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Vegan Feud - Animal rights activists would accomplish a lot more if they stopped attacking the Humane Society. ~ James McWilliams

 

Reposted from Slate|

Peruse the scintillating trade literature of the meat industry and you’ll find that of all the forces currently arrayed against the livestock industry (droughtcorn pricesopposition to subsidies, the vegan Skinny Bitch empire), none evokes as much vitriol as the Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS. Flipping through Pork magazine,Feedstuffs, or Meatingplace, it becomes clear that, as one Cassandra of carnivorism put it, “no activist group is more loathed by the agricultural community tha....” Pork has described HSUS as “a well-oiled, well-funded lobbying presence with a finely tuned message machine” and has quoted a consultant as saying, “HSUS is sophisticated and relentless in their dedication to defeat animal agriculture practices.”

 

Such assessments are music to the ears of Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at HSUS. Shapiro spends his days lobbying for costly reforms that would eliminate inhumane methods of animal confinement. As Shapiro sees it, industry blowback is to be expected and, in a way, even welcomed as an affirmation of his advocacy. It’s always nice to know when your arrow hits the intended target.

 

Less expected, and certainly not welcomed, is the barrage of criticism that comes from the “abolitionist” wing of the animal rights movement, which views HSUS welfare reforms as craven capitulation to industrial agriculture. The rift dividing HSUS from this vocal wing of the animal rights movement might seem insignificant, but it’s not. In fact, it threatens to weaken the cause from within, a phenomenon all too familiar in the history of American reform movements. And mending the rift will be no mean task, as it requires confronting a thorny question: Does HSUS, in its ceaseless quest to improve living conditions for animals within factory farms, justify and perpetuate the ongoing existence of those farms? 

 

There is little doubt that HSUS is doing something right. A complete citation of their recent accomplishments would be too long to list here, but consider that in one week alone last July, HSUS persuaded Sodexo, Oscar Mayer, Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., and Baja ..., cages that confine pregnant pigs so tightly they cannot turn around. In banning this torture device from their supply chains, these companies joined industry kingpins McDonald’s andSmithfield Foods in yielding to Shapiro’s ceaseless nagging on behalf of a barnyard proletariat numbering in the billions.

 

Nevertheless, as the abolitionists correctly point out, there’s nothing especially revolutionary about HSUS’s approach to improving the lives of farm animals. HSUS works closely with Big Agriculture, never calls for animal liberation, and never explicitly endorses the habit that most efficiently prevents animals from being killed: veganism. This reticence infuriates abolitionists, who seek the eradication of not only animal agriculture but also all animal ownership and exploitation through ethical veganism.

 

No writer makes the abolitionist case more eloquently than Rutgers philosopher Gary Francione. In his books Animals as Persons and Rain Without ThunderFrancione, who is also a lawyer, powerfully argues that the only ethically consistent stance for humans vis-a-vis animals is the complete elimination of all animal ownership. This position leads him to savage HSUS at every turn. When, last year, HSUS agreed to work with United Egg Producers to legislate larger cages for chickens, Francione responded:

 

That is just plain silly. “Enriched” cages involve torturing hens. Period. The torture may be slightly “better,” just as padded water boards may be slightly “better.” But let’s be clear: the hens will continue to be tortured. And they will continue to end up in a slaughterhouse. 

 

Francione’s logic is hard-hitting, but his extreme message is unlikely to resonate widely in a population that’s only 1.4 percent vegan. According to social psychologist and longtime vegan Melanie Joy, the abolitionist approach could attract a lot more supporters if it acknowledged, as HSUS does, that most people are going to embrace veganism on their own—you can’t strong-arm them into it. Joy, author of Why We Eat Pigs, Love Dogs, and Wear Cows, believes that social change—in this case, honoring the intrinsic worth of animals by not eating them—is a complex process requiring both an awakening to the hidden reality of exploitation and the individual will to act upon that awareness. Asking people to stop eating animals, as Joy sees it, is more than asking for a change in behavior; it’s asking for a profound shift in consciousness that people make only when they’re personally ready to do so.  

 

Nick Cooney, the author of Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Social Change, agrees. Noting that 80 percent of vegans became vegan gradually, he believes that seemingly minor improvements—say, larger cages—ultimately create pivotal “shifts in self-identity” for both producers and consumers. Individuals who start seeking products from more “humane” producers or participating in “meatless Mondays” are consumers who are on the path toward veganism. Similarly, institutions that embrace (however reluctantly at first) improvements for animals are institutions that, in eventually owning that improvement, come to identify with and become open to even more productive changes for animals. This process, according to Cooney’s research, is exactly how reform plays out on the ground, in the real world.

