Another Welfarist “Revolution” That Wasn’t

Dear Colleagues:

As you know, I do not believe that welfare reforms provide significant benefits for nonhuman animals even when these reforms are implemented. But they often are not even implemented. That is, there are campaigns and fundraising efforts and declarations of “victory” (accompanied by parties complete with celebrities) but the supposed reforms often never even come about.

A good example of this phenomenon is found in the announcement on June 24, 2009 that Smithfield Foods will delay the ten-year phase-out of gestation crates for sows for financial reasons. Although alternatives to gestation crates have been demonstrated by agricultural economists to increase production efficiency in the long term, the short-term capital costs of converting from the crate system are apparently causing Smithfield to delay the ten-year phase out plan.

In 2007, when Smithfield announed the ten-year phase out, I wrote an essay in which I stated:

On January 25, 2007, Smithfield Foods, a big producer of nonhuman flesh, announced that over the next ten years, it will phase out gestation crates for pregnant sows in favor of group pens that will afford more room. This announcement followed a campaign by HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, and other welfarist groups against the gestation crate. This campaign cost well in excess of $1.6 million. As I discussed in my earlier essay, A “Triumph” of Animal Welfare?, animal advocates argued that studies showed that pork producers would get higher profits by switching to an alternative housing system.

In response to the Smithfield announcement, HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle proclaimed that “[a] revolution is underway in the pig industry.” Pacelle stated: “I can’t think of anything more important in terms of humane treatment of animals that has occurred in the agribusiness sector.” Other supporters of welfare regulation followed with similarly hyperbolic assessments. For example, Erik Marcus quite remarkably called the move by Smithfield “spectacular news.”

And now, what is the response from these welfare advocates to Smithfield’s announcenment? Bruce Friedrich of PETA, who had characterized the 2007 Smithfield decision as “a fantastic step for farmed animal welfare,” said that:

“It’s not surprising that when times get tough they jettisoned a plan that was barely a plan in the first place.”

Friedrich noted that PETA at the time asked Smithfield to extend the gestation-crate phaseout to its suppliers and to provide more details about the transition. The company, he said, did not respond to either request.

So the supposed “fantastic step” was not a “fantastic step” at all; Smithfield would not even provide details of the phase out. And when push came to shove and short-term economic considerations kicked in, the phase out got phased out.

So much for another welfarist “victory.”

I reiterate: I am sure that my friends at HSUS, PETA, etc. think that they are doing the right thing by pursuing these welfarist campaigns. My question to them is how much empirical evidence do they need before they see that they are in error? Putting aside the matter of moral principle, the bottom line is that the welfarist strategy simply does not work. Animals are chattel property. They have no inherent value. Before anything will ever change, that paradigm has to shift. And it is not going to change as long as animal advocates think that the way to progress comes from the disturbing partnerships between animal advocates and industry. The former get to declare a “victory” that does not (and cannot) occur; the latter get to portray themselves as on the side of the animals. But the animals lose.

The resources of those who really want to see the abolition of animal exploitation are better invested in clear, unequivocal, creative, nonviolent vegan education.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione