Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
Bruce Friedrich Additional ARZone Chat Replies
At the completion of Bruce's recent ARZone Live Guest Chat there were a number of outstanding questions, which Bruce graciously agreed to answer for ARZone members after his chat.
ARZone: What is PETA thinking in using "Free Me" (a song for veganism and animal liberation, according to John Feldmann: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxZGCtQwwZ8) in its McCruelty video promoting gassing chickens to death? See PETA's version: http://www.mccruelty.com/
Bruce Friedrich: Although the “Free Me” video wasn’t prepared specifically for the McCruelty campaign (you’ll find it in a number of places across PETA.org), it’s an effective tool for showing what animals used for food go through, so it just makes sense to have it on our McCruelty site (http://www.McCruelty.com). And of course, many viewers of “Free Me” decide to go vegetarian or vegan after watching it and looking into the issues it raises.
What's your source for the claim that "a vegan saves one more animal per year than a vegetarian"? From what I've read, the egg industry has a larger death toll than the cow-flesh and pig-flesh industries combined (as we know, the egg industry destroys countless male chicks at birth, in addition to ultimately slaughtering the egg laying hens. see: http://www.farmusa.org/statistics9.htm). Even if you are using "vegetarian" in the sense of an animal-free diet, it seems that vegans would still prevent significantly more harm in that we also won't wear other animals' skin and hair, use products tested on them, or support zoos, circuses, and aquaprisons.
The average meat eater consumes about 35 chickens, 1 turkey, the eggs of 2/3 of a laying hen (plus about one-half of a ground up baby male chick), 1/3 of a pig, 1/10 of a cow, 1/30th of a dairy cow’s output, and an untold number of fish (one scientific attempt came up with about 60 shellfish and 30 fin fish). Obviously I agree with you that we should all withdraw our support for all the animal abuse industries, but we should also be honest about the difference between vegetarian and vegan: Vegan withdraws support for the horrible abuse of dairy cows and egg-laying hens, and I’ve been vegan for almost 24 years, but vegetarian is a huge step in the right direction. And, as I discussed previously (and as Nick Cooney lays out with the relevant psychological research), we make a lot more progress for the animals by focusing on the first step, rather than advocating the last step.
How do you respond to Prof. Gary Francione’s charge that, far from being substantive victories towards the end of ending the commodification of animals, welfare reforms actually make animal exploitation more efficient. The most common example is the Humane Slaughter Act which required that animals be stunned before they are shackled and hoisted. And here is the efficiency question: the stunning is necessary because if you don’t do that, you have worker injuries and carcass damage. So, as Francione argues, the interests that we are really protecting are the interests *we have to* protect in order to protect workers and to prevent carcass damage.
The industry fought like hell against the Humane Slaughter Act, and they’re still fighting to keep birds out of it. The HSA is how we were able to shut down Agriprocessors, is how HSUS was able to shut down Hallmark, and on and on.
Please watch these videos:
I can’t begin to understand how anyone who cares about animals—let alone an animal rights activist—can say that legal protection for these animals is not worth fighting for; they may prefer to focus their efforts on promoting veganism—that’s fine. But that someone might say something like the Humane Slaughter Act is counterproductive—wow, I totally don’t get it.
The same analysis applies to battery cages, gestation crates, controlled atmosphere killing, and so on; this disconnect strikes me as a huge failure of empathy. I talk about this more here:
If you read only one link I reference, have it be that one (good links and video therein as well); and the other side has its say in the comments, pretty thoroughly I think.
PeTA's website conveys a consistent and clear message to cease the exploitation of nonhumans and provides detailed explanations for actions or activities the organisation conducts.
Given the Centre for Consumer Freedom's main financial contributors are huge meat and animal abusing organisations, the CCF is strongly motivated to denounce PeTA. Therefore PeTA's critics indirectly align themselves with some powerful underminers of animal rights. A minority group with such a vital goal should instead be united. Our battle needs to be fought from different perspectives.
How much of the CCF's adverse commentary on PeTA - including their funded website “petakills” - has generated negativity towards PeTA?
The attacks from the CCFs of the world are predictable: Because PETA’s work often involves putting pressure on businesses, it’s inevitable that they’ll try to push back, sometimes in underhanded and dishonest ways, such as using front groups, like the Orwellianly (I think I just invented an adverb) named Center for Consumer Freedom (see http://www.consumerdeception.com).
Re: activists who attack PETA: I think they have good hearts and honestly are trying to do what’s right, and I think that discussion is good. I think there’s a point at which you agree to disagree, and it seems that some just keep disagreeing; and it saddens me when motivations are questioned and ad hominem attacks are launched (there was one question in this category in the last chat), because I think that lowers the discussion into a place where reconciliation becomes less likely.
Bruce, first of all I want to say that I've learned a lot from your past articles and speeches. With that said, I sadly have to agree with much of the criticism that's come your way here at ARZone. I don't know if Douglass is a real person or if he was serious when he asked you about PETA's policies concerning homeless animals, but his question was a serious one and I think this community deserved a better answer. Could you please clarify what PETA's "community animal project" is, why it exists, and whether PETA actually has any building or holding facility for animals waiting to be adopted? (I don't think so, but all over the Internet there are references to a PETA "shelter" and I find that very confusing.) Someone posted PETA's intake statistics recently and I think we're entitled to an explanation as to why so many animals were killed. First of all, how did these animals end up at PETA? Why were they brought there instead of to an SPCA or pound or private vet or rescue group? Your website contains a number of graphic pictures, which are obviously intended to suggest there was no hope for these animals. Can you honestly say that all the animals PETA took in, besides the eight who got adopted, were medically untreatable? If not, and if treatment was deemed to be too expensive, why did PETA take responsibility for these animals in the first place? Couldn't you have transferred some of them to rescue organizations or foster homes, or asked a vet for a discount? Does PETA have any vets on staff? Can you explain the 2005 court case involving two PETA staff members who were convicted of improperly disposing of the bodies of animals who had been killed? (I think their convictions may have eventually been overturned, but they admitted killing the animals and dumping the bodies.) Specifically, can you respond to allegations that the accused people tricked a vet into turning the animals over for adoption, when there was never any intention on PETA's part of adopting them out? Recently ARZone hosted a chat with Nathan Winograd, who helped create a no-kill community in upstate New York. Can you please explain the animosity between PETA and Nathan Winograd, and tell us whether you've ever tried sitting down with him and attempting to address his concerns? What about the many other no-kill advocates who share Nathan's concerns? What are PETA's current positions regarding TNR programs and breed-specific legislation, and have they changed at all in light of new information? For example, more "pit bull" bans have led to more and more dogs being killed in "shelters." They've also led to many friendly dogs being seized from loving homes and held in government kennels for protracted periods while their fate is determined. Is there any evidence at all that they've encouraged guardians to treat their dogs better, or that they've had any positive effects whatsoever? How do you expect to influence society not only in the United States, but throughout the world, when your homeless animal policies run counter to the values of all but the most backward-thinking and unempathetic elements of society?
I totally agree that these are important questions, and I appreciate that you are asking them respectfully. It’s worth noting that we’ve addressed all of these questions exhaustively on our websites. In the interest of expediency, I hope you don’t mind if I just point you to that information here. The one thing I want to stress, again, is that the people who run our Community Animal Project are the most empathetic people I’ve ever met in my life, they have the hardest imaginable job, and they do it out of deep love, empathy, and commitment to animal rights. If you have any further questions after reviewing our Web responses, feel free to email me directly, BruceF(at)peta.org
I understand your unwillingness to air in public your disagreements with policies and actions that PETA have taken. I'll admit it was kind of an odd question to ask, but I guess I was trying to see what the difference is between Bruce the person and Bruce the PETA employee. Is it safe to say that even if you personally disagreed with something that PETA did, you would still defend that action publicly when asked about it?
I guess that's what I was trying to get at. I realize it's a personal question, but I think it would bring in to relief what it means to be a highly visible member of a large organization.
Thanks for giving me another swing at the question, Al. If I disagreed with something that PETA did and was asked about it publically, I would say “Here’s our thinking…,” and then I would explain the decision. I have the deepest imaginable respect for everyone on senior staff at PETA, and while we disagree about this and that, we all respect one another and recognize that we may be wrong. PETA’s President is pretty amazing on decision-making; even she doesn’t agree with everything we decide to do, or how we decide to do it. We discuss things, come as close to consensus as possible, and move forward. The bottom line is that even when we disagree, we are all trying to do our absolute best for the animals. So we start with total respect for each other.
With everything that's been done and written over what, a couple of hundred years or more, by great minds, about our unethical and atrocious treatment of animals for food, clothing, entertainment, research, etc. have the numbers of animals used for these decreased for say food or research or anything? From what I read it does not appear that it has. I sometimes feel overwhelmed and discouraged as it seems like such a painfully slow process. I feel I need to do more but don't know what.
I resonate with what you’re saying here, Judy, of course, but it’s worth remembering that we’re making huge progress in our scientific understanding of who other animals are. I suggest that you read my answer (page 14-15) to the question, “How can you compare animal abuse to the Holocaust, slavery, etc.?” here:
Progress is slower than we’d like, but it’s only a matter of time before society stops denying what is scientifically true—that other animals are, as Richard Dawkins says, our evolutionary cousins, and that they are made of the same stuff we are, have the same five senses, and feel pain in the same way and to the same degree. This was controversial 20 years ago; it’s not anymore. We just have to align our actions with the science—it’s coming.
Please also check out the last section of Matt Ball’s “An Activist’s Life = A Meaningful Life” here: http://bit.ly/exXeAA. The concept of an activist life leading to meaning is the beginning and ending point of Matt’s and my book, The Animal Activist’s Handbook (www.animaladvocacybook.com).
Another question, in regard to the original Q and A:
Back to resource allocation: Approximately what percentage of the PETA budget is devoted to explicitly and singly promoting veganism?
I'm afraid I don't know. It's certainly our largest campaign (we don't have any other free kits or devoted Web sites that we advertize)”.
I'm curious about what you count in this campaign. Are you just talking about goveg.com and related printed material?
No, though don’t discount our websites and printed materials, which are constantly honed to be even more effective in persuading people to go vegan. In our last completed fiscal year, for instance, PETA sent out more than 1 million vegan starter kits.
But our pro-veg efforts encompass a wide range of things, from slickly produced ads to (literally) cheap stunts (see http://www.peta.org/mediacenter/news-releases/PETA-Proposes-Whoopie... for a recent example), and from attention-getting celebrity vegetarian testimonials (http://veggietestimonial.peta.org/) to persuading restaurants and food service companies to offer more vegan items.
And, of course, we’re constantly staging demonstrations all over the place—which require signs, literature, video displays, and often costumes and/or props—and providing unlimited free materials to other groups and individuals to hold their own protests.
Bruce, honestly, do you believe advocates for the abolition of animal use have an obligation to improve (reform/legitimate) animal use i.e. animal "welfare"?
No, but I think it’s deeply speciesist to actually oppose welfare reforms, as I discuss above (the Huffington Post link in #3). I remain flummoxed by the fact that smart people would argue that the Humane Slaughter Act is not valuable for animals. It’s easy for us to say that we’ll hold out for everything we want because we’re not the ones crammed into cages, standing in our own filth, or being skinned alive. Of course, we’re all hoping for the day when animals will no longer be exploited and killed for food, clothing, entertainment, etc., but we shouldn’t throw roadblocks in the way of positive change.
Again, please see the Huffington Post link http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-friedrich/getting-from-a-to-z-w...
And links and discussion.
Bruce, I feel the religious community is a very important asset to any social movement. I believe that real change in the past great social movements like anti-slavery, women’s rights, child labor laws, etc., made huge strides when this group of good-hearted, albeit slow to change, group of people got behind an issue. Can you speak to this? What are your thoughts on this? I think more focus should be placed on the obvious duplicity that the religious communities practice on their plates at their church BBQ's! Don't you think it would be good if more activism was done there? Like the great work the Christian Vegetarian Association, and the Jewish Vegetarian Association, and others are doing?
Well I’m on the advisory board of CVA and the founding board of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians. Here is a link where I explore your question in more detail:
This link, which addresses my own journey (I am an animal rights activist because I’m Catholic):
During your ARZone Guest Chat I asked you about the recent PeTA Superbowl ad, which didn’t air. You said that you found it to be funny. I’m interested in which parts of the ad you found funny. Was it the instructions at the start in which a male behind the camera asked the women to “pick a vegetable and show us how much you love it”, or perhaps (my personal favourite) the men behind the camera, noting how much they were sweating, whilst commenting on the women simulating oral sex with vegetables? You also noted that the women involved in this ad, and other young women, thought this ad was great. All animals like to feel they’re wanted, Bruce. All animals like attention. Women, men, babies, dogs and mice. Do you think that receiving attention for gyrating on the floor with a vegetable in a woman’s mouth, simulating oral sex is the attention PeTA should be encouraging women to seek? Do you think this is a positive thing; reminding women that their role in life is that of a sex toy? Do you think actions like this reinforce stereotypes? How would you expect a 14 year old girl to react to an ad like this? 14 yr old girls WILL see this ad, along with 14 yr old boys, who will also have the stereotype of “girls are for my pleasure” reinforced. Do you think PeTA, as arguably the most recognised name in animal welfare, have an obligation to ensure animal welfare be taken seriously? Could you please explain how this ad is a serious attempt to do that?
The ads are meant as a humorous take-off on the kind of supposedly sexy videos found all over television and sites like YouTube, while making a serious point about the health hazards of meat-eating. Sure, they’re risqué, but no more than ads promoting unhealthy products, like beer and fast-food burgers, that are frequently shown during regular primetime television and on Super Bowl Sunday.
Although we certainly wish we could reach similar numbers of people without resorting to silly spoofs, we can’t, so we make no apologies for using “sexy” or “shocking” methods of getting the word out about animal abuse. PETA’s job is to draw attention to animal suffering, and we have found that provocative tactics yield more attention than the facts alone, which aren’t enough to attract interest in today’s tabloid media. The situation is critical for the billions of animals who are suffering on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, and our goal is to make the public think about the issues. Sometimes this requires tactics—like naked marches and colorful ad campaigns—that some people find outrageous or offensive.
In a media climate that revels in salaciousness and sensationalism, people do pay more attention to our racier actions. As a result of our ads, PETA representatives have been interviewed and our ads have been played—for free—on cable television talk shows with audiences numbering into the millions. Judging by the spike in visits to our websites after we publicized our ads—more than a million hits for the original “Veggie Love” alone—this tactic is working. The proof is in the numbers: In just one week, our “Casting Session” videos resulted in 15,299 views of undercover factory farm footage; 1,456 signups for our vegan pledge; and 834 orders of our free vegetarian/vegan starter kit. That means that more than 17,500 people have learned more about factory farming and vegan living because of our ads.
As an organization staffed and led largely by feminist women, we would never do something that we felt exacerbated the very serious problems that women face. Far from being “sex toys,” the participants (of both sexes) in our ads and demonstrations represent people who are in charge of their own sexuality, and they have chosen to participate in our actions because they want to do something to make people stop and pay attention. We believe that people should have the choice to use their own bodies in whatever manner they think best, including making social statements.
Considering that PETA claims to operate under the motto "animals are not ours..." it seems very contradictory to give awards to slaughterhouse designer Temple Grandin, flesh-peddler Burger King, the creator of the RADAR rodent trap that gasses mice, rats, and others to death, as well as recently endorsing the CrustaStun lobster-killing devices and praising chicken-killers Bell & Evans. Why should anyone take PETA seriously as a voice for “animal rights” with this nonsense?
PETA’s Proggy Awards are given to people or companies that have contributed to progress in reducing the suffering of animals. They represent a recognition of a significant contribution. While we’d prefer that no animals be killed for food, and are working towards that end, for example, the use of the CrustaStun and Bell & Evans’ adoption of CAK will spare a great many animals a great deal of misery. See
for why I think your question is based in deeply anti-animal rights assumptions, and why I think that opposing such endeavors shows a lack of seriousness that one often finds in the black-and-white, all or nothing, thinking your question represents.
Bruce, you said, "You can see this historically: For most of the time there have been animal rights activists, we have focused on veganism, and there was no meaningful welfare reform."
How do you define "animal rights activists" in the context of this statement?
Which animal rights activists were focusing on veganism in, say, the 1930s? I'm not aware of any significant movement toward veganism prior to the Vegan Society forming in the 1940's. Animal welfare, on the other hand? Sure. People have been arguing for the better treatment of animals for centuries (not the abolishment of their use, but the better treatment). I don't think your statement that historically animal rights activists (I assume you include traditional welfarists in that, though I would not) have focused on veganism is correct, but maybe you can flesh out your statement a bit to prove me wrong. Perhaps you're referring only to the history of PETA, in which case, I would have to plead a certain level ignorance.
Historically speaking, it seems that there has been almost nothing BUT pleas for animal welfare, and yet animal use has exponentially expanded, and factory farming has only come into being in the last half a century or so. If pleas for welfare worked, then how the heck could that have happened?
I think you answered your own question somewhere in there, Al. By “animal rights advocates,” I wasn’t referring to traditional welfare activists, but people who consider themselves “pure” animal rights advocates, which is a relatively recent development (though there have been people throughout history, of course, who argued for the rights of animals in much the sense we mean it today). For a more detailed discussion of the difference, see http://www.peta.org/about/faq/What-is-the-difference-between-animal...
The reason Europe is ahead of us on both welfare and rights is, I think, that Europe has been focusing on farmed animal welfare as a part of their animal rights movement. That’s only been happening in the U.S. for about a decade.
In the broader picture, this goes back to how we get from where we are to where we want to be, as discussed in my Huffington Post piece. We should not focus on what makes us most comfortable, but on honestly evaluating society as it is and working to make progress across the board.
Again (not to be a broken record), this isn’t to say that all animal advocates need to work in every area. But we all do owe the animals an honest evaluation of our efforts; I would contend that questioning or attacking other advocates is not the best way to help the animals as much as possible. I’m all for open debate and discussion, but it seems to me that there comes a time at which agreeing to disagree makes the most sense, after which activists should probably spend most of their time focused on helping animals, rather than attacking others’ choices.
Kelly Garbato, a feminist animal rights activist who is the blog author of http://www.easyvegan.info/ and is a contributor at http://challengeoppression.com/ has written a post in response to your feminism/sexism comments in this chat. It can be read here:
I wanted to pull quotes from that post and see what your thoughts are on them, but I had a hard time picking out just a few. I also wanted to ask what your thoughts were about this post, but then I thought that maybe your response would be better placed as a comment on her blog.
So my question will be: Did you read this blog post?
Yep, thanks. I thought it was very engagingly written, even though I think it stretches on occasion. Mostly I think it represents a strong difference of opinion. I liked this and agree: “Also, why is everyone so down on criticism? A little self-reflection now and then is healthy – it helps you to grow and evolve, as a person and as an activist. Most of PETA’s critics operate out of a sense of love: not for PETA itself, but for the nonhuman animals on whose behalf we are working.”
PETA welcomes discussion about—and even criticism of—our ads and campaigns because we know that getting people talking is the first step in raising awareness. However, in this case, I have read all of these arguments before, many times, and I remain unconvinced; I do continue to read posts like this and am happy to continue to read them.
The conclusion in which loud and continued objection is cited as support for the idea that we should “STFU” and listen strikes me as the least cogent part of the post; the fact that someone continues to say things with which you disagree means nothing re: whether they are right or not; it just means they feel strongly. If there’s a particular feminist book you want me to read, I’m happy to do that. Email me at BruceF(at)PETA.org.
In regards to sexism: while PETA's nude campaigns tend to dominate the discussion, there are a number of other campaigns that are problematic from a feminist perspective as well. To name a few:
* the ongoing fur hag campaign, which is centered on a sexist, ageist, and lookist slur (a hag is literally an "ugly old woman"; a witch), and employs equally offensive imagery;
* last August's "Save the Whales" billboard (though PETA did eventually pull it, the only apology offered was of the halfhearted, "we're sorry if you were offended" / "it's not me, it's you" variety); and
* the Trollsens campaign, which depicts the Olsen twins - at least one of whom is undergoing a real-life struggle with anorexia - as ugly, emaciated, liver-spotted, walking skeletons.
The animal advocacy community should be building bridges with other social justice movements, not burning them. Even if you personally disagree that these campaigns are sexist and/or misogynist, how can you expect (for example) feminists to seriously consider PETA's concerns (and by extension, those of the entire animal advocacy community) if you don't return the favor? Plus, it's not just non-vegans from outside the AR community (& who may simply be acting out of defense of their human privilege) who are critical of PETA. Given this, don't you agree that such criticisms merit serious consideration from PETA?
Yes, of course. Most of this has hopefully been addressed in my other comments, but as we all know, there are many feminist perspectives, and we obviously can’t agree with them all. We consider the arguments and come to a different conclusion, as noted. FWIW, our list of “fur hags” includes a number of men, as you can see at http://www.peta2.com/outthere/o-furhagcontest.asp. I know that won’t placate critics, but there you go.
As an aside, I’m not familiar with outrage from feminist vegans at NOW or other feminist groups for serving up dead animal corpses at their events. I think we can all agree that eating animals is the pinnacle of anti-species bigotry, and yet progressive and feminist vegans don’t (to my knowledge) write off other progressive groups because they’re involved in the ultimate denial of animals’ worth… This strikes me as deeply speciesist behavior, to write off PETA like the author of that feminist bingo piece appears to have done on the basis of a subjective objection, while not doing that with progressive and/or feminist groups that still serve up tortured corpses at their events (an objective objection). Just to be clear: I don’t write off anyone; my wife and I support progressive groups, while pushing them to include animals in their realm of concern.
Imagine what the response would have been from those opposed to civil rights in the US in the 1950's had a large and visible civil rights group supported Rosa Parks by trotting out semi-nude women and men, to say that non-racists make better lovers. It sounds ridiculous in a human rights context, doesn't it? Why is it not ridiculous in a nonhuman rights context?
Well it’s ridiculous in both contexts, of course. But in the civil rights context, it would have been ridiculous at least in part because a) it was the 50’s, when such matters weren’t discussed in public, and b) there is no correlation between racism and impotence. There is however, a connection between the consumption of meat, milk, and eggs with erectile dysfunction (http://www.peta.org/living/vegetarian-living/Impotence.aspx), and ads for Viagra, Cialis, etc., now air during the evening news. PETA would fail in our commitment to animals is we refused to use the opportunity this provides to get a vegan message out to the public.
I know that most of those who are critical are unlikely to change their minds based on my comments, but anyone who has come to one of my public events knows that I am ALWAYS happy to entertain dissenting voices. I know that all of the questions come from a deep concern for animals, and I have the deepest respect for everyone trying to do their best for the animals.
Similarly, PETA is made up of human beings who believe whole-heartedly in animal liberation; we’re trying, as thoughtfully as we can, to bring it about as soon as possible. If you want a snapshot into our lives, the HBO documentary about Ingrid (titled “I am an animal”) is very good. It addresses all of these questions, from both sides. It’s available on Netflix.
As always, I wish you all the best in your efforts!
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