Note: FARM President and Founder Alex Hershaft delivered this presentation on the Paths to Liberation panel during the Animal Rights National Conference 2011. Farm Sanctuary’s Bruce Friedrich provided the opposing viewpoint in support of welfare reforms.
Welfare or Abolition
This summer, we launched a highly effective vegan outreach program called Pay-Per-View. We pay people $1 to watch a four-minute clip of graphic undercover factory farming and slaughterhouse footage. In the past few weeks, we have generated more than 4,000 individual views, mostly at street fairs and rock concerts. The reactions are dramatic: viewers cry and vow never to touch meat again.
But now, this magnificent grass roots effort is facing a serious threat. Is it a devilish scheme cooked up by the meat industry’s marketing types? Well, yes. But, perversely, it’s also a scheme hatched, nurtured, or at least, abetted by the very same organizations that produced these highly effective undercover videos.
Yes, I am referring to the recent welfare agreement forged with the egg industry, that most egregious torturer of animals. It contains vague promises of industry’s support for legislation that would increase cage size in 18 years. However, its biggest impact is to lull caring consumers – the very people we’ve courting, into thinking that the atrocities they’ve witnessed at our PPV booth may be going away. That it’s safe to eat meat again. Consumers are hearing that message, however unintended, because they’re desperately searching for a way to justify and continue their flesh-eating habits.
But, isn’t a bigger cage an improvement for the animals? Don’t we owe them improved conditions on the way to a vegan world?
The improvements are not gonna happen. Never have and never will. How do I know? Been there. Done that.
In 1978, I was testifying before Congress in support of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Sitting at the witness table next to me was another supportive witness – the president of the American Meat Institute. What did he know that I didn’t know? He knew that the Act would be a terrific, no-cost marketing tool for the meat industry. He knew that his buddies in Congress would provide no funding for enforcement. And so it was, to this day.
In the 1980s, we led the national veal ban campaign. We would picket Italian restaurants and leaflet their patrons, demanding that the calves be unchained and let out of their tiny crates. Then, one day, we ran into a sympathetic owner who asked us to help him procure “humane” veal, free of these atrocities. These are the kind of issues that plague welfare reforms.
Yes, it took us 15 years or so, but eventually, we got the message loud and clear: the only effective, long-term solution to the obscenity of animal agriculture is to encourage reduced consumption of animal products, leading to the ideal of veganism. It’s the abolitionist approach.
This approach has been much maligned by our welfare reform colleagues, so let me clear up any misunderstandings:
- Yes, we do support a gradual, incremental approach to animal liberation, but one vegan meal at a time – not one inch of cage space at a time. The distant goal must be a vegan world – not a world with animals in huge cages.
- Yes, we do care about the suffering of billions of animals here and now, but we care even more about the hundreds of billions of animals yet unborn.
- Yes, we do believe that welfare reforms work, but only when they are proposed and implemented by the meat industry, to lure caring consumers to their products – not when they are proposed and abetted by animal rights organizations, which are viewed as ethical beacons by their supporters.
Welfare reform campaigns are not just inconsistent with, but actually destructive of animal rights advocacy. Proponents of welfare reforms are fond of citing abolitionists of slavery calling for improved treatment of the victims while calling for their release. But this is a flawed argument, for release is never an option for animals. Legitimate human analogies are abortion and death penalty, where release is not an option. In fact, no self–respecting pro-life advocate has ever called for humane abortions. No reputable death penalty opponent has requested a more nutritious last meal.
When we ask for improvements in the treatment of animals we exploit, we are implying agreement with their exploitation. 97% of consumers favor improved treatment of animals, yet 98% continue to eat them. Welfare reforms are a win-win solution for consumers and the meat industry. Only the animals lose.
We are a movement based on the highest ethic of respect for life. Our challenge to the consuming public should be not “what is the right way to exploit and kill animals,” but “what gives us the right to exploit and kill animals?”
Note: Later in the conference, Alex Hershaft delivered a presentation during the Effective Strategies for Liberation panel. Alex discussed an incremental abolitionist approach in detail, including this section about priorities and tactics of the movement.
Key criteria in consumers switching: availability, taste, convenience, cost, and health. Ethical and environmental considerations are much more important to us than to consumers.
- Most effective tactic is promoting sale of ready-to-eat processed meat and dairy analogs
- Second priority is introducing plant-based choices and nutrition education in schools
- Third is public exposure through letters to editor, undercover exposes, advertising
- Fourth is personal exposure through leafleting, info tables, videos, food sampling, lectures
- Fifth is bearing personal witness (Gandhi): T-shirts, b stickers, demand vegan meals
- Sixth is getting friendly manufacturers to eliminate animal ingredients (Boca)
- Seventh is co-opting mainstream public interest organizations (Food Day)
And a reminder of the progress we have made:
- The victories in the abolition strategy are not very dramatic – so require reality check
- People will not be joining vegetarian societies en masse – they will just eat more meat and dairy analogs, and they are.
- Mainstream health institutions will not be replaced by vegetarian societies – they will just promote plant-based eating, and they are.
- Supermarkets will not be replaced by vegetarian health food stores – they will just carry more meat and dairy analogs, and they are.
- Fast food chains will not go out of business – they will just push veggie burgers, some are.
- Slaughterhouses will not be reduced to smoldering ruins – they will just produce meatless foods, and some are (Conagra).
- Our adversaries are not evil – just greedy, insensitive, misguided, and our future partners!