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.

Animal welfare does not even reduce net animal suffering. Do the math. Assume that we are consuming 5 veal calves who each experience 10 units of suffering over the course of their lives, from being taken from their mothers shortly after birth to their slaughter in the abattoir. That is 50 units of suffering total. Further assume that a particular welfare reform results in a decrease of 1 unit of suffering, so each calf now experiences 9 total units of suffering. But consumption goes up to 6 calves because we now “feel good” about eating veal. We now have a total of 54 units of suffering.

If, however, we reduce consumption from 5 calves to 4, we lower net suffering from 50 units to 40 units.

In short, animal welfare fails on its own terms as well as not moving us closer to abolition and eradicating the property status of animals.

And the welfarists are applauding this. Paul Shapiro, Director of the HSUS Factory Farming Campaign, calls the decision by Strauss “historic.”

Moreover, in praising Strauss and Marcho Farms, another producer who has pledged to phase out the crates over the next several years, HSUS quotes the statements of an animal scientist:

Our results show that calves have a very strong drive to move or exercise that is blocked by chronic close confinement. The studies also found that maintaining calves in close confinement causes adverse physiological effects that alter metabolism and reduce the ability of the calf’s immune system to respond to disease. All of these are changes in the body that are indicative of chronic stress.

The crated calves required approximately five times more medication that those in the less confining environments.

In other words, eliminating the veal crate will result in further benefits for producers that will make veal production even more efficient and profitable for exploiters.

Abolitionists are not, as some welfarists claim, inherently opposed to measures that reduce suffering. If we have decided to inflict harm, it is always better to inflict less harm than more harm. But abolitionists are opposed to claiming that it is morally acceptable to inflict less harm. Abolitionists are opposed to putting resources into campaigns designed to make the public “feel good” about animal exploitation because that militates against social recognition of the inherent immorality of animal use, facilitates continued exploitation, and results in increased consumption. Yes, it is “better” that a murderer not torture a victim before killing the victim. But that does not make murder without torture morally acceptable. It is not something to “feel good” about.

In the case of the Strauss veal crates, the animals will continue to be tortured. Perhaps they will be tortured a bit less. That remains to be seen. But the producers will receive an economic benefit in that they will no longer have to incur the costs that result from the present situation, consumption will rise because people will once again “feel good” about eating veal, and producers will be able to charge a premium so people can feel that they are being “conscientious omnivores.”

And just today, HSUS announced news “sure to send shock waves through animal agribusiness.” HSUS and PETA have negotiated with Burger King, which has agreed to have 5% “cage-free” eggs by the end of the year and 20% of its pig corpses come from nonhumans confined in intensive alternatives to the gestation crate. And Burger King has announced policies to “favor producers” who sell “cage-free” eggs, who imprison their pigs in intensive alternatives to the gestation crate, and who gas their chickens.

The HSUS announcement stated:

With its new policy changes, Burger King is signaling to agribusiness that the most inhumane factory farming practices are on the way out,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “As a result of this decision, large numbers of farm animals across the nation will be spared much needless suffering.”

Instead of using its $100+ million cash reserve to launch a powerful vegan campaign, HSUS partners with Burger King to send a message to the public: they can be “conscientious omnivores” and “consume with conscience” if they eat at Burger King. HSUS and PETA are making the public “feel good” about eating animals. What a deal for Burger King, which can now point to the praise of PETA, HSUS, and the regular cast of welfarist “me-too”s.

Interestingly, on June 28, 2001, PETA called off its “Murder King” campaign when Burger King agreed to institute various meaningless welfare reforms, including to “[b]egin purchasing pork from farms that do not confine sows to stalls.” And now, almost six years later, we are being told by PETA that Burger King has “announced a groundbreaking new plan, placing it at the forefront of the fast-food industry with regard to animal welfare” because Burger King will start doing in 2007 what it promised to do in 2001.

The only thing that is “historic” about all of this this is that the welfarist movement is reaching new heights in embracing a partnership with institutional exploiters and actively helping exploiters to peddle the corpses of nonhumans.

Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione