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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.