Should Humane Farm Reform be Opposed?

A fairly offhand remark I made about Gary Francione in the comments to my last post apparently caused offense, so I need to expand, explain, etc, especially because Gary tells me he plans on using me as a poster child for the "welfarist" (i.e. utilitarian) stance in a planned podcast. My forthcoming book is actually steadfastly non-utilitarian, so this doesn't make much sense. Let's understand the child, before we put her in a poster. I'll explain what I think about Francione and humane farm reform later today. Stay tuned.


Let's start with some classifying of positions on humane farm reform, by which I mean everything from just widening stalls a few inches to raising animals outside with plenty of space and sunshine.
  1. Full supporters think humane reforms are not only good, but sufficient.  They think once we've implemented all the realistically possible reforms we can, we'll be done and we'll all be able to eat meat with a pretty clear conscience, even if there may be some residual concern about whether killing is wholly respectful.  In this category I'd put Michael Pollan and Temple Grandin.
  2. Partial supporters think humane reforms are good, but insufficient.  They think we should not be raising and killing animals just to satisfy our own desires for food pleasure.  On this view, any realistic scenario in which animal farming continues will raise serious ethical concerns.  In this category I'd put utilitarians like Peter Singer, non-utilitarians like myself, activist organizations like PETA and the Humane Society, and many others.
  3. Opponents think that humane reforms are bad and should be actively opposed.  Gary Francione is in this category.  When California voters had a chance to vote for or against Proposition 2, which abolished cages for laying hens, sow crates, and veal crates, he encouraged his followers to vote against it, or at least abstain.
Francione thinks that being a partial supporter of humane reform necessarily goes together with having a utilitarian (or "welfarist") outlook on ethics--or so he seems to say here.  Thus, he supposes that all animal advocates who are partial supporters of humane reform must reject animal rights, animal personhood, the duty to respect animals, and the like.  This is not the case.  Partial supporters of humane reform can come to that position from a variety of ethical and empirical premises. Singer comes to that position from utilitarianism.  I come to that position without accepting utilitarianism. The guiding concepts in my forthcoming book are respect and compassion; I don't see maximizing happiness or interest satisfaction as "the prime directive."

In fact, I think that someone with Francione's position on animals--that they are persons, not property, and that it violates their rights to use them as resources--could easily be a partial supporter of humane reform.  To see this, it helps a lot to develop analogies.  The reason it's helpful is because it's actually rather difficult to see what is entailed by the assumption that animals are persons.  Solution?  Think about various cases where an injustice is being done to human beings--clearly persons.  Then think about whether it would make sense to oppose humane reforms that fell far short of abolishing the injustice.

So--slaves in the antebellum south were obviously persons.  Would it make sense for an abolitionist to tell people to vote against humane reforms like supplying shoes for children or letting slaves learn to read or stopping families from being broken up at auctions?   I can see how an abolitionist might worry that humanizing "the peculiar institution" might slow down the pace of change, but when you see slaves as persons, you must see them as entitled to whatever small mercies are possible.

Or take abolitionism about the death penalty.  Would it make sense for a death penalty abolitionist to be against reforms like making the method of execution more humane, or making DNA testing more available, or reducing the number of strip searches or hours spent in solitary confinement?  All of these types of reforms do make people more comfortable with the death penalty, and may delay the day when the death penalty will finally be abolished in the US.  But since death row inmates are persons, they're entitled to these improvements.

Now, you might complain that my analogies involve a variety of reforms, some involving not "just" welfare improvements but matters of justice; some small, others big.  So focus just on the smaller welfare-oriented reforms.  Shoes for slaves, a nicer method of execution for people on death row.  Could any abolitionist about slavery or the death penalty really oppose these things?

In short, even assuming (1) that animals are persons, and (2) that there's a legitimate concern about whether humane farm reform slows down progress toward a vegan world, and (3) that humane reforms are small, I can't see how it can make sense to vote against Proposition 2.  Especially if you see animals as persons, you must secure what you can for them,  even if that slows progress toward the ultimate goal.

But now let's have a closer look at Francione's empirical assumptions.  He thinks humane reforms are minor and that there's a serious worry about humane meat increasing meat consumption or slowing progress toward veganism.   I don't actually find either point compelling.  Some humane reforms are minor and some are major.  Take for example "humane beef."  Most cattle spend the final 5 months of their lives in the gruesome environment of a feedlot, being stuffed with corn, hormones, antibiotics, and even cement dust.  "Humanely" raised cattle never go to a feedlot. I don't think someone can really be imagining life from a steer's standpoint if they think that difference is negligible.

And as to meat consumption slowing progress toward veganism--this assumes that people who buy "humane" animal products at a Whole Foods (for example) are former vegans or would-have-been vegans.  This conflicts with my experience. In almost ten years of teaching an animal rights class, I've had lots of experience of seeing what happens when I present videos about factory farming as well as information about "humane meat."  Meat eaters progress "only" to the humane meat option usually just because they think it would be too hard to go further.  I do not observe vegans or vegetarians regressing to the humane meat option.  They do not think "humane standards" do enough to remove the ethical problems with meat-eating.

It also flies in the face of some key facts to suppose that humane animal products increase meat-eating.  For one, they're very expensive.  That's a deterrent.  Second, Whole Foods is presumably the biggest seller of humane animal products in the US. I have read that 90% of Whole Foods shoppers are not there because of any concern at all about the treatment of animals.  If they weren't shopping at Whole Foods, they'd be shopping at another pricey grocery store like Central Market or at an ordinary grocery store.  They'd be buying ordinary factory farmed meat.

A third important point is that the humane movement is succeeding at a key task.  People do tend to completely dismiss animals raised for food. For many people, an animal that's going to be eaten just doesn't matter at all. It's astonishing and really impressive that 63% of California's voters voted for Proposition 2, effectively saying that all animals matter.  They're not going as far as Francione would want them to, or Peter Singer would want them to, or I would want them to, but they took an absolutely critical first step.

There's much more that could be said, but this is already monstrously long.   I just have to add--read my comment policy.  I will delete any comment that is not to the point and impeccably respectful.  No comments about me or my way of moderating this blog are going to be published. 


Stephanie said...

Was this in response to your NYT letter?

Alex Chernavsky said...

This blog post may also be of interest:


Jean Kazez said...

Alex, I tried to read it. There are some interesting points in there, but there's also so much insulting nonsense I had to stop.

Jean Kazez said...

Stephanie, This topic got under way in the comments to the post about my NYT letter. But yes, I suppose the letter is also irksome to some, considering that it sends out a big wet kiss to all the NYT readers who are doing their best to be kinder to animals instead of drawing a sharp line between vegans and everyone else.

David said...

Professor Kazez: As I said in my comment on the previous version of this post, it is mistake to equate Francione's idea of new welfarism with simple utilitarism. That is not at all what he means by the term.

Jean Kazez said...

David-- He makes Singer his prototype of a "new welfarist," and Singer is a utilitarian. So naturally I assumed new welfarism was more or less utilitarianism. What more does it involve? I'm happy to be educated if I'm missing something.

amos said...

There's a implicit premise behind Francione's argument: that the world is headed towards veganism.
If the world were headed towards veganism, what he calls welfarism might slow that process, but I doubt that the world is going in that direction, at least not in the foreseeable future. Francione is in the position of those revolutionary socialists who say that any progressive reforms which make capitalism more humane slow the progress towards a completely just socialist society. I feel that it is very important to work for reforms which minimize animal suffering and exploitation, without expecting that utopia is around the corner.

David said...

Jean: I think the issue is that you are categorising abolition/welfare along metaethical lines. Francione's categorisation is more complex. To Francione, new welfarism is both an ideology (epitomised by Singer) and a strategy (epitomised by PETA etc).

