Now that I’ve read it, I’m all the more baffled by all the hostilities. In fact, the book just substantiates the charge. I said Francione wants to keep animals in the worst possible conditions to achieve abolitionist goals. Well, yes. At least he wants to keep them in much worse conditions, and part of the reason is to achieve abolitionist goals.
Francione is against reforms like Proposition 2 in California, and the recent referenda in Florida and Arizona, but what you learn from the book is that he’s also against the Humane Slaughter Act, the Animal Welfare Act, and any reform that ameliorates the treatment of animals without actually liberating them. The AWA is inadequate, as many have argued (and I argue in my book) but it does provide very basic benefits to animals, like pain relief during experimental procedures, bigger cages and appropriate diets, rest stops and water every 5 hours for animals being transported etc. The Humane Slaughter Act covers too few species and is inadequately enforced, but it does require stunning before slaughter for cattle. I don't see him saying in the book that this legislation doesn't alleviate suffering; clearly it does. But he fears such reforms will increase the use of animals for food, experimentation, etc. So they will retard progress toward abolition.
There are a couple of other points in the book that shed light on Francione’s thinking. I argued (with a slavery example) that denying basic welfare improvements to animals is incompatible with taking them seriously (particularly on Francione’s view—since he sees animals as “persons”.) But – surprisingly – Francione has just the opposite view. He thinks we violate the rights of animals when we pass humane legislation—
… [E]ven if I am obligated to give a thirsty cow water on the way to slaughter it does not follow that I should pursue that obligation as a legal or social policy, for the practical reason that it will never and can never succeed on an institutional level, and for the theoretical reason that it conflicts directly with the notion that animals have rights. (p. 223)The same odd idea is stated earlier in the book, when he’s defining the (clearly pejorative) expression “new welfarist”—
The new welfarists believe that it is both coherent and morally acceptable to disregard the rights of animals today (by pursuing welfarist reform that reinforces the property status of animals) in the hope that some other animals will have rights tomorrow.” (pg. 39)So (he thinks), possibly I ought to give a thirsty cow water on the way to slaughter, but if I try to make sure all cows have water on the way to slaughter, I’m disregarding their rights. I’d be respecting their rights more if I just let them be thirsty on the way to slaughter, and concentrated on vegan education.
But surely not. If we are virtually powerless to liberate animals from farms and labs, then we certainly don’t violate their rights by passing laws that insure that lab and slaughterhouse workers do at least more of what they should to alleviate suffering.
Francione repeats over and over again throughout the book that “new welfarists” support humane reforms as a means of working toward more fundamental change. Thus, he thinks the success of these reforms can be measured based on whether they are actually producing fundamental change. By that measure, they’ve failed. The Humane Slaughter act has not reduced the number of animals killed, and I believe the AWA hasn’t either.
But surely that's not the intent of animal advocates, and not the right standard for judging anmal welfare legislation. Animal advocates want to alleviate suffering simply because it's bad. They have further goals having to do with justice and fundamental change. But they don't want to alleviate suffering in order to achieve those more distant goals. The right way to judge animal welfare legislation is to consider a counterfactual world--one just like this one, but without the legislation. There's more misery in that world, and no less killing and injustice. That's a worse world and we're right to avoid it.
Time to move to greener pastures.