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16 December 2001 Issue
Do Animal Welfare Campaigns and Reforms Hurt or Help Animal Rights and Abolition?

The Theme of the Third Annual United Poultry Concerns Forum
by: Mary and Frank Hoffman - flh@all-creatures.org
for pictures of the event, go to:
http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/ar-upc3.html 

This forum brought together activists from both sides of the welfare/rights issue in a harmonious exchange of ideas on the grounds of the United Poultry Concerns' sanctuary in Machipongo, Virginia, USA. The consensus of opinion was that animal welfare campaigns and reforms do not hurt animal rights and abolition, if the direction of the animal welfare activity is abolitionist in its ultimate goal - i.e. the only way to totally eliminate animal suffering is to "Go Vegan!"

Being on the grounds of the sanctuary added emphasis to the purpose of the meetings as the birds were made a part of the proceedings rather than being excluded, had the meeting been held in a hotel. We were able to visit with the chickens, ducks, turkeys and cockatiel in the morning, at lunch time, and during our meeting breaks. Such interaction allowed us to better appreciate the individual personalities of these birds, many of whom were quite affectionate. Whatever food was left over was fed to the sanctuary residents. And since the kitchen opens onto the porch, which is used for infirm birds, we could feed the birds. They really loved the leftover pasta!

The first speaker on Saturday was Kirsten Rosenberg of The Animals' Agenda. Her subject was "Throwing the Baby Out With the Battery Cage: Looking Out for Animals' Welfare in the Pursuit of Rights." Kirsten's presentation came across as a "business approach" to arriving at our goals of eliminating animal suffering. She expressed that politics is the art of compromise, and that in our pursuit of animal rights in the future, we need to find ways to lessen the suffering of animals in our present time. "Historically, divisiveness is deadly," she said, and we need to support all actions that will help the animals, even in minor ways.

The second speaker was Joe Miele of New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance. His subject was "Getting Back to the Core of the Animal Rights Movement." Joe addressed the four major aspects of the animal advocacy movement: animal rights, animal rescue, animal sanctuaries, and welfare reform. He discounted all "band-aid" actions of the welfare movement that don't eliminate animal suffering. Joe's catchy phrase "eliminate, not alleviate" is the core of his philosophy. Joe came across as a purist abolitionist, but at the same time realizing that the abolition of animal suffering was not going to happen overnight, and that we have to do whatever we can to further that goal. Welfare that doesn't do that is working against the animals.

Joe showed little "cages" to emphasize the minor difference that the McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's "reforms" made in the torturously cramped conditions that laying hens are forced to live in. The discussion which followed, brought out the fact that even these minor differences reduced the mortality from 20% to only about 3%. Nevertheless, battery hen houses are still concentration camps.

This led us into the third presentation of the day presented by Paul Shapiro of Compassion Over Killing, a Washington, DC based organization. He presented the video, Hope for the Hopeless: An Investigation and Rescue at a Battery Egg Facility, an 18 minute documentary which shows the horrors of the lives of the battery hen. Hens were shown wedged into the wire cages so that they were unable to get food or water. A dead hen was left to decompose among her cage-mates. Such depictions emphasize the utter disregard and lack of compassion for the chickens in these factory farms. This film also reminds us how depraved some human beings can be compared to the tenderness expressed by the rescuers who took a few of the more seriously injured hens to get veterinary care, which is never provided in hen houses.

After lunch, Steve Best of Voice for All Animals, and an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at the University of Texas, El Paso, presented his talk entitled, Undoing False Oppositions: Lessons from the Social Revolutionaries. He said that veganism is our radicalism. He defended the recent welfare reforms brought about in the fast food industry through the efforts of PETA and others.

Steve argued that welfarism and reforms are not logically or practically separate from revolution and rights. Steve emphasized that capitalism was the main cause of the torture of animals in the agriculture industry. But, we believe that the real problem lies in the depraved nature of our fellow human beings who abuse animals for their own personal gain. They use capitalism to further their goals. By comparison, the same evil things were happening in the Soviet Union, and they are happening in China, today, at an ever increasing rate. The "revolution" that is needed is within the human heart. Steve said that we need to develop a coherent strategy for the animal rights movement similar to the other major historical social movements.

The next speaker was Sean Day, an attorney from Washington DC, who presented his talk entitled, "Beyond Rights Vs. Welfare: A Model for Evaluating Efforts in Furtherance of Animal Rights." He emphasized that any welfare action that isn't at least a step toward abolition is not doing the animals any good.

Sean said that welfare reform laws seem to empower animal abusers more than they serve to help eliminate the suffering of animals. He gave the example of Edward Taub, who was convicted of animal abuse in the 1981 Silver Springs, MD monkey case, only to have his conviction overturned in federal court based on the ineffective Animal Welfare Act. He said that since 1966 there have been no criminal convictions resulting from the Animal Welfare Act. Additionally, 85% of all animals are not covered by this Law.

Sean, a former welfarist, is now a purist abolitionist. He opposes the current "Downed Animal Legislation Amendment," because there is no enforcement provision. He said that the only veterinary care provided is intended to get the animal to walk to its death.

The last speaker was Bruce Friedrich of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who spoke on Sunday morning. His talk was entitled, "Welfare v. Liberation: Mutually Exclusive? Bruce's main emphasis was upon the successes and media attention that lead to people going vegan. He argued that the welfare reforms negotiated with the fast food giants brought the abuse of animals in the food industry to the public eye.

Before coming to PETA, Bruce spent more than six years working in a shelter for homeless families and soup kitchens in inner-city Washington, DC.

Following each speaker and at the end of each day's talks, there was a discussion period for the free exchange of ideas.

We emphasized that we must direct our attention to the religious community in ways that do not depart from the Bible. It is important to show God's intent of vegan living both in the creation (Genesis 1:28-29) and in heaven to come (Revelation 21:4). We emphasized that the Hebrew Biblical understanding of compassion for animals has been lost in most of Christian teachings, and it needs to be reintroduced.

The final consensus of opinion was:

* that we need to find better ways of working together toward our common goal;

* that it is not worth pursuing any welfare or reform activity that is not a step toward abolition,

* that we must emphasize "Go Vegan!" as a part of any activity.

Go on to Animal Cruelty Apathy
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