Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit: What Is Wrong with Single Issue Campaigns?


A single issue campaign (herein referred to as “SIC” or “campaign”) can be of two different types: welfare-oriented campaigns and elimination-oriented campaigns. SICs can also be short-term or take up an organization’s entire mission and lifetime. The primary difference between the two types is that welfare-oriented SICs focus on merely reforming an exploitive industry, while elimination-oriented SICs focus on entirely eliminating an exploitive industry. Since some industries are mere subsidiaries of a larger industry (e.g. the foie gras industry is a subsidiary of the animal agriculture industry), some SICs may be an elimination-oriented SIC to a subsidiary industry, while being a sort of welfare-oriented SIC in relation to the principal industry.Welfare-oriented Single Issue Campaigns

Welfare SICs are at the core of the business and revenue cycle of almost all large, corporate animal welfare groups. Large animal welfare groups such as PETA anticipate and select what they consider a winnable target – usually in some area that industry is ready to make the targeted change in for profitability reasons anyway – and generate a donor and public relations campaign to “encourage” industry to make the change a few months or a few years earlier than industry would have without the welfare group’s prodding.Of course, when selling the SIC to donors, the welfare groups dramatize the industry’s resistance to the proposed change to justify an immediate call-to-arms in the form of “send us your money NOW or we’ll lose this campaign!!” What the welfare groups either downplay or don’t mention to the donors is the negotiations with the targeted animal exploiter, which generally include emphasizing to the targeted exploiter how the campaign can be a “win-win” for both the welfare group and the exploiter if the exploiter will eventually allow the welfare group a “victory”. So the stage is set, the volunteers (who are generally also in the dark about the overall money-making and industry-welfare partnership scheme) are mobilized, and the money comes flowing into the corporate welfare organization and into the pockets of its executives in the form of handsome salaries and bonuses.After weeks or months of campaigning by the welfare group, mostly done by the lower-paid staffers and a small battalion of volunteers, the targeted exploiting company: 1) has shown adequate “resistance”, 2) has cost the welfare group’s donors quite a bit of money and cost the volunteers quite a bit of time and energy, and 3) calculates that it would be an optimally profitable time to “give in to the pressure” and agree to the demands of the welfare group for the “win-win” on which the industry-welfarist partnership thrives. The welfare group (e.g. PETA) has received its windfall of donations, gets to declare “VICTORY!!!” to its donors and the public as loud as it can, and obtains future status among donors as the “reliable watchdog” of industry. The targeted exploiter gets free advertising and promotion by the welfare organization in an “all’s well that ends well” love affair of public support. Meanwhile, any cost to the exploiter of the targeted change is more than offset by the subsequent public goodwill generated by the welfare group and the fact that the targeted change is almost always a long-term strategic benefit to the exploiter which would have to be incurred regardless of any campaigns to hurry it up.Elimination-oriented Single Issue Campaigns

As described above, elimination-oriented SICs differ from welfare-oriented SICs primarily in that they target an industry rather than a practice within an industry. Generally, the targeted industry is a subsidiary of a larger principal industry. For example, dog racing, horse racing, dog fighting, and cock fighting are subsidiaries of the principal animal entertainment industry. The foie gras industry is a subsidiary of the principal animal agriculture industry. The seal clubbing industry is a subsidiary of both the hunting and fishing and animal agriculture industry.

Many of the same large corporate welfare groups that specialize in welfare-oriented SICs also engage in elimination-oriented SICs. While elimination-oriented SICs can be very profitable for most of the groups that engage in them, they are usually not as profitable as the welfare-oriented campaigns mostly because the “win-win” opportunity with the target industry is diminished or lost entirely. In elimination campaigns – with a large exception to be explained in the next paragraph – there is no negotiation with the targeted exploiter. Still, entire organizations are financially fuelled by elimination-oriented SICs and such campaigns can be very lucrative without significantly changing society’s moral attitude toward animals, if at all. Fur comes and goes out of fashion, seal clubbing becomes more or less common, but overall moral attitudes toward animals change very little. In fact, when these subsidiary industries make a “rebound”, they often do so with tremendous success, as the fur, veal, and seal clubbing industry have in the first decade of the 21st century.

The large exception referred to in the last paragraph is the pseudo-elimination campaign that is sold to the public as an “elimination campaign,” but in reality it is proposed legislation negotiated with the target exploiter and the exploiter’s lobbyists and politicians to “ban” a certain practice with a grace period of several years that will allow the exploiter to continue the abuse in question and come up with alternative practices (i.e. welfare reform) to keep the industry alive beyond the sunset date. The classic example of this is the California “ban” on foie gras production starting in 2012 (if it’s not overturned by then by new methods of producing foie gras). See Part II. B. 3. in this Duke Law School link for more information on the so-called “ban” in California.

The Problems with Single Issue Campaigns

While it is understandable, from a business or economic growth standpoint, why welfare groups engage in SICs (SICs are very effective fundraising tools as explained above), there are some problems with SICs that are fatal from the standpoint of bringing about any meaningful, lasting change in society’s moral attitudes toward nonhuman beings.

Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit

As a practical matter, one of the biggest problems with SICs is that they focus most of the animal movement’s money, time, and energy on the periphery (the “fruit”) of the animal abuse and exploitation tree while ignoring the tree’s root, trunk, and lifeblood of exploitation. The specific parts of the periphery focused on are usually what are perceived to be (but aren’t necessarily) the most egregious abuses.

New welfarists (i.e. those who support SICs and welfare reform as a way to abolish animal cruelty) ironically call these perceived egregious abuses the “low-hanging fruit” because the public generally agrees with the welfare groups on these particular issues. I say the phrase “low-hanging fruit” is ironic because it also helps explain why SICs (i.e. picking the low-hanging fruit) are so ineffective at changing society. First, the sole reason that the fruit is “low-hanging” is precisely because most of society already agrees that it’s fine to eliminate these practices. “Low-hanging” is a synonym for “go with the flow” or “accept the status quo.” Second, what is the nature of “fruit”? It is sweet and it grows back on the animal exploitation tree. Picking the low-hanging fruit (i.e. sponsoring SICs) is sweet because it endears the general public to the welfare organizations, fills the organizations’ coffers, and allows the organization to yell “victory” on a regular basis. And as these problems/”victories” are metaphorical fruit, the problems grow back after a few years, providing an endless supply of fruit in the future while not harming the tree of exploitation and cruelty at all.

So, the millions of dollars that get poured into the animal movement go to picking easy, financially lucrative “fruit” off of the animal exploitation tree instead of working to chop the tree down. Later in this essay, I will talk about chopping the tree down, but right now, I’d like to discuss two more problems with SICs and “supply-side activism”.

Global Free-Trade

We live in a world where globalization in free trade is here and on the increase. Given the economic benefits of global free trade, it is highly unlike that this trend will slow or reverse. The implications of such free international commerce is that if we make an industry practice illegal in one city, state, or nation, the animal exploiters will merely set up shop in a less restrictive state or nation and export the goods to where the demand is located. Since demand has more influence over supply than supply has over demand (e.g. the customer is always right), it has never really been cost effective to focus on restricting suppliers in the first place, except perhaps to sue them for false advertising. In a global economy, where a supplier can easily set up in a less restrictive state or nation, it has become downright absurd to focus societal change on suppliers.

But as absurd as it is to focus on suppliers in a global economy, that is exactly what SICs, especially welfare-oriented SICs and SICs focusing on exportable commodities, do. If we eliminate horse slaughter in the United States, exploiters will simply ship the horses to Mexico and slaughter them there. If we eliminate battery cages in the United States or Austria, suppliers will simply move battery cages to Mexico or another, more lenient European country, respectively, and ship the eggs back to the more restrictive countries.

So, SICs focusing on reforming or eliminating the production of exportable commodities (e.g. SICs on battery cages, gestation crates, and controlled atmosphere killing) without changing the demand for those commodities may enrich welfare organizations because donors have been duped into giving money for such campaigns, but these SICs are doomed to failure in changing society’s attitudes and behavior if demand is not addressed. We need to focus the animal movement’s resources on changing demand.

SICs Cultivate Speciesism

The third problem with SICs is that, if they don’t also call for an end to ALL animal exploitation and abuse, they cultivate speciesism. SICs do this by implying, via the silence regarding other forms of exploitation, that forms of exploitation other than the one on which the SIC is focused are either not as important or unimportant. SICs can avoid this problem by putting it front and center that ALL animal exploitation is wrong and ought to be abolished, but they almost never even mention other forms, much less make them front and center of the campaign.

So, to the extent we focus on the evils of purchasing fur, but ignore the evils of purchasing leather or buying eggs, we imply that only fur is the problem. When we focus on veal, as the movement did in the 1980s and 1990s, we imply that consuming dairy products is okay, even though the veal industry is little more than a by-product of the dairy industry.

SIC promoters may object that mentioning all other forms of exploitation or even related forms (e.g. the veal dairy connection) may result in public resistance to the campaign. The implication here is that the welfare group won’t get the donations and the public endearment. Well, as long as we insist on pacifying the public instead of educating the public, we will get nowhere. We don’t want to offend the public, because we cannot educate people if they are angry with us, but we must find creative and intelligent ways of getting our message across rather than telling people what they already know and agree with.

The Solution: Attack the Root; Chop Down the Tree

The root, trunk, and at least 97% (in numbers killed) of all animal exploitation is in animal agriculture and is directly caused by the fact that so few people are vegans. The remaining 3% of animal exploitation is in experimentation, hunting, rodeos, zoos, circuses, and fur; the elimination of which is equally rooted in widespread veganism. So, what does the “animal protection movement” do? The opposite of what makes sense. Instead of focusing 97% of its efforts on vegan education, which would address 100% of exploitation, the “animal protection movement” focuses 97% of its efforts, via SICs, on welfare reform and trying to reduce or eliminate the 3% periphery. The remaining 3% of the “animal protection movement’s” efforts (in time and money) are given to lip service about going vegan.

We need to turn this around if animals are to stop existing in a perpetual, indefinite hell. We need to focus at least 97% (preferably 100%) of our efforts on vegan education. Being a vegan is not difficult. The food is delicious and optimally nutritious; and we certainly don’t need leather or wool for clothing; nor do we need zoos, or circuses, animal experimentation, or any other uses of animals.

More importantly than how easy it is to go vegan, however, the animals we slaughter for our gustatory, clothing, entertainment, and other preferences are just like us. They experience the same pleasures, pains, and desires for comfort and security that we do. The only known difference is that they don’t use spoken or written language or symbols in thought and communication (which is NOT to say they don’t effectively communicate in non-verbal ways) and this difference of spoken or written communication is completely irrelevant to the moral question of our use of them.

Given our experiential similarities and kinship with animals, what we do to them and the scale on which we do it (53 billion annually, worldwide) is an atrocity worse than any atrocity humans have ever engaged in the history of our species. We need to wake up out of this moral coma as individuals and as a society.

The essence of waking up out of our moral coma is going vegan and engaging in vegan education. Vegan education entails everything from large-scale programs sponsored and paid for by our largest groups to talking to the people in our lives as individuals. We need to put an end to the moral relativism and timidity on every level of our advocacy without being offensive or annoying in doing so. We need to promote veganism without the kind of embarrassing publicity stunts for which PETA is well-known. When the topic of vegan living comes up, we must be honest and unequivocal in our contributions to the topic, which is to say that we view slaughtering innocent animals as morally wrong as slaughtering innocent humans. If people are offended by the comparison of humans and animals, it is because they are the victims of acculturation in a grossly speciesist society and accept anthropocentrism as unquestioned dogma. We need to challenge the dogma. We need to have people carefully question and think about how sentient nonhuman beings are similar to human beings, what the differences are, and which is morally relevant, the similarities or differences. If we take an impartial, unbiased view, it is blatantly obvious that the similarities are morally relevant and the differences are utterly irrelevant.

For more information on vegan education, this blog essay is a good starting point.

Note: This essay was edited on December 21, 2011 to clarify in the last section that the term “vegan” meant the elimination of all animal products from one’s life as much as is practically possible, including the elimination of animal products in clothing, entertainment, personal care products, and other possible uses of animal products.

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