Silly Questions and a Lack of Balance

Among the many notices that I receive about various events and conferences focused on animal issues was an announcement about a conference sponsored by the welfarist group, United Poultry Concerns. The title of the conference is: “Cage Free, Animal Friendly, Go Vegan -What’s the Problem?”

According to the announcement, the conference will ask:

Should activists work to reduce the suffering of billions of chickens and other animals who will never live to see a vegan world, or is such work counterproductive—a moral betrayal of animals?

This question assumes that animal welfare reforms significantly reduce the suffering of animals and will lead us along incrementally to a vegan world. There is no support for such an assumption.

As I discussed in my essay, The Four Problems of Animal Welfare, animal welfare reforms do not provide significant protection for animals, animal welfare measures make the public feel better about animal exploitation and this encourages continued animal use, animal welfare does nothing to eradicate the property status of animals, and time and money spent on animal welfare reforms mean less time and money spent on promoting veganism. There is no empirical evidence that animal welfare reform leads incrementally to the abolition of animal use, or even to significantly reduced animal use. The animal welfare ethic has been the dominant moral paradigm, and we have had animal welfare laws, for more than 200 years. And we are using more animals in more horrific ways than at any time in human history.

This question also assumes that abolitionists, who oppose welfare reforms, have no program for reducing animal suffering as we move incrementally toward abolition. This assumption is also wrong.

The abolitionist approach is to move full steam ahead in promoting veganism explicitly and without reservation as the only acceptable baseline of the animal rights movement. The more people who embrace veganism, the less is the demand for animal products; the fewer animals produced for human consumption, the less animal suffering. And unlike the welfarist approach, which reinforces the property status of animals and makes the public feel good about animal use, the vegan approach makes clear that we have no moral justification for exploiting nonhumans—however “humane” the treatment. The abolitionist approach seeks to shift the paradigm; the welfarist approach remains steeped and enmeshed in the status quo.

The announcement for this welfarist conference also asks:

And what about terms like “humane meat, “compassionate standards,” and “victory”? – What message do they send to the public?

This question refers to the fact that in the United States and Britain, animal welfarists are promoting labels to assure the public that the corpses and animal products that they purchase have been produced in a “humane” fashion. That is, the animal welfarists have joined forces with the animal exploitation industry to form a partnership that involves the welfarists placing their “stamp of approval” on meat, dairy, and eggs.

For example, in Britain, there is the Freedom Food label; in the United States, there is the Certified Humane Raised and Handled Label, and the Animal Compassionate label promoted by Whole Foods Market.

Such a strategy can only lead in one direction—making animal exploitation more acceptable.

And who are the speakers at the United Poultry Conference who will provide a “discussion” of the issue of labeling and the desirability of animal welfare reform?

Let’s take a look at the speaker lineup.

—Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns, which “promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl” and supports animal welfare legislation, “cage-free” eggs and “bigger cages” for battery hens;

—Harold Brown, formerly of Farm Sanctuary, Bruce Friedrich of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Christine Morrissey, all supporters of the Whole Foods’ Animal Compassionate Standard;

—Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society of the United States, which is a co-sponsor of the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label, supports the Animal Compassionate Standard, and relentlessly promotes “cage-free” eggs and other forms of animal welfarism;

—Roberta Schiff of Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, which promotes ineffective animal welfare reform, such as the proposed “ban” on foie gras in New York and the work of Michael Pollan, one of the chief architects of the “happy” meat movement; and

—Patty Mark, from Animal Liberation Victoria in Australia, who opposes animal welfare reform and regards these efforts to label death and misery as “humane” as unacceptable.

Six in favor; one opposed. Now there’s balance.

We can, therefore, answer the question, “What’s the Problem?”

The problem is the assumption that animal welfare reform works.

The problem is the assumption that the abolitionist approach does not have an effective program for the incremental reduction of animal suffering that will reduce demand for animal products.

The problem is saying to the public that you are going to have a “discussion” about these issues when, in fact, what you are going to do is to present welfarist propaganda that will, as the conference announcement makes clear, distort and misrepresent the abolitionist approach.

Gary L. Francione
© 2008 Gary L. Francione

P.S. After this essay was posted, I received an email from Harold Brown. He stated, in part: “It is true that I worked for Farm Sanctuary but I quit a few months ago because I was hitting a dead end being a voice for rights.” He also said that he is “now labeled an abolitionist fundamentalist and in the same breath they equate my views with yours” and that “I am an abolitionist and I won’t back down from the Orwellian rhetoric and hyperbole these national organizations are propagating. . . .”

So, perhaps, Patty Mark will not be alone at this celebration of animal welfare.