Posts Tagged ‘HSUS

“Hoofin It” With HSUS

» August 16th, 2014

Beginning tomorrow, and lasting through August 20, the city of Denver will promote the gratuitous slaughter of animals who were raised with love.  On Sunday you can get bison; Monday “sheep is the star”; Tuesday is pig night; Wednesday it’s cow. Every meal will be served at a restaurant that prides itself on morally commmodfying sentient animals who farmers respected while they lived, before selling their bodies for cash.  The event is called “Hoofin It” and “farm to table” is the mantra. As The Denver Post reports, “a different hooved animal will be showcased every evening.” Cost of the showcase: $60.

Now, critics of animal agriculture, as well as animal advocates, have become all too familiar with these sort of Orwellian stunts. Essentially, what these events do is obscure systematic suffering under the false guise of humanity in order to serve a range of financial interests and a popular taste for animal flesh. It’s insulting, really. We’re especially accustomed to the oxymoronic–not to mention moronic—sponsorships of these moral carnivals: ethical butchers, humane animal farmers, compassionate carnivores, and the like. It thus may come as a surprise that the sponsor of “Hoofin It” is . . . .   The Humane Society of the United States. 

As you might imagine, there’s been outrage over this. Why would an organization that works so diligently to reduce the consumption of meat promote the consummation of meat? One letter I received from a Colorado critic of the event explained, “Needless to say, the vegan community in Colorado is quite upset with HSUS’ sponsorship of this  event and has notified HSUS of their concern.” Here is what HSUS wrote by way of an explanation:

Our farm animal efforts are two-pronged: reduce the number of animals being raised and killed, and reduce the suffering of animals who are being raised and killed. While the meat industry’s leadership reviles The HSUS, there are also farmers and ranchers who agree with us on gestation crates and other aspects of industrialized agriculture. They’re a powerful voice in our campaign to end unacceptable and particularly inhumane practices. We need the public’s support to pass these laws, and it’s a potent statement to have farmers assert that they oppose gestation crates (and other factory farming practices). We’ve always believe that politics is about addition and not subtraction, and some of the most powerful allies are people that some may think are unlikely allies. That’s why we do outreach to small farmers on factory farming issues.
 
This event, sponsored in connection with our Colorado Agriculture Council, is part of our growing work with farmers and ranchers to fight inhumane practices such as gestation crates and tail docking. We support farmers and ranchers who give proper care to their animals, and act in accordance with the basic ethic of compassion to sentient creatures under their control, and practice and promote humane and environmentally sustainable agriculture. We also sponsor VegFests along with other vegan and vegetarian events around the country. The HSUS takes a big tent approach to combat factory farming and both our employees and our supporters consist of those who choose to eat meat and those who choose to be vegan or vegetarian. 

My thoughts on this response too are many to articulate, and none of them are in sympathy. But in a nutshell it’s safe to say that there’s a fundamental difference between encouraging more humane methods of animal agriculture and throwing a party to celebrate animal slaughter. There’s simply no hoofin it around HSUS’s craven capitulation to compromise on this event. Shame.

(HSUS’s response came from Sarah Barnett. You can reach her here: Sarah Barnett <sbarnett@humanesociety.org>)

 

The Economics of Animal Welfare

» April 18th, 2014

Pistol v. Poleax: a Handbook on Humane Slaughter was published in London in 1932. The book’s opening line explains, “If there is one quality in the British character which is so ingrained as to be almost universal, it is love of animals and hatred of unnecessary cruelty.” This sentiment underscores the book’s 500+ page effort to justify the transition from one form of stunning animals to another before killing them.

The poleax was primitive. Men swung it like crazed cavemen and, more often than not, missed their target, which was described as the size of a teacup. Or they hit it too hard, rendering the animal’s brain unsellable. Or they didn’t hit hard enough, which created a prolonged tragedy for the poor animal. As one slaughterhouse employee recounted in 1922:

I have seen three, four, five, and even ten blows levelled at an animal before it has been brought to the ground; and I have known cases, though these are exceptional, where all efforts have failed to bring the animal down through the repeated blows having caused the head to swell.

