Pondering Michael Vick & Grandma´s Turkey

David Cassuto

From the Recommended Readings Desk:  This from Sherry Colb over at Dorf on Law — a very thoughtful essay furthering a discussion begun when Gary Francione lectured at Cornell Law School.  Among other queries, the piece explores the relative morality of dog-fighting vs. cooking a Thanksgiving turkey.  The name of the essay is ´Animal Rights, Violent Interventions and Affirmative Obligations´ and is well worth the peruse.

Sherry Colb Responds to My Post on Proposition 2

I received an e-mail from Sherry Colb (Cornell Law School) in response to my recent post disagreeing with Professor Francione’s views regarding California’s Proposition 2. She kindly gave me permission to post it on our blog. As usual, Professor Colb’s comments are thoughtful and informative. Here’s her e-mail:

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Hi Luis.

We have not met, [but] I was delighted to see your new animal blog. The more attention the issue of animal concerns gets, the better. I respect your disagreement with Gary Francione on the California proposition issue, though I think my inclination is to agree with Gary because of the opportunity costs – in lost chances to foster and encourage veganism – associated with large movements to make relatively modest changes in what is a shockingly inhumane world of animal agriculture. I have so often heard people say – when they go to an outstanding vegan restaurant – “if I could eat like this every meal, I would consider becoming a vegan.”

If the Humane Society invested in vegan restaurants and education, more people who find the prospect of veganism frightening or impractical (but ethically attractive) might consider changing. [This is important] because the cruelty that produces eggs and milk is really not better (and can often be even worse) than the cruelty that produces meat. It is not the egg or milk itself that suffered, obviously, but the hens and dairy cows that produce the eggs and milk (and who are kept in horrendous conditions even on “organic” farms and who are killed for meat when their production levels drop) and – perhaps more significantly – the male offspring of hens and dairy cows (the male chicks who are buried alive, gassed and otherwise cruelly killed as babies and the male dairy cows who are robbed of their mother’s milk and then killed as youngsters for veal). Milk simply cannot be produced without impregnating cows, and their male offspring are considered a waste of resources to be quickly slaughtered. I recently had the privilege of visiting Farm Sanctuary, and even though they do press these legislative propositions, their core message is to encourage veganism. The tour guide there had a very compelling line about dairy products – in every glass of milk, there’s a little veal. [Although] we do not know each other, I was eager to reach out because there are so few friends of animals among legal academics.

Good luck on the blog.

Best,

Sherry

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Why We Should Support California’s Proposition 2: A (Brief) Reply to Professor Francione

Several weeks ago, Professor Gary Francione urged people not to vote for California’s Proposition 2 next Tuesday (for a discussion of Proposition 2, see Suzanne McMillan’s post here). He grounded his view on the following arguments: (1) that Proposition 2 will do nothing to alleviate animal suffering in the short or long term, as it will not come into effect until 2015, and once it becomes operative it will seldom be enforced because it is riddled with exceptions, (2) that its adoption will result in increased animal exploitation because it will make the public feel better about the way that factory farmed animals are being treated, and (3) “it is important for animal advocates to send a clear message to the Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, and other groups to stop promoting measures like Proposition 2”.

I respectfully disagree for three reasons. First – contrary to what Francione contends – it is impossible to know ex ante whether the adoption of Proposition 2 will result in a decrease of animal suffering in the short term. While it is true that the measure will not come into effect until January 1, 2015, it is unliklely that factory farms will wait until New Year’s Eve 2014 to change their practices to conform to the new law. Some will surely begin confining their animals in a way that allows them to fully extend their limbs or wings and turn around freely well before the 2015 deadline. As a result, we should expect to see animal suffering in California increasingly diminish during the next several years, even if some of the suffering that the measure is designed to prevent won’t be eliminated until after 2014. Furthermore, even if it turns out that animal suffering is not reduced meaninfully until Proposition 2 comes into effect, that is no reason to vote against it. A law that requires farm owners to confine their animals in spaces that allow them to move more freely is better than what we have now, even if it will not become operative for several years. Professor Francione’s contention that the law will not significantly reduce animal suffering in the long term because it is riddled with exceptions is difficult to understand. As was pointed out in an Editorial of the San Francisco Chronicle that urged voters to reject Proposition 2 because it could destroy California’s egg producing industry, “more than 90 percent of [the State’s] 20 million egg-laying hens are kept in the battery cages that would be outlawed under Proposition 2.” This seems to be an accurate estimate, as the measure provides exceptions for scientific or agricultural research, veterinary practices, transportation, state and county fair exhibitions and during the act of slaugthering the animal. While these exceptions certainly allow for the confinement of a significant number of animals in crates and cages that do not allow them to move freely, they do not reach a majority of the 20 million egg-laying hens that are kept in battery cages in California. Therefore, it is odd to claim that Proposition 2 will not substantially decrease animal suffering because of these exceptions. Even if we conservatively predict that only half of California’s egg laying hens will be confined in a larger space due to the new law, we will be able to reduce the suffering of about 10 million animals. While not a perfect outcome, this would surely be a welcome development.

Francione’s claim that the adoption of Proposition 2 will lead to increased animal exploitation because it will “make the consumption of animals more acceptable” is akin to claiming that laws banning restaurants from using trans fat will meaningfully increase the demand for french fries and fried chicken because they make their consumption more healthy. The hard truth is that a great majority of people will continue to eat factory farmed products (and french fries and fried chicken) regardless of whether measures banning battery cages (or trans fat) are enacted. Others – like me – will continue to be vegetarians and avoid french fries even if such laws are adopted. Ultimately, laws like this one don’t exert much influence over people’s eating habits. Therefore, I believe that the fear that Proposition 2 will result in increased animal exploitation is overblown.

Finally, Francione’s claim that rejecting Proposition 2 is important because it sends a message to animal advocacy groups to stop promoting such measures is not really an argument against voting against the law, unless one believes that these types of laws do not significantly reduce animal suffering. For the reasons discussed in the preceding paragraphs, I strongly believe that the enactment of Proposition 2 will meaningfully diminish the suffering of animals. Therefore, I hope that Californians support it and commend the Humane Society of the United States and Farm Sanctuary for promoting its adoption.

Luis Chiesa