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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Goodall on Vivisection and Vegetarianism

In an article (February 19, 2007) in the on-line Spanish publication, El Mundo, Jane Goodall makes clear that she is not opposed to all vivisection and that although she claims to be a vegetarian, she does not think that it is “an option that everyone has to adopt.” I do not know whether she is a vegan, but as she continues to be a celebrity supporter of Stonyfield Farm dairy products, I assume that she is not.

In any event, here are two portions of the interview, which have been translated by Professor Jenna Torres of St. Lawrence University, who is also the co-producer of the Vegan Freak website and podcast and Maria Luisa Arenzana, a Spanish animal advocate who translates animal rights texts. This should put to rest any misimpression that Goodall is opposed to the use of nonhuman primates in experiments.

The translation:

Q: Do you believe that biomedical research with primates should be prohibited?

Goodall: Yes, it should be prohibited, unless there is a very clear justification that an experiment could serve to save human lives, for example in the research on diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I am not necessarily against all research with primates or other animals. What I do believe is that when an experiment is justified for medical reasons, it should take extreme care so that the animals suffer minimally. But we know that today it’s not like that. The reality is that the majority of laboratories are terrifying places.

Q: Are you vegetarian?

Goodall: Yes, but it’s not necessarily an option that everyone has to adopt. Nevertheless, if people feel it’s necessary to eat meat, I believe, that for their own health, they should eat the least possible amount, and they should always look for products from organic farms where the animals aren’t kept in horrible conditions and fed antibiotics.

Thanks to Professor Torres and Ms. Arenzana.

Thanks also to Jane Goodall, for making her speciesist position crystal clear in her own words.

Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione

Some Thoughts on National Organizations

I was recently a guest on a two-part podcast on Vegan Freak Radio. In subsequent discussion in the comment section of the second part of the podcast and in one of the forums, the issue was raised about whether animal advocacy should focus on grassroots activities or whether the movement should be controlled by “animal executives” who determine the agenda of the movement and dictate it to advocates.

I had some thoughts about this that I shared on the discussion forum and that I want to share with you.

As I see it, there are two related problems:

First, although some national organizations are better than others, these groups for the most part promote campaigns that focus more on the treatment of animals than on the use of animals. That is, they characterize the issue primarily as how animals are used and not that animals are used. As long as treatment is the primary focus, the movement will chase the elusive goal of reducing suffering to make exploitation more “humane” rather than abolishing use by incrementally eradicating the property status of animals.

As I have argued for many years now, any measure can be characterized as “reducing suffering.” These measures generally seek to protect animal interests to the extent that it is economically beneficial to do so and, therefore, do not in any meaningful way recognize the inherent value of nonhumans. On the contrary, these welfarist campaigns often reinforce the extrinsic or conditional value of animals.

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“Human beings are all going to die, too.”

It seems that the animal movement is busy tripping over itself scrambling frantically for the best position to kiss the corporate posterior of Whole Foods Market and its CEO, John Mackey.

Sure, Whole Foods sells tons of animal corpses (fresh and frozen) and thousands of animal products. But have no fear, animal advocates. These are “happy” animal products. No less a luminary than Peter Singer, the so-called “father of the animal rights movement,” tells us that “Whole Foods has set up an Animal Compassion Foundation, an independent, nonprofit organization the mission of which is ‘to provide education and research services to assist and inspire ranchers and meat producers around the world to achieve a higher standard of animal welfare excellence while still maintaining economic viability.’” (The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, 181) Now that’s radical, eh? The Animal Compassion Foundation is going to “assist and inspire” those who produce animal corpses to improve things to the extent that they can make an acceptable profit. In other words, we can sell them and make a profit, but you, the “compassionate consumer,” can feel good about it. Expect a revolution.

Whole Foods, according to Our Father, is an “ethical business,” (183) part of what Singer considers to be the “conscientious omnivore” approach to the exploitation of nonhumans. And Whole Foods promises that “[p]roducers who successfully meet these voluntary Standards will be able to label their products with the special ‘Animal Compassionate’ designation.” Yet another “happy” meat label, to compete with the Certified Humane Raised & Handled label and the Freedom Foods label. So many “happy” meat choices!

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“Happy” Meat/Animal Products: A Step in the Right Direction or “An Easier Access Point Back” to Eating Animals?

A recent BBC News Magazine article just caught my attention. It quotes school teacher Rachael Deacon stating: “I pay more to buy healthier food. I don’t want my animals to be slaughtered horribly or to have a horrible life.” Putting aside that Ms. Deacon thinks that there is such a thing as non-horrible slaughter, is her general concern a success story for the animal advocates who promote “happy” meat as an incremental step on the path to a world with less suffering and death?

No. She was a vegetarian for 10 years but now she has gone back to eating meat.

Deacon is a “conscientious omnivore” who illustrates the problem with the “happy” meat approach that has overtaken the animal movement. Large animal welfare corporations have created labels, such as the Certified Humane Raised & Handled label and the Freedom Food label, to make consumers feel better about eating animals who have been raised and killed in ways which, if applied to humans, would be regarded without doubt as constituting torture. Animal advocates give awards to slaughterhouse designers and publicly praise supermarket chains that sell supposed “humanely” raised and slaughtered corpses and other “happy” animal products.

This approach does not lead people incrementally in the right direction. Rather, it gives them a reason to justify going backwards. It focuses on animal treatment rather than animal use and deludes people into thinking that welfare regulations are actually resulting in significant protection for animals.

The BBC article, “Some sausages are more equal than others,” further illustrates this problem. The reporter, Megan Lane, tells us that she has been a vegetarian for 14 years but that she has “started eating meat again, but only meat from animals who’ve enjoyed a happy life before being slaughtered.” She says that when she became a vegetarian, “organic and free-range meat” was not easily available, as it is now.

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