The Capitalist Free Market Has Always Betrayed Animals - and It's Doing It Again
A Meat and Dairy Industries Article from

FROM John Sanbonmatsu, Ph.D.,
October 2019

Read more at Clean Meat Hoax Articles

It was capitalism that reduced animals to the ontological status of mere machines, capitalism that vastly amplified human powers of exploitation and slaughter, and capitalist markets for fur, meat, dairy, and eggs that led to the creation of the modern animal agriculture system, including its factory farms and vast slaughterhouses.

The trouble isn't just the way the vegan and high-tech start-ups are going about their business: it's the phenomenon itself, which both reflects and amplifies the growing inequalities and injustices of society at large.

It is urgent that our movement join with other citizens' movements, including environmental, social justice, and anti-capitalist ones, to build a future society that will be meaningfully different from the one we already have. Only that, not venture capital, will save the planet and its creatures--if anything will.

Cruel... Art by Sue Coe

One of the most disturbing, Orwellian things one hears more and more within the animal advocacy movement, particularly from boosters of Clean Meat, is that animals are going to be saved by the capitalist free market.

Yes, that capitalist free market. The one we have to thank for colonialism, the slave trade, two World Wars, and the fact that after 500 years of "the free market," half of all human beings live on two dollars per day or less, while the richest 42 individual own more wealth than the poorest 3,700,000,000.[1] The system we have to thank, too, for killing billions of animals each year, wrecking the ecology of the entire planet, and wiping out 60% of all wild animals on the earth--in just the last 40 years.[2]

It is hard to imagine anything more ill-conceived and dangerous than entrusting the fate of the animals--and the animal advocacy movement as a whole--to the world-destroying institutions and dynamics of "capitalist free enterprise." As Dinesh Wadiwel observes:

"There is no market based solution to humanity’s mass violence towards animals. Capitalism’s inherent tendency is to endlessly utilize new product offerings and product differentiation to build consumer markets, finding new ways to expand the production of consumption items....We highly suspicious of glimmering 'techno-fixes' that promise to resolve the problem of human domination of animals. Human-animal relations are an example of a deep form of structural oppression. It is highly problematic to expect tech industries to come up with solutions to injustice, just as we would not expect technologies to deliver solutions to wealth inequality, racism, patriarchy, ableism or homophobia."

Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen a succession of powerful, white (and often wealthy) men from within the lobbying wing of the animal advocacy movement seize the national spotlight to align themselves and the movement with capitalism, which they present as the cure for the suffering and oppression of animals.

In 2016, thus, Wayne Pacelle, the now-disgraced former president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the world's largest animal welfare organization (Pacelle was forced to resign from the organization in 2018, amidst sexual harassment accusations), published a bestselling book, The Humane Economy, in which he argued that the capitalist free market was saving animals and smashing speciesism, by creating economic incentives for animals' well-being. As critics pointed out at the time, however, Pacelle's faith in the free market encompassed a Candide-like naivete about the way capitalism in fact functions.

In 2017, yet another powerful white man from within animal advocacy, Paul Shapiro, formerly a vice president at the HSUS, published a similar bestseller, Clean Meat, which advanced similar claims--that the free market is soon going to make animal agriculture obsolete. Shapiro predicted that with the advent of Clean Meat in particular, capitalist "biotechnology may well be transformed from the nemesis of farm animals into their salvation." In 2018, Shapiro went on to create a capitalist start-up himself, The Better Meat Company, helping the meat industry extend its profitability and greenwash its public image by mixing plant proteins in with dead animals. The Better Meat Co. tells meat companies how they can help them, "Enhance taste and texture of your products"; "Improve the health profile of your products by reducing calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol"; and "Improve the environmental footprint of your products, helping you achieve your corporate sustainability goals."

In 2018 Shapiro was himself accused of sexual misconduct allegations, and forced to leave his position at HSUS.[3] The allegations do not appear to have slowed his corporate enterprise one jot, but they have at least damaged his reputation in some sectors of the animal advocacy movement. Shapiro's fall was long overdue, a symptom of the toxic, sexist institutional culture of the mainstream animal welfare movement. (See Carol J. Adams' trenchant report, here--also see the last 15 minutes of Adams' talk at Harvard, about "bro culture" in the animal welfare movement, here.) Incredibly, yet another major proponent of both the "humane" agriculture myth and clean meat, Nick Cooney--a co-founder of the Good Food Institute--has also been accused of sexually harassing and bullying women.

