Professor Gary Francione and Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary recently had a short, substantive exchange on abolitionism and welfare reform, consisting of two opening statements and a response to each. Below is my summary of the exchange. Obviously, nothing can be settled in a short debate, but I hope to highlight and sharpen the areas of disagreements between the two.
Francione’s Opening Statement
Differences between regulationists and abolitionists
A. Regulationists focus primarily on animal treatment. They generally support: (1) welfare reform, such as “enriched” cages for hens; (2) single-issue campaigns; and (3) the consumption of “happy” animal products. Moreover, regulationists promote veganism only as a way to reduce suffering, not as a moral baseline.
B. Abolitionists reject all animal use on moral grounds, and in addition to rejecting (1)-(3) above, they promote veganism as a moral imperative. Further, abolitionists reject regulationism for three practical reasons:
- (i). Animal welfare measures do little to protect animal interests. Animals are property, and since protecting their interests requires money, welfare standards will always remain low. Rather than impose significant costs, many welfare reforms increase production efficiency. Example: controlled-atmosphere killing.
- (ii). Welfare measures encourage continued animal use by making the public feel better about animal exploitation. This occurs when groups like PETA give praise and awards to McDonalds for improved animal treatment.
- (iii). Single issue campaigns inaccurately characterize some forms of exploitation as worse than others. Example: Fur is not worse than leather or wool.
C. Abolitionists view animal advocacy as a zero-sum game. The more time and money spent on welfare reforms, the less can be spent on vegan/abolitionist education; advocates should focus only on the latter. Doing both sends contradictory and hopelessly confusing messages.
(B) is false: abolitionists can promote veganism as a moral baseline in addition to welfare reforms and single-issue campaigns (examples: Mercy for Animals, Vegan Outreach, PETA, COK, the Humane League, Farm Sanctuary). Welfare reforms reduce suffering, reduce meat consumption, and bring us closer to animal liberation.
I. Welfare reforms reduce suffering
B(i) is false. For pregnant sows, there is a meaningful difference between gestation crates and group housing. Similarly, for chickens who have their throats slit while conscious, painless deaths are meaningfully better. Because reforms lessen animal suffering, when the only alternatives are more suffering or less, that alone justifies supporting them.
II. Welfare reforms reduce meat consumption and move us toward animal liberation.
Egg-consumption declined in EU countries that independently banned battery cages. Moreover, according to the Journal of Agricultural Economics, media coverage of certain welfare campaigns have led to reduced consumption in all animal products.
Animal agriculture spends millions fighting welfare reforms, which refutes the notion that they increase the overall profits of regulated industries. Example: the pork and egg industries spent $10 million trying (unsuccessfully) to defeat Proposition 2.
Friedrich’s Opening Statement
Welfare reforms are good for animals and animal liberation
A. Welfare reforms significantly reduce suffering. Cage-free conditions are significantly less bad than battery cages, and group housing conditions are significantly less bad than gestation crates. Consider the situation from the animals’ pov.
- (i) Imagine pigs in gestation crates. If they were human beings, human rights activists would fight for improved conditions even if release wasn’t possible. The ACLU and Amnesty International do this for prisoners who should not be jailed but won’t be freed, by demanding the cessation of torture and less abuse.
- (ii) Civil and women’s rights advocates supported incremental improvements–each reform a welcomed step toward complete equality. Similarly, for animal advocates, immediate and complete liberation is not the only thing worth fighting for.
B. Welfare reforms reduce meat consumption; they help activists make the point to society that farm animals have interests which ethically prohibits killing and eating them.
C. Welfare measures, by reducing meat consumption in the short term, help the long-term goal of abolition. They raise public consciousness and persuade many nonvegetarians to reconsider their ethics and actions, and victories prompt animal groups to push for further reforms, which in turn raises the public consciousness again–thus a slippery slope toward abolition.
(B) and (C) are false. There is no credible evidence that reforms reduce meat consumption or lead to abolition. Animal rights advocates should clearly oppose all animal exploitation and clearly promote the message that no animal use is morally justifiable. The one focus should be on decreasing demand. When animal groups promote or praise industry standards, that only perpetuates demand and makes people feel better about consuming animal products.
(A) is false; welfare reforms do little to help animals. “Enriched” cages do not overcome the severe problems of conventional cages, and certain alternatives to gestation creates – which industry will adopt anyway – lower production costs.
- Friedrich failed to note, in his mention of Amnesty International, that they do not praise exploiters who torture less. Animal rights organizations should not either.
 In Friedrich’s response, he mentioned a presentation by Nick Cooney and an essay by Vegan Outreach. See these two responses to Cooney’s presentation, the first by James LaVeck and Jenny Stein, and the second by Leslie Armstrong (Cooney replies to the latter in comments).