Hence the pistol: the supposed source of humane reform. Efforts to promote this new devise, avidly supported by the RSPCA, included having one Madame Douchez Menebode, President of the Council of Justice to Animals, dressed in heels and a coat fringed with fur delivering a mechanized death blow to a cow (see above). The gun was called the Temple-Cox Killer.

For those who currently follow efforts to reform animal agriculture in order to make it more humane—for example HSUS’s ongoing effort to eliminate battery cages without a corresponding effort to eliminate animal agriculture—you will quickly realize that history is as much about continuity as change. One form of death replaces another, sensible people feel better, and everyone has their meat and eats it, too. This axiom was as true in 1922 as it is today.

But there’s an interesting change that’s possibly obscured by this so-called humane transition form one form of killing to another. With the adoption of the pistol over the poleax, slaughter became much more efficient. One slaughterhouse owner, after adopting the pistol form of stunning, exhorted his colleagues (upon retiring):

Have you for your own business adopted a certain method of stunning?—In September, 1922, after a lifelong study, I was persuaded that something required to be done to get rid of the antiquated poleax. My firm agreed to my recommendation to adopt the use of the RSPCA gun, and from that day to this was have slaughtered approximately 12,000 cattle. . . . .  It is a decided improvement.

Readers of the abolitionist activist Gary Francione will be nodding their heads knowingly. Francione has long argued that welfarist efforts to reform animal agriculture backfire by making animal agriculture more efficient and, in turn, more profitable. This claim certainly seems to be the case with the historical example of the poleax/pistol transition.

It is not, however, the case today—and this is an important point to keep in mind as we evaluate the viability of welfare reforms. In 1922, humane reforms came through new technologies that happened to blend increased welfare and efficiency. This is no longer the case. Today, humane reforms come at a cost, as readers of Jayson Lusk’s and F. Bailey Norwood’s Compassion by the Pound will fully understand. The upshot is that the economics of welfare reform are, unlike a century ago, in trouble.

Whereas seeking humane reforms in animal agriculture once led to cheaper meat, today the situation is exactly the opposite. As a result, there will never be a mainstream transition to humanely raised animal products. Ever. As long as there’s a cheaper option—and until we seek to stigmatize eating animals rather than only stigmatizing eating industrially raised animals, there always will be a cheaper option—all efforts to improve the experience of animals before they are killed for food we don’t need will merely benefit those who can afford to feel virtuous.

 

 

 

International Flesh Peddling

» May 31st, 2013

Last week the Chinese investment firm Shuanghui International agreed to purchase Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest supplier of pork products (the offer has been accepted but awaits regulatory reviews). Remarking on the deal, one analyst said, ”The combination creates a company with an unmatched set of assets, products and geographic reach.” That’s an understatement. For the price (when debt purchase is factored in) of $7.1 billion dollars, Shuanghui will now capitalize on their unprecedented scope to begin the arduous but profitable project of feeding the growing Chinese upper-middle class an endless supply of industrial pork.  Through a single purchase that equals the GDP of Montenegro, one company will have the privilege of slaughtering millions of pigs a year.

The story has been duly covered by the mainstream media. Most critics of the deal have presented it as yet another ominous expression of Chinese economic hegemony. The Chinese have already bought loads of land throughout Africa to ensure that Chinese-owned animals are fed by Chinese-owned farms. With the Shuanghui deal, they are now further extending their reach by ensuring that any pork they import will also comes from Chinese –owned companies. In case you were wondering, commodity mercantilism still lives. The British were once pretty good at it.

Obscured in this accurate analysis of economic hegemony, however, is the thoughtless and degrading extension of human hegemony over animals, in this case animals who are as smart and sensitive as any on the planet. If there’s a farm animal that  can step back and conceptualize the horror bring perpetrated upon them, my guess is that it’s the pig. Listen to various media treatments of this story, though, and you’ll find that people speak as if they’re talking about car parts. Such is the inevitable result when sentient animals enter the lexicon of global trade.

While shareholders will become rich as a result of the Chinese buyout, activists will be as effectively silenced as the animals themselves. A critical aspect of this purchase is that Shuanghui is a private company with no intention of opening the books to stakeholders. Global privatization not only makes Smithfield more difficult to regulate, but it prevents activists from purchasing a share, showing up at annual meetings, and raising hell, a la Henry Spira.

Shuanghui has a dismal record when it comes to animal welfare and safety. Most notably, it was recently dinged for feeding pigs a toxic chemical called clenbuterol hydrochloride in order to produce leaner pork. It’s not a nice company. But they have shut the door on the public and are prepared to put billions of pigs through hell without accountability.

One ray of hope in this deal was noted by HSUS’ Wayne Pacelle, who wrote yesterday in his blog that “…we are relieved that Shuanghai’s  potential purchase of Smithfield doesn’t appear likely to affect the policies Smithfield has put in place to phase out the confinement of sows in gestation crates (at its company-owned facilities) over the next four years. That policy should be replicated by Smithfield’s major competitors and be applied to the company’s contractors, too.” Read the ray of hope here.

Of course, Shuanghui’s compliance with welfare agreements made by Smithfield prior to purchase must be considered at least somewhat precarious. I suppose, though, if one were in an unusually generous mood, you could hypothesize that Smithfield’s agreement to make nominal improvements in animal welfare could shape the future of industry standards in China, where welfare considerations are effectively nil. Although with Larry Pope, Smithfield’s CEO, saying that the deal “preserves the same old Smithfield,” I wouldn’t get too excited about this neo-liberal nightmare of a deal.

 

Steve King Has a Dream

» May 17th, 2013

 

You have to give the Humane Society of the United States credit for scaring the snot out of Big Agriculture. For those who persist in thinking that HSUS and other welfare organizations are in some sort of dark conspiratorial cahoots with our nation’s most powerful producers of animal products, I would urge you to look closely at the current Farm Bill.

In particular, consider the recent addendum snuck into the bill by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) during the latest House Agriculture Committee session.  An excellent overview of this sordid episode came yesterday from Mariann Sullivan, of Our Hen House. Read it here.

The King addendum stipulates that any state requiring minimal welfare standards in animal agriculture—think Prop 2 in California—cannot ban the importation of animal products from states that lack those standards.  This unctuous loophole effectively negates any and all local initiatives to seek better conditions for farm animals. In so doing, it leads to what Sullivan rightly calls “a race to the regulatory bottom.” Hard to imagine that we could get much lower.

Concrete if hypothetical example:  If you’re an egg producer in California, the motivation will be, under the King amendment, to move to Nevada (or Idaho or Montana . . .), abandon the costly welfare standards imposed by Prop 2, but still maintain access to lucrative California markets.  Frankly (and maybe they did), the political advocates for animal welfare improvement should have seen this one coming all the way from Iowa. King’s dream cannot be that much of a surprise.

Still, this is the cynical politics of fear, a politics inspired in part by the HSUS’s successful efforts to push “minimal” (that’s Wayne Pacelle’s own description) improvements onto animal agriculture on the state level.  It is, however, also the politics of politics, something more sinister, and something that one enters at his peril, or at least armed with low expectations and a regiment of lobbyists.

It’s hard to get much of anything done in a top-down sort of way in our Federalist system of government, much less the imposition costly welfare reforms for the voiceless. The horse-trading, as it were, began in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention and has since only intensified to make centralized change more costly and difficult than it need be. Sadly, frustratingly, the King amendment is just another loophole in the Swiss cheese of political reform for farm animals.

This ease with which the King hole was punched suggests very strongly that organizations such as HSUS are better off spending their time seeking change on the corporate rather than the political level. I don’t mean to overstate the dichotomy here between corporations and government, nor do I think political pressure is useless. However, I think that a successful melding of documented consumer interest in welfare standards with persistent corporate advocacy has the potential to render efforts by madmen such as King moot, or at least limit their effectiveness to serving as desperate cries for help under the immense pressure of compassion that’s still struggling to find its loudest bullhorn.

 

What to do? Here’s this, from Gene Baur at Farm Sanctuary:

I need your help. Right now, please call your Representative in the U.S. Congress and ask that she or he work to remove the King Amendment from the House Farm Bill, which passed by a voice vote on Wednesday night.

