Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Animal Welfare Groups Lay an Egg

You are a slave in the American South in 1860. You live in an 8’ x 8’ shack. You are tortured daily. A slave welfare organization is lobbying on your behalf and that of all slaves. They have struck a deal with those who own you that they insist will help you. The slave welfare organization works out an arrangement with your tormentors to increase your shack size to up to 12’ x 12’; however, this will only go into effect some eighteen years down the road. Oh, and you’ll eventually be able to wash, bathe and sleep, but you will still be held against your will, tortured, and eventually killed.

Does this sound like a good contract for you? Has the slave’s suffering really been reduced? Do you think President Lincoln would have made such an agreement with the Confederacy during the Civil War?

The latest deal concocted between animal welfare advocates like the Humane Society and the United Egg Producers (UEP) is a similarly pitiable arrangement. If the proposed law gets enacted, hens will get up to 144 square inches of space each, compared to the 67 square inches most get today. (The key words here are “up to.”) Hens will also be given space to do things that come naturally to them like perch, scratch, and nest; however, they will still be held against their will in cages, tortured, and mercilessly killed for food production.

The only group that stands to benefit from such a deal is the UEP. Not only does this guarantee a continued market for their product, but their eggs will seem more acceptable to a blissfully ignorant public who is eager to keep eating animal products. Furthermore, egg farmers can dupe their customers into believing that their eggs are “humane” since the proposed law will be sanctioned by animal welfare groups. Moreover, if passed, the new federal law will make it harder—if not impossible—for states to enact tougher standards.

I propose that animal activists spend less time wheeling and dealing for meaningless reform and more time eradicating animal industries. PETA claimed major victories ten years ago when it got fast food companies like Burger King and Wendy’s to agree to animal welfare standards like “humane catching guidelines to reduce the number of chickens' broken bones as a result of rough handling.” So what? Ten years have past and fast food companies still offer the same cruel, tortured animal products, only now, Burger King and Wendy's can ludicrously claim that they are somehow humane because PETA said so.

Animal activist groups should be putting animal industries out of business, not shaking their executive's hands and making pacts to mitigate animal suffering from severe suffering to moderately severe suffering. Once a federal law like the one proposed gets adopted, it will be difficult to reopen the door and argue for more protections, and the UEP is well aware of this. We should put more focus on undercover investigations, revealing the ugly truths of animal production and showing people the error of their ways, not tip-toeing around carnists and agreeing to celebrated backroom deals that do little to help animals. Furthermore, it is unfair, condescending, and just plain wrong to say that those animal activists who criticize such arrangements are contributing to animal suffering. Especially when, according to the New York Times, the Humane Society has “agreed to give up on a push to ban cages entirely in exchange for the opportunity to work toward a single, nationwide standard, even saying it would agree not to conduct undercover investigations at large egg farms unless it was aware of especially egregious practices.” Animal Law Professor Gary L. Francione summed it up perfectly when he said, “If this is a ‘landmark’ for hens, it would be difficult to conceptualize what a disaster would look like.”

People will find all kinds of reasons to keep eating animals, as recent poll numbers indicate for why some vegetarians return to eating meat. According to Psychology Today, one in four believed vegetarianism to be a hassle and almost one in five listed cravings as their reason for capitulation. Rather than disproving abolitionists, I believe this makes their case against reform. I was recently in the grocery store and saw some cookies I wanted, however, the ingredients listed “cage-free eggs,” so I didn’t buy them. I instantly thought about how easy the proposed law will make it for those less disciplined people who want to avoid hassles and give into their cravings. They will immediately see “humane eggs” as a green light to pass go and buy the product. I believe the proposed law will simply give people another reason not to change their eating habits; it will increase the production and purchase of animal products, not lessen it, which will increase suffering, not eliminate it. Therefore; reform efforts like the proposed law are a setback, not something to cheer.

I resent the implication that I am somehow turning my back on suffering; rather, I believe we need to abolish abuse, not reform it. I'm in favor of exposing the horrors and offering the remedy of veganism, not giving people another reason to feel better about doing what they have always done. I view meaningless reform against abolitionism similarly to the different methods that Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass employed with regards to slavery and segregation. Washington accepted the burden of racial segregation while Douglass railed against it. Douglass would never have accepted a deal to simply lesson the suffering of slaves just as we animal advocates should not accept such a compact with animal industries to continue using and abusing animals. Those fighting against animal slavery would be wise to do exactly what Douglass suggested to those fighting against African American slavery—“Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!”

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