Category Archives: animal welfare

Animal Cruelty: Who is to Blame?

I wrote this article with Angel Flinn, who is Director of Outreach for Gentle World — a vegan intentional community and non-profit organization whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition.
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For many of us who are aware of the multitude of ways that animals suffer at the hands of humans around the world, this ubiquitous cruelty is the most pressing social justice issue of them all. From declawing to debeaking, ear clipping to tail docking, the suffering that human beings inflict on animals being used for food, clothing, research, ‘pets’ and entertainment appears to know no bounds, and the many brutal ways in which we force animals to succumb to our desires appear to be limited only by the scope of our imaginations.

But why does all this cruelty take place? And what can we do about this horrifying brutality as individuals? It’s easy to point the finger at the direct perpetrators of animal cruelty as being villains who need to be brought to justice. It’s much harder – and yet much more significant – to turn that critical eye inward and ask oneself, ‘What am I doing to contribute to this?’ But it is only by asking that question that the path toward emancipation from barbaric injustice becomes clear.

The vast majority of the time, money and effort of animal welfare organizations goes toward trying to develop new laws and regulations to address the many separate issues relating to animal cruelty, while at the same time trying to force the industry to adhere to those currently in place.  As explained in Are Anti-Cruelty Campaigns Really Effective?, these efforts consistently fail to create any significant improvement for animals.

Behind these campaigns lies a hidden assumption that the animal industry is responsible for animal cruelty. But is this assumption warranted? Isn’t industry simply a middle agent put in place to do the dirty deeds requested by consumers of animal products? Although it’s true that the animal industry is an eager and aggressive middle agent, its role is only that of middle agent. As such, while institutionalized exploiters certainly have a lot to answer for, it is consumers who are primarily responsible for animal cruelty through their purchases of animal products.

Many people will likely respond that their concern is not with the rights of animals not to be enslaved and killed, but with the excessive brutality in the animal industry; gratuitous violence for instance, and the cruelty that is inflicted on animals along the way to being slaughtered and butchered – debeaking,  dehorning, detoeing, mulesing, castration, tail docking, etc. But as long as our society continues to treat animals as property and economic commodities, our legal system will continue to accept such mutilations as a necessary evil on the way to providing goods and services to a human population largely indifferent to what is hidden behind remote sheds and slaughterhouses.

In any case, even if we did find some way to eliminate every single practice involving physical mutilation, it’s impossible to make slavery and murder anything other than slavery and murder. We can slap fancy labels on the products of animal misery and market them as ‘humanely-raised’, ‘animal compassionate’, ‘ethically-produced’ or ‘guilt-free’, but needless killing is needless killing, and no amount of regulation can change that.

It is understandable that individual stories of horrific suffering make people want to seek out the perpetrators, bring them to justice, and protect potential victims from experiencing the same treatment. But pointing the finger at institutional exploiters ignores the most significant issue – that no matter what the suppliers do along the way, consumption of animal products ultimately requires taking animals’ lives.

How can we expect morally decent behavior from the people we ask to carry out the task of breeding, confining and ultimately killing and butchering the animals we choose to enslave and eat? These are innocent beings who most people would rather caress and embrace than hurt and kill.

There is something very unjust about the fact that we delegate the most obscene work of our society to a select few who are emotionally hardened enough to carry it out, only to later denigrate them for their disconnection from their natural sense of empathy. When thinking about it honestly, most of us would be hard-pressed to find it in ourselves to slaughter an animal – or to rip off her skin, or slice open her body to remove the entrails, or butcher her flesh into supermarket-sized pieces… And yet, we continue to ask others to do it for us, while most people refuse to even watch these things on video or hear others describe them.

But our distaste toward being involved in such violent acts isn’t something that should be squelched and suppressed, as Michael Pollan or Julie Powell would have us believe. No – we should be grateful for the revulsion we feel when we imagine what happens to animals in between being born and being on our plates. Our horror is a sane reaction to practices that are nothing short of horrifying.

We cannot separate ourselves from depravity simply because we have found a way to tuck the dirty deeds out of sight – behind the walls of slaughterhouses and other obscure buildings. And all the disconnection and indifference in the world cannot change the fact that it is impossible to distinguish the immorality of a Pollan-style DIY approach from the immorality of any other act of unnecessary violence.

In any court of law, those who are complicit in a crime are considered to be responsible along with those who carry it out.

