Single-Issue Campaigns and the Adoption/Fostering of Homeless Nonhuman Animals

I am critical of single-issue campaigns (SICs). I am often asked if promoting the adoption or fostering of homeless animals is a single-issue campaign. The answer is that it is not and the question indicates confusion about what an SIC is and why SICs are objectionable.

Although all welfarist campaigns can be characterized as SICs, that term is usually applied to campaigns that at least appear to seek to abolish or prohibit, and not just regulate, certain animal uses, such as the use of animals for fur, or for meat (or for certain kinds of meat), the use of wild animals in circuses, particular sorts of blood sports, such as bullfighting, the use of horses in the carriage-horse trade, hunting (or particular sorts of hunting or the hunting of particular species), etc.

I have at least four problems with SICs.

First, SICs convey the idea that some forms of exploitation are worse than other forms of exploitation. In a culture in which animal exploitation is pervasive, that necessarily means that the target of the campaign is seen as being morally more objectionable than what is not focused on, which is seen as being morally “better” or even morally acceptable.

So if most people think that eating meat and dairy and eggs is “natural” and raises no moral problem, focusing on meat necessarily conveys the idea that dairy and eggs are different and that their consumption is morally acceptable or, at least, morally distinguishable, and not as morally objectionable as consuming meat.

A campaign focused on foie gras treats that particular product as morally distinguishable from other animal products, such as fried chicken or hamburgers. It tells people that it’s morally better to eat chicken and hamburgers because foie gras is morally distinguishable and morally worse. A campaign that focuses on fur implies that wool and leather are morally “better” than fur.

I reject that sort of thinking in favor of promoting the idea that veganism is the only rational response to the recognition that animals have moral value. I do not believe that there is a coherent moral distinction between meat and dairy/eggs or between foie gras and beef, chicken, or fish or between fur and leather or wool. It’s all morally unacceptable. I think that it confuses matters seriously to promote the idea that there are moral distinctions where there are none.

I discuss this more here.

Second, SICs simply cannot work as a practical matter. They are seen as arbitrary and they make no sense to people who consume animal foods. Think about it. Those who consume animal products think it’s morally acceptable to impose suffering and death on animals for the trivial reason of palate pleasure and they participate in this animal use every day, several times a day. Why would they think that hunting is wrong when they go to the supermarket and buy products made from animals who have suffered every bit as much, if not more, than animals who are hunted? Why would they think that using animals for other trivial reasons is morally unacceptable?

I discuss this more here.

Third, many single-issue campaigns encourage speciesism. Campaigns that focus on dolphins, elephants, and nonhuman primates maintain that these animals are supposedly more “like us” in terms of their intelligence and, therefore, they have greater moral value. That sort of thinking assumes that human characteristics are the measure of moral value and that human-like interests count for more. For the purposes of determining who can be used as a replaceable resource, assuming that human and human-like characteristics count for more is speciesist.

I discuss this more here.

Fourth, some single-issue campaigns often promote other forms of human discrimination. For example, the anti-fur campaign has had decidedly sexist overtones from its inception decades ago. Campaigns against eating dogs and cats are often and usually accompanied by anti-Asian rhetoric. Campaigns against kosher and halal slaughter have expressed anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment.

I discuss this more here.

A central part of the abolitionist approach is that domestication is inherently wrong and that we should stop producing domesticated animals for human use. I do, however, maintain that we have a moral obligation to care for those domesticated animals now in existence. I maintain that we should offer homes to nonhuman refugees of *any* species. I do not limit it to dogs and cats. I am very explicit in saying that there is no “responsible” breeding of domesticated animals.

Here are some additional thoughts on domestication.

I am not saying that some form of exploitation is morally better than another form of exploitation. I am not suggesting that we replace one form of exploitation with another form of exploitation. I am not, for example, claiming that we should adopt/foster animals and then train them for use in circuses.

I am saying that we have a problem that we have created: we have many domesticated animals who are in existence now and need homes now. We have no other morally acceptable choice but to care for those animals when we have the opportunity to do so. I have stressed that caring for domesticated animals is not without moral dilemmas. For example, some cats apparently cannot exist without eating meat. I maintain that feeding meats to cats is not morally justifiable but it may be excusable in some circumstances.

Finally, I always couple any discussion of adoption/fostering and my rejection of domestication with the other central part of the abolitionist message: veganism as the only rational response to the recognition that animals have moral value.

In sum, promoting the adoption/fostering of homeless animals is clearly not a single-issue campaign. Caring for the domesticated nonhumans of all species is a moral obligation that is central to the abolitionist approach to animal rights.

And it is beyond absurd to claim that promoting veganism is an SIC. As I discuss here, veganism, as it is conceptualized in abolitionist theory as a rejection of the injustice of animal use, encompasses our rejection of all institutionalized exploitation.

I hope that this has clarified any confusion.


If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

Please, if you can adopt a homeless animal—a dog, cat, bird, mouse, fish, cow, chicken—anyone who needs a home, do so. Adoption is an important form of activism; they’re in this mess because of us. The least that we can do is to take care of the ones we can.

The World is Vegan!

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2013 Gary L. Francione

Postscript added June 13, 2013:

As I have said since first writing on SICs in the mid-1990s, if animal advocates want to pursue SICs, which I discourage in favor of focusing exclusively on creative, nonviolent vegan education and advocacy, they should, at the very least, use the campaign to illustrate that veganism must be the moral baseline and, therefore, veganism should be an explicit, consistent, and central part of the campaign.

Let’s be clear here: I am not talking about a campaign that focuses on a particular use but where the advocates involved say “but we’re really against all animal use.” I am talking about a campaign where the particular use is explicitly and consistently coupled with a vegan message that is central to the campaign.

For example, several months ago, I was told that a Spanish group had a campaign against bullfighting that urged people to get bulls out of the ring and animal products off the table. That is, they were, I am told, using the bullfighting campaign to educate about veganism. That sort of campaign, if done properly, minimizes the risks that result when bullfighting is identified as an animal use that is morally distinguishable from, and worse than, other animal uses.

The overwhelming number of SICs do not explicitly and consistently couple the particular use with a clear vegan message. Indeed, they intentionally do the opposite. They very deliberately avoid veganism in favor of making the “issue” the particular thing that is the focus of the SIC.

The promotion of adopting/fostering homeless animals is not an SIC because it is simply of a different category; it is not seeking to identify some animal use that is “worse” than other animal uses and that, if addressed, will make animal exploitation “better.” The promotion of adopting/fostering is a direct implication of the abolitionist principle that domestication cannot be morally justified and that it should stop, but that we have a moral obligation to animals in existence to care for them in non-exploitative situations until they die.

Having said that, whenever I talk about adoption/fostering, I always emphasize the other fundamental abolitionist principle: veganism as a moral baseline.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2013 Gary L. Francione