Throwing Animals - and Animal Advocacy - Under the Bus
A Meat and Dairy Industries Article from

FROM John Sanbonmatsu, Ph.D.,
July 2019

Read more at Clean Meat Hoax Articles

Those seeking justice have only three things to comfort them in their long struggle: the truth, moral commitment and solidarity with others. It is deeply troubling, in this regard, that the Clean Meat lobby has demonstrated its willingness, even eagerness, to undermine all three of these aspects critical to successful animal advocacy - in order to promote its capital investments with the meat industry.

By taking ethics off the table, the Clean Meat lobby effectively reduces meat consumption to an aesthetic choice among competing products. 

Sue Coe
If Animals Believed in God the Devil Would Look Like a Human Being - Sue Coe

Those who stand courageously against power have little on their side, but much to oppose them. Their vision of a just world stands outside the prevailing common sense; their values are scorned and held in general contempt; and their enemies are able to mobilize society easily against them. Those seeking justice, meanwhile, have only three things to comfort them in their long struggle: the truth, moral commitment, and solidarity with others.

It is deeply troubling, in this regard, that the Clean Meat lobby has demonstrated its willingness, even eagerness, to undermine all three of these aspects critical to successful animal advocacy--in order to promote its capital investments with the meat industry. Instead of educating the public about the truth of animal agriculture, the horrific violence that is its basis, Clean Meat advocates seek to "cleanse" the public conversation about meat of any reference to the actual facts of animal suffering. Instead of engaging in moral discourse or embracing animal rights, they explicitly disavow ethics and depict speciesism as a mere "technical" problem--one that will soon be fixed by amoral capitalist entrepreneurs. Instead of working in solidarity with vegans, they trivialize their perspectives--and emphasize their failures.

Proponents of Clean Meat tell two very different stories about their project, depending on who their audience is. When they're in the company of animal rights advocates or vegans, they identify Clean Meat with the broader movement goal of ending animal agriculture, and boast that the new technology is the solution to animal oppression. When they're in the company of the meat industry or the mainstream press, however, they trash-talk vegans (whom they depict as naive idealists) and portray animal advocacy as a failure. Meanwhile, they publicly align themselves with the animal industrial complex, even heaping praise on some of the biggest animal-killing companies on the earth.

What's wrong with this picture? Everything.

Solidarity is the basis for all social movement activism. It was through solidarity that women won the right to vote, and that black Americans overcame Jim Crow. It was through solidarity that gays and lesbians succeeded in getting Big Pharma and the US government to take the AIDS crisis seriously. And it is through solidarity, with the animals and with other activists, that the animal advocacy movement itself will some day succeed - if it is to succeed. What then does it mean for animal advocacy when Bruce Friedrich, the former PETA Vice President now leading the lobbying effort for so-called Clean Meat, tells a reporter with the national press: ďI donít care much if vegetarians or vegans are supportive" of cellular meat? It means that the Clean Meat lobby is throwing the animal rights movement under the bus. It means that the CM lobby will cut backroom deals with the worst offenders in the meat industry, trivialize animal interests, and otherwise demonstrate its unwillingness to be held accountable to others in the movement--to their values or their long-term goals.

In his writing and public appearances, Friedrich has depicted the animal rights and vegan movements as failures, and has publicly chided animal activists for criticizing his efforts to recruit big meat companies for Clean Meat investments. In 2016, for example, Friedrich wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, entitled, "Vegans' Bullheaded Beef with Tyson Foods,"in which he openly denigrated the vegans and animal advocates who have criticized him for cozying up to Tyson Foods and other killers of animals. Like Paul Shapiro, Friedrich seems to feel that he should not be accountable to the animal movement. As Karen Davis, the president of United Poultry Concerns, observes:

"Friedrich's declaration that the plight of animals does not and never will sufficiently move most people to change their diets, since it hasnít yet done so on a grand scale, is glib and simply gives people a pass to be ethically inert where animals are concerned. It isnít so much the prospect of cellular meat per se that disturbs me as the coupling of it with the denigration of animal rights activism and of animals themselves.

"If people are being told that the animals donít really matter and that humans can never change their behavior in this respect, and this message is coming even from animal advocates, then the concerted societal message is just that there is an infinite smorgasbord of 'food' products for the human omnivore, and animal advocates have succumbed to the abusersí viewpoint and everything is as the philosopher George Santayana said about life itself, 'ashes in the mouth.'Ē

The Clean Meat lobby has deliberately de-highlighted violence against animals, embracing a marketing strategy that seeks to appeal to consumers' self-interests. Characteristic is the promotional copy for the Israeli Clean Meat start-up, Aleph Foods, which promotes its cellular meat as follows: "At Aleph Farms, we believe meat is one of lifeís pleasures, to be celebrated and enjoyed [but] without the downsides to health and the environment." ""Finally, meat you can enjoy that's good for your health, and good for the planet!"

We thus see Aleph foods promoting two key messages about meat. First, that meat is one of life's essential pleasures. Second, that consumers should choose the "new" meat (1) for their "health" and (2) for "the planet." Where are the animals? Aleph Foods and other CM business sometimes mention animal welfare, too--but in passing and almost apologetically. Typical of the approach is Mike Seldon of Finless Foods, who has stated: "What we do is create non-vegan, non-vegetarian real fish meat, without the mercury, without the plastic, without the environmental devastation, and without the animal cruelty...." The fact that animals are always mentioned last in these marketing campaigns is troubling. The message, again, is that animals matter, but only a little.

Paul Shapiro, who has lately become a one-man wrecking crew of the animal rights movement, wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Sun Times, promoting Clean Meat, in which he boasted: "Rather than taking months or years to raise and kill whole animals, growing just the meat we want takes a fraction of the time and resources and entails fewer food safety risks. And while itís not yet on the market, as someone whoís eaten such 'clean meat' meat on many occasions, I can attest that it tastes delicious, too." The message? It's not wrong to raise and kill animals. No - it's just too time-consuming, it uses too many resources, and isn't as "safe" as lab-meat will be.

We see the same decentering of animals too in the marketing messages of the high-tech vegan companies being promoted by the Good Food Institute. Rebekah Moses, senior manager of impact strategy at Impossible Foods says: "We make meat and dairy products from plants. We do that not because it is particularly easy to do, but because this is one way to mitigate the fairly urgent environmental crisis associated with producing animal agriculture." Moses continues: "What we really wanted was to create a delicious product that can compete with beef on taste and craveability....Thatís the primary motivator for most people....Sustainability attributes are, for most consumers, a Ďnice to have" in food choice...." Moses thus doesn't bother to mention animals at all. And what happens when Impossible Foods becomes a wholly owned subsidiary, one day, of Tyson, or Perdue, or Smithfield? Will product advertisments be more, or less, likely to be designed to take market share away from real meat?

In a 2018, in a Vox interview with Friedrich, Ezra Klein remarked (on the subject of factory farming and the suffering of animals in agriculture): "Thereís a tendency to make this a moral crusade, but it increasingly seems to me that if thereís going to be an answer to this, itíll be technological."

Klein's remark mirrored the line taken by Friedrich himself, who has repeatedly stated that the goal of the Clean Meat lobby is "to take ethics off the table for the consumer."

Taking ethics "off the table" directly undermines the message of veganism and animal rights, which is that what humans are doing to other animals is a form of radical evil--not merely wrong, but terribly, unspeakably wrong. "Taking ethics off the table" sends the message to the public that it is acceptable to make light of, to obscure, to trivialize animal suffering and trauma.

Ironically, the approach is also likely to prove self-defeating. By taking ethics off the table, the Clean Meat lobby effectively reduces meat consumption to an aesthetic choice among competing products. However, if the "game" of meat is to be waged chiefly on grounds of consumer self-interest or preference, rather than on grounds of ethics, then companies marketing meat from living animals seem best poised to "win" the game, since the practical (health, taste, etc.) advantages to the consumer in buying synthetic rather than real flesh are likely to be marginal. Telling the public that animals don't matter--or matter very much--may thus undermine the case for switching from "real" to synthetic meat. Plans to market Clean Meat as a more ecologically sustainable alternative to flesh from farmed animals may convince some consumers to switch. But it is unlikely that sustainability alone will prove a sufficiently strong selling point to get people to change deeply entrenched personal consumption habits. By obscuring the harms that we inflict on animals, finally, Clean Meat is virtually ensuring that real meat stays on the table, and the dinner plate, forever. Clean Meat will simply be another "consumer choice," no more or less "ethical" than any other.

