What Battle Are We Winning?

In a recent blog essay (and in my work over the past 15 years), I argued that animal welfare not only fails to provide significant protection for animal interests but that it is counterproductive because it makes people feel more comfortable about animal exploitation. This perpetuates animal exploitation and may even result in a net increase in animal suffering through increased consumption.

Here is a stunning recent example of what I am talking about.

Farmed Animal Net, which is sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, and others, reported in its issue of March 16:

Strauss Veal & Lamb, which claims to process between 18% to 25% of the calves used for veal in the U.S., has set a goal of completely converting from stalls to group pens in the next 2-3 years. Randy Strauss, the company’s CEO, has written that veal crates are “inhumane and archaic” and “do nothing more than subject a calf to stress, fear, physical harm and pain.” Stating that “Animal rights are important,” he said: “We want to be the company to revolutionize the veal industry. There are a growing number of people who, if they feel good about what they’re eating, will eat veal. If we can capture that market, we’re going to increase the 0.6-pound per capita consumption market resulting in a healthier veal industry.” Strauss asserts that veal consumption rose in Europe, where individual veal stalls are now illegal, during the 5-10 year conversion process there. The company has also expressed interest in free-range and organic production.

  • Strauss explicitly acknowledges that his goal is to make people “feel good” about eating veal.
  • Strauss explicitly recognizes that welfare reform will lead to increased consumption of veal.
  • Strauss reports that increased veal consumption occurred in Europe in response to welfare reform.

You can read an article about Strauss, “Revolutionizing the Veal Industry,” the cover story in the December issue of Meat Processing.

Animal welfare reform will not, as some claim, lead to the abolition of exploitation; it will lead to more animal consumption. Animal welfare reform will not lead to eradication of the property status of animals; it will merely reinforce that status.

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A Most Misleading Label

There is a controversy in Britain over the RSPCA “Freedom Food” label. According to the RSPCA:

Freedom Food is the RSPCA’s farm assurance and food labelling scheme dedicated to improving welfare standards for the 900 million farm animals reared for food each year in the UK. If you’re concerned about the origins of your food and the welfare of the animals that produced it, then please look out for eggs, meat, poultry, fish and dairy products bearing the Freedom Food logo.

The reality is that the Freedom Food label is a scam.

Recent exposés by the BBC, Channel 4, and ITV, which have been based in part on the investigative work of the Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norwich (UK), have demonstrated that animals who are raised in Freedom Food farms have lives as bleak and as horrible as animals on conventional farms. The primary difference is that food with the Freedom Food logo costs more and consumers feel better about exploiting animals. Take a look at these reports, as well as the Hillside documentary, “Ducks in Despair.” The story is shocking.

But it should not surprise us.

The Freedom Food scandal is a classic example of the failure of animal welfare. Animal welfare regulation does not provide significant protection to animals. Moreover, it makes the public feel more comfortable about animal exploitation and it facilitates continued exploitation.

And if this could happen in Britain—a country that arguably has the most significant tradition of animal welfare in the world and where, according to some, animal welfare standards are higher than anywhere—imagine what a disastrous failure such a labeling scheme would be in the United States.

We’ll find out soon enough.

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Peter Singer and the “Luxury” of Death

In last week’s blog entry, I mentioned that The Vegan Society had interviewed Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and me in its magazine, The Vegan. In his interview, Singer states:

[T]o avoid inflicting suffering on animals—not to mention the environmental costs of intensive animal production—we need to cut down drastically on the animal products we consume. But does that mean a vegan world? That’s one solution, but not necessarily the only one. If it is the infliction of suffering that we are concerned about, rather than killing, then I can also imagine a world in which people mostly eat plant foods, but occasionally treat themselves to the luxury of free range eggs, or possibly even meat from animals who live good lives under conditions natural for their species, and are then humanely killed on the farm. (The Vegan, Autumn 2006.)

In Singer’s May 2006 interview in Mother Jones, he states:

[T]here’s a little bit of room for indulgence in all of our lives. I know some people who are vegan in their homes but if they’re going out to a fancy restaurant, they allow themselves the luxury of not being vegan that evening. I don’t see anything really wrong with that.

I don’t eat meat. I’ve been a vegetarian since 1971. I’ve gradually become increasingly vegan. I am largely vegan but I’m a flexible vegan. I don’t go to the supermarket and buy non-vegan stuff for myself. But when I’m traveling or going to other people’s places I will be quite happy to eat vegetarian rather than vegan.

It is quite remarkable that the so-called “father of the animal rights movement”:

  • Is a “flexible vegan”—that is, he is not a vegan when he finds it inconvenient to be one. That means that he’s not a vegan and, indeed, he has characterized being a consistent vegan as “fanatical.”;
  • Thinks that a vegan world is not “necessarily” the solution to the problem of animal exploitation.; and
  • Characterizes it as a “luxury” to consume meat and animal products.

But these comments make clear a position that is central to Singer’s theory and that is absolutely at odds with an animal rights/abolitionist perspective. According to Singer, it is the suffering of nonhumans, and not our killing of them, that raises the primary, and perhaps the only, moral problem.

That is, Singer does not think that it is a serious problem that we use and kill animals; the only problem is how we use and kill them. If animals have “good lives under conditions natural for their species, and are then humanely killed on the farm,” then we do not act immorally in using and eating animals.

Why would Singer take such a position? Why does he think that killing a nonhuman does not raise a fundamental moral problem?

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Interview on Veganism/Abolition in The Vegan

I am working furiously on finishing my book, The Personhood of Animals, which will be published by Columbia University Press this coming fall, so this entry will be brief.

Last week, I had an interview come out in The Vegan, the magazine of The Vegan Society in Great Britain. The Vegan interviewed Peter Singer in the Autumn 2006 issue, Tom Regan in Winter 2006 issue, and me in the Spring 2007 issue. I have already received a tremendous response from readers of The Vegan and I would like to share the interview with you.

Gary Francione: Why Veganism is His Moral Baseline, an interview by Rosamund Raha.

In this interview, I discuss the difference between animal rights and animal welfare, the problems of new welfarism, the campaign for “happy meat,” the interest of nonhumans in continued existence (which is denied by Singer and other welfare reformers), the abolitionist position, PETA’s sexist campaigns, and the differences between my views and those of Tom Regan.

My debate with “happy meat” promoter Erik Marcus on February 25 certainly stimulated some discussion. There were lively threads at Vegan Freak and Satya as well as other places.

I have received an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the idea of doing a podcast focused on the abolitionist approach to animal rights. I am happy that there seems to be considerable interest in this and I will turn to it as soon as I possibly can.

Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione