A Disturbing Partnership

Dear Colleagues:

In much of my writing, I have argued that the promotion of the “happy meat” approach has led not only to making the public more comfortable about consuming animal products but it has resulted in the creation of a disturbing partnership between animal advocates and institutionalized exploiters. This topic is one of the many issues debated by me and Professor Robert Garner, who defends the new welfarist or “protectionist” (as he prefers to call it) position in our book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, forthcoming from Columbia University Press this fall.

In any event, sociology teacher Roger Yates alerted me to an HSUS press release concerning an agreement by Red Robin Gourmet Burgers to use “cage-free” eggs in its U.S. company-owned stores by 2010. Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

“The Humane Society of the United States applauds Red Robin for joining the national movement away from cruel battery cages,” said Paul Shapiro, senior director of The HSUS’ factory farming campaign. “We look forward to working with the company to continue raising the bar when it comes to animal welfare.”

Susan Lintonsmith, Red Robin senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said, “Red Robin’s high standards for quality and unsurpassed Guest service remain our top priorities. We recognize that the elimination of battery cages in egg production has become an increasingly important issue in the communities we serve, so we’re excited about our progress towards a supply chain in which all of our eggs are cage-free eggs.”

“We sincerely appreciate the insights and ideas that The Humane Society of the United States has shared with Red Robin,” said Lintonsmith. “We are pleased with their support for our battery cage-free egg commitments and look forward to continuing our dialog with the Humane Society on animal welfare issues.”

This is a perfect example of the problem that concerns me. First, the suggestion here is that “cage-free” eggs represent a significant increase in welfare for the birds. Consider this material from the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary and ask yourself whether this is true. Second, there is no way that this “deal” between HSUS and Red Robin cannot help but to send a very strong message to the public: HSUS puts its stamp of approval on eating at Red Robin. HSUS is, in essence, saying to the public: eat the dead cows and other animal products at Red Robin. Red Robin cares about “humane” treatment because they are going to phase in “cage-free” eggs over the next two years so you can feel good about consuming their products.

I suggest that there is no other way as a practical matter to interpret these sorts of arrangements.

I am sure that my friends at HSUS sincerely believe that this is a good thing; I sincerely do not agree.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione