Abolitionists in animal rights movement push for vegan society

Animal-welfare campaigners focus on cute creatures, but some say this isn’t working

Animal activists can make it pretty easy to hate animal activism. They single out suppliers of animal products and entertainment that are not staples of mainstream society and instead belong to particular marginalized communities. They devise shocking stunts that portray meat eaters, hunters, and farmers as evil. They feature caged and “bloodied” naked women in sidewalk demonstrations. They storm animal laboratories. They’ll confront you for wearing fur when they are themselves wearing leather.

Still, even though animal activists aren’t winning any popularity contests, they’re certainly getting our attention.

So far this year, B.C. has seen and heard from more self-identified animal-rights advocates than ever. Most of us can predict when they’re going to turn up. With every rodeo, food-production documentary, foie-gras dish, and sealskin coat comes an onslaught of media stunts, protests, op-eds, and new-media campaigns.

Concern about our use of animals is growing with each edition of the nightly news. But how are we doing on the animal-rights front? Do these animal-welfare campaigns represent animals and their interests?

Stunts by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals generate headlines, but some animal advocates are wondering whether or not they garner the right kind of attention. Law professor Gary Francione, who is spearheading an “abolitionist” shift within the animal-rights movement, says these crusades are sending the wrong message. “Why don’t animal advocates recognize that [these] campaigns trivialize...animal rights and give people even more reason to dismiss the...issue altogether?”

To be clear, there are many groups advocating on behalf of animals who do not claim their work has anything to do with animal rights: animal-welfare groups like the B.C. SPCA and the Humane Society of the United States. Their sole goal is improving animals’ living conditions without confronting the legal and social paradigm that allows us to own, use, and commodify them. They make it clear that working to end animal exploitation is not part of their agenda.

So, again, with these welfare groups engaged in a different effort, is there advocacy being done that advances the animal-rights cause?

Curiously, most of the so-called animal-rights organizations use exactly the same kinds of campaigns the animal-welfare people do.

Animal-rights groups are often distinguished by their claim that their ultimate goal is the abolition of animal exploitation—full stop. They make it clear—either explicitly or buried somewhere on their Web sites or at the bottom of news releases—that their long-term goal is not simply better treatment for the animals we use but a shift to a society where humans do not exploit animals in any way. That is, a vegan society.

This strain of genuinely radical animal advocacy developed as distinct from existing animal-welfare groups in the early 1980s. Those involved didn’t feel that it was enough to push for better conditions for animals on farms, at circuses, in rodeos, and on fur farms; they wanted to get rid of animal agriculture, animal circuses, rodeos, and fur farms.

So then why do these groups, now existing in the thousands all over the world, use the very same kinds of campaigns as animal-welfare groups—the groups they wanted to move away from?

PETA is the best-known example of a group that uses welfare campaigns in an effort to further the animal-rights cause. It puts slogans like “Animals aren’t ours to use” on its Web sites and in select literature, but it certainly doesn’t put “Go vegan” in much of its material intended for the public or send out any “ban all animal agriculture practices” news releases. It doesn’t even broadly advocate getting rid of egg production, even though its organizers know that, like all other “humane certified” production, “free range” or “humane” egg production doesn’t mean a whole lot to animals—the conditions are still terrible and only, in some cases, marginally better.

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Comments (184) Add New Comment
Rae
Get's you thinking. A very good article.
Thanks!
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Frank Ronald
About time someone said it. For once a consistent message.
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Ira
So... you're telling me horses and camels are doing just fine?
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Canaduck
A very interesting and well-written article about the growing importance of animal rights. Thanks!
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Glenn
Nicely written, and some very good points.

I do wonder, though, what good for animals do articles like this do? Do they get published because they are potentially controversial? Would this space have been better filled with arguments about why people should consider going vegan instead of criticizing other activists and groups?

I also have some issues with the real lack of evidence on all sides for considering incremental change or straight -on arguing for veganism. This article exemplifies the reliance on speculation as evidence - even though there is no real data to back up any of the claims. I know that doing outreach on the street talking to people about single issues (the environment, factory farming, turkeys, etc) that I have seen people give up meat. I have seen people go vegan after reading Foer's "Eating Animals".

I really wish that an article on animal rights in the Georgia Straight had talked about animals, even a little bit. This article is likely most interesting to people who want to see division in the AR movement and people who want to find a reason to dismiss AR campaigns. And it does nothing to convince anyone that animals are worthy of concern or have rights.
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lore
Excellent article! Thank you!
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nick
that thing is so cute
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Amanda
As people who love animals we expect that the general society will have respect and compassion for animals. But mostly this does not show up in interest or behaviour. Sometimes the only way to get anybody's attention, including the media's is to do something bold. If people's hearts were based mostly on compassion there would be no need for animal activism in the first place. Unfortunately society does not hold the lives and sentience of animals very dearly and somebody must speak up for them.
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Anne Birthistle
The article raises a good point for animal advocates to consider: why try to ameliorate the suffering for animals used in industry if we could close down animal- fueled industry completely? Then it answers its own question: people really just don't get it... Not to sound elitist, but sincerely the average joe can watch a chicken slaughterhouse investigation on the 6 o'clock news and still go out for KFC... He'll listen to the possible side effects of a given medication advertised on the same news programme - a drug that was force-fed to animals mutilated, crushed or harmed in other ways by scientific research, in no way foretelling the often-disastrous side-effects of the drug on humans - and still make a mental note to himself to 'ask his doctor' .....

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ducksrock
What's the Abolitionist action plan? Go vegan and complain about what other groups are doing wrong? This is what I've been able to gather from every encounter I've had with Abolitionists. As a vegan who is not interested in complaining about animal rights organizations I disagree with (or at least not making it the focus of my activism), I find myself unable and unwilling to fit in to the abolitionist movement.

This article, like everything I've heard and read from Francione, starts and ends with complaints about what others are doing wrong. I find this approach simply counter productive.

I think a lot of lazy people use the "Abolitionist Ideology" as an excuse to not do anything for animals. I've been deemed worthless by an "Abolitionist" while giving out Vegan Outreach pamphlets because I also participate in what he considers "welfare" campaigns or perhaps Vegan Outreach is simply not vegan enough. What an easy cop out.

Most people who participate in (insert a long list of AR organizations that are not vegan enough for the Abolitionists) protests are vegans and would not wear leather. And what do you say to people who want to help animals but are in the process of "the transition"? Do you say, sorry, we can't let you protest with us because your concerns are invalid because you are wearing leather? Is that even productive? And how is this article productive?
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Cat K
The article is great. There aren't enough abolitionists groups. It's unfortunate that the one group who can open doors to do presentations on behalf of animals is our local humane society. I'm always shocked to know that a few on our animal welfare committee actuallly eat meat; they call it humane meat. NO SUCH THING!
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Roger Clarke
Before I get to complaining, let me say it's nice to see (1) a story on animal rights on the cover of the Straight, and (2) one where the unquestioned underlying assumption is that the world would be better if all animal exploitation by humans were to end. So thanks for that.

But there were a few things that bothered me. For one--partly addressed by Glenn's comment above--I had to chuckle at Professor Francione's comment that there's no empirical evidence that the campaigns he doesn't like are effective. There's no solid empirical evidence that any kind of campaign is effective! All we've got are (a) anecdotes and (b) victories and failures of limited, single-issue campaigns. Otherwise, we have to rely on the non-empirical: think about how people react to things generally, and base your strategy on that. Peter Fricker hits on a basic insight about human psychology: we're all different in lots of ways, and different things will work for different people at different times; hence, it makes sense to have lots of different campaigns in the running, provided they don't actually hurt each other.

