Almost everyone in the UK shares a stance when it comes to animal use – that we must treat animals nicely, or ‘humanely’ if we are to use them. Don’t take my word for it, go out and speak to people. You’ll find very few individuals who claim animals other than humans are not sentient, and you’ll find even fewer who look at videos of factory farming and are not disgusted. This is backed up by the antics of A-list celebrity chefs, and tabloid newspapers. Society is in almost complete agreement about animal use.
Large animal advocacy organisations have spent years getting people to this stance, and people have been largely accepting of it. Yet factory farming is not on it’s knees, and you would be forgiven for thinking that humane alternatives (such as ‘free range’, ‘organic’ and ‘humane’) are no more than just labels. After all, when you consider the ‘worst’ vs the ‘best’ types of use in this way, you’ll notice mainly only aesthetic differences. The same fundamental wrongs still take place, so it’s difficult to see even the ‘best’ ways as significantly better.
These labels, championed so vigorously by animal advocacy groups, serve a definite purpose, and are embraced by industry for this reason – they help retain concerned consumers, and make animal exploitation more efficient.
Even if it costs the farmers something to provide an inch or two more space per animal, they know they can charge more for the final product. For this reason an animal ‘welfare’ standard could never be particularly significant – it could never improve more than it is economically efficient to do so, else farmers would not do it. Economics is a simple game at this level.
If we return to the opening line, it becomes apparent that this is very problematic. Everyone seems to have a concern for other animals, yet humane alternatives are peddled both by the media and by animal advocacy groups as the solution. This doesn’t translate to actual better treatment for other animals – in a ‘free range’ egg, for example, 99% of the suffering still occurs (i.e., the male hens are still mass shredded or gassed at birth, the slaughterhouse is still cold and unforgiving, the conditions of living are only slightly improved, if at all, and as a result still deny a hen all but her basic behaviours in order to live as an egg producing machine). The fundamental wrongs still occur, yet the people supporting the exploitation are now retained consumers due to the marketing of these welfare standards as sufficient by both the media, and by animal advocacy groups. Welfarism, therefore, works rather hugely against the interests of other animals – and yet advocates continue to push it’s agenda.
Single Issue Campaigns
These aren’t the only problems with animal advocacy groups though. The other noticeable agreement in society is on ‘extreme’ uses. As already mentioned, people are disgusted by factory farming, and this disgust also rears it’s head in regards to the likes of fur farming, vivisection and foie gras. The reason for this is that animal groups have spent years differentiating these smaller, more marginal, but perceivably extreme types of animal use, from the normal ones. The reason being, primarily because it is ‘achievable’ to turn people against these than against those products they more regularly buy (like eggs as a whole, or leather). However, you’ll notice this differentiation that animal groups have created hasn’t worked. Sales of these ‘extreme’ animal products peak and dip in cycles, and few people will go out of their way to avoid that which they have been so disgusted by (especially in the case of factory farmed meats, for example). These animal uses still occur – fur sales are returning to new highs, vivisection tends to rise year on year, and factory farmed sales only drop where the meaningless ‘welfare’ raised meats rise.
What these ‘single issue campaigns’ have done is, firstly, normalise animal use. They have explicitly preyed on and utilised the assumption that animal use is acceptable, and have attempted to use this normal bench mark (i.e., normal animal farming) to show how disgusting these marginal, extreme uses are. Hence almost explicitly stating ‘we understand you need animal products, and normal use is fine, but just stop using these horrible, extreme types’. Despite the fact, as already mentioned, the extreme is not significantly, if at all, worse than the norms.
Second, it has had almost exactly the same effect as welfarism. People ARE concerned when they see the reality of animal use, and what these campaigns do is ask people to act on, and appease that concern, by not buying or consuming that one thing. Perhaps most prevalent in the fur campaigns – individuals are told the horrors of fur farming, and are asked to stop buying fur. In actual fact, people are already quite disgusted by fur, and so this is a massive opportunity to show people why they are having this concern by linking fur back to veganism. Yet no, alas the animal groups quite happily peddle these ‘single issues’ as ways to grasp ‘achievable’, (yet interestingly, still no closer to being achieved) ends to this one use.
One further criticism of these campaigns is that they are patronising and unreasonable. They do not give people reasons why any animal use is wrong, instead treating people like imbeciles who could not understand such reasoning. They focus child-like explanations of what happens, followed by desperate pleas like one might expect from an over-sentimental child screaming to save their teddy bear. Whilst this sounds harsh, it needs to be to make the point. The majority of people feel that the single issue campaign’s reasoning doesn’t apply to them, and that it is merely aimed at other ‘over-sentimental’ individuals. And this explains why although these campaigns have normalised animal use, they haven’t succeeded in fetishising the extreme uses like they intended, as the arguments they give do not leave any more than fleeting, wishy-washy impressions on the majority who see them. The campaigns themselves give no strong reason to discontinue any animal use. And hence they do not success in doing so.
It is interesting to note that because some individuals do get hooked into animal rights via these campaigns, these individuals then use their own experience as a reason to justify the campaigns. In essence these campaigns are self defeating, as those small amounts of people pulled in by them seem doomed to continue the cycle of ineffective advocacy, which in turn pulls in just enough people (and rarely more than enough) to continue the same cycle for another generation. They are often not willing to consider the facts that animal rights is logical, and yet animal use never decreases independently of the economic factors which weigh on it – and instead they point the finger at everyone but themselves (normally by out grouping and blaming those who supply animal products).
To any rational person looking in, it is clear that animal advocacy groups are going about everything in the wrong way – yet because they themselves became advocates through these methods, the cycle seems doomed to continue independent of this rationale.
There is another way, and this is where abolitionist theory begins – providing a framework for doing those things we have spectacularly erred in so far. Of course we want to see the fur industry and factory farming ended, but not just so it can be replaced with more regulated, horrific use, or by strengthening more normal animal uses – so we can’t advocate welfarist or single issue campaigns. We should instead be using people’s disgust at the extreme forms of animal use (whether it be badly regulated animal industry, or extreme single issues) to help them connect the dots – treating them like intelligent people, and showing them the reasonable arguments on our side. They already understand animals have some interests, let’s start building on these foundations rather than continually knocking them down and building them back up over and over again, like happens currently.
We all cringe when we see a sow screaming for her life because she is sentient, and she doesn’t want to die. This sentience demands an equal consideration of all that sentience provides – not an improvement in treatment, or a reduction in those areas we see as worst. What’s more, if we advocate for ‘an improvement’, ‘a reduction’, or ‘a step’, we call foul of the same obvious mistakes we have been making for years – implying that the moral issue is treatment (which allows for justification of all types of animal exploitation), not use (which would require we grant all animals at least the right not to be used as property.) As a society we need to begin accepting sentience as the only relevant factor in moral respect, and as advocates we need to being accepting that our methods haven’t worked, and if anything have moved us further from our goals. We need to bring everything back to veganism, which has to be the moral baseline of our movement. And we need to shift our thoughts and endeavours toward abolitionist animal rights advocacy. There’s no other path that leads forward.