Animal rights activists would accomplish a lot more if they stopped
attacking the Humane Society.
Sept. 7, 2012
Peruse the scintillating trade literature of the meat industry and you'll
find that of all the forces currently arrayed against the livestock industry
opposition to subsidies, the vegan
Skinny Bitch empire), none evokes as much vitriol as the Humane Society
of the United States, or HSUS. Flipping through
Meatingplace, it becomes clear
that, as one Cassandra of carnivorism put it, 'no
activist group is more loathed by the agricultural community than the Humane
Society of the United States.' Pork has described HSUS as 'a
well-oiled, well-funded lobbying presence with a finely tuned message
machine' and has quoted a consultant as saying, 'HSUS is
sophisticated and relentless in their dedication to defeat animal
Such assessments are music to the ears of
Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at HSUS. Shapiro
spends his days lobbying for costly reforms that would eliminate inhumane
methods of animal confinement. As Shapiro sees it, industry blowback is to
be expected and, in a way, even welcomed as an affirmation of his advocacy.
It's always nice to know when your arrow hits the intended target.
Less expected, and certainly not welcomed, is the barrage of criticism that
comes from the 'abolitionist' wing of the animal rights movement, which
views HSUS welfare reforms as craven capitulation to industrial agriculture.
The rift dividing HSUS from this vocal wing of the animal rights movement
might seem insignificant, but it's not. In fact, it threatens to weaken the
cause from within, a phenomenon all too familiar in the history of American
reform movements. And mending the rift will be no mean task, as it requires
confronting a thorny question: Does HSUS, in its ceaseless quest to improve
living conditions for animals within factory farms, justify and perpetuate
the ongoing existence of those farms?
There is little doubt that HSUS is doing something right. A complete
citation of their recent accomplishments would be too long to list here, but
consider that in one week alone last July,
HSUS persuaded Sodexo, Oscar Mayer, Hardee's, Carl's Jr., and Baja Fresh to
eliminate the use of gestation crates, cages that confine pregnant pigs
so tightly they cannot turn around. In banning this torture device from
their supply chains, these companies joined industry kingpins
Smithfield Foods in yielding to Shapiro's ceaseless nagging on behalf of
a barnyard proletariat numbering in the billions.
the abolitionists correctly point out, there's nothing especially
revolutionary about HSUS's approach to improving the lives of farm animals.
HSUS works closely with Big Agriculture, never calls for animal liberation,
and never explicitly endorses the habit that most efficiently prevents
animals from being killed: veganism. This reticence infuriates
abolitionists, who seek the eradication of not only animal agriculture but
also all animal ownership and exploitation through ethical veganism.
No writer makes the abolitionist case more eloquently than Rutgers
philosopher Gary Francione. In his books
Animals as Persons and
Rain Without Thunder, Francione, who is also a lawyer, powerfully argues
that the only ethically consistent stance for humans vis-a-vis animals is
the complete elimination of all animal ownership. This position leads him to
savage HSUS at every turn. When, last year, HSUS agreed to work with United
Egg Producers to legislate larger cages for chickens, Francione responded:
That is just plain silly.
'Enriched' cages involve torturing hens. Period. The torture may be
slightly 'better,' just as padded water boards may be slightly 'better.' But
let's be clear: the hens will continue to be tortured. And they will
continue to end up in a slaughterhouse.
Francione's logic is
hard-hitting, but his extreme message is unlikely to resonate widely in a
population that's only 1.4 percent vegan. According to social psychologist
and longtime vegan Melanie Joy, the abolitionist approach could attract a
lot more supporters if it acknowledged, as HSUS does, that most people are
going to embrace veganism on their own'you can't strong-arm them into it.
Joy, author of
Why We Eat Pigs, Love Dogs, and Wear Cows, believes that social
change'in this case, honoring the intrinsic worth of animals by not eating
them'is a complex process requiring both an awakening to the hidden reality
of exploitation and the individual will to act upon that awareness. Asking
people to stop eating animals, as Joy sees it, is more than asking for a
change in behavior; it's asking for a profound shift in consciousness that
people make only when they're personally ready to do so.
Nick Cooney, the author of
Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Social Change,
agrees. Noting that 80 percent of vegans became vegan gradually, he believes
that seemingly minor improvements'say, larger cages'ultimately create
pivotal 'shifts in self-identity' for both producers and consumers.
Individuals who start seeking products from more 'humane' producers or
participating in 'meatless Mondays' are consumers who are on the path toward
veganism. Similarly, institutions that embrace (however reluctantly at
first) improvements for animals are institutions that, in eventually owning
that improvement, come to identify with and become open to even more
productive changes for animals. This process, according to Cooney's
research, is exactly how reform plays out on the ground, in the real world.
Abolitionists don't buy a word of what Joy and Cooney are saying. For
them, tolerance for incremental change from the status quo empowers the meat
industry, and any empowerment of industry is, ipso facto, counterproductive
to the spirit of animal advocacy. Consider what Ellie Maldonado, an animal
rights activist and former employee of animal advocacy group
Friends of Animals, has to
say about approaches that tolerate even a modicum of animal exploitation:
Advocacy that supports 'improvements' in animal exploitation is neither
'gradualist' nor a 'vegan' approach'it is a dead end that will never lead to
the end of animal exploitation. ... At best and in the unlikely case they
are adhered to, so-called 'gradualist improvements' only address a fraction
of the animals' experience but do nothing to abate the heinous cruelty they
are still subjected to.
Hence the strife continues: An organization such as HSUS lobbies, the
meat industry kvetches, and the abolitionists howl at them all for
unconscionable ethical waffling.
Meanwhile, billions of animals
continue to suffer the indignities of industrial animal agriculture. As has
so often been the case with reform movements in the United States,
infighting between those who seek evolution and those who seek revolution
fosters more stagnation than progress. Take, for instance, this year's
annual Animal Rights National Conference, which was held in Alexandria, Va.,
last month. After an abolitionist
petition to ban HSUS from the conference failed, abolitionists tried
sponsoring an independent seminar in protest of HSUS's involvement. The
hotel where the conference took place then attempted to
shut down the
abolitionists' competing seminar (apparently at the main conference
organizers' behest). It's this dust-up'not any of the myriad practical
strategies of reform discussed during the four-day conference'that has
earned the bulk of the attention in animal rights circles.
motivation for animal advocates to compromise should be strong. And
compromise is quite possible: There's no doubt that HSUS reforms have
improved the lives of farm animals, but there's also no reason why the
organization couldn't bolster its small victories with more aggressive
campaigns involving the v-word. Similarly, the abolitionists certainly make
a compelling case for ending all animal exploitation, but there's also no
reason why they couldn't tolerate a more personalized approach to change,
one premised on the idea that we all come to Jesus in our own unique little
ways. 'It is better,' Joy often says, 'to be effective than to be right.'
In any case, if the movement figures out how to meld these competing
approaches to animal advocacy, the meat industry would really have something
to complain about. For now, though, as I read the trade literature, it's
hard not to see the industrial producers of animal products as little more
than petulant whiners who have no inkling of the real pressure they would
face if animal advocates in the United States managed to pull themselves