Mark Hawthorne chimes in (a bit) on the welfare debate:
“Although I agree with those who argue that ‘humane meat’ is oxymoronic, I believe that while we promote the benefits of veganism, we owe it to farmed animals to fight for every bit of humane treatment we can win for them as soon as we can. I understand there are those who think this position only benefits animal exploiters; yet, if that were the case, you would expect agribusiness and fast-food chains to be thanking animal advocates.” [...]
“It is not my contention that the tactics and campaigns of Farm Sanctuary, HSUS and PETA are always right. They have their share of misses just like any organization. But when animal exploiters or those paid to shill for them are raising the battle cry against animal advocates, I know we’ve got them on the run. Their vitriol is a signal that we ― the individual activist and nonprofit group alike ― are impacting their bottom line and making a difference for animals.”
“I love how Steve Kopperud, the trusted advisor to factory farms, characterizes the situation. Warning his Ohio farm forum audience about the reforms animal-protection organizations are working on, he said: ‘This is a collective threat. If all of the Ohio agricultural community does not sit down and figure out a collective way to stop this right now, you will all wind up as crop producers.’”
“And that’s supposed to be a bad thing?”
I admit it: I like Mark Hawthorne. From what little I’ve seen of him (a video from the Let Live Conference) and what I’ve read from him (his book, Striking at the Roots, and his blog of the same name), he seems like an upstanding member of the animal advocate community, someone dedicated to ending animal exploitation, and a genuinely nice guy. (But… what do I know? I’ve never met the guy.)
I agree with him here: practical animal advocacy includes some “welfarism.” We can be idealists and we need not sacrifice our goal of total abolition of animal exploitation, however, we shouldn’t sell each other out.
That said, as animal advocates, we shouldn’t support every welfare campaign. Even if we were individually capable of supporting each and every one, we shouldn’t support them all because only some will truly make a difference for animals.
Ultimately, we’re not interested in “impacting their bottom line;” we’re interested in helping animals. Sometimes those go hand-in-hand, but sometimes they don’t. If true animal welfare reform wound up to be cheaper and helped the animal exploiters earn greater profits, many animal advocates wouldn’t stand in the way of reducing actual suffering to existing animals. (We might not stand up and cheer for such reforms, but we certainly wouldn’t put up obstacles. We’d just focus more on other ways to reach our end goal, like doing vegan education or open rescue.)
To decide which welfarism to support and which to ignore,* I highly recommend a guide by patrice jones, where she offers this “ten-step method” for how to determine what kinds of legal regulations animal advocates should support:
- Think about the animal.
- Assess the suffering the measure is supposed to relieve.
- What do the animals themselves have to say about this suffering?
- Assess the extent to which the measure would relieve the suffering.
- Assess the impact of the measure on other animals.
- Assess the economic impact of the proposed measure.
- Assess the strategic impact of the proposed measure.
- Assess the validity of known arguments for the measure.
- Assess the validity of known arguments against the measure.
- Sum up your conclusions.
*It’s best to simply ignore ineffective welfarism. It’s better to focus our energies in other directions to help animals than to fight with each other. When we are unable to bite our tongues and refrain from criticism or condemnation of one another, we ought to propose specific remedies. We ought to offer only constructive criticism.