As expressed so eloquently by Ralph Waldo Emerson,
“You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”

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Making a Killing with Animal Welfare Reform

I wrote this article with Angel Flinn, who is Director of Outreach for Gentle World — a vegan intentional community and non-profit organization whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition.

This article was originally published August 8, 2011 on Care2.
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“When it comes to animal care policies and processes, count on us to lead the way. In fact, we’re recognized by the world’s foremost experts in animal well-being as setting the standard for America’s pork industry – and we’re applying those same best practices to our global operations.”

~ Smithfield Foods: “Raising the Bar in Animal Care” (Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest pork producer and processor, and kills almost 30 million pigs every year)

During the past 200 years, animal exploitation – from backyard breeders to “factory farms” to circuses – has been steeped in the animal welfare paradigm. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to find any large corporation using animals or selling animal products that does not boast of either their own high standards of animal welfare, or the high expectations they have of their suppliers. In short, the animal industry actually promotes animal welfare, and that is largely because the animal welfare model overwhelmingly benefits industry – not only by providing guidelines which help producers to adopt a more effective business model, but also by assuring consumers that it is possible to breed, raise, exploit, and slaughter animals in an ethical way.

But what are considered “high standards” in animal welfare? High standards generally allow for any well-established industry practice that helps producers to exploit animals in an economically optimal manner, no matter how cruel, harmful, or painful. That is, any cruelty that promotes economically efficient use is acceptable (such as branding, castration, forced insemination, dehorning, detoeing, debeaking, mulesing, tail docking, teeth clipping, forced molting, and more); but cruelty above and beyond that which promotes economically efficient exploitation is considered to be a violation of industry’s “high” welfare standards. In other words, kicking and beating your animals because you enjoy doing so is not okay. Dehorning and castrating your animals without anesthetic because it makes them easier to manage is okay. This definition of “high standards” in animal welfare explains why industry can legitimately make such ludicrous claims in the face of cruelty so severe that most of us refuse to even look at it.

When prominent animal welfare organizations like PETA and HSUS propose animal welfare reforms, such as a move toward “controlled atmosphere killing” or the elimination of cages and gestation crates, their campaigns involve appealing to industry to recognize the long-term economic benefits of investing the capital necessary to make such changes. Such economic benefits include healthier animals who are less stressed, fewer worker injuries, less carcass damage, and greater consumer confidence that animals are treated “humanely.” And sure enough, such economic benefits obviously carry weight, as we can see by the fact that large factory farms like those owned by Smithfield Foods are “leading the way” in phasing out gestation crates over several years in all sow “farms” owned by the company. Think they’re doing this out of concern for the pigs? Think again.

From msnbc.com:

“Smithfield is making the change because customers ‘have told us they feel group housing is a more animal-friendly form of sow housing,’ … Smithfield is still determining the cost of the changeover but does not expect it to dramatically affect prices for its pork products because the expense will be spread out over 10 years and will be offset by production efficiencies,’ Dennis Treacy – vice president for environmental and corporate affairs said… He stressed that the decision to change was based on what makes sense for the business.”

This statement confirms that phasing out crates will make it easier for Smithfield Foods to conduct and grow their operations. And what are their operations? Confining and slaughtering animals – by the millions. Not an activity in which you would expect animal activists to be collaborating, right? And yet, rather than using the same time and resources to promote vegan living, animal advocacy organizations spent over $1.6 million and countless volunteer hours on the campaign to convince Smithfield foods to adopt this more economically-efficient business model.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, animal advocacy organizations also work side by side with the animal industry in developing and promoting “humane” labels for animal foods. Not only does this sort of “product development” consulting provide invaluable public relations assistance for these companies, but it also effectively gives these products the “animal people” stamp of approval when they reach the consumer. Although these programs may appear on the surface to offer greater protection for animals, it is painfully clear that they are designed as an (albeit very clever) PR campaign to increase sales, by making consumers feel better about using animal products. These labels, which include Certified Humane Raised & Handled, Humane Choice, Freedom Food and the Whole Foods 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards, could quite reasonably be viewed as the ultimate betrayal from the perspective of the victims.

The partnership between animal welfare groups and industry to promote economically efficient animal exploitation is considered a “win-win-win” not only for both sides of the partnership, but for consumers as well. Consumers are assured that they can be excused for their indulgences in the products of animal misery, due to these so-called “higher standards” of welfare, and welfare groups win by receiving tens of millions of donation dollars annually for acting as the industry “regulators” and the developers of these ridiculous labels.

