Animal welfare reform focuses on the supply side of exploitation. The idea is to provide a supply of more “humanely” produced animal products. The idea also is to make that supply more expensive so that consumers buy fewer animal products.
But the theory and the reality are different. Even those who support welfare reform often still buy conventional, “lower welfare” products (in my view, all animal products are low welfare) and, even if the price of some animal products increases as a result of welfare reforms (as opposed to myriad other factors that affect price), demand does not change much because demand for many animal products is what economists call “inelastic,” or not sensitive to price increases within a particular range.
And even if the price goes up so that demand is affected, consumers will simply buy processed or cheaper animal foods. In other words, there is no reason to think that if the price of beef goes up, consumers buy tofu.
The only effective way to deal with animal exploitation is to focus on the demand side and to educate people about why they should not consume animal products. Period. There are many people out there who care about animals as a moral matter. Rather than telling those people that they can discharge their moral obligations to animals by consuming “happy” animal products, we should be educating them about why the only sensible response to recognizing that animals matter morally is to stop consuming them and to go vegan.
To put it another way: if you think that what Michael Vick did was wrong because we should not impose suffering and death on other sentient beings just because we enjoy doing so, you are committed to not consuming animals, which can only be justified by palate pleasure. Just as pleasure does not work for Vick, it does not work for the rest of us.
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.
Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University
©2013 Gary L. Francione