Now into the national spotlight comes Bruce Friedrich--the last Great White Hope standing. Friedrich, who worked for years as a major player at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, worked with Shapiro and others to advance the "humane" animal agriculture myth. Today, through the Good Food Institute, New Crop Capital, and Clear Current Capital, Friedrich is again pushing the morally bankrupt and politically fanciful notion that the animals will be saved by high-tech capitalism.

Friedrich is now the subject of a recent hagiographic profile in the New York Times, in which he is lionized for turning his back on the animal rights movement to concentrate instead on "Clean" Meat technology and entrepreneurial capital. Times journalist Nathaniel Popper begins by noting that Friedrich was once a radical animal rights activist who rose through the ranks at PETA. "But," Popper writes, "[Friedrich] realized at a certain point that his activism wasn’t achieving his goal — getting fewer people to kill, eat and wear animals." As Friedrich tells Popper, “We’ve tried to convince the world to go vegan, and it has not worked." Now, Popper says, Friedrich "is hoping capitalism might work where activism and persuasion fell short."

As the glowing profile goes on to highlight, major funders of Friedrich's Good Food Institute include Jack and Suzy Welch. Jack, for those who don't know, was for years the CEO of General Electric--one of the world's biggest corporate polluters, war profiteers, and the biggest manufacturer of nuclear weapons systems. (Welch himself became famous for receiving the largest severance package in history, nearly half a billion dollars.) No one knows who else is funding GFI. CleanMeat-Hoax recently contacted Friedrich for information about the other wealthy donors who have funded the nonprofit Good Food Institute, which is currently worth nearly $10 million--a huge war chest for a brand new nonprofit--as well as the two for-profit venture capitalist funds Friedrich founded and now advises, New Crop Capital and Clear Current Capital. Stay tuned.

It's a profound mistake for animal advocates to put their faith and trust in venture capitalists. The trouble isn't just the way the vegan and high-tech start-ups are going about their business: it's the phenomenon itself, which both reflects and amplifies the growing inequalities and injustices of society at large. As Breeze Harper [] notes: "The whole food-tech startup thing is the problem, framed as it is through a white neoliberal-capitalist masculinist logic that is in itself deeply problematic— at least, here in the USA and especially in Silicon Valley/SF Bay area where I live. The conversation about 'clean meat'…is part of the larger problem of relying on neoliberal ‘green’ capitalist models + technocracy to ’save’ human beings that are contingent upon anti-Blackness, systemic racism, gentrification, etc."

Horse Manure and Henry Ford

In his TED talk and other public talks, Friedrich likes to tell the story of "horse manure" as a way of showing how capitalist markets and technological innovations have historically helped advance animal interests. (Friedrich does not claim that capitalist markets always advance animal interests, but this seems to be implied.) Apparently in coordination with Friedrich, Paul Shapiro, the author of Clean Meat, a former animal welfare executive, and now a capitalist entrepreneur at the Better Meat Co., where he is shamefully helping the meat industry expand its product line with "hybrid" products that add plant protein to meat from farmed animals, also now trots out the story about Henry Ford, boasting that "Henry Ford did more for horses than animal rights activists ever did."

It is worth taking a closer look at this story and the way Friedrich tells it, because it reveals the fallacy that capitalist technology always--or even ever--advances animal rights.

As Friedrich explains to his audiences, by the late-19th century, fecal waste from horses--then the primary means of human transport--had become a severe environmental and public health problem in many cities across the world. In 1898, the streets of New York City alone were full of 175,000 horses pulling carts and carriages. The resulting horse manure, 50,000 tons of it each month in New York, had created a huge disposal problem that no one knew what to do with. In 1878, Friedrich explains, urban planners convened from around the world to find a solution to the problem. But when the conference ended, they still didn't have one.