That brings me to the second thing that bugged me. There's a big difference between, on the one hand, hiding the fact that your ultimate goal is a vegan world, and on the other, making "vegan" every second word out of your mouth. (I exaggerate; I don't mean this to be a characterization of anyone specific.) When a vegan group designs a single-issue campaign, it has to be careful about how the issue is framed, and how everything is worded.

For example, leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, Liberation BC hands out leaflets encouraging people to adopt a turkey rather than eating one. What's inside the leaflets? It's not general arguments against eating any animals, ever. Rather, it's information about standard cruel practices on modern turkey farms (conventional or otherwise). There is no conflict between saying that these particular practices are unnecessarily cruel and saying that we shouldn't be farming turkeys (or other animals) at all--but talking about specific practices is the thin end of the wedge to getting some people (not all) to listen to the rest of the argument against animal exploitation. An easy way to get many (not all) people to ignore you is to put "Vegan" on the cover of your leaflet. Packaging matters.

Finally, something I'm more bemused by than irritated: the author seems, while railing against those foolish non-Francione activists, to fall into the trap of worrying more about personal purity and hardcoreness (hardcoretude? hardness of core?) than about effectiveness for the animals. If your message is that we are unnecessarily cruel to animals in deep-rooted, systematic ways, then your message is right whether or not your shoes are made of leather. Because of the very fact that the ways we're cruel to animals are systematic and deep-rooted, the transition to a cruelty-free lifestyle isn't immediate, it's a process. You don't have to wait until you reach Level Five before you're allowed to hold a sign.

But enough griping. Again, I am glad to see such a prominently placed article on animal rights that doesn't laugh at the goal of a vegan world. That's the world we need.
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Frank Ronald
My two cents: I think that the article points to a question that the animal rights movement has been reluctant to address: what is animal rights? No other movement (to my knowledge) has been so confused about the basic ideology that underpins it, or, so unwilling to express it to the public.

Animal rights campaigns should not endorse violence to animals (even "improved" violence). I can think of no other movement that consistently endorsed violence against a disempowered group in their campaigns, or where it was such a radical notion to suggest that their campaigns should not endorse violence. Improved killing methods should have no more to do with animal rights than improved killing methods have to do with human rights.

The public is generally confused when it comes to animals already (we claim to care about animals but are violent to them, unnecessarily, on a daily basis through what we consume/wear). The animal rights movement should be working to counter this confusion rather than further entrench it.

I have seen people of all ages, socio-economic and political backgrounds go vegan. For example, I know people who went vegan when they were 11 years old by simply asking their parents where milk and meat came from. The argument is remarkably simple.
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Carol-Anne
The average person does not think beyond their last meal, let alone contemplate the rights of animals. To attempt to discuss the morality and ethics behind eating animals is difficult enough and is usually, in my experience, dismissed with a 'I don't want to know', let alone bring up the 'crazy' notion that perhaps non human animals have their own reasons to be on this Earth outside of any human interest.

The Animal Rights movement has proven to be exceptionally difficult to command wide spread attention aside from media stunts (that Lisa ridiculed) and those that want to pick apart the individual efforts of eliminating or bringing the attention to one atrocity, such as the seal slaughter in Canada, really does a disservice to the movement.

In the US right now, animal activists and organizations are labeled terrorists by government, media, and citizens alike. There is much resistance to the movement, and it's coming at us from every angle. It's no wonder your average citizen 'hates' animal activists, it's mainstream to.

Lisa, your article leaves me questioning, with the passion you've put forth in this article, who's side are you on?

Thanks for the interesting read, regardless.
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LJ
A very good article, you need to change minds and start when they're young.
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farmer girl
FYI there is humane animal farming. I practise it. As do other "traditional" farmers in my home area and they always have.

It's so absurd, this belief that we are cruel to the animals who lose their lives for us. Not one farmer that I know of mistreats them in any way. Happy animals are healthy ones, we "get" that idea. We came up with that idea... farmers did. We want healthy animals. We like healthy animals. We do whatever it takes to be sure our animals are healthy and happy. (again, not just me, but all my farmer frends)

I raise animals for my consumption, as my pets and for the market. They live good lives here from day one until they get slaughtered (not going to hide behind the word "processed" for you, because we do agree about that). Killing anything is ugly. But it can be done in good way and a bad way.

