The Abolitionist Approach and Farm Sanctuary Discuss “Happy Meat,” Abolition, and Welfare Reform


VegNews invited me and Bruce Friedrich, formerly of PETA and now with Farm Sanctuary, to discuss “happy meat,” abolition, and welfare reform. VegNews subsequently refused to publish the debate. So we present discussion here.

The discussion proceeds as follows: I make an Opening Statement to which Bruce replies. Bruce’s Opening statement is followed by my reply. These are all exactly as we submitted them to the magazine. The only change is that Bruce preferred to use first names and, accordingly, I changed “Friedrich” to “Bruce.”

Opening Statement by Gary L. Francione

The modern animal protection movement is divided.

There are regulationists, who focus primarily on the treatment of nonhuman animals and who, as a general matter, promote and support: (1) animal welfare reform that they claim will make animal treatment more “humane,” such as “enriched” cages for hens; (2) single-issue campaigns, such as anti-fur or anti-foie-gras initiatives; and (3) “compassionate consumption” through the endorsement of “happy” animal products, such as those that satisfy the Whole Foods “Animal Compassionate” standards.

Some regulationists claim that these measures will lead incrementally to abolishing animal use at some point in the future. Some regulationists do not seek the eventual abolition of animal use; they do not see animal use as inherently wrong and their goal is only to ensure “humane” treatment.

Regulationists oppose, often vehemently, promoting veganism as a clear moral baseline. To the extent that regulationists promote veganism, they do so as a way of reducing suffering, along with “cage-free” eggs, crate-free pork, and other “happy” products. Indeed, Peter Singer, the primary academic proponent of the regulationist position, characterizes being a consistent vegan as “fanatical” and says that we can “eat ethically” if we avoid factory-farmed products but eat a “moderate quantity of organically produced, pasture raised, animal products.”

And there are abolitionists who see all animal use as wrong regardless of treatment. Abolitionists reject animal welfare reform, single-issue campaigns, and “compassionate consumption.” They promote veganism as a moral imperative and as a way of opting out of animal exploitation. Abolitionists seek to build a grassroots movement of ethical vegans.

Substantially all of the large animal organizations are regulationist.

Abolitionists reject the regulationist position because they believe that if animals matter morally at all, we cannot justify any animal use, however “humane.” But abolitionists also reject regulationism for three practical reasons.

First, animal welfare measures provide little, if any, significant protection to animal interests. That is because animals are property and it costs money to protect their interests. This ensures that the standard of animal welfare will always remain low. We have had animal welfare standards for 200 years now and we are exploiting more animals now in more horrific ways than at any time in human history.

It is not the case that welfare reform imposes significant costs that reflect social recognition of the inherent value of animals. On the contrary, many welfare reforms actually increase production efficiency. For example, according to HSUS, which, with PETA, is promoting the controlled-atmosphere killing (CAK) of poultry, CAK “results in cost savings and increased revenues by decreasing carcass downgrades, contamination, and refrigeration costs; increasing meat yields, quality, and shelf life; and improving worker conditions” and “a plant processing 1 million broilers per week with an average dressed carcass weight of 4.5 pounds and wholesale price of $0.80 per pound would increase annual revenue by $1.87 million after adopting CAK.”

Second, animal welfare measures make the public feel better about animal exploitation and this actually encourages continued animal use by making people think that they can discharge their moral obligations to animals without ending animal use in their own lives. What else can we expect when groups like PETA praise McDonalds as “leading the way” in animal treatment and slaughter, or give awards to slaughterhouse designers? Welfare campaigns and “happy” labeling schemes effectively create disturbing partnerships between industry and animal advocates.

Third, abolitionists reject single-issue campaigns because they inaccurately characterize some forms of exploitation as worse than others. For example, fur is no worse than leather or wool and it is wrong to suggest otherwise.

Abolitionists see animal advocacy as a zero-sum game. Every second of time and every cent of money spent on making exploitation more “humane,” or on single-issue campaigns, is less money and time spent on vegan/abolitionist education.

Assume that you have two hours tomorrow to spend on animal advocacy. You have a choice. You can distribute literature urging people to eat “cage-free” eggs, or you can distribute literature urging people not to eat eggs at all because “cage-free” eggs still involve exploitation, extreme suffering, and death. You cannot do both, and even if you could, your messages would be contradictory and hopelessly confusing.

For these reasons, abolitionists believe that we need to stop promoting the idea that there is a “right way” to exploit animals. There isn’t. We need to educate people about veganism and build a vegan movement that can advocate for and support meaningful change in the future.

Response by Bruce Friedrich:

True Abolitionism is Smarter Than That

Gary mischaracterizes the views of Peter Singer and PETA, and he is wrong when he claims that abolitionists reject welfare reforms and single-issue campaigns. Yes, abolitionists promote veganism as a moral baseline, but most of us also support both single-issue campaigns and welfare reforms.