Friedrich explains all this, alluding in passing to the plight of the exploited horses, too, whose "carcasses" could be seen everywhere, before showing how a capitalist entrepreneur turned the whole thing around. In 1908, he tells his audiences, "Henry Ford introduces the Model T, and within four years, there are more cars than horses on the streets of New York City, and horse-drawn carriages are relegated to the status of tourist attraction...." Capitalism thus saved the horses and meanwhile provided us with the benevolent innovation of the automobile--a miraculous technology we are still using today.

"What you've got, and you've got food technology, and they're going to save the world, and you can be part of it." So ends Friedrich's public tutorial on the virtues of free market innovation. Quod erat demonstratum.

Unfortunately, this rosy picture of capitalist innovation overlooks so many trenchant facts that cataloguing them would take a book-length treatise. (Stay tuned for that.) So we can only touch on a few of the more obvious problems with Friedrich's Gee-Whiz representation of the horse-to-car story.

Let us leave aside the well-known problems with Henry Ford himself--his anti-Semitism and admiration for Adolph Hitler (who evidently once hoped that Ford would lead the Fascist movement in America), his company's notorious "hygiene" squads, which were sent to spy on Ford Motor Company workers at harm (to enforce proper living habits), and so on. Let's look instead at what his mass assembly line helped unleash upon the world--namely, a lethal culture of automobility which has fragmented the natural landscape, destroyed millions of acres of habitat, killed and injured billions of animals (including over a million humans) in the US and across the world, and has become a leading source of urban pollution and climate change emissions. And so on.

What's the moral of the Ford story? There are two. First, there is no democratic accountability in technological development under capitalism. Powerful, unscrupulous individuals, mostly male and mostly white, make unilateral decisions that change the culture without the consent of the people who will be affected by those decisions. Second, technological innovations often produce contradictory effects. "New" does not necessarily mean "better." The introduction of the inexpensive automobile did indeed lead to the rapid obsolescence of horses as a means of transportation. And although horses still die in the hundreds of thousands around the world, for human consumption and other exploitative purposes, at least they die in significantly large numbers. However, automobility has meanwhile poisoned and directly killed far, far more animals than ever perished in the horse trade.

But Friedrich's story is most fascinating for what it leaves out--which is five centuries of capitalist exploitation of animals and humans across the whole surface of the globe. It was capitalism that reduced animals to the ontological status of mere machines, capitalism that vastly amplified human powers of exploitation and slaughter, and capitalist markets for fur, meat, dairy, and eggs that led to the creation of the modern animal agriculture system, including its factory farms and vast slaughterhouses.

Two years before Henry Ford introduced the Model T, Upton Sinclair published his famous novel about the Chicago stockyards and meatpacking industry, in which he described in grotesque and vivid detail the suffering of pigs in the hog industry, as well as the suffering of the human workers in killing them. In fact, it wasn't Henry Ford who invented the assembly line, with its minute, machinic, segmented division of labor, it was the engineers in the stockyards. It was they who created the "disassembly" lines that turned living beings into dead matter. As Sinclair movingly wrote:

"They climbed a long series of stairways outside of the building, to the top of its five or six stories....Here was the chute...there was a place for them to rest to cool off, and then through another passageway they went into a room....It was a long, narrow room....At the head there was a great iron wheel, about twenty feet in circumference, with rings here and there along its edge. Upon both sides of this wheel there was a narrow space, into which came the hogs at the end of their journey....In a minute or began slowly to revolve, and then the men upon each side of it sprang to work. They had chains which they fastened about the leg of nearest hog, and the other end of the chain they hooked into one of the rings upon the wheel. So, as the wheel turned, a hog was suddenly jerked off his feet and borne aloft.

"At the same instant, the ear was assailed by a most terrifying shriek....The shriek was followed by another, louder and yet more agonizing....

"Meantime...the men upon the floor were going about their work. Neither squeals of hogs nor tears of visitors made any difference to them; one by one with a swift stroke they slit their throats. There was a long line of hogs, with squeals and life-blood ebbing away together; until at least each started again, and vanished with a splash into a huge vat of boiling water.

"It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was pork-making by machinery, pork-making by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests....Each one of these hogs was a separate creature. Some were white hogs, some were black; some were brown, some were spotted; some were old, some were young....And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity....Now suddenly [Fate] had swooped upon him, and seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, it was; all his protests, his screams, were nothing to it—it did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life....

