Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Abolitionism and Welfare Reform: A Debate

Professor Gary Francione and Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary recently had a short, substantive exchange on abolitionism and welfare reform, consisting of two opening statements and a response to each. Below is my summary of the exchange. Obviously, nothing can be settled in a short debate, but I hope to highlight and sharpen the areas of disagreements between the two. 

Francione’s Opening Statement

Differences between regulationists and abolitionists

A. Regulationists focus primarily on animal treatment. They generally support: (1) welfare reform, such as “enriched” cages for hens; (2) single-issue campaigns; and (3) the consumption of “happy” animal products. Moreover, regulationists promote veganism only as a way to reduce suffering, not as a moral baseline.

B. Abolitionists reject all animal use on moral grounds, and in addition to rejecting (1)-(3) above, they promote veganism as a moral imperative. Further, abolitionists reject regulationism for three practical reasons:

  • (i). Animal welfare measures do little to protect animal interests. Animals are property, and since protecting their interests requires money, welfare standards will always remain low. Rather than impose significant costs, many welfare reforms increase production efficiency. Example: controlled-atmosphere killing.
  • (ii). Welfare measures encourage continued animal use by making the public feel better about animal exploitation. This occurs when groups like PETA give praise and awards to McDonalds for improved animal treatment.
  • (iii). Single issue campaigns inaccurately characterize some forms of exploitation as worse than others. Example: Fur is not worse than leather or wool.

C. Abolitionists view animal advocacy as a zero-sum game. The more time and money spent on welfare reforms, the less can be spent on vegan/abolitionist education; advocates should focus only on the latter. Doing both sends contradictory and hopelessly confusing messages.

Friedrich’s Response

(B) is false: abolitionists can promote veganism as a moral baseline in addition to welfare reforms and single-issue campaigns (examples: Mercy for Animals, Vegan Outreach, PETA, COK, the Humane League, Farm Sanctuary). Welfare reforms reduce suffering, reduce meat consumption, and bring us closer to animal liberation.

I. Welfare reforms reduce suffering

B(i) is false. For pregnant sows, there is a meaningful difference between gestation crates and group housing. Similarly, for chickens who have their throats slit while conscious, painless deaths are meaningfully better. Because reforms lessen animal suffering, when the only alternatives are more suffering or less, that alone justifies supporting them.

II. Welfare reforms reduce meat consumption and move us toward animal liberation.

Egg-consumption declined in EU countries that independently banned battery cages. Moreover, according to the Journal of Agricultural Economics, media coverage of certain welfare campaigns have led to reduced consumption in all animal products.

Animal agriculture spends millions fighting welfare reforms, which refutes the notion that they increase the overall profits of regulated industries. Example: the pork and egg industries spent $10 million trying (unsuccessfully) to defeat Proposition 2.

Rest here

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Comment by LInda Copping on February 8, 2013 at 9:10

I agree with Gary, each individual has the power to look within, decide for themselves if they want to continue supporting the exploitation of animals by dietary choices, clothing choices, cosmetic and cleaning choices, sporting choices, and so many other choices. All these choices add up to a demand that creates these hell hole conditions for animals. It all begins with one person. Forget the excuses and arguments, there is no argument, either abuse, use and hold animals with little compassion or don't. 

Comment by Carolyn Bailey on January 10, 2013 at 15:31

I wonder what the evidence is to suggest that "‘his abolitionist’ approach will not work." 

It seems to me that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that any particular approach will work, and that perhaps we should remain open-minded to all approaches. 

Comment by Tim Gier on December 20, 2012 at 12:06

Spencer, thank you for taking the time to provide a balanced and objective summary of the major points of this debate. I have to say that I find Francione's arguments unconvincing. He makes what are in fact speculative claims as if they were instead factual claims. What's worse, the facts as they stand do not support his speculations. I realize that many people are drawn to Francione's "no compromise" approach, as if the severity of one's position was evidence of its validity, but I find him routinely guilty of 'black vs. white' thinking in the service of a moral absolutism that seems untenable for anyone with a naturalistic world view.


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