are An Odd Bunch” File


(photo: Yahoo! News)

This is Tracy Arnold. Her story is here.

Ms. Arnold found what she claims is a man’s toenail in the sauce that she prepared. She did not know whether it came from a jar of pasta sauce or from the minced beef that she added to the sauce. She thought at first that it was a piece of gristle, or cartilage, from a dead cow.

And then she realized it was a human nail.

That disgusted her.

The fact that she was eating decaying flesh did not disgust her.

The fact that she thought that there was a piece of cartilage from the dead cow in her sauce did not disgust her.

But she was disgusted about the human nail, which is also made of cartilage.

Think about that.

*****

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan!

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Eat A Sausage. Do It For The Animals.

Fantasy #1: The Humane Society of the United States is not promoting the “compassionate” consumption of meat.

The HSUS caption with the Facebook post: “More great news for pigs! “Like” this to give props to these companies for doing the right thing. :)”

So let’s support companies marketing meat and animal products that are doing “the right thing.” Think about that message.

And HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle makes it very clear that “happy” meat is a morally good thing.

I don’t think that everyone needs to adopt a vegetarian diet to make a difference. I think that little choices that we make — getting animal products from a farmer who is raising animals in a proper and humane way or reducing consumption by a little bit — all of these things matter. You don’t need to go the full measure in order to have an impact. One thing I don’t want is people to feel paralyzed, that somehow you’ve got to fit some orthodox regimen in order to be a part of this. Absolutely not. Little decisions that all of us make can have an enormous consequences.

You can have an impact by eating meat and animal products “from a farmer who is raising animals in a proper and humane way.”

So Pacelle is not only suggesting that products made “in a proper and humane way” are available, but that consuming them is consistent with treating animals as members of the moral community and caring morally about them.

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My Debate with Libertarian Philosopher Tibor Machan

On January 12, 2012, I debated prominent libertarian philosopher Tibor Machan. Machan holds the R. C. Hoiles Chair of Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics at Chapman University in Orange, California. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.

Machan is a prominent opponent of animal rights.

Our topic: “Do Animals Have Rights?”

The debate was videotaped and a number of people have asked to see it. The video was originally available on the Rutgers Library site but we have moved it over and you can now watch it here:

Professor Francione Debates Professor Tibor Machan: “Do Animals Have Rights?”

January 12, 2012

*****

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

A Response to James McWilliams–And It’s Not Debatable

Columbia University Press posted an article on the call in Slate.com by Professor James McWilliams for all animal advocates to support the welfare-reform efforts of The Humane Society of the United States.

On the following day, the Press printed my reply to Professor McWilliams.

After I read Professor McWilliams’ Slate essay, I thought it would useful for us to discuss these issues in a podcast as I had done in with Professor Robert Garner. Garner is a professor of political science at the University of Leicester and my coauthor on The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?. Like McWilliams, Garner defends a welfare approach. Advocates on both sides of the issue have said how useful they found that podcast discussion to be.

Although Professor Williams agreed to do a podcast discussion with me in October, after Columbia University Press printed my reply, he withdrew from the debate.

As I understand it, Columbia University Press also invited McWilliams to do a written debate with me on these issues, similar to the one that I did with Professor Marder on plant ethics. I was told that he declined that as well.

I am sorry to hear that Professor McWilliams, having put those issues on the table with his Slate essay, is apparently unwilling to engage in any direct debate, whether oral or written.

Professor McWilliams characterizes a discussion about these matters as a matter of “verbal sparring.” That trivializes the reality that there are important substantive issues here, including the notion, embedded very firmly in welfarist ideology, that animals do not have an interest in continuing to live, or, at least, that animal lives have less moral value than human lives for purposes of justifying their treatment as economic commodities.

Moreover, there is the matter of whether welfare reforms actually do provide significant improvements to animal welfare both as an absolute matter and in terms of encouraging continued consumption of “happy” animal products as a “defensible ethical position,” to use Peter Singer’s phrase. Surely, no one could deny that having large animal groups sponsoring “happy” labels for meat and other animal products is explicitly intended to make consumers feel that they are acting in a “socially responsible” way, to use an HSUS phrase, when they eat “happy” animal products.

