Iwas in the local fish shop buying my dinner when another customer in front held up two live lobsters that he had just bought. He needed some advice about what to do with them. “I’m going to boil one today,” said he, “but how long can I keep the other before I boil it? Will it last two days?”
There were the poor lobsters, held aloft, waving their arms about in a frenzy. Did they know what awaited them? Horrible. I suddenly remembered those Buddhist monks who saved hundreds of lobsters in July – bought them, carefully untied their claws and set them free again. They probably knew that lobsters “have a long childhood and awkward adolescence” and feel pain. So that cheered me up a bit – not all humans are greedy, heartless bastards. But it means no more lobsters for me, and perhaps I should cut out fish, too, and be a proper vegetarian. Or even a vegan, because once you start on this road, there’s no way back.
And it’s difficult, because I was brought up eating meat. Lovely tasty stews, roast dinners, bacon for breakfast, and shellfish. My mother cooked it all, in defiance of Jewish dietary laws and her own ferociously kosher mother. But those were more innocent and ignorant times, when we didn’t know about how dairy cows suffer, or eat such gigantic chunks of everything; when there was no Twitter, Facebook and endless campaigns against eating, boiling and torturing dogs, pigs and more or less anything that moved, and we just thought animals wandered freely around fields or spacious pens and didn’t miss their children, or mind being slaughtered, or feel anything much. And we didn’t yet know that the planet was almost totally buggered.
“This is a middle-class activity,” says Fielding harshly. “And remember, you live in Islington. People will mock.” Who cares? I’m not claiming to be saintly. I have lapses; I eat Olivia’s heavenly roast chicken, pretending to myself that I’m just being polite. Daughter’s making more effort than me, often turning to tofu. Perhaps the next generation will do better than us, and save the world. If they still have time.
“If Animals Matter Morally, Then We Cannot Treat Them As Commodities”
A conversation with animal rights advocate Gary Francione
Gary L. Francione is a controversial figure in the modern animal rights movement, known for his “abolitionist approach” towards animal rights. A professor of law and philosophy at Rutgers University, Francione believes that we cannot morally justify using animals as mere resources and that we should abolish all animal use. He argues that any being that feels pain has a right to not be used as property and that veganism should be the moral underpinning of the animal rights movement. As he puts it, “To not be a vegan is to participate directly in animal exploitation.”
Photo by Vegano Siempre
Francione was the first person to teach animal rights in an American law school when he began teaching a course on animal rights and law at Rutgers in 1989. He has focused nearly four decades of academic scholarship in forwarding a theory of animal rights that posits that sentience alone (and not just cognitive intelligence as defined by humans) qualifies a being for the fundamental right of not being considered the property of another. He links the struggle for animal rights with other social movements and argues that the animal rights movement is the logical progression of the peace movement.
Francione has written multiple books and countless articles on animal ethics and animal law, and is particularly well known for his critical view of the animal welfare movement, which he says serves primarily to make people feel better about animal exploitation. His latest book, Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals (2013), co-authored with his partner and fellow Rutgers professor Anna Charlton, answers all the “but” questions that any non-vegan could possibly ask about transitioning to a vegan lifestyle.
I recently spoke with Francione via Skype and email about his latest book, his philosophy on animal rights, and his thoughts on both the animal welfare and animal personhood movements.
What event in your life caused you to become an animal rights activist?
In the late 1970s, I visited a slaughterhouse. It changed my life overnight. It became clear to me that our use of nonhumans as human resources presented a most serious moral question that was, for the most part, being ignored.
What is your philosophy concerning animal rights?
My position is that if animals matter morally at all — and I believe that most people believe that they do matter morally — then they must have at least one right: The right not to be used exclusively as human resources. The right not to be chattel property.
Interests can be protected in one of two ways. We can protect an interest only to the extent that to do so maximizes desirable consequences. Or we can protect that interest irrespective of consequences. The latter way of protecting an interest is what we describe as involving a right. To say that I have a right of free speech is simply to say that my speech will be protected even if other disagree with and think that my speech generates undesirable consequences.
If the interest in not being chattel property is not protected by a right, then that interest will be ignored when it is beneficial to do so. We recognize this where humans are concerned. We protect the interest that humans have in not being slaves with a right. We recognize that if humans are going to be members of the moral community, they must have the right not to be chattel slaves. If they are chattel slaves, they exist outside the moral community. They are things and not persons.
The same analysis holds true where nonhumans are concerned. If they are going to matter morally, they must have the right not to be property. If they are property, they are just things that have only extrinsic or external value, and do not have inherent or intrinsic value.
If we recognize this one right, then we are morally committed to abolishing the institutionalized exploitation of nonhuman animals. It’s not a matter of improving the treatment of animals. It’s a matter of abolishing the use of animals.
One of the key tenets of your philosophy is veganism. Could you explain why you think it’s important?
Veganism means that we do not eat, wear, or otherwise use animals.
I maintain that there is veganism and there is animal exploitation: There is no third choice. To not be a vegan is to participate directly in animal exploitation. That is, if we eat animals or animal products, wear wool, leather, fur, etc., or use products made from animals, we are treating animals as things with no morally significant interests.
As an abolitionist, I promote veganism as a moral baseline or a moral imperative and as the only rational response to the recognition that animals have moral value. If animals matter morally, then we cannot treat them as commodities and eat, wear, or use them. Just as someone who promotes the abolition of slavery should not own slaves, an abolitionist with respect to animal slavery should not consume animal products. As far as I am concerned, veganism is a fundamental matter of justice.
Advocating veganism as a fundamental principle of justice is not something that requires large, wealthy animal charities and “leaders.” It is something that we all can do and must do as a grassroots movement. Each of us must be a leader.
Let me say that there is no difference between meat and other animal products. Animals used for dairy and eggs are also treated horribly and they all end up in the same slaughterhouse as their “meat” counterparts. If you do not eat meat but you eat dairy and eggs, you are still directly responsible for animal suffering and death.
Your view on animal rights, particularly your views on animal welfare, has been criticized by some sections of the animal-protection movement, who say that animal welfare does provide some interim protection to animals until their rights can be established. How do you respond to such criticism?
Animal welfare is problematic for moral and practical reasons.
From a moral perspective, if animal use cannot be morally justified, then it is morally wrong to promote supposedly “humane” exploitation. Think about it in a human context. If slavery is wrong, then promoting “humane” slavery is not the answer. The only morally acceptable solution is to promote the abolition of slavery.
From a practical perspective, because animals are chattel property, and because it costs money to protect their interests, we protect animal interests generally only when we get an economic benefit. For example, we have laws that require animals to be stunned at the moment of slaughter because animals who are not stunned can injure workers and they incur carcass damage. Worker injuries and carcass damage cost money. For the most part, welfare reforms make animal exploitation more efficient. They are measures that, for the most part, industry will take anyway because it is beneficial for industry to do so.
As far as I am concerned, the primary purpose of animal welfare measures is to make humans feel better about continuing to exploit animals.
Do you think human society is at a point where it’s receptive to the idea of animal personhood, which would bestow animals with the basic rights to life and liberty?
Absolutely. I believe that most people already accept the idea that nonhumans are not things and are beings with moral value. Most people accept that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering on nonhuman animals. Most people become outraged when they hear about “animal cruelty” cases precisely because they object to the infliction of unnecessary suffering.
The challenge is to get them to see that if they are not vegan, then they are morally no different from the “abusers” they criticize. It is not necessary to eat animal products in order to have optimal health. Indeed, mainstream health care professionals are increasingly recognizing that animal products are detrimental to human health. The best justification we have for inflicting suffering and death on billions of land animals and trillions of sea animals is that they taste good. That is no better a justification than maintaining that the enjoyment of watching a bullfight justifies bullfighting.
I am very optimistic about the future. I think the abolitionist vegan movement — a grassroots movement of people all over the world — is really gathering a great deal of momentum.
Given that you believe that sentience is the only characteristic required for personhood, what are your thoughts on the Nonhuman Rights Projects efforts to get certain animal species like chimpanzees and elephants declared nonhuman persons?
Sentience is subjective awareness. A sentient being is someone who perceives and experiences the world. A sentient being has interests; that is, preferences, wants, or desires. If a being is sentient, then that is necessary and sufficient for the being to have the right not to be used as a means to human ends. The recognition of this right imposes on humans the moral obligation not to use that being as a resource. It is not necessary for a sentient being to have humanlike cognitive characteristics in order to be accorded the right not to be used as property.
Intelligence and humanlike cognition may be relevant for some purposes, but they are not relevant for the basic right not to be used as property. As far as that one right is concerned, there is no difference between a chimpanzee and a mouse. We should not use either exclusively as a human resource.
Again, think about it in the nonhuman context. There are all sorts of differences between a human who is brilliant and a human who is severely mentally disabled. Those differences may be relevant for certain purposes, but we should not use either human as a forced organ donor or as a non-consenting subject of a biomedical experiment.
So if not through incremental efforts, such as getting one species at a time recognized as persons with rights, how do we get around to establishing the abolition of animal exploitation?
We get to the abolition of animal exploitation through creative, nonviolent vegan advocacy. We need to stop the demand for animal exploitation. And we can do that. Assume that we have 1 million vegans in the US. That’s a very low estimate. If every one of those people educated one other person to become vegan in the next year, there would be 2 million vegans. If the process repeated itself every year, the United States would be vegan in eight years. Each of us can play a role in bringing about a vegan world!
How do you feel about the killing of Harambe the gorilla? Do you think the killing was inevitable, that the zoo had no choice?
A child got into the enclosure. The gorilla was a piece of property. If Harambe had injured the child, the legal liability of the zoo would have been astronomical. So I am not surprised that the zoo had Harambe killed. I object to zoos. And although I thought it was tragic that Harambe was killed, it’s no more tragic than the killing of millions of “food” animals every day. There is no moral difference between Harambe and the nameless chicken that people consumed for dinner last night.
What are you working on at the moment?
Anna Charlton, my co-author on Eat Like You Care, and I are working on a handbook about abolitionist vegan advocacy.
If you had one message to give to all animal lovers, what would it be?
Loving animals is not consistent with harming them. If you love animals — if you believe that animals matter — then stop participating directly in the exploitation of animals. It’s morally wrong. Go vegan!
From All-Creatures.org Animal Rights Activism Articles Archive
…And some things I have learned the hard way and some things other activists have told me have helped their activism. And some questions I have found it useful to reconsider from time to time. Imagine a bowl of cherries. This is not about the cherries/animal activism in the bowl, but rather it’s about the bowl where all the cherries/animal activism live.
Have you ever noticed how people who love country music are more likely to be right wing? Or how climate change sceptics are more likely to be anti-abortion? Throughout society there are examples of beliefs that seem to occur together, despite having no obvious conceptual link. The reason for this is because for most of us beliefs and world view are not the result of carefully weighing up the evidence, but are actually held as a way of belonging to a subculture. Holding a belief is often like waving a flag to show which tribe you’re in.The desire to belong
The human need to belong is one of our strongest drives, but modern society is too big and anonymous for most people to feel they are an important part of it. So we form subcultures within our society to give ourselves a sense of belonging. We support sports teams and get into fights with fans of other teams, we choose to follow a certain genre of music and sneer at other genres, or wear preppy clothes, goth clothes, hipster clothes, anything to define ourselves as part of a tribe. And, as well as applying this desire to the clothes we wear and the music we listen to, we subconsciously apply it to our ethical and political beliefs.When you think about it, there is absolutely no conceptual link between the arguments for high or low taxes, and the arguments for or against legalising abortion. Yet in the English-speaking world there is a rough correlation between people wanting lower taxes and being anti-abortion, and vice versa. The best explanation for this is that these beliefs are identified as flags for certain subcultures that people want to belong to.This view is supported by evidence that shows people respond differently to the same argument when attributed to different sources. One study presented the argument for vaccinating children and recorded people’s responses. Right-wing individuals were significantly more likely to agree with the argument when it was attributed to a well-known right-wing figure than when it was attributed to a well-known left-wing figure. Other studies have shown similar behaviour from left-wingers etc.Studies of the effects of wearing a chastity ring show just how powerful the need to belong really is. When a student is part of the chastity ring movement in a school where everybody else wears the ring too, he or she is no more likely to abstain from sex than an average teenager. And when there is almost no one else who wears a chastity ring in the same school, there is still no effect. However, when just the right amount of other students are also part of the local chastity ring movement, wearing the ring does marginally boost commitment to abstinence. This suggests that when everyone in the whole school is wearing the rings, no one feels like they belong. Equally, when almost no one else wears the ring, there is no tribe to belong to. But when there are enough others to feel like you belong to something special, you’re motivated to make the effort to stay part of the club. Such is the power of wanting to belong, it can even override the natural human desire for sex.It’s clear from all this that the desire to belong is a pretty powerful drive, so if you want to convince a large group of people of something, you had better not be working against their natural tribal urges by appearing to be from another side. The animal rights movement should have no “side”
I believe that one of the animal rights movement’s biggest problems is that we are associated with hippies, and that we’re seen as being on the same team as the New Age movement (whale song, homoeopathic medicine, and so on). I think this hinders us, because people who might otherwise be open to our arguments will close themselves off because they think we’re on the “other team” – a bunch of hippies who are anti-patriotic and probably anarchists too.I think the animal rights movement has to transcend subcultures and everyday political factions, because otherwise we’re only ever going to appeal to the counter-culture. But we really want to be changing the views of everyone, including mainstream culture. There are potential vegans across the political spectrum, if only we weren’t perceived as being part of the hippie counter-culture team. One of many examples is the type of conservative person who loves the countryside, hates to see it ruined by massive factory farms, doesn’t like to see traditional local species of bird disappear, and loves dogs and horses. Someone with views like that only needs to join a few dots between their beliefs to become committed to animal rights and environmentalism, but they’ll be less likely to do that if they feel they’re changing teams.
Another downside to being associated with the New Age philosophy is that this movement often conflicts with science. And unfortunately, a lot of people believe that Veganism and Vegetarianism conflict with science too. This is manifestly not the case, as there is an established scientific consensus that a well-balanced vegan diet can be very healthy, and indeed, a number of elite athletes, such as bodybuilders, Olympians and Iron Man competitors choose such a diet. Equally, vegetarians have longer life expectancies than meat eaters. Science, and the facts, are on the side of vegans and vegetarians, but we often get lumped in with wacky New Age diets.There are ways to change the perception of the animal rights movement. For God’s sake don’t play bongos at a protest! I’ve been to a few demonstrations and advocacy events, and I always make sure to dress as smart and as clean cut as possible, to try to subvert the stereotype, and to make it clear I’m not a raving hippie who can be safely ignored. I think everyone should make this effort as much as possible when advocating animal rights. And animal rights groups should try to promote spokespersons who demonstrate the ordinariness of being vegetarian or vegan. Perhaps a few less campaigns featuring skinny white bohemian artists, and a few more featuring people from other backgrounds, such as doctors, athletes and people of different races. We must also welcome people of all political persuasions – wanting low levels of immigration, for example, should be no barrier to being part of the animal rights movement.There will always be divisions in society, left-wing and right-wing, culture and counter-culture, liberal and conservative. If we want animal rights to be accepted by everyone, we have to transcend cultural tribalism.
The fate of Harambe, the 17-year-old gorilla who was shot dead in a Cincinnati zoo on May 28, has inspired much debate. Some adamantly defend the zoo workers’ actions, while others point to the hypocrisy of outrage when many sentient animals are killed each day without drawing any attention whatsoever. Seeing Harambe’s face as an innocent animal who was so quickly sacrificed has undeniably struck a chord with many. So, despite some claims that animal rights is the least important issue, the attention that the gorilla’s life received indicates that people are ready to hear the truth: Non-human animals are sentient beings with lives that do, in fact, matter.
All this is another indication of how interest in the issue of animal rights has grown significantly in the past half-century. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, nearly a third of Americans now believe that non-human animals should be given the same rights as people. That’s a considerable increase since 2008, when only a fourth of Americans shared this view.
Taking full consideration of this is pretty awe-inspiring. I chose to be vegetarian as a kid because I felt motivated to protect animals, and so much has changed since I felt like I was the only vegetarian in the world as I grew up in the 1990’s in small town Alabama. We’re quickly making progress, yet animals are literally being tortured to deliver meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, and fish to dinner plates. Even worse is happening to some for fur and other animal byproducts that humans can easily and comfortably live without. It’s clear that people are concerned, and the following reasons show why animal rights should be a central topic of debate.
Established Sentience in Non-Human Animals
Imagine desperately needing to move, yet you were confined to a cage where you had to live in your own urine and feces, never experiencing simple pleasures beyond fear and pain. Many farm animals experience that and worse tortures. Being sentient beings, they are aware of their needs and wants; they fight for their lives to the end.
This isn’t simply imagining what it would be like. Animal sentience is an established fact. Psychology Today reported in 2013 that we’ve had plenty of data for a while to declare that non-human animals are sentient beings. The prominent scientists at the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness declared that many non-human animals are conscious. It’s been shown that animals can worry and lose sleep. Like people, non-human animals will fight to live, and many species have problem-solving capabilities.
A Staggering Number of Beings Who Suffer
If you’re like me, you get upset and even outraged when you see just one person suffer, and you do what you can to help them. Now imagine that happening a billion times over. Given that the sentience of many non-human animals is widely accepted, people should care deeply about preventing the massive amounts of suffering that are currently being inflicted on animals. In the U.S. alone, each year more than 78 billion sea animals and over eight billion land animals are killed for food. That’s not millions, but billions. That ends up to a tragic, extreme amount of suffering among sentient beings every single day in the country.
No one issue facing the world is entirely independent of the others. The case for animal rights also stands alongside other forms of prejudice as an issue that needs to be addressed. Having prejudice against others for their citizenship, race, sexual orientation, gender, or species can have far-reaching effects on society.
An intersectional approach to animal rights is key. Social justice advocate and writer Christopher-Sebastian McJetters recently stated, “Intersectional justice isn’t some ‘sect’ of veganism. Framing it as such is reductive and overly simplistic. Intersectionality is an analytical approach that challenges the root causes of oppression through the lens of people who live daily with multiple intersecting oppressions…people who often lack the social, sexual, economic, and academic mobility of those who needlessly antagonize and harass them.”
It’s not just animals’ lives that are at stake when we disregard animal rights as a core issue. Life on earth as we know it is at stake. Livestock production is posing a rather big risk to human health through the overuse of antibiotics. When bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics because of their overuse, the effectiveness of the medicine is compromised. Also, the high amount of pollution of both water and land caused by livestock production threatens human health.
The damage that’s being done to the planet by animal agriculture is extreme. Environmental advocates like Al Gore and James Cameron decided to go vegan because of this staggering harm. Approximately 30 percent of the world’s ice-free land surface is used to farm chickens, pigs, and cows for slaughter and human consumption. Furthermore, this livestock production, which includes eggs and dairy, takes up more than a third of the fresh water in the world. Time reports that livestock production has a bigger impact on Planet Earth than any other activity humans do.
At least 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, according to a report that was released by the United Nations. That’s more than the combined emissions from all forms of human transportation, including cars, planes, and trains. Since it’s widely believed that we need to act soon before there’s no turning back on global warming, this is a solid reason all need to be concerned about the harm caused by a disregard for animal rights.
