The “commonplace reality of producing livestock for consumption”

Dear Colleagues:

Home Box Office recently aired a documentary, Death on a Factory Farm. The documentary concerns an undercover investigation of the Wiles Hog Farm in Ohio. The investigator, who worked for the Humane Farming Association, secretly filmed the hideous treatment of the animals and brought his evidence to the local prosecutor, who filed ten criminal charges against Wiles, his son, and an employee.

The outcome of the prosecution? Only one charge resulted in conviction. The punishment? A $250 fine and required training in pig handling and transportation. The defendants and other farmers who supported the defendants argued that the practices depicted in the documentary were not criminal and represented “the commonplace reality of producing livestock for consumption.”

And they were right.

What is depicted in the documentary is, indeed, nothing short of torture. But what happened at the Wiles Farm was no different from what transpires on every large factory farm. What was depicted in the documentary is commonplace. If you ate pork last night, that animal was subjected to more or less the same sort of treatment.

That is why animal advocates should not support the efforts of animal welfare organizations to make animal exploitation more “humane.” Animal exploitation on the scale needed to feed even a small portion of the world’s human population cannot be made more “humane” in any significant way. The economics of production and the property status of animals make it impossible—not just difficult—impossible. We would, of course, still have to deal with the moral question of whether animal use can be justified irrespective of how “humane” it is, but we can be assured that it will never be “humane” because it will always involve a significant degree of torture.

Welfarist reforms such as California’s Proposition 2 or the campaign in favor of gassing chickens are similar to putting pretty wallpaper in a torture chamber. Just as the wallpaper may make those inflicting the torture feel better about their surroundings, these reforms make those who exploit animals—and that includes everyone who supports the demand by consuming flesh, dairy, eggs, etc.—feel better about the fact that they consume animals. Just as the wallpaper does nothing of any significance for the human victims of torture, the window dressing of animal welfare reforms does little for the animal victims of torture.

There is really just one morally sound and practical response to animal exploitation: go vegan and devote whatever time and resources you have to creative, nonviolent vegan education.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

More on Violence and Animal Rights

Dear Colleagues:

A number of people have written to me in the past several weeks asking that I blog on the use of violence in the struggle for animal rights. I already did an essay—A Comment on Violence—on this topic and I direct those interested to that essay. My forthcoming book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, which I am writing with political scientist Dr. Robert Garner of the University of Leicester, will also address this topic.

I would like to supplement my previous essay with the following thought.

There are those who claim that creative, nonviolent vegan education, which is what I propose that we pursue in order to shift the moral paradigm, is insufficient because that approach will not work fast enough given the severity of the problem and the various social, political, economic, and ecological consequences of animal exploitation.

I do not doubt that animal use is nothing short of a disaster in every respect and that it is the most significant contributing factor to the overall peril of our planet. But it is beyond pure fantasy to believe that violence, even if it were morally justifiable, which I maintain it is not, is going to be the solution that will move things along faster and address this admittedly alarming situation in an effective way.

As I mentioned in my earlier essay, most humans see animal use as the default, “normal” position. Acts of violence cannot be seen as anything other than attacks on conduct that is regarded by most people as entirely unobjectionable and morally acceptable (at least as long as it is “humane”).

Engaging in violence, which will necessarily be interpreted by most people as pathological, is not going to cause people to think that animal use is objectionable; if anything, violence will serve the ends of those who want to portray any effort to shift the paradigm—including peaceful and nonviolent efforts—as part of an overall pathological and objectionable ethic. Promoting violence is not only inconsistent with the ethic of peace; it will serve to frustrate its acceptance.

Creative, nonviolent vegan education is hard work. But, unlike the alternatives, it is the only option that will shift the paradigm and result in a fundamentally different way of assessing the underlying moral issue. Unlike the alternatives, creative, nonviolent vegan education can work to cause a revolution—of the heart.

In the end, those are the only revolutions that work.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione

“Gateway” Arguments

Dear Colleagues:

It is spring break at the University so I am using the extra time to do some blogging!

I want to address a set of related arguments that are commonly referred to as “gateway” arguments. The three primary gateway arguments are: (1) that we should promote some version of vegetarianism that allows for eating dairy products, eggs, or even fish as a gateway to veganism; (2) that we should promote “happy” meat/animal products, such as KFC chicken that has been gassed rather than electrocuted, or “cage-free” eggs, as a gateway to lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarianism and then veganism; and (3) that we should promote animal welfare reform as a gateway to the abolition of animal exploitation.

I reject these gateway arguments for both theoretical reasons and practical reasons.

