By Leslie Armstrong,
Animal Rights Ruminations
Farm Sanctuary recently posted a video entitled "Welfare reform and vegan advocacy: the facts": http://ccc.farmsanctuary.org/welfare-reform-and-vegan-advocacy-the-facts/
This video is full of misleading and inaccurate information and does a great disservice to animal advocates and the animal rights movement. Frankly, Farm Sanctuary and its president, Gene Baur, should be embarrassed by this most recent piece of shameless propaganda.
In response to this video, James LaVeck and Jenny Stein of Humane Myth
wrote a powerful piece which addresses the core problem with messages such
as the one presented in this video. As they state on the Humane Myth
facebook page, “The only thing standing in the way of the animal rights
movement becoming a great social justice revolution is a poverty of
imagination and a shortfall of personal conviction. It is up to all of us to
transcend the cynicism of these times, and to reach for something higher.”
I strongly urge all animal advocates to read this important article.
In my response to this video (which follows), I basically itemize all of the misleading information, hypocrisy, unsubstantiated conclusions, and illogical arguments contained therein. Points from the video are in bold and my responses are without bold. If you would like to see the referenced back-up documentation that could not be provided online, please ask for such in a comment.
It’s easy for discussions to get stuck in sound bites and posturing about who cares more about animals. Animal liberation is not about our own personal purity.
All the people I know who are speaking out against treatment issues are not ego-centric and are not trying to win or seem more pure than anyone else. They just want the movement to have integrity, to be truthful, and to be effective. Attempting to marginalize anyone who questions the strategies and, ultimately, the authority of the large organizations is one of the methods used by these groups to shut down discussion and critical thinking.
We can’t just cling to the idea that if we always ask for exactly what we want and nothing less, that that will bring about the best possible world for animals.
Animal rights advocates need to consistently state clearly what is moral and just and not stray from the core message that animals are not ours to use. It is inappropriate, disingenuous, and counter-productive to tell the public that animals are not ours to use and then tell them that eating “higher quality” animal products is a real solution and just as valid as refraining from eating animal products. The same applies to praising animal-using businesses for making untrue statements about how they only sell “humane” animal products.
Data Point 1: Welfare reforms reduce suffering and provide immediate good for animals
"Suffering" is a highly subjective term, and it's all too easy to make scientific sounding claims about how this non-scientific, non-quantifiable internal experience is "reduced" by welfare “reforms” supposedly caused by legislation or industry promises. The images that are shown in this video when discussing this “fact” − with the hens in clean, relatively spacious cages and barns− are not even representative of the norm.
The first image depicting “enriched colony housing” is not based on reality but is actually from industry marketing materials and doesn’t contain real hens. Very interestingly, this specific system is being used in California by J.S. West & Co. which is challenging the confinement provisions of Proposition 2. Despite claims made by Farm Sanctuary, the law that resulted from Prop 2 does not ban cages; it simply mandates that the included animals be able to exhibit certain behaviors. Therefore, West claims that it can use battery cages in California without violating the law. Of course, this sort of vagueness and the resulting endless disagreements about interpretations and enforcement of such laws is another reason why campaigns to pass husbandry reform legislation wastes resources that could be better used in other ways.
The second image of hens in a spacious barn is also not the norm. As you will note, when this photo is shown, the narrator states “…hens on cage-free farms or in enriched cages suffer a lot less than hens in battery cages.” However, when Paul Shapiro was a grassroots activist doing open rescue work, before he became HSUS Vice President, he was quoted as saying; "But "cage free" doesn't necessarily mean much in terms of quality of life for hens. Eggs labeled "cage free" often come from hens packed side by side in massive sheds. Their access to the outdoors may be only through a tiny opening.”
The tragic reality of what life is like for farmed animals on farms all over the US is very different from what is portrayed in the media, in industry marketing materials, and in this Farm Sanctuary video.
The so-called “humane” provisions in “welfare” laws are phased in over many years and the language is very vague (see more info about these welfare laws in my first blog). Furthermore, “welfare” laws all contain many exceptions that can be used if an inspector ever does show up and question the facility. And we all should know that the USDA and state agriculture departments are understaffed, underfunded, and friendly with the animal agriculture industry. In my first blog piece, I gave many different examples of HSUS criticizing the USDA for not doing its job. And very recently, the USDA has come under fire once again – this time at a slaughterhouse used by In-N-Out Burger – for being grossly negligent.
What makes us think that the USDA is going to enforce these vague laws full of loopholes? Even if a facility is actually fined for violating the law, it will just see the low cost of paying the fine as the cost of doing business.
Do we really think that enriched cages (called for in H.R.3798, the federal egg bill, which is supported by Farm Sanctuary and other large organizations) are any better for the birds? According to a HSUS report, hens who live in enriched cages live an extremely unhealthy and miserable existence (this report was published before HSUS partnered with the United Egg Producers to support this fatally flawed piece of legislation).
It is true that if the industry actually gets rid of a few of their worst practices based on customer demand or economic motives, this might provide some animals a minuscule reduction in their pain and agony in some instances. But animal rights groups should not be praising them for doing so. And they shouldn’t spend their resources fighting for “welfare” reforms that give legitimacy to the thought that it’s okay to exploit and kill animals for our own use. When we work on treatment campaigns, it’s easy for the industry to answer the problems, to co-opt our message, and even to appropriate our language.
However, when we talk about the use and killing of animals being morally wrong, the industry cannot derail, discredit, or co-opt our message. That is why they are so highly motivated to partner with animal advocacy organizations willing to push this undeniable truth under the rug.
Two final notes regarding Farm Sanctuary's mixed message about “humane” animal products. In 2009, this organization launched a campaign and developed a report to let the public know the truth behind “humane” animal products. In a related press release, Farm Sanctuary co-founder and president Gene Baur said, “Most people will be surprised to learn that even the most stringent standards often fail to meet their expectations about how animals should be treated. For example, in many of these labeling schemes, 'free range' birds still spend their entire lives tightly packed together in sheds, physical mutilations like debeaking and tail docking are still allowed, and there are no requirements for outdoor access for some species. We developed this report to provide the facts and increase the transparency of the labeling process so the public knows what they are purchasing.”
A Farm Sanctuary pamphlet entitled “The Truth Behind “Humane” Meat, Milk, and Eggs” includes the following statement, “According to Webster’s Dictionary, “humane” means “characterized by kindness, mercy or compassion.” Commodifying and slaughtering sentient animals is incompatible with this definition.”
But isn’t this recent Farm Sanctuary video completely incompatible with its “Truth Behind Labels” campaign?
Additionally, a senior Farm Sanctuary staffer, Bruce Friedrich, wrote in 2010 (before he joined the Farm Sanctuary staff) that eating animals is “indefensible” and “eating meat supports cruelty so severe that it would warrant felony cruelty charges were dogs or cats so horribly abused -- and that's true even of so-called ‘humane’ farms.”
Friedrich also wrote an entire article indicating his viewpoint about the invalidity of “humane” animal products for the February 2006 edition of Satya Magazine. However, he later asked that this article be removed from the Satya web site. Below are quotes from his article.
“Eating “humane meat” causes more animals to suffer on factory farms and die in industrial slaughterhouses – animals who otherwise might be saved by adopting and advocating vegetarianism’s message of compassion.”
“Not only are many of the humane labels – like “Swine Welfare” and “Animal Care” – entirely meaningless, describing animals treated in the same way as unlabeled products (see PETA’s discussion at GoVeg.com), but please ask yourself a basic question: Would you be willing to cut an animal’s throat?”
“Calling any of these products “humane” – a word that references our very best nature – distorts the meaning of the word.”
Friedrich was also a board member of Farm Forward in June of this year when that organization agreed to administer a $151,000 ASPCA grant to turkey farmer Frank Reese (a fellow Farm Forward board member) to assist his “humane” turkey operation.
Data Point 2: The animal ag industry spends millions to oppose welfare reforms, because reforms are bad for the industry
The industry obviously has a multipronged approach to advancing its agenda. Spending money to fight its so-called opposition is one way, and collaborating with wealthy animal advocacy groups is another way. This is how powerful interests achieve their goals. It's well known that major lobbyists donate to both Republican and Democratic candidates.
Illustrating how the animal ag industry collaborates with animal advocacy groups, the United Egg Producers (UEP), which represents 95% of all the nation’s egg farms, is strongly endorsing the aforementioned federal egg bill in cooperation with HSUS. According to UEP President Gene Gregory, this bill means the survival of the egg industry. Additionally, hundreds of individual animal ag associations and egg farmers have also endorsed this federal egg bill.
James LaVeck wrote a very informative article about how clever the animal industry leaders are and how the large animal organizations are playing right into their hands. It should be required reading for anyone who is bothered by the current state of the movement.
Data Point 3: Welfare reforms are followed by a reduction in consumption of the affected animal products
The information in the video about what is going on in Europe is mostly speculative so that really means nothing. What is true, though, is that global meat consumption is skyrocketing.
Regarding the USA, there is plenty of evidence that consumers want “higher-quality” animal products and are willing to pay the price. In this article, agricultural economists conclude that, in the US, higher egg prices most likely won’t affect consumption. A University of California Davis study showed how the sale of “humane” meat is dramatically increasing. This article shows that when a major NY grocer started selling “humane” veal, his sales went up 35%. Certified Humane (sponsored by HSUS) reports that selling “humane” animal products will increase sales.
Data Point 4: Media coverage of animal welfare issues causes people to eat less meat
The one study used in this video to misleadingly “prove” this point claimed to show that when media attention was paid to animal welfare issues, meat consumption decreased. This study only shows a small correlational relationship between the two variables - it does not come close to showing a causal relationship which is viewed as the gold standard of research.
Data Point 5: Welfare reforms go hand in hand with decreased meat consumption
My response to this one is basically the same as my response to Data Point/Fact 4. The charts and graphs in the video may show a loose correlational relationship between “welfare reform” and reduced meat consumption but they definitely do not show a causal one which, as previously mentioned, is the standard for valid research. Correlational relationships prove nothing.
This unscientific and unconvincing conclusion doesn’t take into account that if animal product consumption is, in fact, decreasing in certain areas or in certain segments of the population or for certain brief periods, it very easily could be caused by many different factors, including an increased awareness of how animal products affect our health and the environment or an increase in pricing due to the state of the economy, weather conditions, or food shortages.
To be more specific, it is stated in the video that meat consumption has decreased dramatically over the past ten years, especially since 2005. To be clear, I am not convinced that the chart used in the video contains valid data. However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the data is accurate. Then, according to this chart, meat consumption does not really start to decrease until closer to 2008 – when the US economic recession started and when the largest beef recall in history occurred due to food safety concerns. Failing to consider major factors such as these raises even more questions about the credibility of the argument being made.
European countries with stronger protections for farmed animals also have more vegetarians
This is one more instance of the video featuring a possible correlational relationship (which proves nothing) but not providing any evidence of a cause and effect relationship.
The organizations sponsoring and endorsing welfare reforms are carrying out the overwhelming majority of efforts to encourage vegan eating
Yes, some of the organizations listed in the video do both welfare campaigns and promote veganism (to varying degrees). However, what goes unaddressed is the negative impact their very generously funded "humane" animal product initiatives have on vegan advocacy. Large numbers of community educators report that since major animal advocacy organizations started endorsing and promoting "humane" animal products in the mid-2000's, they have seen more and more people who reject the vegan message and instead express their concern for animals by buying the "right kind" of animal products, most often from Whole Foods. The CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, sits on the board of HSUS.
In this article, this video, this piece, and this article, HSUS President Wayne Pacelle states the following:
"We don’t say you must be vegan”
“I don’t think everyone needs to adopt a vegetarian diet to make a difference”
“[I’m] not out to liberate all beasts at all costs”
“We think (animal) farming is a noble profession”
Pacelle on the Ellen Show: “I’m a vegan but people are going to eat meat and if they’re going to eat meat they shouldn’t allow/tolerate the animals to be treated this way.” (Not once did he encourage Ellen’s viewers to go vegan or explain to them that being vegan is the only way to have a compassionate diet.)
HSUS Vice President for Farm Animal Protection, Paul Shapiro, stated in one interview and confirmed it in another interview: "HSUS...does not have an ‘anti-meat’ agenda, is not plotting the demise of animal agriculture.”
The following terms are not included in the index of Pacelle’s book, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them: vegan, vegetarian, diet, or plant-based diet.
HSUS recently put an animal killer on its payroll when it hired Joe
Maxwell, a pig farmer, as its director of rural affairs. Mr. Maxwell’s job
is to provide more marketing opportunities for so-called “humane” animal
killers. Maxwell (along with his partners) sends 1,000 pigs every week to be
The most recent HSUS magazine glorifies “humane” farms on eight pages and
not once is veganism mentioned in the article.
In the President’s Note (not available online) of this same magazine,
Pacelle touts his organization’s husbandry reform “victories” and states,
“While virtually all animals used for food will go through the unenviable
process of slaughter, the run-up to that moment – in short, the bulk of
their lives – need not be filled with privation, misery, and fear.” This
horrifically hypocritical statement is reminiscent of another of Pacelle’s
jewels, “And yes, they are going to have at least one day when they go to
slaughter but the rest of their life does not need to be one of misery and
Hence, claiming that HSUS promotes veganism is not credible when those types of comments and its extensive collaboration with the industry is taken into consideration.
Data Point 6: People who make a small change become more likely to make a large change
Obviously, “the foot in the door phenomenon” may have some merit in certain situations. However, it is not a valid argument for using treatment campaigns. Eating animals is so ingrained in our culture that even individuals who care about animals are going to use every rationalization and justification they can to continue to do so with a clear conscience. And the treatment campaigns give them plenty of help in that regard. (See my blog piece for many articles about how former vegetarians/vegans are eating animals again in response to the trend of “humane” animal products which are happily promoted by animal organizations.)
Additionally, our movement should be about social justice and about what is morally right. It should not be about appeasing animal-eating members of the large organizations and it should not be about claiming “victories” that can be used for fund-raising purposes. Sadly, though, these seem to be the real reasons why the large organizations are all now working on treatment campaigns and not the disingenuous reasons shown in this video and in other such propaganda.
For information about how to respond to this type of organizational double-speak, please read these compelling and important articles from Humane Myth about how the large corporate groups are using tried and true PR tactics in order to shut down discussion of these issues.
- Protect Online Dialog from Manipulation http://www.humanemyth.org/mediabase/1538.htm
- Recognize Counterspin