And there is the issue of whether those reforms that are accepted or enacted actually increase production efficiency, and thus fail to represent any sort of incremental step toward abolition and, indeed, further enmesh animals in the property paradigm.

I hope that that Professor McWilliams will at some point decide that it is a good idea to engage in a direct discussion–written or oral–about these important issues.

My invitation remains open.

*****

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

“Farmed Animals” vs. “Farm Animals”

I have been asked by a number of people as to my views on using the expression “farmed animal” rather than “farm animal.”

I suppose that the former is a good expression in that it emphasizes that these are nonhumans who are exploited by being farmed and gets away from the notion that they represent a type of animal. There are no “farm animals.” There are only animals whom we exploit by farming them.

The point is similar to saying that we should not use “laboratory animals” because there are no such animals. There are only animals we exploit in a laboratory.

I see the point. I do not think it is a particularly earth-shattering one and I do not think that it will make any practical difference. But I can appreciate the point.

However, what I find puzzling is that many (not all!) of the animal advocates who use this expression–indeed, many of those who have popularized it–talk about “happy” meat and animal products. They talk about how we should abandon the “worst abuses” (a meaningless concept when the entire process is abusive) of factory farming and move towards the idyllic “family” farm, which, by the way, misses the basic moral point and is just a fantasy anyway.

I heard one of these “happy” advocates say that we had to go from having “farmed animals” in factory farms to having “farm animals” on “family” farms.

To the extent that “farmed” refers to animals who are involved in the industrial agricultural process and that, if these animals were exploited (supposedly) more “humanely” on “family” farms, they would once again become “farm animals,” I see that as problematic precisely because it suggests that in a “humane” context, these animals are a type of animal.

Either way, I do not think that calling them “farmed” or “farm” animals will amount to much.

Promoting veganism as an unequivocal moral baseline and stopping the promotion of “happy” exploitation would, however, make a great difference.

*****

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Nicholas Kristof: Please Wince. Please.

Once again, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof provides us with a glimpse of the how the postmodern liberal mind struggles with the violence and immorality of animal agriculture.

Kristof obviously knows there is something wrong here. If he didn’t think so, he would not write these columns about our moral obligations to animals.

Indeed, it seems that the New York Times is obsessed with the matter generally. Between columnists like Kristof and Mark Bittman, who can’t stop trying to convince us that “happy” animal exploitation is the answer to the basic question of how we can morally justify using animals, and multiple pieces from those who tell us that plants possess “nonconscious intentionality” so let’s not jump to the conclusion there is a moral distinction between a salad and a steak, the New York Times really–really–wants to reassure us that it’s just fine to continue doing something that we all know is wrong.

Kristof’s latest contribution to “don’t worry, eat happy” literature is an essay called Where Cows Are Happy and Food Is Healthy.

In this essay, Kristoff tells us about Bob Bansen, “a high school buddy” of Kristof’s. Bob is a dairy farmer “who names all his 230 milk cows, along with his 200 heifers and calves, and loves them like children.” Kristof tells us:

As long as I’ve known him, Bob has had names for every one of his “girls,” as he calls his cows. Walk through the pasture with him, and he’ll introduce you to them.

Bob “has figured out how to make a good living running a farm that is efficient but also has soul.” You can have a heart and a make a profit from exploiting your “children.” Indeed’ “happy” cows are more productive:

Many cows in America now live out their lives in huge dairy barns, eating grain and hay and pumping out milk. But evidence is growing that cows don’t do well when locked up, so now many dairies are reverting to the traditional approach of sending cows out to pasture on grass.

“Pasture does wonders for cow health,” Bob said. “There’s so much evidence that they are much happier out there. You can extend their lives so much by keeping them off concrete, so the trend is going that way.”

Is it a soggy sentimentality for farmers to want their cows to be happy? Shouldn’t a businessman just worry about the bottom line?

Bob frowned. “For productivity, it’s important to have happy cows,” he said. “If a cow is at her maximum health and her maximum contentedness, she’s profitable. I don’t even really manage my farm so much from a fiscal standpoint as from a cow standpoint, because I know that, if I take care of those cows, the bottom line will take care of itself.”