As a theoretical matter, even if vegetarianism was a gateway to veganism, or “happy” meat was a gateway to vegetarianism, or welfare reform was a gateway to the social acceptance of abolition, should we promote something that is morally wrong as a way of getting to something morally right? It is, of course, better if a rapist does not beat a rape victim in addition to raping her/him. But does that mean that we should campaign in favor of “humane” rape as a gateway to no rape? Some forms of racism are better than other forms of racism, but would anyone seriously suggest that we should campaign in favor of those supposedly “better” forms of racism? It is better to torture a person less severely than more severely, but would we campaign for “humane” torture?

Of course not. Where issues involving humans are concerned, most of us see the problem and few, if any, of us would campaign for “humane” rape or “humane” racism or “humane” torture.

But where nonhumans are concerned, many of us are ready to jump ship and promote things that we acknowledge violate the fundamental rights of animals. There is no morally significant difference between meat and dairy or between meat and fish. There is as much (if not more) suffering in a glass of milk as in a pound of steak and a fish values her/his life as much as the cow values her/his life. “Happy” meat/animal products do not involve any greater protection for animal interests and these animals are all still treated in ways that involve what would be regarded as torture were humans involved. Welfare reform is a direct equivalent of promoting “humane” rape or “humane” racism.

Therefore, these gateway arguments have the disturbing characteristic of promoting conduct or practices that explicitly violate the fundamental rights of animals when we would never do that in a human context. The gateway approach is speciesist on its face.

As a practical matter, gateway arguments share in common an empirical or factual premise: that lacto-ovo-pesco-vegetarianism will lead to veganism; that “happy” meat/animal products will lead to vegetarianism and veganism; that welfare reform will create a social and political climate more favorable to abolition. In order for gateway arguments to work, it has to be the case that there is a clear causal connection between the gateway component (vegetarianism, “happy” meat/animal products, welfare reform) and the desired goal (veganism, vegetarianism, abolition of exploitation).

The problem is that there is no evidence to support these assertions of causal connection. Although there certainly are vegetarians who have become vegans, there are also many vegetarians who never go vegan. With respect to the claim that “happy” meat/animal products will lead to vegetarianism that will lead to veganism, that claims not only lacks support, but the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. That is, the “happy” meat movement is actually moving us backwards in that more and more people–including those who were once vegetarian or even vegan–are once again feeling comfortable about consuming animal products. After all, if People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals gives an award to Whole Foods as Best Animal-Friendly Retailer, claiming that “Whole Foods has consistently done more for animal welfare than any retailer in the industry, requiring that its producers adhere to strict standards,” it sends a very clear message that eating the corpses and other animal products sold by Whole Foods is a morally acceptable, even if not morally ideal, thing to do.

The claim that welfare reform is a gateway that will lead to social acceptance and achievement of the abolition of exploitation is also not only without any factual support but is clearly false. The animal welfare approach has been the dominant moral and legal paradigm for 200 years now and we are using more nonhuman animals in more horrific ways than ever before in human history. There is no historical evidence that regulation is a gateway to abolition or leads to abolition in any way; there is no historical evidence that welfare reform leads to anything more than more animal exploitation.

We cannot justify animal exploitation as a matter of basic morality. Gateway arguments are inconsistent with the fundamental rights of nonhumans not to be treated as human resources and rest on factual premises that are not only without support but that are demonstrably false.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione

Addendum added August 6, 2009:

What about the argument that many vegans were first vegetarians so we ought to promote vegetarianism rather than veganism?

Even if it were true that most vegans were vegetarians first, that would not mean that we ought to promote vegetarianism. If we explain the moral reasons in support of not consuming any animal products to someone and that person is not ready to go vegan, she will take whatever incremental step she wants to take, including adopting various forms of vegetarianism. But we have left veganism as the aspiration and we have been clear that we cannot draw a morally defensible line between flesh and other animal products.  If we promote any variety of vegetarianism short of veganism, we reinforce the false belief that there is a distinction between meat and dairy or other animal products. So even if vegans usually start off as vegetarians, we ought still to be promoting veganism. I should add that it remains a question in my mind as to whether those taking vegetarian “first steps” do so precisely because that is what they are being advised to do by animal advocates who are confused on this issue.

“Animal Law”: Making the Use of Hooks and Prods More “Humane”

Dear Colleagues:

I frequently get inquiries from undergraduate students who tell me that they want to go to law school so that they can study “animal law” and ask my advice about how to become “animal lawyers.” I respond that what is commonly referred to as “animal law”—veterinary malpractice cases, “pet” custody cases, “pet” trust cases, and cruelty cases—does not in any way move nonhuman animals away from their status as human property. Indeed, for the reasons explained in our video on animal law, it further enmeshes them in that paradigm. I tell those students that if they want to do something useful, they should: (1) become vegan; (2) educate others about veganism; and (3) do pro bono work as lawyers for advocates who are promoting veganism and who need legal protection, which is often the case. I have represented many such activists over the years.