"The carcass hog was scooped out of the vat by machinery, and then it fell to the second floor, passing on the way through a wonderful machine with numerous scrapers...It was then again strung up by machinery, and sent upon another trolley ride; this time passing between two lines of men....One scraped the outside of a leg; another scraped the inside...One with a swift stroke cut the throat; another with two swift strokes severed the head, which fell to the floor and vanished through a hole."[4]

Incredible as it is, these very same ruthless destroyers of animal life--the Smithfields, Tysons, Perdues, Cargills--are now being portrayed by Clean Meat proponents as "noble" (Bruce Friedrich), as the "saviors" (Paul Shapiro) of the animals. It would all be funny, if it weren't so terribly grotesque. Capitalism is not merely not a friend of animals; it is by nature "inimical to all animal life" on earth. As John Sanbonmatsu writes:

"There is no need for us to romanticize past forms of exploitative human-nonhuman relations in earlier epochs to observe that under modern capitalist relations the earth’s other beings have suffered a truly calamitous fall. The consolidation of capitalism has led to a world-wide system of production that is quite literally inimical to animal life on earth. Capitalism is inimical to animal life because it reduces living beings to the status of commodities; because it cannibalizes the ecological order, destroying the conditions necessary to the surival and flourishing of life itself; because it engenders a “machinic” civilization, a technologized system of production, in which vulnerable beings—including, at times, human beings too—are viewed as mere matter to be disposed of at will by capital; because it corrupts democracy and makes use of the state as a weapon against vulnerable human and nonhuman animal interests; because it aggrandizes and extends the reach of corporate power and influence over human life throughout society; because it alienates human beings from one another and from other beings; because it blurs the distinction between subjects and objects, persons and things; because it creates a 'second,' artifactual nature that alienates us from other natural beings and leads us to mistake cultural and historical constructions for immutable, self-evident 'facts.' Finally, capitalism 'interpellates' or molds us, psychologically and behaviorally, into self-interested, isolated 'consumers,' thus thwarting the emergence of alternative forms of development, ones that might encourage us to conceive ourselves as free beings capable of compassion, moral deliberation, and public reason."[5]

The notion that this amoral system of ecological apocalypse and global exploitation is going to save the animals and eliminate animal agriculture, as Clean Meat proponents claim it will (though always with asterisks and fine print), traduces logic and common sense. As Robert C. Jones observes:

"The cultural, institutional, systemic oppression of nonhuman animals is a social justice issue. Advocates for so-called 'clean meat' like the Good Food Institute's Bruce Friedrich and Mercy for Animals' Leah Garcés promise that market demand for clean meat will end animal agriculture as we know it. I am skeptical. Is my skepticism warranted? Show me one social justice movement that was solved by the free market."

It is urgent that our movement join with other citizens' movements, including environmental, social justice, and anti-capitalist ones, to build a future society that will be meaningfully different from the one we already have. Only that, not venture capital, will save the planet and its creatures--if anything will.

NOTE: Readers wanting to learn more about the relationship between the intersection between capitalism as a world system and speciesism would "profit" from visiting the online journal, Animal Liberation Currents, and by reading David Nibert's book, Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domescration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict (Columbia University Press, 2013), among many other scholarly works available on the subject. An excellent resource on the ways in which capitalist biotechnology is degrading and destroying animals in their very "being" is Zipporah Weisberg's article, "Biotechnology as End Game".


[1] Oxfam report, January 2018.

[2] Living Planet Report 2018, World Wildlife Fund. The Fund blames "overconsumption"--a euphemism for capitalism--for most biodiversity losses.
[3] Ian Kullgren, "Female Employees Allege Culture of Sexual Harassment at Humane Society," Politico, Jan. 30, 2018.

[4] Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (New York: Doubleday, Page, & Co., 1906) pp. 40-42.

[5] John Sanbonmatsu, "Capitalism and Speciesism," in David Nibert, ed., Animal Oppression and Capitalism, Vol. 2 (Santa Barbara: Praeger/ABC-CLIO, 2017).

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