The world will go vegan when the world gives up guns, violence against women and children, when Americans turn in their guns and ammo, when Christians beome ok with abortion and ........ what else...oh, when the Atheists get everyone to join them. OK? Its not "a process".... its a radical dream. And by all means continue on.... We all need dreams.

So, dont eat meat if you dont want to. But the judgmental stuff is tiresome & you turn your potential followers against you when you judge.

Now, let's see some more articles on humane farming practices and especially SLAUGHTER practises so that people can get some education about the realities of the world.......where people eat meat like they always have and shoot guns and have abortions and dont believe religious beliefs like lambs (... and by the way Nick, that's a lamb. That "thing" that is so cute)

The Farmer Girl

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Gaetanne Leduc
Thank you for the article.

One thing I would like to add it that it is also hard on our human spirit to hurt others, whether animal or human. Throwing paint on a woman wearing a fur coat causes pain. Killing a fox causes pain. And it causes us pain to cause unnecessary pain.

Imagine how difficult it is to work the killing room of a slaughterhouse. Imagine the blinders worn to not feel anything towards the smells and sounds. These blinders stay closed towards other aspects of life.

It is not just the suffering of the animals but all our suffering that we must consider. We shut down our highest spiritual potential for caring and compassion when we have such a systematic way of killing animals. The suffering may be hidden away from our everyday lives and wrapped in plastic but it is not truly hidden away from our hearts.

There are no easy answers. But continuing to question what is possible is a great gift we share.
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Kris Dickie
An important topic portrayed with at least some thought, but as many reader's commented, perhaps the issues at hand were not properly conveyed, or dismissed altogether.

What people need to try and understand, is that AR should not be toted as having gray areas, as many subjects should not. For example, if I truly care about the welfare of the planet, then label me as an "environmentalist", if I do not care, then I am not, I cannot see a gray area here; though my actions may not always be consistent with my beliefs, I at least can strive to improve on them. Same thing for AR, if I do not care about the welfare and how humans interact with the lives of sentient beings, then label me a "speciesist", it's fairly black and white when you think about it.

So for the majority AR groups, campaigns, etc. I do believe that they make the issue black and white, which I believe we need more of, since society likes to create "gray areas" where we can choose to be ignorant and not have to think much on our resulting consequences from our actions.
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Vegan Girl
To Farmer Girl--There is no such thing as "humane" slaughter. You try to come across as someone who loves her animals so much. You probably can't convince yourself of that once your animals are sent off to slaughter so please don't try to suggest that we come up with articles on humane slaughter. It doesn't exist, we can't hug our animals to death. And I do believe that one day the world will be vegan and will look at those of you that kill them for your so called appetite as very inhumane and cruel.
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Frank Ronald
Respectful criticism is a healthy part of any movement/business/community/whatever. Cults refuse criticism. It is a sign of respect to engage someone in a sincere, rational argument. I do not think that the author thinks poorly of animal advocates or their intentions -- they are evaluating ideas and strategies. (similarly, this comment means no ill will to animal advocates)

I think the problem is that veganism is viewed as something close to "purity" or "hardcoretude". To suggest that we stop harming animals unnecessarily or wearing the bodies of an oppressed group is not asking people to live a "pure" lifestyle. It is the least one can do.

I agree that we need a diverse approach. Use diversity, but within that diversity, use a clear message that does not endorse violence against animals. There is an incredible array of ways to do advocacy without using single issue campaigns and animal welfare campaigns.

Do not give in to the defeatist attitude that people will never change and help other advocates doing non-violent vegan advocacy. I have found that engaging with people as though they are smart enough to understand an argument and decent enough to live responsibly does wonders for the effectiveness of advocacy.
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