For example, all of the abolitionist groups that do the most vegan advocacy (e.g., Mercy for Animals, Vegan Outreach, PETA, COK, the Humane League, Farm Sanctuary) support both single-issue campaigns and welfare legislation to outlaw cruel farming practices. We support them because they reduce suffering, reduce meat consumption, and bring us closer to animal liberation.

Welfare reforms reduce suffering

It’s hard to imagine anything worse than spending your life crammed into a gestation crate; while we’re working for total veganism in society, it’s meaningful to pigs in crates to move them to group housing, where they can move around and interact with other pigs. If you were a pregnant pig in a crate, you would want that.

Similarly, annually 9 billion chickens are dumped from crates, electrocuted, and have their throats slit—all while they’re still conscious. Millions are boiled alive. If these were innocent human beings with no hope of avoiding execution, human rights activists would be fighting to make their deaths as painless as possible—as proved by the fact that this precise battle has been waged by the anti-death penalty movement with regard to especially cruel execution methods.

Welfare reforms reduce meat consumption and move us toward animal liberation

As another example, EU countries that independently banned battery cages saw a decline in egg consumption relative to EU countries that didn’t. And a study in the Journal of Agricultural Economics documented the fact that the media coverage that accompanies animal welfare campaigns focused on specific confinement systems leads to a reduction in consumption of all animal products. There isn’t a counter-example of which I’m aware.

Whose side are you on?

Gary suggests that welfare improvements add to the bottom line of the regulated industries, an argument thoroughly refuted by the millions of dollars animal agriculture spends fighting them. As just one example, the pork and egg industries spent $10 million trying to defeat California’s Proposition 2 (which criminalized battery cages, gestation crates, and veal crates), which Gary (very unfortunately, in my view) joined the meat and egg industries in opposing.


The fact that welfare reforms lessen suffering for animals whose only alternatives are more suffering or less should be enough to earn them the support of thinking abolitionists. Add to that the empirical proof that they reduce meat consumption and change society, and you can understand why the vast majority of abolitionist animal groups and individuals support efforts to outlaw the worst abuses.

For more, please watch Nick Cooney’s presentation, “Welfare Reform and Vegan Advocacy: The Facts,” and read Vegan Outreach’s essay, “Welfare and Liberation.” Both are easily available through your favorite search engine.

Opening Statement by Bruce Friedrich

Incremental Progress: Good for Animals and for Animal Liberation

At Farm Sanctuary, we share our lives with farm animals and we know them as individuals. We would no more eat a chicken or pig than we would eat a dog or a cat. Each is an individual with the same range of emotions and needs of any dog or cat. “They are individuals in their own right,” as Jane Goodall has noted.

So of course we work to eliminate the worst abuses of farm animals. These reforms lessen suffering, decrease meat consumption, and help us on our path toward animal liberation.

The Golden Rule: Considering the Animals’ Point of View

There is a significant difference between battery cages and cage-free conditions for hens, and between gestation crates and group housing for sows. While it’s true that animals in cage-free and group housing conditions are still horribly abused, moving toward these incrementally less bad systems significantly decreases suffering for the animals involved.

Put yourself in the animals’ places: Gestation crates measure 2 by 7 feet. Lifelong immobility causes pigs’ muscles and bones to waste away, so that walking becomes excruciating, and even standing up becomes painful. Because the animals are rubbing against the bars and lying in their own excrement all day and night, they suffer painful ammonia burns on their skin, and their lungs become raw from breathing the putrid air. They are constantly starving because they are fed about half of what they would normally consume.

Were these human beings with no hope of escape, human rights activists would demand improved conditions, even if we couldn’t get them released. Simply read the latest Amnesty International or ACLU mailing for information about humans who should not be in jail at all, and the welfare reforms these groups are demanding. If there is a political prisoner who is subject to beatings and torture, even if Amnesty can’t get her released, they still will fight for the torture to stop—even when the conditions will remain grotesquely inhumane. They want liberation, and of course they also want less abuse.

Civil and women’s rights advocates did not argue that immediate and complete equality were the only things worth fighting for. They combined powerful rhetoric, which spelled out their broad vision for change, with hard-fought political battles for incremental improvements: an end to slavery and then segregation, the right to participate in elections, an end to direct enslavement, an end to discrimination in hiring practices and pay, and so forth—all within the context of a deeply unjust system. They welcomed each reform as a step towards the ultimate goal.

Steps on the Path to Liberation

Once society recognizes that farm animals have interests that matter, the consistency principle can kick in, and we can make the point that if farm animals have interests, society ought to rethink killing and eating them. Thus, reform efforts lead to less meat consumption. And of course, the countries with the best animal welfare laws have the most animal rights activists and vegans, and the countries with the least have none.

