Some Thoughts on National Organizations

I was recently a guest on a two-part podcast on Vegan Freak Radio. In subsequent discussion in the comment section of the second part of the podcast and in one of the forums, the issue was raised about whether animal advocacy should focus on grassroots activities or whether the movement should be controlled by “animal executives” who determine the agenda of the movement and dictate it to advocates.

I had some thoughts about this that I shared on the discussion forum and that I want to share with you.

As I see it, there are two related problems:

First, although some national organizations are better than others, these groups for the most part promote campaigns that focus more on the treatment of animals than on the use of animals. That is, they characterize the issue primarily as how animals are used and not that animals are used. As long as treatment is the primary focus, the movement will chase the elusive goal of reducing suffering to make exploitation more “humane” rather than abolishing use by incrementally eradicating the property status of animals.

As I have argued for many years now, any measure can be characterized as “reducing suffering.” These measures generally seek to protect animal interests to the extent that it is economically beneficial to do so and, therefore, do not in any meaningful way recognize the inherent value of nonhumans. On the contrary, these welfarist campaigns often reinforce the extrinsic or conditional value of animals.

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“Human beings are all going to die, too.”

It seems that the animal movement is busy tripping over itself scrambling frantically for the best position to kiss the corporate posterior of Whole Foods Market and its CEO, John Mackey.

Sure, Whole Foods sells tons of animal corpses (fresh and frozen) and thousands of animal products. But have no fear, animal advocates. These are “happy” animal products. No less a luminary than Peter Singer, the so-called “father of the animal rights movement,” tells us that “Whole Foods has set up an Animal Compassion Foundation, an independent, nonprofit organization the mission of which is ‘to provide education and research services to assist and inspire ranchers and meat producers around the world to achieve a higher standard of animal welfare excellence while still maintaining economic viability.’” (The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, 181) Now that’s radical, eh? The Animal Compassion Foundation is going to “assist and inspire” those who produce animal corpses to improve things to the extent that they can make an acceptable profit. In other words, we can sell them and make a profit, but you, the “compassionate consumer,” can feel good about it. Expect a revolution.

Whole Foods, according to Our Father, is an “ethical business,” (183) part of what Singer considers to be the “conscientious omnivore” approach to the exploitation of nonhumans. And Whole Foods promises that “[p]roducers who successfully meet these voluntary Standards will be able to label their products with the special ‘Animal Compassionate’ designation.” Yet another “happy” meat label, to compete with the Certified Humane Raised & Handled label and the Freedom Foods label. So many “happy” meat choices!

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“Happy” Meat/Animal Products: A Step in the Right Direction or “An Easier Access Point Back” to Eating Animals?

A recent BBC News Magazine article just caught my attention. It quotes school teacher Rachael Deacon stating: “I pay more to buy healthier food. I don’t want my animals to be slaughtered horribly or to have a horrible life.” Putting aside that Ms. Deacon thinks that there is such a thing as non-horrible slaughter, is her general concern a success story for the animal advocates who promote “happy” meat as an incremental step on the path to a world with less suffering and death?

No. She was a vegetarian for 10 years but now she has gone back to eating meat.

Deacon is a “conscientious omnivore” who illustrates the problem with the “happy” meat approach that has overtaken the animal movement. Large animal welfare corporations have created labels, such as the Certified Humane Raised & Handled label and the Freedom Food label, to make consumers feel better about eating animals who have been raised and killed in ways which, if applied to humans, would be regarded without doubt as constituting torture. Animal advocates give awards to slaughterhouse designers and publicly praise supermarket chains that sell supposed “humanely” raised and slaughtered corpses and other “happy” animal products.

This approach does not lead people incrementally in the right direction. Rather, it gives them a reason to justify going backwards. It focuses on animal treatment rather than animal use and deludes people into thinking that welfare regulations are actually resulting in significant protection for animals.

The BBC article, “Some sausages are more equal than others,” further illustrates this problem. The reporter, Megan Lane, tells us that she has been a vegetarian for 14 years but that she has “started eating meat again, but only meat from animals who’ve enjoyed a happy life before being slaughtered.” She says that when she became a vegetarian, “organic and free-range meat” was not easily available, as it is now.

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Clarifying the Meaning of “Right”

There is a great deal of confusion about the concept of rights. We are often unclear what we refer to when we talk about human rights. This confusion and lack of clarity are even more pronounced when we talk about “animal rights” because some use the term to describe any welfarist regulation, and some, like me, use it as a synonym for the abolition of animal exploitation.

There is no greater proof of the confusion among animal advocates than the fact that, Peter Singer, the “father of the animal rights movement” does not believe in rights for humans or nonhumans!

The concept of rights has certainly generated a great deal of philosophical discussion and debate.

But we can cut through all of this and clarify the notion of a right for purposes of understanding some basic aspects of the concept.

What is a right?

A right is simply a way of protecting an interest.

An interest is something that we want, desire, or prefer. We all have interests. We share some interests in common. For example, we all have an interest in food and medical care. Some interests are more peculiar to the individual. I have absolutely no interest in playing golf; many people are passionate about golf.

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The State of the Movement

Speciesism is wrong because, like racism, sexism, and homophobia, it excludes sentient beings from full membership in the moral community based on an irrelevant characteristic. Race, sex, sexual orientation, and species are all irrelevant to the capacity to be harmed.

But the rejection of speciesism on this ground implies the rejection of discrimination based on race, sex, or sexual orientation. It is unacceptable to perpetuate the commodification of one group for the benefit of another. Commodification involves treating the other—whether a woman, person of color, gay or lesbian, or nonhuman—as an object, as something rather than as someone.

For many years, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has promoted sexist campaigns. This started with their “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign in the early 1990s and has degenerated through a series of increasing sexist promotions culminating in its most recent PETA’s State of the Union Undress.

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Abolition and Incremental Reform

In response to my essay about veganism, a number of animal advocates have written to me and have asked me to discuss what other sorts of incremental reform—apart from our becoming vegans—are consistent with the abolitionist position.

This essay is an initial response to those requests and I will follow this from time to time with further essays on strategies for incremental reform.

Let me say as a preliminary matter: our personal decision to embrace veganism is the most important incremental change that we can make. Veganism is the most important form of activism. And it is the one thing that is within the power of each of us to do. Now.

For too long, the animal movement has itself treated veganism as “extreme” and has promoted the myth that animal foods can be produced in a “humane” manner and that we can be morally “conscientious omnivores.” For too long, the movement has characterized conscientious veganism as “fanatical.”

If the animal movement is ever to be anything more than a cheering section for well-off elitists who buy their “happy meat,” free-range eggs, and organic dairy products from places like Whole Foods, or a movement that promotes as ”visionary” measures designed to keep the meat industry running “safely, efficiently and profitably,” veganism must be placed front and center as a movement baseline.

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Animal Rights and Domesticated Nonhumans

One aspect of my theory of animal rights, as articulated in Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? and other places, that troubles some animal advocates, is that if we accept the rights position, we ought not to bring any more domesticated nonhumans into existence. I apply this not only to animals we use for food, experiments, clothing, etc., but also to our nonhuman companions.

I can certainly understand that if you embrace the welfarist approach, which says that the use of nonhumans is morally acceptable as long as you treat them “humanely” and which sees the goal as better regulating animal use, you would reject my view. But if you, as I, see the primary problem of animal exploitation to be our use of nonhumans irrespective of whether we are “humane,” and regard the goal as the abolition of animal exploitation, then it is not clear to me why this position would cause you any difficulty.

The logic is simple. We treat animals as our property, as resources that we can use for our purposes. We bring billions of them into existence for the sole purpose of using and killing them. We have bred these animals to be dependent on us for their survival.

The central position of my rights theory is that we have no justification for treating animals as our property just as we had no justification for treating other humans as slaves. We have abolished human chattel slavery in most parts of the world; similarly, we should abolish animal slavery.

But what does that mean in the context of nonhumans? Should we “liberate” animals and let them wander freely in the streets? No, of course not. That would be as irresponsible as allowing small children to wander around. We should certainly care for those nonhumans whom we have already brought into existence but we should stop causing any more to come into existence. We have no justification for using nonhumans—however “humanely” we treat them.

There are two objections that I have heard in connection with this view.

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A New Year’s Resolution

Happy New Year.

Let us resolve that 2007 will be a year in which the animal rights movement continues to become a serious social and political movement despite our having to deal with the obstacles placed in our way by the so-called “leaders” of the movement. These “leaders” have trivialized the issue of animal exploitation and have been nothing more than an embarrassment to those of us who are trying to facilitate serious social discourse about our moral and legal obligations to nonhuman animals.

Consider a few of the literally thousands of examples:

Etc, etc, etc.

Who knows? Perhaps 2007 will be the year in which we are told by movement “leaders” that it is acceptable to have “mutually satisfying” sexual relationships with disabled children before killing them as long as we provide them with a “humanely” produced hamburger first. The predictable parade of sycophants will rush to defend the statement and anyone who disagrees will be labeled as “divisive,” and be accused of threatening movement “unity” or “hurting the animals.” After all, they’ve defended everything else to date.

Or 2007 might be the year when we see the further development of an emerging grassroots movement based firmly and unequivocally on veganism and committed to educating the public in positive and engaging ways about the abolition of animal exploitation in an intelligent, coherent, nonsexist, and nonviolent manner.

If we pursue this latter path, people might actually start taking the idea of animal rights seriously and stop regarding it as a movement about “humane meat,” endless self-promotion and cheap media spectacles, or as advocating the idea, also embraced by the Nazis, that some lives are not worth living.

How refreshing that would be.

Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione

Animals as Property and the Rape Analogy: A Postscript

Since I posted Veganism: The Fundamental Principle of the Abolitionist Movement yesterday, I have received a number of emails from people who found the analysis helpful to their thinking about the issue. A number of people have asked questions which, although different in their particular aspects, focus generally on two issues—the status of animals as property and the rape analogy. I am offering this to address these two general issues.

Animals as Property

First, some people have asked me to explain in greater detail the point about animal welfare failing because animals are property.

This is an issue about which I have written a great deal. A good place to start learning about the problem is the presentation, Animals as Property, which is on my website.

In an extremely abbreviated nutshell: Animals are property; they are economic commodities. Because animals are property, they are regarded exclusively as means to our ends. Animals have no inherent value; they only have extrinsic or conditional value to the extent that we value them. As far as the law is concerned, nonhuman animals are no different from any other of the things that we own.

There is, of course, a factual difference between animal property and other sorts of property in that unlike our cars, iPods, etc., nonhuman animals are sentient. They have subjective awareness. They have interests. There are things that nonhumans want, desire, or prefer—in particular, they have an interest in not suffering, not experiencing pain, and continuing to live. In this important way, animal property is different from every other sort of property. A cow is a sentient being who is subjectively aware and can suffer; an iPod is not a sentient being and has no subjective awareness. There is nothing that an iPod wants, desires, or prefers.

The problem is that it costs money to give protection to animal interests. For the most part, we only protect those animal interests that we get an economic benefit from protecting.

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Veganism: The Fundamental Principle of the Abolitionist Movement

Many animal welfare advocates claim that the rights position, which seeks the abolition of animal use, is not practical because it rejects incremental change and does not provide any guidance for what we should do now—today—to help nonhumans. These critics of the abolitionist position argue that we have no choice but to pursue more animal-welfare regulations—more attempts to make animal exploitation more “humane”—if we want to do something “practical” to help animals.

The notion that animal welfare regulations provide significant protection for animal interests is about as wrong as wrong gets. As I have discussed in my writing, because animals are property, they are only economic commodities with nothing but extrinsic or conditional value. Their interests have no inherent value. As a result, standards that require their “humane” treatment are interpreted in an economic sense and limit protection to what will provide an economic benefit to humans. Purported improvements in animal welfare do very little, if anything, to increase protection for animal interests; for the most part, they do nothing more than to make animal exploitation more economically efficient and socially acceptable. Moreover, there is no historical evidence that animal welfare regulation leads to abolition.

The welfarists are also mistaken to claim that the rights position does not provide any practical incremental steps that we can take on the road to abolition. There is very clear guidance for incremental change: veganism.

Veganism is not merely a matter of diet; it is a moral and political commitment to abolition on the individual level and extends not only to matters of food, but to clothing, other products, and other personal actions and choices. Becoming a vegan is the one thing that we can all do today—right now—to help animals. It does not require an expensive campaign, the involvement of a large organization, legislation, or anything other than our recognition that if “animal rights” means anything, it means that we cannot justify consuming or using meat, fish, dairy, eggs, or other animal products.

Veganism reduces animal suffering and death by decreasing demand. It represents a rejection of the commodity status of nonhumans and recognition of their inherent value. Veganism is also a commitment to nonviolence and the animal rights movement should be a movement of peace and should reject violence against all animals—nonhuman and human.

Many animal advocates claim to favor animal rights but continue to eat animal products. Indeed, many “leaders” of the animal movement are not vegans. That is no different from someone who claims to be in favor of the abolition of slavery but who continues to own slaves.

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