I admit to being a harsh and relentless critic of animal welfare. For the past 15 years or so, I have argued that because animals are property, animal welfare standards will generally only protect the interests of animals to the extent that the protection facilitates economically efficient exploitation. Animal welfare campaigns, for the most part, involve animal advocates trying to persuade institutionalized exploiters that “better” animal treatment will translate into greater profits and this reinforces the status of animals as economic commodities with nothing more than extrinsic or conditional value. Moreover, animal welfare is counterproductive because it misleads the public into thinking that exploitation is being made more “humane,” and this encourages continued animal use in a variety of ways.
I am frequently criticized by animal welfare advocates as being too negative in my assessment of animal welfare reform. This essay is the first in an occasional series that will examine particular animal welfare campaigns to see if my analysis is fair.
In 2002, animal advocates, led by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Farm Sanctuary, and others, succeeded in getting nearly 700,000 signatures to put on the ballot in Florida a proposal to amend the state constitution to ban what are known as “gestation crates.” Voters approved the proposal, and the Florida Constitution makes it a misdemeanor as of 2008 to confine a pregnant pig in “an enclosure,” or to tether a pregnant pig, in “such a way that she is prevented from turning around freely.” Peter Singer claims that the amendment is a “triumph” (New York Review of Books, May 15, 2003, at 26) and as “near the top” of the list of the most important animal welfare victories of the past 30 years.
For at least six reasons, the characterization of the Florida amendment as a “triumph” demonstrates that the bar of progress is ridiculously low where animal welfare improvements are concerned.
First, the campaign against gestation crates, which began in Florida but is now being conducted in other states, and which recently prevailed in Arizona, is based explicitly on making animal exploitation more efficient. Animal advocates promoted the amendment as a way to keep larger, intensive hog operations out of Florida, and thereby protect property values and tourism. They maintain, as a general matter, that alternatives to the gestation crate, such as group housing, will reduce costs and increase productivity.