The problems with “animal law” are illustrated by a pending lawsuit by a group of welfarist organizations and a former elephant trainer against Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The issue is whether the use of hooks and metal-tipped prods to control elephants violates the Endangered Species Act.

According to an article (“Animal rights, circus lawyers differ on elephants”) about the lawsuit:

Under questioning from the judge, Meyer [the attorney for the plaintiffs] acknowledged that not all use of chains and prods would violate the law. She said she hopes that [the judge] will require the circus to get permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use the tools. But she could not say specifically what treatment should be allowed or just how long elephants could legally be kept on chains.

I know Kathleen Meyer, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs. She is a fine attorney. It is, however, sad that the “animal rights” position is that we need to regulate the use of hooks and prods, and require that circuses get permits. The idea that the “animal rights” position concerns how long elephants can be kept on chains is disturbing on a number of levels.

How many dollars contributed to help animals are being used for this effort? More importantly, why does anyone think that this sort of lawsuit will do anything to lead in the direction of abolishing animal exploitation or even providing any increased protection for animals? Perhaps we should consider that the money would be better spent educating people as to why they should not attend circuses that use any nonhuman animals. It is a zero-sum game; every dollar we spend on regulating the use of hooks and prods is a dollar less that we spend on decreasing the demand for such spectacles through creative, nonviolent abolitionist education.

But the issue always comes back to veganism. As long as we are killing 56 billion animals per year for food (not counting aquatic animals) with our best justification being that we enjoy the taste of animal products, it is unlikely that we are going to develop the consciousness that will lead anywhere except to supposedly more “humane” exploitation. Regulating the use of chains and hooks is not going to provide much, if any, benefit to the animals; it will, however, make us feel more comfortable about exploiting them.

But then, making us feel better—making us feel that we are “good” people; making us feel that we are a “humane” society—is what animal welfare and animal law are all about.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione

Peter Singer and the Welfarist Position on the Lesser Value of Nonhuman Life

Dear Colleagues:

Some animal advocates maintain that there is no real difference between the abolitionist approach and the new welfarist approach of Peter Singer.

I have discussed Singer’s views in previous essays on this site (see, e.g., 1, 2) and in my books and articles, in an effort to illustrate what I regard as the significant theoretical and practical differences in our approaches. Another example appears in a recent interview that Singer did. He states:

You could say it’s wrong to kill a being whenever a being is sentient or conscious. Then you would have to say it’s just as wrong to kill a chicken or mouse as it is to kill you or me. I can’t accept that idea. It may be just as wrong, but millions of chickens are killed every day. I can’t think of that as a tragedy on the same scale as millions of humans being killed. What is different about humans? Humans are forward-looking beings, and they have hopes and desires for the future. That seems a plausible answer to the question of why it’s so tragic when humans die.

Singer quite clearly articulates the welfarist notion that the lives of nonhumans are of lesser moral value than the lives of humans.

Singer’s comments are problematic for several reasons. First, Singer assumes that chickens and other sentient nonhumans are not forward-looking beings. I have had little personal experience with chickens but I know enough about them to conclude that their behavior cannot be explained unless we attribute to them some sort of cognition that is equivalent to what we would characterize as forward-looking in humans. Chickens clearly have interests, preferences, and desires and are able to act to satisfy their interests and preferences. When we kill these nonhumans, we frustrate their ability to enjoy the satisfaction of their interests, preferences, and desires—just as we do when we kill humans.

I have had extensive experience with dogs and I can say quite confidently that I would be astonished if someone were to assert that dogs are not forward-looking beings or that they do not have hopes and desires.

The underlying premise in Singer’s position is that the only way to be forward looking, to have hopes and desires, is to have them in the way that humans do. But that is clearly a speciesist position. Humans have concepts that are linked inextricably with symbolic communication. The cognition of nonhumans is most likely very different from human cognition because nonhumans do not use symbolic communication. But that certainly does not mean that nonhumans do not have equivalent cognitive phenomena.

Second, and more important, is the moral value that Singer assigns to having the ability to plan for the future. What about humans who have transient global amnesia? They have a sense of themselves in the present but are unable to recall the past or plan for the future. Would killing them be morally wrong? Of course it would. Would we judge it as worse (morally or legally) to kill a person who did not have this condition? Of course not. We would regard both killings as equally culpable because in both cases, we have deprived humans of their lives, which matters to them. The life of a chicken is as equally valuable to her as my life is to me or as the life of the person with transient global amnesia is to her.

Moreover, on Singer’s analysis, the life of a human with more hopes and desires would be worth more than the life of a human who had fewer. So the life of a depressed person who may not be particularly excited about or plan for the future, or the life of a poor person, whose hopes and desires are focused on the next meal or a place to sleep for that night, is worth less than, say, the life of a Princeton professor who has lots and lots of hopes and plans for the future.

Singer’s comments reflect—once again—the welfarist notion that our use of animals is not the primary or even a moral problem because, as a factual matter, animals do not have an interest in their lives. That is, welfarists maintain that nonhumans have an interest in not suffering but as they do not have an interest in continued life because they do not have hopes or future desires, we can use them for our purposes as long we treat them ‘humanely.’ Singer clearly accepts the welfarist principle that nonhumans are of less moral value than humans. He clearly, explicitly, and repeatedly rejects the concept of animal rights despite his claim—made again in this interview—that he sought “to create an animal-rights movement.”

Singer’s comments in this interview represent nothing new. He has been saying these things for years starting in Animal Liberation, a book that was not about animal rights but earned Singer the title of “father of the animal rights movement.” It is, however, nothing short of astonishing that so many animal advocates claim that there is no real difference between Singer’s position and the abolitionist approach to animal rights.

To those animal advocates who do not see the differences, I express my sincere and profound dismay.

Gary L. Francione
©2009 Gary L. Francione

ADDED MARCH 22, 2009:

Yesterday, I received an email from someone who remarked:

I recently attended a talk by Peter Singer. I was horrified and mystified to hear him explicitly state that killing animals is not a speciesist act if done painlessly. I have read some of your work, and, of course, object to this assertion. I left the talk feeling angry and let down. Is this really the author of the “Bible of The Animal Rights” movement telling me that it’s ok to kill animals?

As I stated in the preceding essay, no one should be surprised or shocked that Singer does not regard killing animals as per se objectionable. He has been taking this position for at least the past 33 years–ever since he wrote Animal Liberation. Singer does not regard killing animals as speciesist because he does not think that animals have an interest in continuing to live so we do not harm them when we kill them painlessly. As I argued above (and elsewhere) Singer’s position that this is not speciesist rests on the explicitly speciesist premise that animals can have an interest in continuing to live only if they have the sort of reflective self-awareness that we associate with normal adult humans.

What is surprising and shocking is that an “animal rights” movement promotes Animal Liberation as the “‘bible'” of the modern animal rights movement” or embraces and promotes Singer as “father of the modern animal movement”.

Many people criticize Singer because he characterizes his position as the “animal rights” view. Peter should certainly not do that as it is not accurate and he knows that and has acknowledged it explicitly on a number of occasions.

But the primary responsibility lies with animal advocates who have apparently never even bothered to read Animal Liberation before making it the “bible” and who have in any event not taken the time to think critically about the meaning of “animal rights.”

Never before in human history has a social movement been so very deeply confused.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

Birth Defects: Vegan Diet or Just Not Enough B-12?

Dear Colleagues:

I read an article in today’s Telegraph, a British newspaper. The title of the article is Vegan diet increases the risk of birth defects, scientists warn. The subtitle of the article is: “Women who are strict vegetarians or vegans may be [at] greater risk of having a child with birth defects because they are likely to be deficient in vitamin B12, researchers warned.” The article discusses a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

But apart from the title and subtitle of the article, there is no further mention of veganism or vegetarianism.

So I went to my university library site to download the article but it was not yet available as the issue in which the article appears has just come out. But I was able to find the abstract of the article on line.

Interestingly, the abstract does not even contain the word “vegan” or “vegetarian.” The words “vegan” and “vegetarian” do not appear in the list of key words describing the author.

We will have to wait to see what the actual article says but unless the authors did a poor job describing their article in the abstract (and that may well be the case), it appears as though the study only shows a correlation between low B-12 levels and certain birth defects and does not focus on vegan diets and B-12. As a general matter, and as the Telegraph article states, women are advised to ensure that folate levels are adequate during pregnancy to protect against these birth defects. The journal article does not appear to be an indictment of a vegan diet; rather, it appears to make the claim that adequate levels of B-12 may further reduce the risk of these birth defects.

All vegans know (or should know) to be careful about ensuring adequate B-12. This can be done in myriad ways, including eating certain foods that have or that are enriched with B-12. Women who are pregnant, whether they are vegan or not, have to be conscientious about their folate levels and, if this study is correct, about their B-12 levels. Vegans need to be concerned about ensuring that they get their B-12 from their plant sources just as eaters of animal products have to make sure that they get an adequate supply from flesh sources. It is, however, irresponsible to suggest in any case that vegan diets are correlated with birth defects.

A vegan diet can surely present health problems. I would imagine that if someone ate nothing but brussel sprouts every day three times a day, that person would suffer ill effects. But so would someone who ate nothing but steak every day three times a day.

It is inadequate nutrition and not a vegan diet that is correlated with birth defects.

For those who claim that a vegan diet is not “natural” because vegans have to be concerned about B-12, please remember that everyone has to be concerned about B-12 and must consume some food to get that B-12. I consume nutritional yeast; carnivores consume meat. To say that yeast is less “natural” than meat begs the question.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione