Welfare Measures vs. Utopian Dreams

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Welfare Measures vs. Utopian Dreams

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Some have argued that reducing pain and terror undermines animal liberation because it makes animal exploitation seem more acceptable. I have several disagreements to this position:

1. All efforts to ameliorate unjust systems make them less unjust and therefore more palatable to people with at least some sense of compassion and/or justice. However, if the only position of any given social justice movement is the immediate adoption of that movement's utopian dream, then I would not expect non-violent movements have much chance of success. Meanwhile, those continuing to suffer great abuse would get no relief, either from those who don't care about their plight or from those who do. Though I oppose slaughtering cows, I consider the elimination of the shackle-and-hoist method for cows as a good thing.

2. When it comes to eating animals and their products, I think there are three general groups. There are many who really don't care much about animals and seek the cheapest source of animal-derived foods, regardless of the cruelties involved. Calls for both reform and abolition fall on their deaf ears. There are others who don't want to see animals suffer excessively, but they aren't willing to give up the animal-derived foods that they prefer. If informed of factory farming practices, they will seek animal-derived products that (they believe) have come from farms that don't use the most egregious practices. These people would be pleased to see laws prohibiting the worse practices, because they really don't want animals to suffer and such laws will facilitate their getting the products they prefer.

However, I am doubtful that whether or not there are such laws will not determine whether or not they eat animal products. For many of these people, I am convinced, if animal products derived from less abusive conditions are not available, they will continue to eat the products of factory farming. Unlike dedicated animal liberationists, I would not expect many of these people, who I consider "weak animal welfarists," to be sufficiently passionate about the plight of animals on farms to abstain from foods they enjoy. Then we have the animal liberationists, who won't eat the animal products whether derived from horrendous or much less horrendous conditions.

So, for all three groups, I don't see laws that reduce animal ill-fare as significantly undermining the campaign (which itself might or might not be quixotic) to achieve complete liberation of farmed animals.

3. If one opposes any changes that reduce farmed animal ill-fare on the grounds that it "sends out the wrong message," then only one policy would be acceptable -- abolition of all animal agriculture in one step. If one opposed the poultry industry, according to their own logic, it could send out the unacceptable message that beef, pork, etc. is OK. In truth, any given action sends out a wide range of messages, and how those messages are received relates both on how the action is explained and how people want to understand the implications of that action. Does animal liberation send out the message that humans are not very important? I don't think so, but some people receive the message that way.

4. I think that those who oppose changes that would significantly improve the conditions of many animals right now should have a reasonable plan for eliminating animal exploitation in the very near future. Designs of gradually converting the population to veganism over generations are not acceptable, in my opinion, because it abandons many tens of billions of animals to great misery in the hope (perhaps unrealistic itself) that the utopian world will come someday. I am unaware of any plans that might reasonable end animal exploitation very quickly, and therefore I endorse those who aim to ameliorate their conditions, with one caveat. I will continue to object if they call killing or otherwise harming healthy animals "humane."

Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D. is Chair of The Christian Vegetarian Association.

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