But the biggest winners, by far, are the animal exploiters themselves, who not only receive consulting advice by “welfare experts” and prominent animal activists, but are also given awards and special endorsement from advocacy groups. The payoff they receive in increased consumer confidence must have them laughing all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, the most basic rights of an increasing number of animals are still being sold out to fulfill the trivial desires of those who insist on consuming and using the products that come from their bodies.

Almost everyone agrees that animals ought not to suffer any more pain or harm than is “necessary”, and that no one should inflict unnecessary pain or suffering on another. But what is considered “necessary” has historically and legally meant whatever is necessary to optimize the economic efficiency of any socially-accepted use of animals. It is still the case – as it always will be as long as animals are property and economic commodities – that animal welfare standards permit any cruelty, no matter how severe, as long as it results in optimizing economic efficiency.

But times and circumstances are changing, and so are attitudes toward the meaning of the word “necessary”. Today, an increasing number of people are becoming aware that almost all of our uses of animals are for nothing more than our pleasure, amusement, or convenience – the habitual consumption of animal-based foods; the custom of wearing animal-based fabrics; the tradition of watching animals participate in trivial (and very harmful) activities such as racing or performing. None of these uses can be considered necessary according to any coherent definition of the word necessary.

As more people become aware of how beneficial the dietary aspects of veganism are for our health and the environment, and recognize that being vegan is simply a matter of basic justice, veganism will be recognized more and more widely as nothing less than an ethical imperative and a moral baseline. Certainly, there will always be those who refuse to acknowledge the fact that our uses of animals require the violation of the most basic of rights, regardless of the scale on which these practices are carried out. But the abolition of animal slavery is nothing less than the most important social justice issue of our time. When this fact becomes widely recognized… whose side will you be on?

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On Cruelty Videos

At least a few times every year, an animal welfare organization sponsors an undercover investigation and generates a “cruelty video” showing the torture that various innocent nonhumans endure in slaughterhouses, feeding operations, laboratories, rodeos, zoos, circuses, or various other locations of animal use. I covered a classic case of an undercover investigation and the resulting video in a blog post entitled, PETA’s Undercover Investigations: Another Example of the Welfarist Business Cycle.As I noted in the blog post on PETA’s investigation, undercover investigations (and the related cruelty videos) don’t seem problematic from an animal rights point of view. After all, human rights organizations routinely investigate, report, and promote videos depicting severe human suffering to bring the public’s attention to a problem and garner political support to end such abuses. However, when human rights organizations depict cruelty toward humans, they are sending an unequivocal message that the rights violations – slavery, exploitation, and killing – are wrong and should end. In contrast, animal welfare organizations (PETA, HSUS, et al) object only to how the slavery, exploitation, and killing are carried out. They do not object to the unnecessary slavery, exploitation, and killing, per se. The animal welfare organization’s call to action is for the viewer to send a donation to the organization and usually a letter to an industry executive or governmental official either to enforce existing regulations or to adopt new regulations or methods.

In contrast to an animal welfare organization (e.g. PETA, HSUS, Mercy for Animals, et al), an animal rights organization might show the video; but if it did, the message would be first, that all institutions of animal use are unnecessary and harmful, and therefore wrong and should end; second, that the viewer should therefore go vegan as a minimum standard of decency; third, how to go vegan by providing information on vegan recipes and nutrition (perhaps in the form of Internet links to various sources of information); and fourth, perhaps consider a donation to help our work in providing vegan education to the public.

Cruelty videos are considered essential for animal welfare advocacy because it is the treatment, not the unnecessary use, to which welfare organizations take exception. Cruelty videos are nonessential, and possibly even detrimental, for an animal rights organization because it is the unnecessary use alone to which the animal rights organization takes exception. The reason that cruelty videos can be detrimental to an animal rights organization’s mission is that such videos inherently focus on treatment, not use, even though the cruel treatment is an inevitable symptom of the disease of use. By focusing on treatment, such videos do not suggest that use ought to end, but that use ought to be regulated.

Given that cruelty videos focus on treatment instead of use, a question arises as to whether it is ever appropriate for an animal rights organization or advocate to use cruelty videos in vegan education. On one hand, Professor Gary Francione provides good reasons to consistently avoid cruelty videos in vegan education. On the other hand, there have been many people who have become vegans as a result of the emotional impact that such videos can deliver. Some of these vegans have later gone on to become abolitionist vegans after hearing or reading the overwhelmingly strong evidence and cogent arguments supporting the abolitionist approach.

Is the emotional impact of cruelty videos strong and effective enough to justify occasionally showing or linking to them, despite the confusion that may arise by the focus of such videos on treatment rather than use, and other good reasons to avoid them set forth by Professor Francione? The best answer appears to depend on the circumstances.

Since cruelty videos are essential to animal welfare organizations and provide big fundraising opportunities, animal welfare organizations will continue to generate these videos and the big news stories that usually accompany the initial publication of the videos. At times when these videos are in mainstream news, abolitionist vegan advocates should at least have a response to the videos that includes, but goes beyond, the legitimate complaint that they focus on treatment, not use. A more effective response would be that all commercial use is cruel, and that virtually all cruelty and use, illegal and legal, is unnecessary, and therefore gratuitous.

There is no meaningful difference between the legal use and cruelty that is required to process animal commodity units efficiently versus the illegal so-called “gratuitous cruelty” that is not required to process animal commodity units efficiently. As Professor Francione has correctly stated, 99.999% of our uses of nonhumans are for pleasure, amusement, or convenience. None of those uses are necessary in any coherent sense of that word. Therefore, whether the pleasure and/or amusement is that of the non-vegan’s preference for animal products or the slaughterhouse worker’s preference for a diversion from the boredom and frustration of processing sentient commodity units, it is all gratuitous, and the “legal cruelty” is often far more severe than the “illegal cruelty.” The difference between legal and illegal treatment is whether or not the cruelty results in efficient processing. The severity of the cruelty is irrelevant in the eyes of the law, and always will be irrelevant as long as nonhumans are legal property. [1] And as long as people are not vegan, nonhumans will always be legal property.

Aside from responding to such videos by explaining that all use and cruelty is unnecessary and should be abolished, not regulated, abolitionist vegan advocates should be careful about sharing or promoting such videos while they are headline news. If the videos are shown at all by abolitionists while the videos are headline news, the abolitionist message should be front and center: that use must be abolished, not regulated; that people must go vegan to end the torture and unjustified use, not choose animal products with a vacuous feel-good label. These videos are already getting plenty of viewing attention; the problem is that the associated message is predominately for enforcement, more regulation or more efficient methods, not a call for veganism and abolition.

During quieter times when such videos are not in the news, they might be effective for emotional impact. If the video has an explicit regulationist message, such a message may override any benefit derived from emotional impact, despite an advocate providing a contrary abolitionist message, and the video should therefore be avoided. If the video has no explicit welfarist message, and a strong abolitionist message is presented both before and after the video, the video’s treatment focus may be overcome sufficiently to justify the option of its presentation for the purpose of emotional impact.

Finally, cruelty videos are always, at best, optional tools for abolitionist vegan advocates to generate an emotional impact. The abolitionist message does not depend in any way on how animals are treated; only that they are used, and that all of our uses are for unnecessary pleasure, amusement, or entertainment. When in doubt, it is best to avoid such videos.

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Note:
[1] Professor Gary Francione provides overwhelmingly strong evidence in case law and legal theory that anticruelty laws are based solely on maximizing the efficiency of animal exploitation and have nothing to do, in any practical sense whatsoever, with the type or severity of the cruelty or maltreatment. Moreover, since humans have respect-based legal property rights of which the object of that right protection is nonhuman animals (who have no rights), the most trivial of human interests will always trump the most crucial of nonhuman animals’ interests. Our legal system strongly resists punishing rightholders in the least for violating even the most crucial of interests of their property. Consider reading 1) Animals, Property, and the Law; 2) Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement; and 3) Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog, all by distinguished law professor and philosopher Gary L. Francione for detailed analyses and numerous case law studies supporting these claims. (Note: There are links in the side bar to Amazon.com for Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement and Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog.)

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PETA’s Undercover Investigations: Another Example of the Welfarist Business Cycle

During the day or two after I published PETA: A Corporate Tangle of Contradictions, I had a friendly email exchange with a reader who wrote that she was reconsidering her support of PETA as a result of the blog entry, but that there was still a lot she liked about PETA. She mentioned specifically that she liked PETA’s undercover investigations, and that the recent Land-o-Lakes investigation was one that stood out as an example.Removed from the context of PETA’s welfarist philosophy, undercover investigations don’t seem problematic from an animal rights viewpoint. After all, human rights organizations routinely investigate, report, and display human rights violations to bring the public’s attention to the problem and garner political support to end such abuses. As such, it’s understandable why someone who objects to many of PETA’s activities might see undercover investigations as an exception – as an activity in which an animal rights organization would naturally engage.

Placed back into the context of PETA’s welfarism, however, we see that their undercover investigations are more of the same single-issue and welfare campaigns dressed up in a heroic gown. Whereas a human rights organization would unequivocally claim that rights violations – slavery, exploitation, and killing – are wrong and should end, PETA merely wants the target exploiter to observe traditional welfare standards while rights violations continue.

Undercover investigations are just another example of PETA’s role in the industry-welfarist partnership as both strategic advisor on quality control and traditional welfare cop. An analogy in capital markets is the independent auditor reporting on the financial statements of publicly-held corporations. The auditor isn’t looking to end the financial reporting or the client’s business, but to make sure it complies with existing financial reporting standards. Auditing welfare conditions and financial reporting are both lucrative businesses. PETA doesn’t oppose industry’s exploitation per se; they just want industry to exploit and kill according to generally accepted exploiting standards and to receive their compensation from consumer-donors for their work as industry’s quality control auditors.

Using the Land-o-Lakes investigation as an example, we see that PETA’s blog report on the investigation emphasizes how important it is for Land-o-Lakes to “buy milk only from farms that meet our 12-point animal welfare plan, which would prevent much of the suffering we documented at this farm.” PETA’s 12-point animal welfare plan reads like an industry consultant’s quality control recommendations and refers to industry’s own standards and literature (e.g. Elanco Body Scoring Chart for Dairy Cattle and the American Veterinary Medical Association’s AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia). [1]

Does PETA suggest that people go vegan? No. The blog report states “For those of you who can’t stomach the thought of eating butter after watching that video, take a minute to tell Land-o-Lakes to implement our 12-point animal welfare plan. Then check out one of the many vegan butter alternatives that are widely available.”

What should the reader infer from PETA’s blog report on the investigation? I suppose it depends on how well the reader can “stomach the video”. What’s right or wrong for PETA depends on the reader’s visceral feelings about welfare violations in the video, not on any concept of justice or rights. Apparently for PETA, what’s right or wrong is merely a matter of our individual emotions or ability to stomach welfare violations. Further, as long as Land-o-Lakes eventually implements PETA’s welfare plan, we can infer from PETA that we should go back to eating butter at that time. PETA’s concern is not with rights violations (i.e. the enslavement, exploitation, and murder of these innocent beings), but with traditional welfare violations (i.e. treating the cows in ways that are not optimally efficient for exploiting them).

Undercover investigations should function in an animal rights movement the same way they do in a human rights movement: to bring attention to the issue and continue a dialogue about ending rights violations. In other words, undercover investigations should function solely as a catalyst for vegan education. Outside of that particular context, they are worse than useless. In supporting PETA’s attempts at improving quality control over exploitation and killing through undercover investigations, donors ultimately support industry.

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Note:

[1] Some readers may not be aware that animal agribusiness, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Veterinary Medical Association Political Action Committee (AVMAPAC) all strongly support each other politically and economically. The AVMAPAC is in a close partnership with industry’s political and economic interests as brief research on AVMAPAC’s legislative positions make clear.

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PETA: A Corporate Tangle of Contradictions

In the media and the minds of most people, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”) is the corporate embodiment of “animal rights”. In some respects, this common belief in the connection between “animal rights” and PETA is understandable. Browse PETA’s website or literature and you’ll frequently see the terms “animal rights” and “vegan” mentioned favorably, as well as their motto, “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment”. Indeed, PETA wants to be thought of as the largest and best-known “animal rights” organization in the world, and they have the resources, relative to other individuals and organizations involved in animal advocacy (approximately $34 million in annual revenues) to keep that impression strong in public discourse and the media.Despite the “animal rights” public image PETA intentionally promotes, however, their underlying philosophy and activities, by and large, are decidedly welfarist and substantially contradict any coherent notion of animal rights.

PETA’s Self-Contradictory Philosophy of Animal Ethics
PETA is notorious for calling the utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer “the father of the animal rights movement” as well as calling Singer’s book, Animal Liberation, the “bible of animal rights”. Ironically, however, Singer is an act-utilitarian who explicitly rejects rights for anyone, human or nonhuman. In contradiction to PETA’s motto, Singer believes that animals are ours to eat, wear, and experiment on (1, 2, 3). According to Singer, as long as we raise and kill them “humanely”, or as painlessly as reasonably possible, there is nothing wrong with using animals for our purposes. In other words, for Singer, following the 18th century utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham who founded the animal welfare movement 200 years ago, the issue is treatment, not use.

So, according to PETA, we have an “animal rights” philosopher who “fathered” the animal rights movement and wrote its “bible”, but in bold contradiction, would agree with Jeremy Bentham that rights (for anyone, including humans) are “nonsense upon stilts”.

Why does PETA, whose motto claims that animals are not ours, and presents itself as an “animal rights” organization, promote a philosopher who rejects animal rights and strongly believes that it is morally permissible to exploit animals? This is the core contradiction that lays the foundation for most of the other contradictions that we will explore in this essay.

PETA’s Self-Contradictory Activities

Like a serious error made early in a long math problem, PETA’s philosophical self-contradiction carries through to most of the activities in which they engage, rendering those activities confusing and misleading at best, and at worst, antithetical and regressive to animal rights. If our philosophy – our blueprint and foundation for carrying out our activities – is seriously flawed, then no matter how well we execute that philosophy, it will lead us down the wrong trail and end in botched and bungled results. What follows is a list of activities regularly carried on by PETA – welfare campaigns, sexism, embarrassing publicity stunts, a self-interested business model, and worst of all, unjustified killing – that boldly contradict the philosophy of animal rights and its foundations of justice, nonviolence, good judgment, and equal consideration of others based on morally relevant criteria.

PETA’s Welfare Campaigns Contradict Animal Rights

PETA allocates a substantial portion of their money, time, and effort to high-profile campaigns that attempt to reform and regulate the methods and practices of the animal exploitation industry. This helps to reinforce the speciesist paradigm in two significant ways: 1) By adding additional layers of rules and regulations and additional “inspector” jobs, it strengthens the legislative, economic, and bureaucratic system that supports animal slavery; and 2) Through the marketing of these reforms and regulations, people feel better about contributing to the rape, torture, and murder [1] of tens of billions of innocent beings annually, which in turn increases industry’s profits.

These welfare campaigns are consistent with Peter Singer’s speciesist [2] utilitarian philosophy, but contradict any meaningful concept of animal rights. It is useless to talk about what “rights” someone may have if they do not have a basic right not to be intentionally killed or seriously harmed for the preferences of others. For example, consider how we would assess a human rights organization running campaigns for regulations prohibiting certain methods of slavery, rape, torture, and murder, instead of campaigning consistently and unequivocally for the end of these practices. The vast majority of us would oppose such a human “rights” organization that lacks ambition to the point of implicitly condoning such activities, regardless of their superficial mottos and platitudes about “rights”. The only thing stopping us from opposing PETA for the same reasons is our speciesism.

PETA’s Killing Policy Contradicts Animal Rights

Sadly, there are thousands of cases annually in our extremely speciesist society where dogs and cats are found in a condition so painful, deplorable, and irreversible that the only appropriate course of action is euthanasia. If I’m ever in a terminal state of severe pain or coma, I hereby express my immense gratitude in advance to those who will end my life quickly and painlessly. In such cases where life no longer holds inherent value due to the permanent changes in its nature (i.e. terminal severe pain or coma), PETA does and should euthanize animals.

But PETA goes beyond merely euthanizing terminally ill or unadoptable animals. In another contradiction of animal rights, PETA kills healthy, adoptable dogs and cats who are classified as “unwanted”. PETA also opposes no-kill shelters. Of course, both of these policies are consistent with Peter Singer’s welfarist (and speciesist) view that dogs and cats have no interest in continued existence; only an interest in not suffering. But these policies are not consistent with the animal rights view that sentient nonhumans have an important interest both in continued existence and in not suffering. When these two interests strongly oppose each other, we may have a difficult decision to make, but being “unwanted” is not the same as enduring terminal suffering or a permanent coma. When PETA kills a healthy, adoptable dog or cat who they deem “unwanted”, it is a decision based on anthropocentric utilitarian preferences, not animal rights. [3]

Again, the vast majority of us would strongly oppose a human rights organization condoning and even engaging in the mass killing of human refugees; and attempting to justify such actions by pointing to the problem of overpopulation and the potential suffering of the refugees if we don’t kill them. It is speciesism that prohibits people, including many animal advocates, from recognizing the injustice in this act.

PETA’s Sexism Indirectly Reinforces Speciesism

Speciesism, sexism, racism, and heterosexism are all bigotries rooted in the same underlying confusion that ignores morally relevant characteristics, like sentience or interest, in favor of morally irrelevant characteristics, like species or race, in providing equal consideration to others. And yet so many people are strong, passionate advocates trying to eliminate one or more of these prejudices while ironically scoffing at another. It is common to see feminists, LGBT activists, and civil rights advocates ridicule concern over speciesism while blithely ignoring the underlying implications of their dismissal. Many condemn the bigotry of others, but cannot see their own.

The same goes in the other direction for PETA and their sexism. If PETA is exploiting women in fur and flesh campaigns, reinforcing the current societal paradigm which sees women as objects and their bodies as commodities, why should anyone take seriously what such a hypocritical organization has to say about speciesism? Advocates of social justice issues render their own cause trivial when they trivialize the causes of others.

PETA’s Publicity Stunts Trivialize a Grave Injustice

When we look at successful social justice movements of the past – 19th century abolition of slavery, the suffragists, and the civil rights movement – we see that their leaders were people of strong, serious, and noble character. Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks were not the kind of people who would have engaged in silly or embarrassing publicity stunts to grab the attention of the media of their time. When they received attention from the public, it was because of the moral power of their message and words, not because they “got naked” or engaged in shock humor or other stunts that trivialized the injustices they were fighting against.

In contrast, PETA is best-known for its obnoxious and often sexist publicity stunts and gaudy self-promotion, appealing to the lower aspects of human attitudes and behavior. Sadly, PETA cannot even attempt to speak with moral authority because it would so blatantly contradict their attitudes and actions as manifested in “Save the Whales” billboards that make fun of female obesity, banned television advertisements, and sexist campaigns like “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur”.

PETA Is a Business

PETA’s self-contradictions can be traced to two primary factors: 1) their contradictory blend of traditional utilitarian-welfarist philosophy (animal are ours…) with a façade of rights-sounding rhetoric (“animals are not ours..”) and 2) that PETA is, among other things, a corporation existing as a legal person, but with none of the potential conscience of a human moral agent.

PETA’s business cycle starts with single-issue and welfare campaigns against targets selected as low hanging fruit – practices that industry would not mind changing even if only for public relations reasons, but often for profitability reasons as well. PETA then sends out the urgent call to donors: “HELP! Donate as much as you can or we might not win this victory!” Donors – most of whom are not vegan, and are therefore contributing to the very problems to which they donate money to “resolve” – respond by opening their checkbooks and filling PETA’s coffers. After several weeks or months of campaigning, the target exploiter “gives in” to PETA’s campaign. PETA immediately declares “VICTORY!” to their donors and, usually as part of the deal with the target exploiter, PETA promotes the exploiter in a public relations campaign, as they did for KFC Canada.

The result of the business cycle is that PETA wins donations and reinforces their reputation as the “watchdog” over industry, enabling them to perpetuate the cycle indefinitely. Non-vegan donors win a “victory” and a false sense that they are doing something to offset their own personal contribution to the hell that their innocent victims endure. The animal exploiters win by increased misguided public confidence that these products are “humane” and by obtaining the public relations support of a (so-called) animal “rights” organization. The losers, of course, are the innocent beings who are exploited and killed for the trivial pleasures of those who see them as commodities.

Further, since there are so many ways in which we exploit and inflict cruelty on sentient nonhumans, and since industry is so resilient to the temporary and superficial changes brought about by the so-called “victories”, the opportunities for the welfare-campaign-donation business cycle can easily last indefinitely, or for as long as industry itself lasts.

PETA’s Opportunity Cost

PETA’s contradictions in philosophy, rhetoric, and activities – which have led to profound public confusion and fortification of the utilitarian-welfarist status quo that has been in existence since Jeremy Bentham – have been a barrier to progress in advancing animal rights, and will continue to be a barrier as long as they continue as an animal welfare organization.

However, PETA as a barrier to animal rights is only one part of the cost to any viable abolition movement. The other part is the opportunity cost incurred by PETA. We should ask not only how PETA could remove itself as a barrier, but how much more PETA could do by being consistent with animal rights philosophy in their public education. What if PETA dropped the garbage – the single-issue campaigns, the welfare campaigns, the sexism – and engaged solely in creative, nonviolent vegan education? When we add the opportunity cost to the barrier cost, the total cost to progress in animal rights is enormous and tragic.