The King Amendment could negate most state and local farm animal protection laws, including those regarding factory farm confinement, horse slaughter, and foie gras (along with other laws related to environmental protection, worker safety, and more).

Please make a brief, polite phone call to your U.S. Representativeurging opposition to the King Amendment. You can say simply, “Hi. I live in CITY, I’m calling to ask that Representative NAME oppose the King Amendment to the Farm Bill, which could slash protections for animals and violates state’s rights.” If the person you speak with doesn’t know your representative’s position, please leave your name and phone number, and ask for a call back.

After calling, please submit this form to automatically send a follow-up message.

 

 

Responses to Post on the Burger King Award

» May 12th, 2013

Last week I wrote about what I thought to be a poor decision on the part of HSUS to give Burger King the Henry Spira Humane Corporate Progress Award for the company’s progress in ending the extreme confinement of farm animals in small crates and cages. My issue was not with the improvements, however nominal, for factory farmed animals (that still end up celebrated and consumed as Whoppers). Instead, it was with the implication, via an award in honor of Henry Spira no less, that less confinement was enough to warrant a public accolade. In other words, my problem was the ongoing failure to explicitly identify a vegan worldview as the ultimate end goal, something I suggested was all too common.

It generated feedback.

This came from Matt Rice, director of investigations at Mercy for Animals:

Big fan of your writing. Not sure if you have ever expressed this sentiment with Mercy For Animals, but one of the many reasons I am proud to work with MFA is because we do make the end goal clear (an end to all animal exploitation), even when praising companies or individuals for making positive strides in the right direction.

You may notice that at the end of any MFA blog post about an incremental welfare improvement, we say the best thing people can do to help animals is go vegan. Example:http://www.mfablog.org/2013/04/breaking-news-canadas-top-grocery-chains-ditch-gestation-crates.html

While we do encourage companies to make welfare improvements, our first suggestion for people who want to help animals on our Get Active page is to go vegan:http://www.mercyforanimals.org/action-center.aspx

On our ChooseVeg.com website, we have an entire page devoted to explaining the humane myth: http://www.chooseveg.com/free-range.asp

At the same time, we realize that our message has to resonate with mainstream, omnivorous Americans. So we are strategic in our messaging. For example, we often start the conversation about veganism with the word vegetarian, because that word is more accessible to most people. More on that here: http://www.mercyforanimals.org/v-word.aspx

My point is I think it is possible for organizations to praise companies that make some improvements, in the same way we may praise someone who takes the first step toward veganism by exploring Meatless Monday, but still be clear that the goal should be to end the exploitation of animals. Although some vegans seem to think we have to say “go vegan, go vegan, go vegan” all the time or it is implied that some forms of animal exploitation are okay, I don’t think that is the message most Americans take away. For example, here is an interview I did with an Ag News Radio station about MFA’s campaign to ban gestation crates in which the host seems to think he could call me out on our “secret” vegan agenda. He was surprised to find I had no problem admitting we want people to stop exploiting animals full stop:http://brownfieldagnews.com/2012/07/19/mercy-for-animals-works-to-abolish-animal-agriculture/

Anyway, I guess I am just saying that it is possible to be strategic with our messaging, but also clear about the end goal. And I think MFA is a good example of that.

HSUS was in touch as well (privately).

They note—and I’m summarizing— that Henry Spira frequently praised companies that thrived on animal exploitation  for making progress in animal welfare. The source of the Spira award–or at least the idea of it—came from none other than Peter Singer, who knew Henry Spira well and still oversees the group Henry founded (ARI). HSUS added that Ethics into Action (Singer’s biography of Henry) paints a clear picture of the pragmatic advocate that he was. They go on to add that BK has made very real progress, so much so that it’s been condemned by a number of  Big Ag groups. All of this strikes me as quite important, evidence of HSUS effectiveness, and a good reminder that  methods of advocacy will never be perfect and that there is no avoiding some level of engagement with the enemy.

But, for the record, I still think a corporate award is going too far, Singer notwithstanding.

