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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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Yes, it's a pleasure.  Thank you too.
Kerry Baker said:

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

I'm sure you're right about the locavore movement.  Imo, the main priority of HSUS is its bank account.  It's good at getting donations, but it doesn't deliver as it promises -- Hurricane Katrina and other HSUS "rescues" come to mind.  I didn't read McWilliams' book, and after Vegan Feud, I don't intend to.

 Wendy Kobylarz said:

Good point about economics; it seems to me that the entire locavore movement is significantly based on affluence as well, something McWilliams ignores in his book. It seems to fit right in with HSUS, too, because they need those donations to keep their jobs.

Ellie Maldonado said:

Hi Spencer,


I don't think HSUS dislikes poor people; I think it takes advantange of their insignificant status to promote campaigns that won't carry much oppositional weight.  Have you read "The Animal Estate"? 


HSUS is very careful not to alienate wealthy supporters, and as long as they want to eat meat, it will not speak against it.  HSUS also condoned the hunting of one species of animal in order to save another.  Again, I'll see if I can find the link -- this happened a long time ago. 

Hi Ellie,

I think that's an interesting question -- I'm inclined to say 'yes, that's okay' at this point. After all, if a pregnant woman discovers that her resulting child will be severely mentally disabled -- and therefore a life-long dependent -- I don't think she's obligated to get an abortion. But if we think bringing life-long dependent beings into existence is wrong, then we would have to say that she is obligated to get an abortion.

Thanks, Spencer.  I agree with Francione on this. 
Spencer Lo said:

Hi Spencer,

I support disability rights and completely agree that a pregnant woman is in no way obligated to abort a fetus who will be always be dependent, but I don't think that's the same as knowingly breeding a woman with a child who will dependent for the rest of his/her life.       
Spencer Lo said:

Hi Ellie,

I think that's an interesting question -- I'm inclined to say 'yes, that's okay' at this point. After all, if a pregnant woman discovers that her resulting child will be severely mentally disabled -- and therefore a life-long dependent -- I don't think she's obligated to get an abortion. But if we think bringing life-long dependent beings into existence is wrong, then we would have to say that she is obligated to get an abortion.

Hi Kerry. Your mention of Ashoka stirred up memories of lectures given by my former prof (Buddhist philosopher) about him. And I agree we do owe animals the same thing regarding the exposure of exploitation -- but that may be one area where groups like PETA and HSUS do a lot of good. If the public wants to learn about factory-farming conditions, those groups offer plenty of eye-opening information. As for HSUS' support of "humane meat," I'm currently of two minds about that: (1) it's wrong and should be condemned, and (2) the perceived distinction between "humane" and "non-humane" may raise a lot of public consciousness, more so than if there were no such perceived distinction. I think it's true that for those who believe it's wrong to kill truly happily raised animals, most arrive at that conclusion only after they've recognized the inherent cruelties of factory-farming

Hi Spencer. I am somewhat sceptical about the effectiveness of HSUS and PETA campaigns for no other reason that they don't really seem to be getting out to mainstream consumers. I think those who will go to their sites will be already converted or about to be.

I also think that those who are advocating 'happy meat' are entirely missing the point. The act of killing an animal is a horrendous thing. If that animal has been raised in a factory farm makes it all the more horrendous. But all animals are basically slaughtered in the same facilities, and the road to getting there has been slavery.

I have spoken to people who are highly educated who have the most bizarre notions about what happens to animals. One woman was insistent that organic meat comes from animals who are killed away from other animals so they don't have the experience of seeing slaughtered animals before them. That is just obviously not the truth, they all end up the same. But I do suggest that her notions of why she buys organic meat stem from this happy meat myth.

The consumption of meat by humans is not a dietary necessity, it is simply sensory gratification. I think that organisations like HSUS and RSPCA have effectively been co-opted by governments to do their work for them. That is to make sure farmers are meeting regulatory standards. It then becomes irrelevant that those standards are inherently cruelty as the focus becomes compliance not compassion.

In my view, we cannot cultivate a vegan paradigm until we change our focus from factory farms to the inherent cruelty of farming, and we educate the public about the full range of nonhuman experience -- as does this poster from Peaceful Prairie, Milk Comes From a Grieving Mother:  -- and this video from Humane Myth/Tribe of Heart of a Mother Hen and Baby Chick:

As long as activists focus on factory farms, the industry and its animal "welfare" allies can mislead consumers by claiming to offer a "humane" alternative. And the result, as Wendy said, is more animals will be slaughtered.  Professor Francione quotes an HSUS report in which shows a ban on gestation crates would increase in pig reproduction: "...... “Sow productivity is higher in group housing than in individual crates, as a result of reduced rates of injury and disease, earlier first estrus, faster return to estrus after delivery, lower incidence of stillbirths, and shorter farrowing times” and “[c]onversion from gestation crates to group housing . . . marginally reduces production costs and increases productivity......":  (  )

Also see: Hogwash! Or, How Animal Advocates Enable Corporate Spin by Lee Hall:

Vegetarian Butchers/ Something Almost Primal by Angel Flinn:      


Why Vegetarians Are Eating Meat:
Free Range' Eggs, Can You Tell the Difference?:
Veal to Love, Without the Guilt:

Clearly, these reforms do little to nothing to improve the lives of farmed animals.  And no matter how much space they are allowed, farmed animals will continue to be mutilated to prevent injuries from aggression (which would result in a decrease in profit): debeaking, which the "humane" industry calls "beak trimming"; dehorning, which the "humane" industry calls it "debudding"; castration; teeth filing; and toe-clipping.  Male chicks and "trash infants" will continue to be killed.  Females will continue to be subjected to forced pregnancies.  Mothers will continue to be separated from their babies, which is emotionally painful for both.  And all will be subjected to a violent death.

So for the sake of nonhuman animals, can we please stop focusing on factory farms?

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