Where We’re at Now
Some leading politicians seem to be getting the message about the importance of animal rights, but we have a long way to go. No current Republican Presidential frontrunners seem to have addressed the issue of animal rights in a serious way, although Donald Trump did seem to mock the cause in a Tweet, stating, “Ringling Brothers is phasing out their elephants. I, for one, will never go again. They probably used the animal rights stuff to reduce costs.” Hillary Clinton’s campaign website claims that the way our society treats animals is a reflection of our humanity, even going on to state, “Hillary has a strong record of standing up for animal rights.” Meanwhile, the website of Bernie Sanders doesn’t address the issue, but Zach Groff, a protester who interrupted Bernie’s May 2016 rally in California said, “He claims to be a progressive, but you cannot be a progressive if you oppose animal rights.” Sanders did receive a recent 100 percent rating for his voting on animals in a Humane Society report.
It’s clear that animal rights should be a core national moral issue, not a side topic that’s viewed as less important than the current topics of debate. Activists, animal rights organizations, and others will need to continue raising awareness and bringing these facts to the forefront of debates in order to ensure that it becomes a core issue.
The American appetite for meat — which is 4 times the global average — is eating away at wild habitat, water and even our climate. Yet while other governments have taken specific steps to recommend diets lower in meat and dairy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to cater to the livestock industry, leaving sustainability out of important policy conversations like our national dietary guidelines.
Think about it: Americans eat 50 billion pounds of meat a year, yet our farms don’t even produce enough fruits and vegetables to meet the 2.5 cups a day recommended in the national dietary guidelines. Something is wrong with this picture.
It’s time for the USDA to create a plan to address the urgent need for Americans to reduce meat and dairy consumption and eat a healthy, sustainable diet. National guidelines on diets have enormous influence on how people eat, including in schools and government facilities.
Join us in urging the USDA to issue a public statement and plan of action to promote a sustainable American diet.
Can we eat our way out of climate change? That question has come to the forefront again with the Monday release of yet more research connecting global dietary patterns and global warming. While no one’s arguing diet alone can stop the world from warming, there’s now more evidence that changing the way we eat could have a big impact.
Even though the agricultural sector accounts for a substantial share of our collective greenhouse gas emissions—almost 15 percent worldwide—it’s long been more or less ignored when it comes to international climate negotiations, including the landmark climate conference in Paris at the end of last year. Yet with the international community finally starting to take serious action to cut emissions from power plants and transportation, the total share of emissions from agriculture is only expected to rise—so much so that experts say it could essentially cancel out the cuts in other sectors.
The biggest culprit? Livestock, particularly cattle. As past research has shown, raising beef generates between nine and 27 times the amount of global warming pollution that producing an equivalent number of calories growing things like beans, nuts, and vegetables does. As just about everyone knows by now, red meat consumption has been linked to a host of health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
In the Oxford study, published in the journal PNAS, researchers peered into the future to 2050 and asked what might happen in four different diet scenarios. In the first, the world keeps eating the way we are now, with a predicted rise in meat consumption. The other three put everyone on a diet, so to speak, each with an increasingly restricted amount of meat, all the way to global veganism.
The upshot? The less meat the world eats, the better it is for our collective health, the health of our climate, and the global economy.
A worldwide shift to a vegetarian diet, for example, was shown to save 7.3 million lives and cut global warming pollution from the agricultural sector by 63 percent. Going vegan saved an estimated 8.1 million lives, cut climate pollution by 70 percent, and saved a whopping $31 trillion between now and 2050.
The study’s authors openly admit that’s not going to happen, but it’s important that the world’s growing penchant for American-style bacon burgers and meat lovers’ pizza become part of the climate debate.
“We do not expect everybody to become vegan,” the study’s lead author, Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Program on the Future of Food, told Reuters. “But climate change impacts of the food system will be hard to tackle and likely require more than just technological changes. Adopting healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets can be a large step in the right direction.”