 

 

Crate Expectations

» October 6th, 2012

 

It was only a matter of time before this piece dropped. Commercial pig farmers have recently been quite vocal in their opposition to the demand that they ban gestation crates. This demand has largely come from retailers, including McDonald’s, who have succumbed to pressure from HSUS to require producers to replace gestation crates with more capacious, and supposedly more humane, housing pens. Many observers of this development—unprecedented in its scope— suggest that HSUS and corporate food are cozy bedfellows. But the incessant corporate whining suggests, at best, a relationship marked by warped dysfuntion.

Predictably, if duplicitously, hog operations are now claiming that pigs in these pens fight so viciously that they’re less safe than when they were crated. “The reason the industry switched to crates wasn’t because we wanted to harm our animals,” an Iowa hog farmer said. “We did it because we thought it was what was best for the animals.”

Well, that’s a crock. All this farmer cares about is producing more for less. In fact, any talk of caring for pigs by factory farmers is, as a rule, pure deception. That said, the farmer’s claim that housing pens provoke violence—so much so that it’s no better than a gestation crate— bears consideration apart from his stated intention of caring for pigs because, in a way, it forces “conscientious carnivores” to consider a critical alternative that seems to elude the discourse of pig welfare with gluttonous convenience.

There’s pretty strong evidence that hogs placed in housing pens will in fact occasionally become fiercely aggressive with each other. Their aggression surely has something—perhaps everything—to do with the fact that under natural conditions hogs will roam over 10 miles, settling into patterns of activity that mitigate the pig fighting and frustration that happens in housing pens. Of course, there’s no way that average farmers are ever going to provide a 10-mile swath of land for pigs to be pigs. At best, pasture raised pigs will enjoy a modicum of freedom to move about, eat some grubs, rip up a paddock or two, and have some free-range sex. But this freedom comes at the cost of more expensive pork, exposure to the elements, and, as a small-scale pork farmer once told me, “a lot of dead piggies” (mothers often roll over on piglets when not separated by a farrowing grate).

The lesson I take away from this long-awaited critique of housing pens—should we grant that housing pens foster significant violent aggression that gestation crates prevent—is that, with pigs at least, there’s no escaping this welfare bind without choosing the unstated option: not eating pork, period. The pigs are dammed either way, after all, and no amount of comparative welfare nitpicking over the pros and cons of crates (which I’m sure is about to happen) will change that reality. What truly amazes me is how the discourse of welfare reform, on the part of welfare organizations, producers, and advocates of “humane” animal farming, refuses to accept the fact that humans cannot structure the comparative well-being an animal as complex as a pig. (Of course, I’d go so far as to say that humans cannot structure the well being of any animal that they’re raising to slaughter and commodify, but I’m sticking to pigs in this post.)

Needless to say, the “we can’t do it” approach to pig welfare is downright un-American in its defeatism. “No we can’t” just doesn’t warm the collective national soul like “yes we can” does. But if a “conscientious carnivore” wants to sustain the illusion that there’s such a thing as a “conscientious carnivore,” he’ll have to at least stop feeding his indulgent little fiction with hot dogs and pork rinds and start taking a closer look at this fascinating porcine dilemma.

 

 

HSUS v. Big Ag

» June 13th, 2012

Forget for a moment how you might feel about the Humane Society of the United States, one thing is for certain: the meat industry hates it. I make this claim not stir up the interminable and unresolvable debate over HSUS’s effectiveness in confronting animal exploitation. Instead, I simply want to highlight what the meat industry itself is saying about HSUS. I do so to suggest that the organization at the least serves as a nasty thorn in the side of industrial agriculture.

The latest support for this suggestion comes from an industry-based advocacy group called Protect the Harvest. PTH’s primary mission is to fight back against the changes that HSUS is helping impose on the production of meat, eggs, and dairy. Complaining (and providing a US map) of “crushed egg farms” and “restricted hog farming,” PTH declares “We Are Under Siege.” Indeed, it deems industrial agriculture to be mired in a series of “farm wars!” over “America’s food crisis” instigated by an organization (HSUS) “trying to obliterate a chunk of American life and culture.” Well. This is what PTH thinks, anyway.

A few moments on the website will quickly confirm that PTH is a band of raving lunatics. It explains about HSUS: “On the surface, they say they want to simply make life for animals (especially farm animals) a little bit nicer, safer…more pleasant. But the reality of their motives bleed through.  HSUS is an organization that is at its heart a vegan organization opposed to any consumption of animals for food, clothes or research.” As anyone who knows HSUS understands, this is hysteria.

But hysteria can be revealing. For one, it says that HSUS is placing meaningful economic pressure on the industry. PTH explains: “the regulations pushed by HSUS make a certain sense. By restricting commonly accepted modern farming techniques they make it more difficult to raise enough animals to meet the demand for meat. After that, economics takes over.”

The other thing this hysteria shows is that what scares the daylights out of the meat industry is veganism. Although PTH’s assessment of the HSUS as a vegan organization is obviously wrong, its reaction to that assessment is brutally honest. The industry sounds as if its on the ropes. To some extent, their trumped up idea of HSUS as vegan organization–no doubt inspired by HSUS’s regulations—is what has them there.  Make of this what you will.

The Internecine Politics of Vegan Activism

» June 3rd, 2012

The politics of animal emancipation are complex. On the one hand, we could argue that the more internal disagreement that rages within the animal liberation movement the better. James Madison, the father of the U. S. constitution, promoted a “theory of faction” in which he envisioned a political milieu where “interests would counter interests” as the project of republicanism lurched ahead. He viewed the chaos of dispute as healthy. On the other hand, when faction reaches a point at which the center cannot hold – -or, to put it differently, the ultimate goal gets lost in internecine (and often human-centric) disagreements over tactics- -it undermines any potential that disagreement will be healthy.

When it comes to promoting animal rights, I’ll confess to being on the fence over the question of approach – -and that’s likely where I’ll remain, for reasons that I hope will be clear. Radical abolitionism obviously has the strongest appeal to me. However, I’m not prepared to dismiss “gradualist” or other peripheral tactics (health/environment) out of hand.

While the abolitionist message is the most bold and direct approach, both tactics have a place in the larger quest to eliminate systematic and intentional animal exploitation. There are already so few voices supporting the interests of animals that it seems counterproductive to squelch any particular voice over tactical disagreements. I certainly think that efforts to enlarge cages in factory farms- -or promote vegan conversion on strictly health grounds- -are shortsighted and symbolic at best. That said, I’m willing to tolerate shortsighted and symbolic methods rather than waste time trying to convince these groups that my approach is morally superior. This is called pragmatism.

A useful analogy to consider when pondering the problem of tactics is the abolition of slavery in the United States. There were gradualists and there were abolitionists. They disagreed on tactics. Often viciously. However, in the end, both groups played critical roles in ending slavery as an institution. This point is important for animal advocates to recognize.

The gradualists were critical in ending northern slavery- -yes, there was northern slavery before 1830 (25 percent of New York City was slave in 1776, for example). Most northern states ended slavery gradually as a state constitutional measure- -New Jersey allowed slavery well into the 1820s. The decision to end slavery had nothing to do with the immorality of slavery, but rather basic economics- -northern labor did not want to compete with slave labor for jobs.

The abolitionists, of course, ended slavery nationally. They did so on solid moral grounds and were led by men and women who we consider today to be heroes: William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Brown, etc. They infused the gradualist approach with moral fervor, changed the nature of the debate, and turned slavery into a barbaric relic of the past. While abolitionists disagreed with gradualist tactics, in the end the abolitionists and the gradualists each played critical roles in ending slavery.

This little history lesson might be useful to keep in mind as vegan activists go about tearing into each other over the best way to reach the finish line.  Failure to do so is to place our own interests ahead of the animals we want to help. Let’s have our debates, but let’s also keep them from derailing the project of improving the lives of animals.

The HSUS Undercover Investigation: Wyoming Premium Farms Exposed

» May 10th, 2012

HSUS has been on a roll lately. Yesterday it busted Wyoming Premium Farms for animal abuse, leading Tyson’s to suspend pork purchases from this loathsome conglomerate.

As always when it comes to undercover exposes and subsequent welfare “victories,” my feelings are mixed. It goes without saying that I’m perfectly thrilled that industry will now be under even more pressure to address welfare concerns.  Considerable evidence is already showing this to be the case. (Thanks to Jim Ferguson for this tip). I’m also thrilled that, to whatever extent, some pigs will have more room to move around on some industrial farms–however nominal the added space. Paul Shapiro, at HSUS, told me that in just two days the terrifying clip above has received over 160,000 views. That’s good news, as I’ve no idea how anybody could watch it and continue to eat pork.

