This essay was originally published in two parts on Ecorazzi.com.
It’s no secret to those of us who promote nothing less than veganism and who speak up for the rights of all animals not to be treated as the supply to our demand that the large animal organisations don’t stand with us. Whether promoting some forms of animal use via meat reduction or vegetarianism, or perpetuating the myth that there is such a thing as “humane treatment”, these large animal charities fail to represent the rights of the animals for whom they claim to advocate.
In this essay, I’ll detail some of the worst offenses (in a long list) of the perpetuation of animal oppression championed by these orgs. Part 2 will detail some of the forms of human oppression employed as advertising strategies by one of these groups in particular. For reasons of space, I’ve had to be selective, and am therefore only scratching the surface of their problematic campaigns, but I hope that this essay shows why the animal groups are working against us, not with us.
“Happy” Exploitation Labels
Many of the large animal organisations support the “happy” exploitation labels developed by producers. The Certified Humane Raised and Handled label is backed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Humane Society International (HSI; a branch of HSUS) has its own label (named Humane Choice), as does the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (theirs is rather ironically named, since their RSPCA Assured (formerly Freedom Food) label marks some forms of “cruelty” out as morally better). Many of the large animal organisations, including Animal Rights International (ARI), Compassion Over Killing (COK), Farm Sanctuary, HSUS, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), Mercy for Animals (MFA), Vegan Outreach (VO) and the US branch of Viva! showed support for the Farm Animal Compassionate Standards employed by Whole Foods in a letter to its CEO John Mackey signed by Peter Singer claiming that these standards will “improve the lives of millions of animals” (who are only being bred so that they can have a miserable life of exploitation before slaughter). If this isn’t bizarre enough, HSUS, in 2010, filed a class action suit against Perdue Farms over the latter’s use of a “humane” label, accusing the company of duping consumers and asserting that “Companies like Perdue are exploiting the dramatic growth of consumer demand for improved animal welfare for their own profit.”
HSUS, MFA and the Humane League were recently paid between $500,000 and $1,000,000 each by the Open Philanthropy Project to promote cage-free eggs. Think about this: would you ever put your seal of approval on an animal product? Would you endorse the consumption of a steak because the cow was treated a little less horrifically (albeit still horrifically) before she was slaughtered? If not, why on earth would you back the animal charities who are doing so in your name and with your donations?
The awards given by animal groups to those involved in animal use are enough to make your head spin. There’s Compassion in World Farming (CiWF) with its Good Egg Award, “celebrat[ing] companies that use or have committed to use only cage-free eggs or egg products in their supply chain. To date, more than 53 million laying hens are set to benefit each year from our award winners’ policies.” Yes, you read that right, folks: the hens are benefitting from the policies of egg producers; I bet that they’re singing songs of praise through their severed beaks. KFC and McDonalds are among CiWF’s awardees (see my other essays on cage-free eggs). Similarly, CiWF’s Good Pig Award celebrates companies “that use or are committing to use higher welfare pig systems for sows and meat pigs in their supply chain.” More than 2.5 million sows and meat pigs, they tell us, will benefit each year from these minimal improvements in conditions for pigs who are exploited, forcibly inseminated, and then slaughtered for trivial reasons. Among their awardees are the nauseatingly named Anna’s Happy Trotters and The Well Hung Meat Company (the former perpetuating the myth that animal exploitation can ever be happy for the animal; the latter perpetuating the conflation of meat-eating and machismo).
PeTA gives out many awards each year in various categories to people or companies who are involved in animal exploitation. Temple Grandin, slaughterhouse designer, was a recipient of PeTA’s Visionary Award, and Whole-Foods (a chain that sells meat, dairy, fish, and eggs, along with other animal products) was deemed Best Animal-Friendly Retailer, with PeTA stating that Whole Foods “has consistently done more for animal welfare than any retailer in the industry.” Among the recipients of their Person of the Year award are notable nonvegans Pope Francis, Ricky Gervais, Bill Clinton, and Oprah Winfrey.
The animal orgs do great publicity work for the animal industry, and they constantly reinforce the false message that you don’t have to be vegan to be a champion for animals. So many misleading messages, and funded by your donations.
A substantial portion of the funds raised by the animal groups goes towards undercover investigations. Apart from the fact that such undercover investigations direct the focus away from the key moral issue, many of the investigations require that the investigator participate in harming animals. As Mike Wolf, former investigator for Compassion Over Killing and now working for PeTA, writes in a Reddit AMA session,
“Working in the field you have to perform the job duties that are assigned to you. This means that you have to engage in what is called standard practice—for example, castrating a pig.”
Likewise, Chrystal Ferber who also performed undercover work with COK writes that
“[I]nvestigators are required to perform the job duties we’re hired on for, which entails performing the standard practices when required.”
And T.J. Tumasse, an investigator for PeTA and Mercy For Animals, recounts his time as a back-up killer whose job was to kill with a knife those chickens whose lives weren’t ended by the automated killing machines. “I was killing the very animals I was there to save,” he says.
Your donations: funding investigations into practices that we already know are morally wrong; sending people who care about animals to kill and otherwise harm the vulnerable animals we serve to protect.
Helping the Producers Profit
Gary Francione has written extensively about how welfare reform measures help to increase both productivity and profits for the animal industry. These linked documents from both PeTA and HSUS show how these animal groups urge welfare “reforms”—in this case, controlled atmosphere killing (or gassing) of hens—with the assurance that they will increase profits, lower carcass damage, drive down labour costs, and reduce worker injuries.
The large animal organisations present veganism as an option; their starter kits often promote “veggie”, “reducetarian” and “vegan” as though they are morally equivalent. They caution against a focus on purity (purity, for vegans, denoting the unwillingness to participate in any avoidable animal use) and perpetuate the idea that veganism is difficult and not a moral imperative.
PeTA writes that “Being vegan is about helping animals, not maintaining personal purity. Boycotting products that may contain trace amounts of animal products can actually be harmful to animals in the long run. For example, by refusing to eat a veggie burger from a restaurant because the bun may contain traces of milk or eggs, you are discouraging that restaurant from offering vegan options because it seems too difficult a task.” We would never refer to any other social justice issue as a matter of personal purity, or encourage others to participate in a little bit of human oppression because to do otherwise would be to make social justice look too hard. Yet, the animal groups repeatedly send out the message that sometimes animal use is okay.
Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others
PeTA is known for its euthanasia policies. It shelter has euthanised 81% of the animals surrendered to it since the second half of 1998, and has adopted out just over 8% of animals in the same period, according to its filings with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
HSUS sponsors an event called “Hoofin’ It”, a “farm-to-table” restaurant crawl at which “A different hoofed animal will be featured at all of the stops each evening, 4 stops in total.” Not altogether surprising since Joe Maxwell, who is the Political Director of the Legislative Fund of HSUS is a pig farmer. In addition, HSUS posted on its Farmer Outreach page a $1.00-off coupon for Applegate Farms’ crate-free bacon, withdrawing the coupon when they received backlash.
When asked by ABC if “Animals Australia have a policy of opposing the rearing of livestock for human consumption,” Lyn White, the group’s leader, responded
“No, we certainly don’t. Look, our vision, our work is towards ensuring that all animals, that—especially in human care, have protection from cruel treatment and are treated with compassion and respect. That is what we work towards on a daily basis.”
These groups’ insistence on single-issue campaigns and championing of some animals over others suggest to the general public that that form or that product is morally worse than others. This creates moral confusion and applies a moral salve to participation in the forms of treatment or consumption of products that are not targeted.
If you’re vegan, the animal orgs don’t represent you; they can’t. With their focus on welfare reforms, their cherry-picking of issues, and their repeated abrogation of the rights of animals they claim to represent, they are categorially anti-vegan and anti-animal-rights.
These animal orgs speak out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to animals. They publish videos that promote veganism or that highlight mistreatment in the production facilities that do the same things as those to which they give awards, and they also endorse “humane” exploitation. They hold protests outside, and encourage boycotts, of fast food chains to get them to use animal products from “higher welfare” producers, but they stop those protests or boycotts once this is achieved, and even praise the companies involved, suggesting that a reduction in suffering is the answer to the problem of animal exploitation.
If we take animal interests seriously, and if we believe that animals are not ours to use, then why would we campaign for more efficient exploitation, give our support to marketing campaigns that encourage people to buy their dead bodies or products, or reward those who design methods of killing them? As vegans, we believe that animal exploitation is morally wrong; this is why we abstain. To promote happy exploitation or to praise slaughterhouse designers goes against everything that we believe.
The only alternative is grassroots vegan education, and that begins with the individual. We don’t need megabucks to change the world; we just need to change hearts and minds. The power to do that starts and ends with you.