But Nicholas, do the cows die of old age?

No, apparently not:

When cows age and their milk production drops, farmers slaughter them. Bob has always found that part of dairying tough, so, increasingly, he uses the older cows to suckle steers. That way the geriatric cows bring in revenue to cover their expenses and their day of reckoning can be postponed — indefinitely, in the case of his favorite cows.

I teased Bob about running a bovine retirement home, and he smiled unapologetically.

“I feel good about it,” he said simply. “They support me as much as I support them, so it’s easy to get attached to them. I want to work hard for them because they’ve taken good care of me.”

Kristof concludes:

We need not wince when we contemplate where our food comes from.

The next time you drink an Organic Valley glass of milk, it may have come from one of Bob’s cows. If so, you can bet it was a happy cow. And it has a name.

Relax everyone. Please. Don’t wince. Rest assured that you can exploit with “compassion.” Yes, these gentle animals will meet their “day of reckoning” when they will be slaughtered. But they were “happy.” Drink that milk. It’s good for you and for Bob’s “children.”

I wonder whether Kristof has any pictures of how happy Bob’s “girls” are on that “day of reckoning.”

But the profound moral schizophrenia of Kristof’s position is summed up in one sentence: “And it has a name.” “It” has a name. “It.” Despite Kristof’s confused concern, the bottom line is that these animals are things.

And that’s the whole problem in a nutshell. For Kristof and other welfarists, and this includes just about every large “animal protection” organization in this country, animals are things. They are not nonhuman persons. They are not members of the moral community. It is fine to exploit them as long as we torture them less than they would be tortured in an alternative situation; as long as we send them to slaughter with a name.

And before I get the usual angry emails from the welfarists who will ask some version of: “but isn’t Bob’s farm better than a conventional dairy farm?”, let me be clear: It is worse to impose 10 units of suffering than 5 units of suffering. But we have to justify both. And we cannot justify either if the only reason offered is the pleasure we get from consuming milk.

If the principle that unnecessary suffering is wrong–a principle that everyone, including the Kristofs of this world, purports to accept–means anything, it must mean that pleasure cannot be a sufficient justification for imposing pain and suffering on animals. There must be a compulsion; a necessity. There is no compulsion here. There is only the tragedy of those who are choosing to do something that they know is morally unjustifiable and engaging in transparently frivolous thinking masquerading as progressive thinking. Nothing more.

I often hear animal advocates complain about people who say, “don’t tell me where my food comes from.” Although I understand the frustration that comes from hearing that, I’ll take those people any day over the Kristofs, Safran-Foers, Bittmans, and all of the “animal protection” community, who push this “compassionate consumption” nonsense and tell us that we can know where it comes from and what’s involved and that it’s okay anyway. We don’t have to “wince.”

And if anyone doubts that this “happy” exploitation approach isn’t counterproductive precisely because it explicitly reinforces the idea that we don’t have to “wince” when we eat that piece of meat or drink that glass of milk, then I suggest you are not thinking clearly. Kristof’s essay is a perfect example of the problem.

Wince. Please, for the sake of everything decent in the world; for the sake of nonviolence; for the sake of basic justice; for the sake of Bob’s “girls” who will be sent to their “day of reckoning,” please, please wince.

*****

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

An Invitation to Professor McWilliams

James McWilliams, professor of history at Texas State University and author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, had a provocative essay, Vegan Feud on Slate.com. The subtitle of his essay: “Animal rights activists would accomplish a lot more if they stopped attacking the Humane Society.”

McWilliams states:

No writer makes the abolitionist case more eloquently than Rutgers philosopher Gary Francione. In his books Animals as Persons and Rain Without Thunder, Francione, who is also a lawyer, powerfully argues that the only ethically consistent stance for humans vis-a-vis animals is the complete elimination of all animal ownership. This position leads him to savage HSUS at every turn. When, last year, HSUS agreed to work with United Egg Producers to legislate larger cages for chickens, Francione responded:

That is just plain silly. “Enriched” cages involve torturing hens. Period. The torture may be slightly “better,” just as padded water boards may be slightly “better.” But let’s be clear: the hens will continue to be tortured. And they will continue to end up in a slaughterhouse.

Francione’s logic is hard-hitting, but his extreme message is unlikely to resonate widely in a population that’s only 1.4 percent vegan. According to social psychologist and longtime vegan Melanie Joy, the abolitionist approach could attract a lot more supporters if it acknowledged, as HSUS does, that most people are going to embrace veganism on their own….it’s asking for a profound shift in consciousness that people make only when they’re personally ready to do so.

As his subtitle states, McWilliams thinks that abolitionists should not criticize HSUS.

This is not one of the times that I agree with McWilliams (except that I agree that my logic is “hard hitting”!).

So I posted a comment on Slate.com:

Dear James:

As you might expect, I disagree with this essay on both theoretical and practical grounds. I have some brief comments and an invitation.

As a preface, however, let me be clear that I had no involvement whatsoever in the event that you described at the Animal Rights National Conference–other than my having produced some ideas over the past 20 years or so that these and other “abolitionists” very generously borrow and then regurgitate, often inaccurately. I say that not only because your essay could be misconstrued to say that I was involved, which is wrong, but because you have to be careful not to describe the position generally based on whatever it was that these folks apparently presented at that event.

My Comments: The animal welfare position explicitly accepts that animal life per se has no moral value and that we do not harm animals if we kill them painlessly. That was Bentham’s position; it is Singer’s position; it is the position that most of the large organizations accept. Indeed, it is precisely that position that allows PETA to kill healthy animals that it takes in at its Norfolk facility and to advocate that it’s fine for other shelters to kill animals. That position, in my view, is problematic for a number of fundamental moral reasons.

Moreover, you accept uncritically that animal welfare reforms actually do provide significant improvements for animal welfare. I disagree. At best, the reforms are analogous to padding a water board at Guantanamo Bay. Note that I said “At best.” Most of the time, they do even less.

From an economic standpoint, most of these welfare reforms actually increase production efficiency. For example, you cite the HSUS campaign against gestation crates. Have a look at HSUS’ own literature, which, after surveying the agricultural research, states: “Sow productivity is higher in group housing than in individual crates, as a result of reduced rates of injury and disease, earlier first estrus, faster return to estrus after delivery, lower incidence of stillbirths, and shorter farrowing times. Group systems employing ESF are particularly cost-effective.” In addition, “[c]onversion from gestation crates to group housing with ESF marginally reduces production costs and increases productivity.”

So why does industry fight? Because that is all part of the symbiotic relationship that exists between industry and these large groups. The animal groups identify practices that are economically vulnerable; industry resists; a drama ensues; industry eventually agrees to make what are meaningless and possibly even financially beneficial changes; the animal groups declare victory and fundraise; industry, praised by the groups, reassures the public that it really does “care” about animals. The public feels “compassionate” and continues to consume animals.

You discuss Joy’s view that going vegan is “asking for a profound shift in consciousness that people make only when they’re personally ready to do so.” Has anyone suggested otherwise? The issue is not whether it’s a matter of moral choice. Of course it is. The issue is whether we are going to make the argument that people ought to make that moral choice or reassure them that they can discharge their moral obligations by eating “happy” animal products and consuming “compassionately,” with all that involves, both as a theoretical and a practical matter.

As a general matter, I found it bewildering that you think we are going to make people more receptive to a vegan message by deciding, along with Joy, Cooney, and others that the public simply is not ready to hear a serious argument about animal ethics. I disagree. I think that most people can understand the arguments just fine. The problem is that the animal welfare groups simply don’t want that discussion to take place. They have for many years now done everything possible to stifle it. Indeed, you seem to think that this issue is recent. It isn’t. It’s been a heated topic ever since the early 1990s. I recognize that some advocates have an interest in making it appear that this is something new. It isn’t.

My Invitation: As we are both academics and try to look at “big picture” issues, I think we should discuss these issues. I have a podcast that I do in connection with my website, www. abolitionistapproach.com, and I would like to cordially invite you to join me for a discussion of these issues.

Best regards,

Gary

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

I expect that Professor McWilliams will enjoy discussing and debating these issues. Further information to follow.

Update September 8, 2012:

I have spoken with Professor McWilliams and we will be doing a podcast in October. More details soon.

*****

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione