Commentary #22: A Discussion on Abolition vs. Regulation with Robert Garner

Dear Colleagues:

My most recent book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, involves a debate between me and Professor Robert Garner of the University of Leicester.

In this Commentary, Professor Garner and I discuss our book. Garner’s position, although a form of what I call “new welfarism,” is different from that of Singer and most others. To start with, Garner is not an act utilitarian, as is Singer. Like Singer (and Regan), Garner does not recognize that animal life has moral value equal to human life but he thinks that an animal’s interest in not suffering should be protected with a “right.” He equivocates about whether this right is a right not to suffer “unacceptably,” in which case his position collapses into a form of welfare (similar to what I have discussed in my 1995 book, Animals, Property, and the Law, as the new welfarist “right to humane treatment”), or whether the right not to suffer is an absolute right, in which case Robert’s position would rule out all animal use because, as I point out in our book, all use involves some form of suffering, distress, etc. As I also discuss in our book, if Garner understands this right in an absolute sense, then there are theoretical problems understanding the derivation of any such right and Garner’s promotion of welfarist reform is both theoretically and practically inconsistent with any such right.

In our discussion here, we focus on the following questions that I prepared:

1. In our book, you state that animals have a right not to suffer “unacceptably.” How do you determine what levels of suffering are “acceptable”?

2. Although you think that factory-farming cannot be morally justified, if animals could be raised in a pleasant way with minimal suffering and killed in a relatively painless way for food, or if animals could be used in experiments with minimal suffering and significant benefits for humans, you could not object, could you?

Let’s take a very clear example: I have a cow who lives in the back garden. I treat her very well. I shoot her (one bullet; instantaneous death) and kill her and eat her. Have I done anything morally wrong?

3. In our book, you state: “I am accepting the view that, all things being equal, nonhuman animal life (of most nonhuman species at least) is of less moral value than human life.” p. 187 Why do you take this position?

4. A central point of disagreement between us is that you believe that regulationist groups, such as the RSPCA, CIWF, PETA, HSUS are seeking and achieving “worthwhile” wins. Do you believe that any of these “wins” does much more than make animal use more economically efficient? If so, can you identify them?

5. Do you believe that these groups are stimulating demand for “higher welfare” products in a way that will adversely affect overall demand? Given that all of these groups are promoting “happy” exploitation labels, can you doubt that whatever the effect will be, these groups believe that these labels will make people feel more comfortable about exploitation?

I hope that you enjoy the discussion.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It’s easy; it’s better for your health and for the planet. But, most important, it’s the morally right thing to do.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2011 Gary L. Francione