Tag Archives: animal rights

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.

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.”


Comments Off on Animal Cruelty: Who is to Blame?

Filed under animal rights, animal welfare, care2

Present Realities and the Moral Status of Animals

Blind Tradition: The Historical Moral Status of So-Called “Brutes”

From pre-history until the 20th century, it was believed by almost everyone that humans needed to use and eat animals to thrive and even to survive. This was especially true prior to the 19th century; and philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries, such as Rene Descartes, John Locke, and Immanuel Kant had grossly distorted visions of the nature of nonhuman animals which fit well with the idea that God “put” animals in our world for our use, and that we had no moral obligations to animals whatsoever. Descartes viewed animals as insentient automata or “God’s machines”. For Descartes, one of the founders of modern vivisection, the intense squeals of dogs being beaten or tortured were merely the sounds of a broken machine, not cries of extreme pain. John Locke viewed animals as natural resources, like land and trees, which we may acquire as property and have “natural rights” to that property. For Immanuel Kant, animals were literally “things”: “…Beings whose existence depends…on nature have, nevertheless, if they are not rational beings, only a relative value as means and are therefore called things.” (Kant, 1785) The old, traditional distorted view of animals is still in our language today as most of us refer to an animal as “it” even when we know the sex of an individual animal and therefore his or her proper gender.

Given the prevailing view and circumstances of the 17th and 18th centuries that animals needed to be raised, used, and killed for basic human needs, is not surprising that thoughtful philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Kant sought to avoid thinking and writing seriously about the similarities between humans and nonhumans and how those similarities might have serious moral implications. Instead, to protect the perceived need of animal use, they emphasized a morally irrelevant difference between nonhumans and most, but certainly not all humans: rationality. Another, more intellectually honest approach would have been for these thinkers to admit that there were morally relevant similarities, and that these imposed a direct duty to animals to reduce suffering as much as possible, but that ultimately, moral consideration would have to yield to the perceived survival needs of humans. But we have to remember that these were times when women did not count as full persons, and humans owned other humans as chattel property and were often as cruel to human slaves as to nonhuman slaves. We can see how even careful thinkers as Locke and Kant may have been lost in the fog of their culture’s deeply-held prejudices.

“Food” Animals and Human Brutes

The torture endured by farmed animals from birth to slaughter in our industrialized and mechanized processing systems is unimaginably horrible, and there is no significant difference between free-range, cage-free, and “certified humane” versus the traditional industrial methods, despite the misleading claims of large welfare organizations (incorrectly referred to by the media and themselves as “animal rights” organizations). If you are born a chicken in the most “humane” environment, the best thing that might happen to you is that you are gassed or tossed alive into a wood-chipper as a baby chick, so you don’t have to experience a life of hell as a cage-free or “certified humane” egg chicken (a “layer”) or flesh chicken (a “broiler”). Make no mistake; both the old methods and the new, so-called “humane” methods rely on intensive confinement with filthy conditions, diseases, no individual attention, and no veterinary care to speak of. One thing is obvious: It is literally impossible to raise and slaughter hundreds of thousands, millions, or billions of nonhumans without industrial methods. What is less obvious, but nevertheless true, is that “humane” labels are little more than a marketing ploy to ease the growing public sensitivity to the (unavoidable) reality of animal agriculture’s cruelty. Further, transportation and slaughter itself is extremely cruel, with slaughterhouse workers intentionally torturing animals, especially chickens, and animals often inadvertently being boiled or ripped apart alive (such cruelty is common knowledge among welfare advocates and has been documented in the Washington Post [‘They die piece by piece’] and in various films and documentaries of slaughterhouse conditions). When we do these things to a dog or cat, we are charged with a felony; when we do these while marketing unnecessary food preferences, we get paid a wage for it. Even if it were possible (and it’s not possible) to heavily police transportation and slaughter so that the cruelty was significantly reduced, it is still wrong to treat sentient beings with a crucial interest in their life and its quality as a means to an end. We need not wonder who the brutes are; a mirror will tell us.

Animal agriculture, on its modern scale of production, is an environmental disaster, with “cattle” and hog waste polluting groundwater, rivers, and streams and killing millions of fish throughout the country; and flatulence contributing significant quantities of carbon and other pollutants into the air. “Food” animals, particularly “cattle” and pigs, are reverse protein factories, consuming up to 10 times more protein in their short lives than they provide after they are slaughtered for food. A vast majority of the land used for growing plant food is to feed animals who will use up to 90% of that protein in their daily living, returning relatively very little after slaughter. The only way to achieve more pollution and greater inefficiency in food production is to breed and raise more nonhumans for food.

The Solution to Animal Agriculture

Now, early in the 21st century, more and more mainstream dieticians and health professionals are telling us that balanced vegan diets are optimal for our health. (For information about vegan nutrition, see the link on this blog.) There are now vegan alternatives to most animal-based ingredients and expanded vegan options, making gourmet vegan entrees and desserts as delightful to the palate as non-vegan versions ever were, and much healthier too (see the vegan menus links in this blog). Dieticians are also telling us that traditional animal-based diets, especially in the quantities we consume them, are literally killing us with heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, strokes, and cancer. For clothing, there are now synthetic materials, such as nylon, synthetic fleece, faux “leather”, faux “suede”, and faux “fur”, which easily replace, and are better than, the animal alternatives. The solution is to go vegan.

Animal Experimentation: Archaic, Brutal, and Dangerous

The things we do to sentient nonhumans in labs, 90% of the time for trivial reasons and never for crucial reasons, are beyond savage. Again, if we are unspeakably cruel to a dog or cat in the street, we get hit with felony cruelty charges (as we should); if we do the same thing in a lab under a thin veneer of respectability backed up by the law (laws heavily influenced politically by the vivisection industry), however, we get paid a wage.

Fortunately, there is a growing body of well-researched literature showing that modern alternatives to animal testing and training on animals, such as computer modeling and simulation, human tissue research, clinical observation and research, epidemiology, pathology, genetics, prevention, autopsies, and post-marketing drug surveillance are making animal testing archaic, obsolete, and even dangerous to humans. Indeed, it is blind tradition, powerful business interests, and wealthy lobbying which supports a vast majority of current animal research. Jean Swingle Greek, DMV, and C.Ray Greek, MD, have contributed volumes of valuable research, ranging from non-technical research appealing to the lay reader to highly technical research appealing to scientists and health professionals on the lack of need for animal use in modern medicine. The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine is also playing a valuable role in educating scientists and health professionals about responsible alternatives to animal testing.

Moral Reflection and Conclusions: The Personhood of Animals

We are clearly no longer in need of any animal use which would preserve the meaning of the word “need”, and in fact, if there is a need, it is a need to avoid animal use for our health and environmental sustainability. This has profound implications for our behavior toward nonhumans. Nonhumans have always had morally crucial and important interests in not being intentionally harmed or killed. The psychological and emotional interests of sentient nonhumans are too similar to and overlapping with our own to continue to ignore those interests, especially at a time when ignoring those interests is so unnecessary and destructive in so many ways. Rationality is a nice tool to use for good or evil, but it has no moral relevance when it comes to crucial basic interests such as the avoidance of serious physical or psychological harm or death. It is arbitrary to look to rationality as defining moral or legal personhood. Also, to do so is to necessarily exclude many humans from personhood, such as infants, the senile, and the mentally disabled or mentally ill. Sentience, the ability to have experiences (including pleasure and pain), is certainly sufficient for moral and legal personhood, and any being who has sentience to the high degree that cows, pigs, chickens, geese, deer, goats, sheep, elk, marine mammals, and many fish do, clearly has crucial interests and profound corresponding moral claims on our behavior. There may well be other criteria which would also suffice for personhood, such as the likely future acquisition of sentience. Such a criterion as a high probability for future sentience would be appropriate for considering the moral and legal personhood of comatose normal human adults and fetuses. Criteria other than sentience for moral and legal personhood, however, are beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say that sentience itself is sufficient.

It has been clear empirically, even from the 18th century, that there is no non-arbitrary way to distinguish morally relevant characteristics of humans from nonhumans. In other words, there is no morally relevant characteristic which all humans and only humans have which would give humans special moral consideration. As such, attempts to distinguish between humans and nonhumans on species membership alone, without some morally relevant characteristic that all and only humans have, is plainly arbitrary, and therefore, is plainly speciesist. Such speciesism is every bit as morally unacceptable as racism and sexism. There may have been a weak excuse for such speciesism back in Locke and Kant’s day, considering the perceived need to use animals and the cultural racism and sexism of the time (all of which itself was wrong, even then), but with the knowledge and alternatives available today, there are no more excuses, not even half-baked excuses. A speciesist is a racist is a sexist: it is all the same moral wrong. If we do not consider ourselves racist or sexist, and if we are to avoid hypocrisy and maintain consistency, we must eliminate our speciesism by going vegan.

Comments Off on Present Realities and the Moral Status of Animals

Filed under animal rights, moral philosophy, present realities, Veganism

The Importance of Being Vegan

I wrote this article with Angel Flinn, who is Director of Outreach for Gentle World – a non-profit educational 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 the transition.
This article was originally published July 8, 2011 on Care2.


“If a man earnestly seeks a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from animal food.”
– Leo Tolstoy

Intellectually, most of us agree that inflicting unnecessary harm is unjustified – whether the victims are human or not. Yet somehow, most of the same people who subscribe to this belief are willing to turn a blind eye to such harm when they themselves receive some kind of advantage from it – whether the benefits are in the form of food, possessions, vanity, or amusement.

Sadly, because widespread violence against animals in the form of ‘agriculture’, ‘research’ and even ‘entertainment’, is sanctioned by mainstream society and its legal systems, the majority of people tend to be unwilling to see this brutality for what it is, and to step outside of the pervasive conditioning that makes such atrocities possible.

It’s true that more and more people are beginning to speak out about the many abhorrent abuses that occur within the animal industry, and the movement to ‘improve conditions’ for these animals continues to gain popularity. And yet, each one of the awful practices that animal advocates protest passionately against – intensive confinement, enforced insemination, separation of mother and child, castration, de-horning, tail docking, de-beaking, mulesing, de-toeing, live scalding, force molting – all of these horrific procedures, and many more, exist because an ever-growing number of human consumers continue to create demand for animal products. To an industry that views sentient beings as economic units – money-making machines – it is unavoidable that such violence will be viewed as an acceptable means to the end of delivering products that turn a profit.

In any case, even if every one of the aforementioned practices were abolished, it would still be immoral and inexcusable to use other sentient beings as resources. In today’s world, vegan alternatives are available for every single significant purpose for which we currently use animals*. Increasing numbers of people are embracing veganism as the solution to the problems we experience as individuals and as a society – from our many health crises, to our environmental emergency, to the issue of escalating violence – all of which have us living in some degree of fear for the future.

*NB: Although animal products are used in certain items for which there currently are no consumer alternatives – such as computers and car tires – there are alternatives that could easily be used in their manufacturing.

As this movement for animal emancipation grows in size and strength, a powerful example is being set by the individuals who refuse to take any part in the brutal oppression of innocents that we call ‘the animal industry’. Men and women all over the globe –simply by living as vegans – are demonstrating that there is no moral justification for the harm we inflict on animals.

Some people might attempt to justify consumption of animal products for reasons of health. And yet, an increasing number of medical professionals are beginning to realize that not only are plant-based diets nutritionally complete, but they are actually more nourishing and far less toxic than their animal-based counterparts. In addition, the public is beginning to realize that many of the major dangers associated with diet – heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and many, many more – are exacerbated by the consumption of animal products, and can actually be avoided by adopting a vegan diet.

According to the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, the American Dietetic Association (“the ADA”):

“…Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases… Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

In other words, the official position of the – very mainstream – ADA is that including animal products in one’s diet is not only unnecessary, but can actually be harmful to our health.

What about our other uses of animals? Leather, wool, silk, down, fur, toiletries, cosmetics, entertainment, sport, the vast majority of our experimentation – all of these are also clearly unnecessary under any coherent concept of the word “necessary”, as there are vegan alternatives available for them all.

Veganism is not a fringe philosophy – it is a moral baseline that is consistent with beliefs that most of us already hold. Veganism is a simple matter of refraining from participating in unnecessary and harmful use of sentient beings. As most people are naturally opposed to unnecessary violence, becoming and staying vegan is not a matter of changing any of our basic moral beliefs. It simply requires us to be willing to change the habits we have developed that prevent us from living according to our principles.

Every one of us has been conditioned by the propaganda of a highly speciesist society – a worldwide culture that is extremely prejudiced against the interests of those animals who did not have the good fortune to be born onto this planet in human form. And yet, every one of us has the power to break free from this indoctrination. Becoming vegan is simply recognizing and admitting who we really are – it is the opportunity to become who we would be if no one had ever taught us that it’s okay to turn our backs on the needs and rights of our fellow animals, that it’s okay to ignore their pain if it leads to our pleasure.

Is veganism a sacrifice? Not at all. On the contrary, it is every non-vegan choice that sacrifices our own inherent goodness. Once you make the decision to live consistently with your values, the rewards – in the form of a healthier body, clearer mind, and more peaceful conscience – will be both profoundly apparent and a source of continuing joy.

But even if veganism does require us to give up some of our favorite foods, beloved items of clothing, and cherished habits, does that question really matter? The institution of slavery and the treatment of sentient beings as ‘things’ – whether human or nonhuman – are inherently and gravely unjust.  The changes that veganism requires of us, and the rewards that veganism brings, are irrelevant to the true moral question:

Is the taste of a particular food, or the way you feel in your favorite pair of shoes or your winter coat, more important than the life and freedom of another living, feeling being?

Comments Off on The Importance of Being Vegan

Filed under animal rights, care2, Veganism

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.

[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.)

Comments Off on On Cruelty Videos

Filed under animal rights, animal welfare, cruelty videos, Veganism

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.


[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.

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

Filed under animal rights, animal welfare, PETA

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.


[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.

Comments Off on PETA: A Corporate Tangle of Contradictions

Filed under animal rights, animal welfare, new welfarism, PETA

Cultural Prejudice, Sentience, Rationality, and Basic Rights

In the essay Sentience: The Morally Relevant Characteristic Justifying Basic Rights, I explained the moral relevance of sentience in justifying a basic right to physical security; that is, a basic right not to be tortured, killed, or caused serious physical or psychological harm. While I believe I was sufficiently clear in articulating the relevance of sentience, the essay was somewhat abstract and theoretical and most of us remember points better if a concrete example is provided. This essay will provide a concrete example of why sentience, rather than rationality or any other criterion, is the morally relevant criterion for the right not to be exploited, tortured, or intentionally killed.
An Example of Two Children [1]

Suppose we have two equally sentient 10 year-old children, Child A and Child B. Child A is a math prodigy and is already starting on university-level mathematics and advanced formal logic. She is the epitome of rationality. Child B, by contrast, has trouble with the most basic arithmetic, cannot read despite his efforts and the efforts of his parents and teachers. He also has emotional problems. He may have a slight degree of rationality, but it is negligible.The two children are out walking together in their neighborhood and are abducted by a dangerous psychopath. The psychopath takes them to a remote cabin and proceeds to torture and kill them, thus violating their basic moral right to physical security.Basic Rights Based on RationalityAccording to the theory that rationality is the relevant criterion for basic rights, it is Child A who has a much greater interest in not being tortured and killed because Child A is highly rational. Under this way of thinking, it doesn’t matter very much if Child B is tortured and killed, because although he is equally sentient and his life is important to him, he is not very rational. So under the “rationality justification”, we ought to be morally-at-ease with the psychopath torturing and killing quasi-rational Child B, or at least it would not be nearly as morally wrong as torturing the highly rational Child A, which would be a grave wrong due to her impressive abilities in analytic geometry and modern logic. Make sense? Anti-animal-rights advocates who (misguidedly) base rights on the possession of rationality are forced to say it does make sense to deny that Child B has any basic rights.