So - and this is an ugly over-simplification, but I need to get back to real work - whatever ethic underpins someone's adoption of the incrementalist approach, if they argue for welfare reforms while professing an end goal of rights or liberation, it's still new welfarism, because the focus is not on the root cause (which Francione identifies as the property status of animals) but on the symptom (individual cruelties).

Jean Kazez said...

OK, that's helpful, but I don't buy that Singer and PETA are entirely focused on incremental reform. PETA couldn't be more clear about telling people to "Go Vegan." They spend lots of money getting out that message. There's nothing "incremental" about that effort. Singer also says "Go Vegan"--that's what he says (give or take a very small detail or two) in Animal Liberation. Not incremental at all.

Yet PETA and Singer are concerned about the billions of animals who will be eaten when (realistically) not everyone goes vegan. For the sake of the animals inevitably remaining in cages and stalls, they support incremental reforms.

This parallel pursuit of both "total" and "incremental" change is part of all sorts of movements, including movements on behalf of human beings to whom everyone grants personhood, rights, etc. That's the point of my post.

Alex Chernavsky said...

Amos wrote: "I feel that it is very important to work for reforms which minimize animal suffering and exploitation..."

You are assuming that such reforms are possible, but that issue is one of the points of contention in this debate. See www.humanemyth.org, for example. See also this excellent video made the people who run the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary in Colorado: The Faces of 'Free Range' Farming.

In the previous thread of comments, Jean wrote: "My outlook is just pragmatic and results oriented." Well, so is mine. From a purely pragmatic, empirical viewpoint, I think that abolitionism succeeds and welfarism fails. I wouldn't be an abolitionist if I thought it was just some "pie in the sky", ivory-tower pipe dream.

David said...

Jean: From memory, in 'Rain Without Thunder', Francione covers the points you made in your last comment in some depth.

Singer's message is very different from 'go vegan', and the vast majority of PETA's spending is on welfarism reform.

Jean Kazez said...

Alex, I think people have to look at humane farming changes case by case. They need to understand which changes are minor and which major. In my post I mention humanely raised beef cattle as much better off than ordinary beef cattle. Do you disagree with what I said there?

David, Have you read Animal Liberation? There's no doubt at all that Singer thinks everyone should stop eating meat and almost all animal products. He has many different arguments why that's the right thing to do. If you've read the book, perhaps you got distracted by his replacement argument, which says that there's nothing bad about a perfectly pain free farm where animals are both killed and bred. He stresses that there's no such thing--in the real world, we ought to be vegans.

What Singer is concerned about is the billions of animals who will in fact be eaten next year, despite his and other people's attempts to convince everyone to be vegans. PETA is concerned about those animals too.

I'm extremely puzzled by your assertion that PETA spends money mostly on reform measures like Proposition 2. (What's your evidence?) Ingrid Newkirk visited my class last summer and I'm sure there wasn't a person in the room who thought she was just advocating modest, incremental reform.

David said...

I have read Animal Liberation, and still own Practical Ethics. My recollection of his conclusion was that most people should be mostly vegetarian most of the time...mostly. That sort of conclusion seems to be inevitable from an act utilitarian starting pointing.

Newkirk may aim, in theory and personally, but most of PETA's campaigns are not 'go vegan' campaigns, but classic welfarist campaigns. Francione discusses PETA repeatedly:

We seem to be arguing at cross purposes here. Your original post read like a response to Francione, but it doesn't really engage with the arguments he presents.

Jean Kazez said...

David, I'd say my post does engage with Francione's arguments. I am wondering what follows if you take his premises seriously--especially the premise that animals are persons. Can they really be denied modest reforms, if that's the right way to see them? I think that's an interesting question.

As to Singer--perhaps you think he's tepid simply because he's not a rights theorist. Correct, he isn't. But he's still a very staunch opponent of animal agriculture.

Jean Kazez said...

I am going to be on the road for a couple of days, so comments are closed until I am back and available to moderate.