Vegans Against PETA

Is it any wonder why vegans who are serious about animal rights and the eventual decline, fall, and abolition of industrial animal exploitation and killing are against PETA? In Abolition versus Welfarism: A Contrast in Theory and Practice, I explained industry’s strengths and weaknesses and explained how welfarism caters to industry’s strengths, while the abolitionist approach attacks industry’s weaknesses. PETA’s welfarism, sexism, and trivializing publicity stunts all play to industry’s strengths. Only a strong and consistent message that we are not morally justified in exploiting sentient nonhumans and that veganism is a minimum standard of decency will shift the paradigm and result in the eventual abolition of industrial exploitation and cruelty. Large, corporate organizations like PETA are the last groups we need to make this progress. Only a strong, grassroots, abolitionist animal rights movement will succeed.

Further Reading

The topic of new welfarism in general and PETA in particular is too broad to tackle with adequate depth in a blog essay. As such, I highly recommend reading Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement by Professor Gary Francione for a far more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the problems with new welfarism and PETA. In addition, the links above offer additional information and perspective on the topic of new welfarism generally.

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Notes:

[1] By “murder”, I mean unnecessary, intentional killing. At least 99% of the intentional killing of animals in our society is unnecessary, in any meaningful sense of that word, and qualifies as murder if any act does.

[2] Although Peter Singer talks a lot about avoiding speciesism (and implicitly denies that he is a speciesist), his assumption that sentient nonhumans have no interest in their continued existence is itself plainly speciesist. We do not need on-going “projects” in our life, as Singer believes we must, to have a strong and important interest in continued existence. All sentient beings struggle for existence, and it doesn’t take an expert in ethology to confirm it. This struggle for existence makes the interest in continued existence obvious. To deny it in nonhumans, or to define “an interest in continued existence” to the exclusion of this struggle, is speciesism.

[3] An in-depth analysis of the dog and cat population and guardian management issue is beyond the scope of this essay, so I’ll only say that the underlying disease is the institution of “pet” ownership and its resultant breeding and lack of spaying and neutering that is responsible for the myriad of problems leading to enormous suffering and intentional killing of millions of dogs and cats annually. If PETA ever decides to take a rights-based approach to this issue, they’ll assist no-kill shelters; increase their contributions to TNR programs; and educate the general public about why the institution of “pet” ownership is immoral. All breeding is irresponsible; and spaying and neutering is essential for all existing dogs and cats.

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Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

The latest book buzz on the Internet, particularly among both traditional and new welfarists, is Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Indeed, many vegans(?) who condone others’ animal exploitation by condoning welfarism are either eager to read it as soon as possible or are raving about it.

As for those of us who have read a couple of reviews of Eating Animals (1 , 2) and completely reject others’ animal exploitation by rejecting welfarism, we see it as just more of the same old incoherent nonsense (albeit, allegedly “beautifully written and well-researched” nonsense) that serves as society’s moral paradigm regarding attitudes, beliefs, and behavior toward sentient nonhumans and is continually promoted by welfarist organizations like HSUS and PETA.

This speciesist paradigm I’m referring to suggests, if not states explicitly, that we should treat some species (like dogs and cats) better than other species (like pigs and chickens); that humans are somehow “special” (superior to all other species in a way that ‘justifies’ breeding-and-killing them, ‘nicely’); and that animals are ‘things’ and commodities for us to exploit and intentionally kill, as long as we do it ‘nicely’.

Sound familiar?

It sure sounds familiar to me, which is why you won’t catch me wasting any more of my time on Eating Animals beyond typing this blog update. It’s no wonder the book is a big hit among the “happy meat” crowd. Perhaps if or when Foer comes around to reject the hip and popular welfarism of the day instead of promoting it, I’ll be interested in reading what he has to say. Until then, if I want to read welfarist drivel, I’ll visit the websites of PETA and HSUS.

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Filed under animal welfare, new welfarism

The Classical Circular Farce of Welfarism

The (vast?) majority of donors to PETA, HSUS, and similar groups are not vegans. They are the same people who literally create the problems that these big welfarist groups feebly attempt to ameliorate.

So, the donors create the problem through the extreme speciesism of consuming animal products, which leads to the breeding, confining, torturing, and intentional killing of the innocent. Then the donors send their money – tens of millions of dollars of it annually – to PETA and HSUS to attempt the absurdly impossible: regulate a perpetual holocaust of billions of victims annually. These big groups are beholden to the very donors who are creating the problem that needs to be fixed.

It is a classic circular farce and would be a knee-slapping hilarious example of human stupidity if it were not so tragic.

We cannot regulate the holocaust. We need to stop it by going vegan and encouraging others to do the same.

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Filed under animal welfare, circular farce, new welfarism, vegan education