Basic Rights Based on Claims or Power

(The “rights theory” of claiming or fighting for rights criticized in this paragraph is not worth considering other than to ridicule it, but since some of the more obtuse, but presumably armed-to-the-teeth, anti-animal-rights advocates bring it up on occasion, I’ll mention it here. If you’re of average intelligence and you skip this paragraph, you won’t miss anything serious.) According to the theory that the ability to claim or fight for rights is the relevant criterion for basic rights, if our psychopath doesn’t speak the children’s language, the children won’t be claiming much of anything from the psychopath’s point of view (assuming the children are aware that they can claim some rights here), and will therefore have no rights and no serious moral wrong will have been done since the rights weren’t properly claimed. If “claiming” rights is taken to mean “fighting for” or “defending” those rights, I suppose it’ll depend on how well the children can fight the psychopath. If the psychopath is a full-grown, healthy, average-sized adult, the children again have no rights (since the psychopath wins the fight), and the psychopath has done no serious moral wrong in torturing and killing them (since he won the fight). Any “rights theory” that depends on claiming or fighting for or defending one’s rights oneself simply reduces to rational egoism or some kind of Hobbesian social contract. Under such a reduction, the weak simply perish at the hands of the strong in an implicit war of all against all. It is the rejection of morality as a guide to our character, habits, and behavior.

Basic Rights Based on Sentience

According to the theory that sentience is the relevant criterion for basic rights, both children, A and B, have an equal interest in not being tortured and killed because both are equally sentient. Under the “sentience justification”, their rationality and abilities in abstract thinking per se are irrelevant, as are appeals to power and might irrelevant, and because of their sentience alone, it is equally wrong to torture and/or kill each of them.

Challenging Our Cultural Prejudice

If we are to avoid dogmatism and be reasonably consistent in our moral thinking, we are compelled to apply the same criterion – sentience – to sentient nonhuman beings as we do to sentient human beings when it comes to the right not to be exploited, tortured, and intentionally killed.

The fact that the children happen to be human is as irrelevant as the fact that they happen to be of a certain sex or ethnic group. Speciesism, sexism, and racism are at their root all the same “-ism” and the same cultural prejudice. The only difference is the other who is unjustly excluded from the in-group. The bases of arbitrary discrimination are like different flavors of non-dairy rice or soy ice cream (which is delicious, by the way). Vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors are the metaphorical differences of species, sex, and race and the non-dairy ice cream is the metaphorical injustice and cultural prejudice underlying the superficial differences of species, sex, and race. What flavor of prejudice are we embracing today? Or are we too determined to avoid the question in defense of our existing habits and trivial preferences to give it the serious thought it deserves?

Of course, as history has shown, the deeper the cultural prejudice, the blinder the prejudiced person is to the wrongness and injustice of their prejudice. The same arguments used to defend the cultural prejudice promoting the ownership, exploitation, torture, and abuse of slaves in 19th century America are regurgitated today to defend today’s cultural prejudice promoting everything from industrial animal agribusiness to raising pigs or chickens in one’s backyard in a quaint, peaceful environment only to unjustly send them to slaughter when the prejudiced human has decided that it’s time for that being to die. Even in many cultures today, women are viewed as property or servants of the men in the community. Yet people who are marinating in a cultural prejudice – whether the prejudice is against women, certain ethic groups, or species – are at least very reluctant to transcend it, and more often seem completely incapable of even seeing it as a problem. The cultural prejudice is even stronger when it is as widely held as our society’s speciesism is today.

We need to recognize and acknowledge our cultural prejudices and moral blind spots, which are every bit as wrong as the prejudices of cultures that severely abuse women and slaves in our own time or abused slaves a century or two ago. We need to apply that “rationality” – of which we’re apparently so proud – to our thinking about our own behavior toward nonhuman beings. We need to go vegan and encourage others to do likewise.


[1] I chose children rather than adults for the example because of the innocence and vulnerability that children have in common with the typical nonhuman beings who we exploit and kill. Such innocence and vulnerability of any victim (whether human or nonhuman) adds to the moral wrongness of exploitation and killing. By “innocence”, I mean a lack of experience in the world as a moral agent, not whether or not a sentient animal or 10 year-old child can cause serious harm to another. Both obviously are capable of serious harm to others in certain conditions, but they would not be culpable for such harm since they lack moral agency.

Comments Off on Cultural Prejudice, Sentience, Rationality, and Basic Rights

Filed under animal rights, cultural prejudice, sentience