Abolitionists in animal rights movement push for vegan society
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.