Undermining Compassion

It seems appropriate, if perverse, that the person now leading the Clean Meat lobby's strategy to de-center animals and to cover over the violence being done to them recently told the national press that he doesn't care about animals himself, anyway. According to journalist Nathaniel Popper, who recently profiled Friedrich for the New York Times, Friedrich's work "is not motivated by any sentimental or emotional attachment to other creatures." Explaining that he has a "'German, logic-based temperament,'" Friedrich told Popper that when he entered animal advocacy he did so without feeling any "'particular affinity for animals.'Ē

Such an admission, coming from the person whose corporate agenda has eclipsed the wider message of the animal rights movement, is positively chilling. Imagine someone who had spent her whole career advocating on behalf of child victims of trauma and abuse, one day telling a reporter that she doesn't feel any "particular affinity" for children and indeed has no "emotional attachment" to them. Would it be a good thing for such a person to be identified as the leading national authority on child abuse? Imagine, further, that this same person one day told the press: "It's clear that Americans don't care enough about children to stop abusing them. So we're no longer going to try to convince people that hurting or even killing children is wrong or should be prevented. Instead, we're taking ethics off the table. We're pioneering a new technology: surrogate robot children for parents to beat up and abuse. Abuse of real children, to be sure, will continue too. But as the market in robot child victims grows, and as prices come down, we believe that there will be less and less market for the real thing--over time. Meanwhile, today we're celebrating abusive parents who are involved in both activities--abuse of robot children and abuse of real children alike. Because they have noble intentions and are the wave of the future. "'We just need to deliver the same value to consumers but use better technology to produce it' (quote from Bruce Friedrich)."

Perhaps Friedrich and others are merely playing a game with the press, intentionally misrepresenting themselves as "care-less" about animal suffering and killing in order to "sell" the new Clean Meat industry. Whether or not they are playing a game or instead are in earnest, their message to the public is anathema to the goals and interests of animal advocacy. Because caring about animals--caring about their fates, caring about their killing--is the heart of our work.

As ecofeminists like Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan have argued, to advocate for animal interests without actually caring about animals oneself--without feeling for them, empathizing with them--is indeed to reinforce the very same structure and norms of masculinist thought that have produced (and which maintain) the system of speciesism. Compassion is the fundamental basis of animal advocacy, and without it we risk losing our moral compass. That it just what happened in the rush by the Humane Society of the United States and other welfare groups to promote "humane" meat, and that is what is happening now with Clean Meat. Rather than promote empathy and compassion, Clean Meat advocates are promoting capitalism, technology, and moral compromise, instead. However it ends, it will not end well for the animals.

What we are seeing is a handful of powerful white men within the movement seize the national spotlight to dictate the terms around animal interests. But in arrogating this terrain for themselves, these men are crowding out and eclipsing other, potentially more valuable perspectives, values, and voices within the movement. It is sadly ironic, that some of the very same individuals whose failed policies and ethical compromises with the meat industry did some of the worst damage to animal advocacy in the 2000s--chiefly by creating the myth of "humane" animal agriculture)--men like Wayne Pacelle, Paul Shapiro, and Bruce Friedrich--are now conflating their own past, failed policies and campaigns with the failure of the animal advocacy movement as such. As Carol J. Adams writes:

"Time and again, we've seen white men from the lobbying wing of the animal advocacy movement, men who have occupied senior positions within powerful groups, frame animal activism in a certain (limited, single issue) way, while ignoring other alternatives--like making connections across movements, drawing on a feminist ethics of care, adopting and using an anti-colonialist, antiracist approach. Lo and behold, these are the very same ones who now say that this approach--their approachódidn't work. Equating their approach with activism and animal advocacy, they tell us, 'we have to abandon activism.' No. What they should be saying is 'we need to abandon our kind of activism.' The same entitlement that made them think they had the right to impose their approach continues as they seek to reframe the issues."

These same individuals are now holding themselves out as the saviors of the movement, as the last, best hope for farmed animals. "It is interesting," Karen Davis writes, "that Clean Meat proponent Bruce Friedrich is pronouncing ethical veganism a dead end ('it didnít work' in his 20-odd years with PETA; ergo, itís a failure), whereas he is declaring that cellular meat, by contrast, is a virtually guaranteed success, even though this product doesnít actually exist and may never appear on a scale large and varied enough to affect traditional consumption." Alas, however, Friedrich's message that veganism has failed, and that because people can't be made to care about animals, synthesized meat is now the only plausible solution to the problems of animal agriculture, is, of course, what the press and the public want to hear. But it is not a message that helps advance the cause of animals.

For further reading, see veteran activist Barb Lomow's history of how Paul Shapiro, Bruce Friedrich, and others went from promoting veganism to working with the meat industry - Who's Really Behind the Clean Meat Lobby: How a Movement Was Sold Out

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