As Vegan Outreach co-founder Matt Ball explains: “The evidence indicates that reforms draw the attention of nonvegetarians to the issue, persuading many to reconsider their ethics and actions. Animal groups then use their victories to gain visibility and push for further reforms. In this way, welfare measures tend to be a slippery slope toward abolition, not away from it.”


You will never find Farm Sanctuary supporting animal product consumption. The vast majority of our advocacy efforts are focused on promoting veganism, including our Compassionate Communities Campaign, our Web site, all of our events, and every newsletter. Farm Sanctuary is a rights organization, and we will never compromise that position.

And I’ve personally written articles for the Huffington Post that make the unequivocal point that “humane meat” is a contradiction in terms. I debated the issue on college campuses across the country and wrote five pages on the topic for Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

Because we are a rights organization, we also support eliminating the worst farm animal abuses. It’s in the best interest of animals who are suffering. It’s in the best interest of our shorter term goal of reducing meat consumption. And it’s in the best interest of animal liberation.

Response by Gary L. Francione

I do not doubt Bruce Friedrich’s sincerity but we do have fundamentally different ways of thinking about animal ethics.

Promoting “Happy” Exploitation

Bruce states that Farm Sanctuary does not support “humane” animal products. I disagree. For example, Farm Sanctuary, along with others, signed a public statement expressing “appreciation and support for the pioneering initiative being taken by Whole Foods Market in setting Farm Animal Compassionate Standards.” (See Such statements clearly promote “happy” exploitation as a good thing.

Animal rights groups should never be in the business of promoting or praising industry standards for exploitation. Animal rights advocates should be clear in opposing all exploitation and in promoting a clear message: that we cannot morally justify any animal use. They should be focused on one goal: decreasing demand. They should never promote “compassionate” consumption, which only perpetuates demand and makes people feel better about eating animal products.

Bruce talks about Amnesty International fighting torture. He neglects to mention that Amnesty International does not give awards or approving labels to exploiters who torture less. Neither should animal rights organizations.

Consistent Veganism as a “cultural fad”

Bruce sees veganism as a way of reducing suffering and not as a moral imperative. Indeed, he characterizes being a consistent vegan as involving “personal purity” and as representing a “narcissistic cultural fad.” (See I disagree.

Bruce quotes Jane Goodall as claiming that animals “are individuals in their own right.” I am unclear what she means by this given that, at least as of a 2009 interview, Goodall acknowledged that she was not a vegan.

The Inefficacy of Welfare Reform

The welfare reform victories of the past decade can be summed up easily: millions spent on welfare campaigns and precious little benefit for animals. I note that Farm Sanctuary is presently supporting a national law to phase in “enriched” cages for hens. Even the conservative Compassion in World Farming recognizes that “enriched” cages do not overcome the “severe welfare problems” of conventional cages. (See

Bruce mentions the gestation crate campaign. Studies cited by animal advocates showed that certain alternatives to the gestation crate actually lower production cost. Industry will adopt such measures anyway; they should not be promoted as “animal rights” measures.

There is no credible evidence that “reform efforts lead to less meat consumption.” We do, however, read every day that people are again eating animal products because they are produced with “compassion” or bear a “humane” label supported by animal organizations. And there is no factual evidence that welfare reform leads to abolition.

In sum, we did not abolish human slavery by making slavery incrementally more “humane.” We will never abolish animal slavery as long as we promote regulated exploitation. We need to shift the paradigm and recognize veganism as an unequivocal moral baseline.


I will be inviting Bruce to do a podcast on this topic in the New Year. I sincerely hope he will accept. We have sharp differences but we endeavor to discuss them in a civil manner.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

Addendum (January 19, 2013)

Bruce Friedrich’s recent essay on cage eggs concludes:

So far, the only national grocery store chain to have banned the sale of eggs from caged hens is Whole Foods. The only restaurant chain to promise to ban them from their supply chain is Burger King (by 2017). These companies deserve plaudits for their progress. These types of cages will also be illegal in California in 2015 and in Michigan in 2019, and legislation to ban them will be introduced in Massachusetts soon (if you live in Massachusetts, check for updates).

At Farm Sanctuary, we spend our lives with farm animals, and we wouldn’t eat them or their eggs under any circumstances. We recoil at the abuse of hens in all systems, including cage-free and colony cage conditions. But we also work to abolish the very worst abuses of farm animals, and it’s hard to imagine anything worse than the tiny, barren, cramped battery cages where 250 million hens currently are forced to spend their lives.

Battery cages have to go.

What a terribly confused message.

As someone on the Abolitionist Approach Facebook page commented:

Okay, so exactly what should I do first…stop supporting the killing of chickens by going vegan or or write my thank you letter to Burger King and Whole Foods for continuing to support the killing of chickens?

Exactly. I would add that a reader could also conclude that it was morally acceptable to continue to eat eggs as long as they are “happy” eggs.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University