 

Abolitionists don’t buy a word of what Joy and Cooney are saying. For them, tolerance for incremental change from the status quo empowers the meat industry, and any empowerment of industry is, ipso facto, counterproductive to the spirit of animal advocacy. Consider what Ellie Maldonado, an animal rights activist and former employee of animal advocacy group Friends of Animals, has to say about approaches that tolerate even a modicum of animal exploitation:

 

Advocacy that supports “improvements” in animal exploitation is neither “gradualist” nor a “vegan” approach—it is a dead end that will never lead to the end of animal exploitation. ... At best and in the unlikely case they are adhered to, so-called “gradualist improvements” only address a fraction of the animals' experience but do nothing to abate the heinous cruelty they are still subjected to.

 

Hence the strife continues: An organization such as HSUS lobbies, the meat industry kvetches, and the abolitionists howl at them all for unconscionable ethical waffling. 

 

Meanwhile, billions of animals continue to suffer the indignities of industrial animal agriculture. As has so often been the case with reform movements in the United States, infighting between those who seek evolution and those who seek revolution fosters more stagnation than progress. Take, for instance, this year’s annual Animal Rights National Conference, which was held in Alexandria, Va., last month. After an abolitionist petition to ban HSUS from the conference failed, abolitionists tried sponsoring an independent seminar in protest of HSUS’s involvement. The hotel where the conference took place then attempted to shut down the abolitionists’ competing seminar (apparently at the main conference organizers’ behest). It’s this dust-up—not any of the myriad practical strategies of reform discussed during the four-day conference—that has earned the bulk of the attention in animal rights circles.

 

The motivation for animal advocates to compromise should be strong. And compromise is quite possible: There’s no doubt that HSUS reforms have improved the lives of farm animals, but there’s also no reason why the organization couldn’t bolster its small victories with more aggressive campaigns involving the v-word. Similarly, the abolitionists certainly make a compelling case for ending all animal exploitation, but there’s also no reason why they couldn’t tolerate a more personalized approach to change, one premised on the idea that we all come to Jesus in our own unique little ways. “It is better,” Joy often says, “to be effective than to be right.”

 

In any case, if the movement figures out how to meld these competing approaches to animal advocacy, the meat industry would really have something to complain about. For now, though, as I read the trade literature, it’s hard not to see the industrial producers of animal products as little more than petulant whiners who have no inkling of the real pressure they would face if animal advocates in the United States managed to pull themselves together.

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Hi Ellie. Under certain conceptions of abolitionism (e.g., Francione's view), that is certainly true: abolitionism necessarily means the abolition of all animal use. So an abolitionist perspective is an "all-or-nothing" one--either you're against all animal use or you're not an abolitionist at all. However, I don't find that definition reasonable, because it unnecessarily overlooks substantial areas of common ground. To paint HSUS as merely  an animal welfare organization suggests that they have virtually nothing in common with animal rights philosophy, but that doesn't seem true.

Thanks for posting the Humane Myth response to Pacelle's blog entry, which he posted on the same day McWilliams' "Vegan Feud" was published by Slate.   I doubt that was a coincidence, and I posted the "Happy Meatopia" link on Slate's blog too: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2012/09/hsus_vs_abolitionis...  
 
Kerry Baker said:

This came out from the Humane Myth people today.  Personally I find much of this quite sickening.

http://www.humanemyth.org/happymeatopia.htm

Hi Spencer, 

HSUS do not refer to themselves as an "abolitionist" organisation. They clearly claim to be an "animal protection organisation". I think that the problem with calling the HSUS "abolitionist" is that "abolitionist" has a specific meaning within the animal advocacy community - a meaning that goes beyond the common understanding of the word. I think that while we would like them to be an abolitionist organisation, or at least to have some abolitionist goals, doing so seems not to be in accordance with their values. They don't support the philosophy of animal rights, their campaigns don't support a rights based perspective, and they have no wish to end the  exploitation of other animals as a general matter. 

Perhaps we should accept HSUS as an organisation whose goals are to regulate the exploitation of other animals. I don't think I have much in common with them at all, but I don't think that my time is wisely spent expecting them to change their philosophies either. 

Roger Yates often says "Let the welfarists do welfare, and we should concentrate on rights based approaches" (paraphrasing), and I agree with him on that. 



