Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

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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I wonder what it would take for advocates to finally realise that the HSUS are an animal WELFARE organisation? And, animal welfare organisations do ... animal WELFARE.

Who is worse off if abused, tortured, and rights-deprived nonhuman self-aware animals are mistreated less painfully because the oppression is regulated?

Yes - well. HSUS deleted themselves permanently from my life when they took on Michael Vick as their mascot. It's like if the Jewish people took on a "reformed" Hitler as their PR man after the war. They and the NFL have endorsed Vick and rewarded him for what he did to dogs. How could any animal lover ever take them seriously again?

And no - we are NOT all Michael Vick.

Well put! I agree completely. And I love the term "frabolitionists" -- I may just have to steal that. ;)

Uptight Primate said:

The original post suggests that abolitionists might spend more time campaigning effectively for animals instead of spending time and energy whinging about some of the big welfare groups.

Whinging about PETA and HSUS etc is not campaigning.

Why not just get on and organise vegan outreach etc if that’s what you think will work and pay no heed to the groups whose work you don’t like?

The in-fighting itself is a problem for the movement. It stops us being effective – and it makes us look mad, unable to work together to deliver any meaningful victory for animals. The rise of the Francione-style abolitionists (frabolitionists) has made this situation far worse – and as a result the movement is more fractured than I can ever remember.

I think the frabolitionists have got it wrong – but I don’t want to waste my time or energy fighting about it – instead I’d rather get on with the work I think does have impact.

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

Hi Wendy.  Yes I was personally quite shocked to see their direct participation in the abuse of animals.  The article raises questions about trustworthiness.  Really points to a need to do the research before giving donations.

I think it's even more insidious than this. I have been watching with growing concern the amount of material suggesting that vegans need to be 'gentle', as if in some way we have to apologise for ourselves. I don't think anyone supports violence, but to let people know the ramifications of what they are doing seems to be somehow abusive. I know of no other issue where pointing out to people why they should change is considered abusive. If I know someone is buying carpet made by child slave labour for example would I stay silent?  I don't think so.  What we have here is I suspect representative of a huge industry that is the new tobacco industry. They will use sock puppets, astro-turfing, trolls, you name it anything to degrade animal rights activists. This happened in the environmental area decades ago, employees of the forestry industry or other environmental rapists joining political parties to get on policy making groups and so on. So I really think there does need to be vigilance and not stopping to out these people for what they are. 

Wendy, you said, above "I think in part it's to do with knowing your audience. It has worked with some people; it hasn't with others" ~ I absolutely agree with that! I also agree with this statement "I think the one thing that's different is that animal exploitation is not only accepted and encouraged and the suffering is intentionally invisible; because it is so widely accepted, otherwise good people eat other animals." 

I understand that we are all limited with our time these days, but if you get the opportunity to listen to what Dr. Melanie Joy said in the most recent ARZone podcast, I think you might find it interesting. Melanie speaks about the invisibility of what she calls Carnism, and how we can speak with people and educate people on why they eat other animals and why they don't even realise it's a choice much of the time. I highly recommend listening to what she has to say if you have some spare time. I learned a lot in speaking with her.

HSUS is often attacked for being an animal welfare organization, one that doesn't have any abolitionist goals. Even if true, this doesn't mean there can't be common ground between HSUS and abolitionists, or that abolitionists can't get behind some of what they do. To the extent that HSUS advocates eating animal products, they should be criticized, but to the extent that they advocate alleviating suffering and making the lives of animals better, they should be praised and encouraged.

Thanks, Wendy. Very telling wording in their motto. 

A couple of prominent AR activists have said that the money the HSUS has should be removed from them and given to true animal advocates, so that they can use it to actually help the animals. I agree. HSUS is at the moment nothing but a huge corporation, with all the evils that entails.

Wendy Kobylarz said:

I would agree, except that I see very little in the way of HSUS' attempts to relieve suffering. Even with dogs and cats, the animals they should probably be most concerned about given their starting point, they advocate "buy from humane breeders. HSUS does not wish to upset the capitalist status quo; without it, their donations and salaried dry up. With net assets of $187,515,301, I totally expect to see more work on behalf of animals, not animal farmers.

Furthermore, in 2010, they offered $25,000 of that money designated to help animals to catch "animal rights terrorists" in relation to either a fire-bombing or arson in California, an event that was never claimed by an AR group or person. The "animal rights terrorist" bit came out of thin air, ostensibly to distance HSUS' activities from those more direct-action ones. I think that speaks plenty for itself, but their blurb on Charity Navigator also states: Established in 1954, The HSUS seeks a humane and sustainable world for all animals - a world that will also benefit people. We work to reduce suffering. (Emphasis added. While I agree that both things are important - a world for people and one that contains less suffering, in light of what HSUS has done recently, I think this can also be read as: a world that puts humans first... We don't want to end suffering, just reduce it. I don't think that is necessarily true of every person who works at HSUS, but the organization has obviously lost sight of its goals to put animals first. And in the meantime, mixed messages are being sent to the general public: you can love/care about animal suffering and eat animals, too!)

I’m still learning about HSUS and trying to gain a deeper understanding of the controversy (which seems to have many facets). Although HSUS is a welfarist organization, it seems that they nevertheless advocate some abolitionist goals: for instance, they want to get rid of dogfighting, cockfighting, hog-dog fighting, experimentation on chimps, whaling, and various forms of hunting. So perhaps it’s more accurate to consider HSUS welfarist in some (many) respects but also abolitionist in others? I welcome anyone's thoughts on this.

Hi Spencer, 

Bob Linden spoke about HSUS in his ARZone podcast a few weeks ago. It was interesting to hear his thoughts when challenged on some issues in regard to HSUS. 

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