The Four Problems of Animal Welfare: In a Nutshell

A number of readers have been asking me to write something that they can download and use as a short response to those animal advocates who promote the welfarist approach and who do not understand why this approach is inconsistent with the rights/abolitionist position.

I hope that this is useful.

There are at least four problems with the welfarist approach to animal ethics.

First, animal welfare measures provide little, if any, significant protection to animal interests. For example, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) campaigned to get McDonald’s and other fast-food chains to adopt Temple Grandin’s handling and slaughter methods. But a slaughterhouse that follows Grandin’s guidelines and one that does not, are both hideous places. It borders on delusion to claim otherwise.

A number of animal groups are campaigning for alternatives to the gestation crate for pigs. But, on closer examination, these measures, which involve costly campaigns, really do not amount to very much in that there are considerable loopholes that allow institutional exploiters to do what they want in any event. I wrote a blog essay, A “Triumph” of Animal Welfare?, about the gestation crate campaign in Florida, which illustrates the limits of such reforms.

The same may be said of most animal welfare “improvements.” They may make us feel better but they do very little for the animals.

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Vivisection, Part One: The “Necessity” of Vivisection

One of the main arguments that I make is that although almost everyone accepts that it is morally wrong to inflict “unnecessary” suffering and death on animals, 99% of the suffering and death that we inflict on animals can be justified only by our pleasure, amusement, or convenience. For example, the best justification that we have for killing the billions of nonhumans that we eat every year is that we enjoy the taste of animal flesh and animal products. This is not an acceptable justification if we take seriously, as we purport to, that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering or death on animals, and it illustrates the confused thinking that I characterize as our “moral schizophrenia” when it comes to nonhumans.

A follow-up question that I often get is: “What about vivisection? Surely that use of animals is not merely for our pleasure, is it?”

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Simon the Sadist, Jeffrey Dahmer, the League Against Cruel Sports, and the “Oxford” Centre for Animal Welfare

In September 2007, two animal welfare organizations, the League Against Cruel Sports and the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, will hold an “International Conference on the Relationship between Animal Abuse and Human Violence.” Although the conference will be held at Oxford University, the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics is, according to the Assistant to the Director of Public Affairs at Oxford University, “not an official or affiliated centre” of the University.

The conference information that is provided states:

The conference will highlight the importance of animal ethics by exploring the following questions:

  • Is there empirical evidence of a link between animal abuse and violence to humans or anti-social behaviour?
  • How should we interpret the evidence?
  • If there is a link, what are the ethical implications?
  • What are the implications for social and legal policy?

The purpose of the conference is to enable people to better understand the nature of animal abuse, the motivation that leads to cruel acts and the implications for human as well as animal welfare.” A “key research” area of the Centre “is the link between animal abuse and human violence.

There are two problems—serious and related—with approaching animal ethics in this way.

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Frequently Asked Questions, Part Two

This is the second part of the entry on frequently asked questions. The first part was posted last week.

4. Question: Isn’t human use of animals a “tradition,” or “natural,” and therefore morally justified?

Answer: No. Every form of discrimination in the history of humankind has been defended as “traditional.” Sexism is routinely justified on the ground that it is traditional for women to be subservient to men: “A woman’s place is in the home.” Human slavery has been a tradition in most cultures at some times. The fact that some behavior can be described as traditional has nothing to do with whether the behavior is or is not morally acceptable.

In addition to relying on tradition, some characterize our use of animals as “natural” and then declare it to be morally acceptable. Again, to describe something as natural does not in itself say anything about the morality of the practice. In the first place, just about every form of discrimination ever practiced has been described as natural as well as traditional. The two notions are often used interchangeably. We have justified human slavery as representing a natural hierarchy of slave owners and slaves. We have justified sexism as representing the natural superiority of men over women.

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Frequently Asked Questions, Part One

In my essay of December 13, 2006, I offered a response to a frequently asked question about whether plants should be considered as rightholders. I received many emails from readers who found that essay useful in talking with others about animal rights and veganism, and who requested that I provide some more answers to the sorts of questions that animal rights advocates are often asked.

In this essay, I provide three questions and answers that I hope will be useful to you in your advocacy. Next week, I will provide three more.

1. Question: Domestic animals, such as cows and pigs, and laboratory rats would not exist were it not for our bringing them into existence in the first place for our purposes. So is it not the case that we are free to treat them as our resources?

Answer: No. The fact that we are in some sense responsible for the existence of a being does not give us the right to treat that being as our resource. Were that so, then we could treat our children as resources. After all, they would not exist were it not for our actions—from our decisions to conceive to decisions not to abort. And although we are granted a certain amount of discretion as to how we treat our children, there are limits. We cannot treat them as we do animals. We cannot enslave them, sell them into prostitution, or sell their organs. We cannot kill them. Indeed, it is a cultural norm that bringing a child into existence creates moral obligations on the part of the parents to care for the child and not exploit her.

It should be noted that one of the purported justifications for human slavery in the United States was that many slaves would not have existed at all had it not been for the institution of slavery. The original slaves who were brought to the United States were forced to breed and their children were considered property. Although such an argument appears ludicrous to us now, it demonstrates that we cannot assume the legitimacy of the institution of property—of human or nonhumans—and then ask whether it is acceptable to treat property as property. The answer will be predetermined. Rather, we must first ask whether the institution of animal (or human) property can be morally justified.

And as I have argued in my website presentation on Animals as Property, the institution of animal property is no more defensible than the institution of human property.

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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

My Dinner at Erik’s “Happy Meat” Diner

Dear Colleagues:

This past Sunday, February 25, I had a lovely chat with Erik Marcus from Erik’s Diner. Erik took the position that welfarist reforms are providing significant protection for animals and leading to abolition and I argued that these reforms are largely meaningless and are doing nothing more than making people feel comfortable about continuing to exploit animals. I also argued that an abolitionist movement ought to employ abolitionist means to achieve the goal, and that this means that we should focus our time and resources on creative, nonviolent vegan/abolitionist education as well as the hands-on care of individual animals. It was a lively discussion, which went on for about 2 1/2 hours!

Bob Torres at Vegan Freak was kind enough to make an MP3 file of the discussion for me to post. You may listen to the entire show at:

Erik Marcus Debates Professor Francione on Abolition vs. Animal Welfare

I hope that you enjoy the show.

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