Thinking about matters from the consumers’ perspective, though, I just don’t know what kind of impact these investigations will have in the long run. Inevitably, many consumers of animal products will watch this video, become disgusted, and vow to purchase their animal products from more humane sources. But this will accomplish very little–if anything– in terms of reducing the horrors of factory farming. As I’ve argued before, as long as eating animals is considered culturally and morally acceptable, basic economics dictates that factory farms will dominate the production of meat, eggs, and cheese. There is simply no possible way, at least as long as we have a capitalistic economy, that a substantial portion of consumers will choose welfare over cost. And as sure as gravity, factory farms–due to economies of scale–effectively reduce costs.  Eating animals itself must be deemed–and culturally understood–as wrong.  To eat animals is, ipso facto, to support industrial agriculture.

In all fairness to HSUS, to my knowledge it has never claimed to be in the business of eliminating animal agriculture. They just want to improve it. Abolitionists dismiss this goal as accommodating the enemy–and I can see their point. At the same time, though, I’m well aware that–if HSUS would only do more to promote veganism as a response to the horrors it so bravely exposes–the kind of video shown above could have an entirely different impact. Namely, it would move consumers in the direction of eating plants rather than trying to salve their conscience by paying more to eat animals who, while given more freedoms when alive, were still killed in the prime of their lives (or even before) in order to become an entree on a menu at some impossibly virtuous restaurant filled with people who somehow think it’s humane to kill an animal for food we don’t need.

Am I hoping for too much from HSUS? And I hoping too much from omnivores? Am I hoping too much?

Veganism: It’s What Gives Big Ag Real Nightmares

» April 25th, 2012

A good friend just wrote to compliment my Times piece. However, he wondered if the message could backfire, encouraging consumers to source animal products from factory farms rather than from “less bad” small farms. His concern is valid. And that’s why it annoys me so much.

Many readers who know my work, and understand my commitment to veganism, find it strange that I’m often slandered as an advocate of industrial agriculture. This accusation sticks, though, because our current discourse on food is trapped in a simplistic—and deeply harmful– dichotomy: industrial (bad)/ non-industrial (good). Even the most intelligent consumers have succumbed to the logical fallacy that if an animal product isn’t industrially produced, then it’s automatically beyond criticism.  Thus, the fact that I spend a lot of my time criticizing the small alternatives automatically makes me a shill for Big Agriculture.

That’s crazy.

Because who’s really shilling for Big Agriculture? As I’ve argued before, small farms—by virtue of their impassioned commitment to killing, selling, and eating animals—are the real enablers of industrially produced meat. They’re the ones legitimating the very act—eating animals—that’s at the core of industrial animal production. So twisted is the Food Movement’s logic that my call for ending the consumption of animal products—something that would harm industrial animal culture in an instant—is deemed an affirmation of the status quo.  So twisted is the Food Movement’s logic that the radicalism of veganism is mocked, debased, and erased.

While disdaining veganism, the food movement gets excited about incremental improvements within industrial models. The fact that McDonalds and Burger King are no longer purchasing pork from suppliers who use gestation crates is surely good for pigs. But it’s nothing to celebrate in and of itself.  As I’ve noted, if the improvement does not explicitly move in the direction of ending animal agriculture per se, then there’s little long-term good that will result from it. One could easily argue that, in accepting welfare reforms, industrial producers are actually making it easier for welfare-minded consumers to choose factory farmed animal products in the first place.  In this sense HSUS joins the small farms in shilling for animal agriculture.  Still, none of this keeps the Food Movement from blaming an advocate of veganism for pepetuating industrial agriculture.

Admittedly, the point here is to rant a bit. But it’s also to insist that veganism must to be hammered into the public discourse as not only a viable third option, but as the single-most powerful action an individual can make to confront the horrors of factory farming.  To silence that message out of fear of being distorted would be a disservice to the one demographic that the Food Movement never fails to marginalize: farm animals themselves.