Spencer Lo said:

Hi Ellie. Under certain conceptions of abolitionism (e.g., Francione's view), that is certainly true: abolitionism necessarily means the abolition of all animal use. So an abolitionist perspective is an "all-or-nothing" one--either you're against all animal use or you're not an abolitionist at all. However, I don't find that definition reasonable, because it unnecessarily overlooks substantial areas of common ground. To paint HSUS as merely  an animal welfare organization suggests that they have virtually nothing in common with animal rights philosophy, but that doesn't seem true.

Hi Carolyn,

I agree that HSUS shouldn’t be deemed an “abolitionist” organization, since they don’t wish to end animal exploitation as a general matter. The same is true of organizations that deem themselves supporters of “animal welfare.” But despite the labels, I think it can still be recognized that they have some abolitionist elements—some, even if not a lot. In terms of certain specific goals, there may be no difference between an abolitionist and an animal welfarist. Consider bullfighting: some “animal welfare” organizations explicitly want to prohibit the practice, not merely regulate it, and so on that particular issue, it appears they take an abolitionist stance. I tend to look at the "goals" of an organization issue by issue.

Hi Spencer,

As I understand, Francione opposes domestication and the ownership of animals, and I agree.  While he acknowledges that some domesticated animals are loved (including his 7 dogs), he explains that love cannot change their status of property/ non-persons; and as such they have no legal right to protection of their interests whenever they conflict with human purpose.   We can protect the animals in our care, but in absence of a loving caregiver, they don't even have the right to live if other humans want them to die. 

I love dogs more than I love most people, but I don't think they should be bred.  There are so many dogs in need throughout the world that I think there will always be some who need our love and care -- but even if I'm wrong, I would still choose not to breed them into a world that kills millions of healthy and treatable dogs every year. 

Also, abolitionists are not the only ones who oppose HSUS and similar groups.  Nathan Winograd, for example, accepts pet breeding yet opposes HSUS.   If you'd like to read more about it, see:

http://www.nathanwinograd.com/?cat=9

http://yesbiscuit.blogspot.com/2009/02/nathan-winograd-stays-on-poi....

And this is Winograd's facebook page, which contains several links: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=196860600363879


 
Spencer Lo said:

Hi Ellie. Under certain conceptions of abolitionism (e.g., Francione's view), that is certainly true: abolitionism necessarily means the abolition of all animal use. So an abolitionist perspective is an "all-or-nothing" one--either you're against all animal use or you're not an abolitionist at all. However, I don't find that definition reasonable, because it unnecessarily overlooks substantial areas of common ground. To paint HSUS as merely  an animal welfare organization suggests that they have virtually nothing in common with animal rights philosophy, but that doesn't seem true.

Thanks for conducting a civilised discussion here everyone.  (-:

Hi Ellie. I actually wrote about Francione's position on domestication over at Animal Blawg ("Is a Pet-free World Morally Required?"); his view is a bit more radical than what you describe, because he would oppose domestication even if dogs have full legal rights and loving homes for them could be guaranteed (IMO, he offers very weak arguments for this position, whereas David Benatar makes a more compelling case). But I agree that currently, we shouldn't breed anymore pets given the problems you mention. Thanks for those links!

My larger point was about areas of common ground between abolitionists and "animal welfare" organizations. To me, rather than dismiss organizations because of labels like "animal welfare" or "animal protection," I prefer to look at what they do issue by issue. IMO, it's possible to take an abolitionist stance on one activity but not on another, and recognizing those nuances is important.

Hi Wendy, interesting analogy about Democrats and Republicans. I can't comment too much about HSUS specifics, as I'm still learning about their campaigns, etc, but I do have one general observation. I think it's a safe assumption that groups like HSUS are perceived by the general public as being quite radical, even if they're generally not in terms of animal rights/liberation philosophy (a philosophy which is itself perceived as being quite radical). Hence why HSUS is often thought to support animal rights/liberation in a robust sense. That's a sobering perspective because it says something about societal norms concerning animals -- still a long way to go.


As for the "welfare reform" debate discussed in McWilliams' article, my view is that that debate ought to be purely about pragmatics: Do some reforms work? Can they help reduce suffering in short term and end exploitation in the long term? IMO, HSUS' philosophical commitments regarding animal rights is irrelevant. Even if they do favor some forms of animal exploitation (e.g., "happy meat"), the relevant question is: are they doing anything that is useful for animal rights goals? If 'yes,' then that's enough for me to get behind the particular reform they want passed.

Hi Spencer.  I think the need is to look at the long term goal here, not short term as this is why the transition away from meat eating isn't working. As Francione says in his article posted earlier, the welfarist movement has been around for some 200 years.  Yet we still see in first world countries constant reports of extreme animal cruelty.

IMO the value in the welfarist movement is taking up causes like the live animal export protests here in Australia, but they should also stand aside and allow the abolishionists to do their thing. What does offend me is when big (relatively) organisations like HSUS not only advocate consumption of animals but turn on others which I suspect is a response to competition for the donation $$$. It is hypocritical to be writing about feuds when they are engaged in harming animals.

Hi Kerry,

I agree that advocates need to consider the long-term goal. Regarding Francione’s claim about the 200 year history of welfare reforms, I think that’s misleading. Reforms aimed at factory-farming practices are relatively new, since those practices only came about in the middle of the 20th century. So we can’t judge the effectiveness of those reforms—the ones aimed at factory-farming practices—on the basis of the failures and limitations of past reforms, IMO. The issue about encouraging people to consume “humane meat” is concerning, but I wonder if in a weird causal way, that actually is effective in the long-term (causality often works in mysterious ways).  

Hi Spencer,

Actually I think the recognition of animal suffering goes back a few thousand years. Ashoka the Great in India is generally regarded as the one who made Buddhism a major religion, and under his rule the unnecessary mutilation or slaughter of animals was abolished. I suggest that if Francione is wrong in this respect it is that he doesn't go far enough back to the roots of welfarism IMO.

Factory farming is a relatively new development, and one wonders if humans are supposed to be evolving towards compassion, how it is that we torture ever increasing numbers of animals globally, and legally. Of course we can attribute this to population increase, but wouldn't science then suggest that we should be moving away from these practices for sustainable food?  

I also can see nothing positive about keeping the humane meat myth going. It is if anything only slowing things down. You may recall a couple of years ago when Jamie Oliver killed a chicken broadcast on TV, with the intention of confronting viewers with where their meat comes from. It did cause something of a controversy then, but I wonder if anyone changed their diet as a result. Unfortunately advertising and the current obsession with chefs on 'reality TV' has just slipped back into the ignorance is bliss approach to food.

I believe that the way we treat animals is comparable to slavery and should be exposed, not wrapped in cotton wool to make it more acceptable to the general public. I recall the Vietnam War, which was probably famous for the unpopularity of it compared to the 1st and 2nd world wars. The difference there I think is that for the first time war correspondents and TV brought the reality into people's living rooms. In Australia the mothers of conscripts started the Save Our Sons movement. The images of children horribly burned by napalm and the destruction of that country brought shame. Don't we owe animals the same thing?  HSUS, RSPCA and so on essentially make a lot of money by supporting factory farming either directly or by policing government regulations which are in essence legalised cruelty. I do not believe that this is designed to incrementally improve animal conditions as all that happens is that when one issue is exposed, a short statement is made to reassure the public that of course this is unacceptable and measures will be put in place to stop these things happening. Of all the disgusting things I have heard last week really said it all. You may be aware of the 10,000 sheep clubbed, stabbed multiple times or buried alive in Pakistan. The government made a statement that the conditions placed on exporters and buyers of our live animals is working because it is exposing the instances of cruelty. The RSPCA did bugger all to help animals going overseas until it was on national TV then suddenly they become the animal advocates. That is, they are following public sentiment as that's where the money is.

Hi Spencer,

Would we deliberately breed humans who could never be autonomous, even if it were possible to guarantee them full rights and loving care?  To breed individuals who will always be dependent and forced to submit to the wishes of others seems wrong to me.  

Also, to guarantee dogs full rights would require huge amounts of money for their daily needs and medical care that many people aren't even willing to spend on humans.  So I think the question posed to Francione was very unrealistic.

I would not oppose HSUS and similar groups if they didn't condone and even encourage animal consumption -- but they do indeed promote "humane" products and methods that inflict suffering and death on millions of animals; and that's something I can't overlook. 


 
Spencer Lo said:

Hi Ellie. I actually wrote about Francione's position on domestication over at Animal Blawg ("Is a Pet-free World Morally Required?"); his view is a bit more radical than what you describe, because he would oppose domestication even if dogs have full legal rights and loving homes for them could be guaranteed (IMO, he offers very weak arguments for this position, whereas David Benatar makes a more compelling case). But I agree that currently, we shouldn't breed anymore pets given the problems you mention. Thanks for those links!

My larger point was about areas of common ground between abolitionists and "animal welfare" organizations. To me, rather than dismiss organizations because of labels like "animal welfare" or "animal protection," I prefer to look at what they do issue by issue. IMO, it's possible to take an abolitionist stance on one activity but not on another, and recognizing those nuances is important.

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