of the Movement Snatchers: A Social Justice Cause Falls Prey
to the Doctrine of “Necessary Evil”
By James LaVeck
|When we switch
from asking people to eliminate or reduce their consumption
of animal products, to publicly endorsing “humane” animal
products, are we not, in effect, calling off our own boycott?
Think about it. “A boycott, once terminated, is not easily
You never know when a PR agency is being effective;
find your views slowly shifting.—PR Executive
Few of us realize that some U.S. industries pay hundreds of millions
of dollars to public relations firms charged with the removal of any
and all obstacles to their acquisition of profit. High on the list
of those obstacles are grassroots social justice movements.
In a 2002 article on their Center for Media and Democracy website, authors and
social activists John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton described the activities of
MBD, one such PR firm involved in the dismantlement of citizen movements concerned
about problems ranging from acid rain, dioxin, biotechnology and toxic wastes,
to apartheid, nuclear energy, endangered species and oil spills.
“Their favorite method,” wrote Stauber and Rampton, “is a ‘divide
and conquer’ strategy heavily dependent on co-optation: First identify
the ‘radicals’ who are unwilling to compromise and who are demanding
fundamental changes to redress the problem at hand. Then, identify the ‘realists’—typically,
organizations with significant budgets and staffs working in the same relative
area of public concern as the radicals. Then, approach these realists, often
through a friendly third party, start a dialogue and eventually cut a deal, a ‘win-win’ solution
that marginalizes and excludes the radicals and their demands.
“Next, go with the realists to the ‘idealists’ who have learned
about the problem through the work of the radicals. Convince the idealists that
a ‘win-win’ solution endorsed by the realists is best for the community
as a whole. Once this has been accomplished, the ‘radicals’ can be
shut out as extremists, the PR fix is in, and the deal can be touted in the media
to make the corporation and its ‘moderate’ nonprofit partners look
heroic for solving the problem. Result: industry may have to make some small
or temporary concessions, but the fundamental concerns raised by the ‘radicals’ are
swept aside.” [Emphasis added.]
What does this troubling scenario have to do with animal
advocates and our movement to end the exploitation of sentient beings?
Well, it turns out the first time
Stauber and Rampton wrote about MBD, it was in reference to a presentation
given by Ronald Duchin—the “D” in MBD—to none other than the
Cattleman’s Association (see page 66 of Toxic Sludge is Good for You:
Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry). The year was 1991, and Duchin,
a graduate of the Army War College and former special assistant to the Secretary
of Defense, was outlining the most effective strategy for “dealing with” the
meat industry’s biggest irritant: us.
Duchin recommended the following three-step plan:
1) Isolate the radicals
2) “Cultivate” the idealists and “educate” them into
3) Co-opt the opportunists into agreeing with industry.
Duchin acknowledged in his speech that idealists were hard to work with, and
that because of their inherent altruism and the fact that they gain nothing
personally from holding their views, the public tends to believe in them. He
the cattlemen a clever strategy. He said that if idealists can somehow be convinced
that their opposition to a product or an industry inadvertently caused harm
to someone, they could not live with the contradiction and would be forced
their views, to adopt a more “realistic” position.
Duchin next told the cattlemen about how to work with movement “opportunists,” people
he described as engaging in activism for “visibility, power, followers,
and perhaps, employment... The key to dealing with opportunists is to provide
them with at least the perception of a partial victory.”
The widespread adoption of “cage-free” eggs? A few seats at the table
with the group developing standards for producing “Animal Compassionate” lamb?
Uncrated “pink” veal? Today, these and similar developments are
being widely characterized as victories by organizations with reputations for
opposing animal exploitation.
The Bilk of Human Kindness
It’s not pleasant to think about the possibility that our movement could
be in the process of being co-opted and neutralized according to a blueprint
laid out 15 years ago by a meat industry consulting firm. But for the animal
exploiting industries, there are billions of dollars at stake, and it stands
to reason that they are going to commit serious resources to the protection of
their interests, and they are going to play to win. Consider how the relentless
pressure to bring stock performance ever higher, quarter after quarter, can drive
corporate executives into a hypercompetitive frenzy. As a result, one regularly
reads of industrial espionage, media smear campaigns, attempts to corrupt political
leaders, accounting scandals and brutal takeover battles. Is there any reason
to believe that people caught up in such a system might be any less ruthless
when dealing with a citizens’ movement that seeks to put them out of
Stauber and Rampton, after years of investigating the activities of the PR
industry, point out the tendency of activists to deny the possibility that
we could be
duped, “activists like to believe that we are too committed to our causes,
too worldly and aware to be sweet-talked into unwitting submission by sitting
down and partnering with the enemy.” But according to PR industry guru
Denise Deegan, notes Stauber, “industry continues to regard this sort of ‘dialogue’ as
its most effective method for managing activists.”
Stauber and Rampton’s work is hardly based on armchair theorizing. Rather,
it is derived from exhaustive study of the history of real-life grassroots movements
that, like the animal movement, have attempted to confront industry abuse. They
studied, for example, how the MBD PR firm grew out of a successful campaign to
neutralize a massive boycott of the Nestlé corporation. In the late 70s,
Nestlé was attempting to persuade millions of third world women to use
synthetic infant formula instead of breast-feeding their babies. “In activist
lore,” note Stauber and Rampton, “this boycott is touted as a major
victory, but in the corporate world it is understood that industry really won
the day by pulling the rug out from the campaign. By making selective concessions
to the activists, Nestlé succeeded in negotiating an end to the boycott.
Later, activists were dismayed to discover that its infant formula marketing
practices are continuing with only token changes. Third world children continue
to die, but today their plight receives little attention, and activists have
found that a boycott, once terminated, is not easily turned back on.”
Translate this to the animal movement, and the call for a boycott is, very
simply, vegan advocacy. When we switch from asking people to eliminate or
consumption of animal products, to publicly endorsing “humane” animal
products, are we not, in effect, calling off our own boycott? Think about it. “A
boycott, once terminated, is not easily turned back on.”
Playing to Win-Win
So this is serious. Let’s go through it again and reflect upon how
recent developments in the animal movement might map onto the PR industry
as summarized by Stauber and Rampton.
First identify the ‘radicals’ who are unwilling to compromise
who are demanding fundamental changes to redress the problem at hand.
Hypothetically, that could be anyone who believes animals have rights,
that exploiting them is wrong, and that the solution is encouraging people
products, with a long-term goal of abolishing the property status of animals.
We’re not talking about radical tactics, but radical ideas. We’re
talking about community educators, amateur investigators, protesters, attorneys,
bloggers, artists, nurses, animal rescuers, merchants, writers, leafleteers,
clergyfolk, dieticians, former farmers, humane educators, college students,
sanctuary workers, yoga instructors, teenagers, musicians, doctors, and all
kinds of everyday
activists who practice veganism as an expression of Gandhian nonviolence,
as a refusal to cooperate in any way with those profiting from the oppression
Then, identify the ‘realists’—typically, organizations
with significant budgets and staffs working in the same relative area of public
as the radicals.
Hypothetically, that could be a number of large multi-million dollar animal
organizations with significant farmed animal campaigns.
Then, approach these realists, often through a friendly third party, start
dialogue, and eventually cut a deal, a ‘win-win’ solution that marginalizes
and excludes the radicals and their demands.
Hypothetically, this could be an offer made by someone like John Mackey,
CEO of Whole Foods, one of the nation’s leading retailers of both meat and
organic produce, to partner with animal advocates and meat industry “visionaries” to
develop new standards for the “humane” exploitation of animals. However,
in order to participate, the “realists” must de facto contradict
their own position that sentient nonhuman animals should not be used for
human purposes, for to negotiate the details of their exploitation with those
will do the killing and make the profits dramatically undermines the integrity
this fundamental principle.
Now, through the combined efforts of industry and the participating animal
organizations, the “reasonable” person’s response to being made aware of the
plight of farmed animals becomes not veganism, not reduction of meat, dairy and
egg consumption, but rather, the purchase of “humane” animal
Simultaneously, the focus of public dialogue irrevocably shifts from the
questionable morality of using and killing animals, to an elaborate, endless
how the deed will be done—conditions, treatment, standards and regulation.
In this new framework, public calls by animal advocates for the boycott of
all animal products, for nonparticipation in exploitation, have no place.
is now an embarrassment for the participating animal groups, and a joke for
the meat industry people. Such talk is now relegated to the realm of “radicalism.”
Next, go with the realists to the ‘idealists’ who have learned about
the problem through the work of the radicals. Convince the idealists that a ‘win-win’ solution
endorsed by the realists is best for the community as a whole.
Hypothetically, these could be the small, idealistic organizations that are
convinced to join the larger organizations in endorsing the “‘humane’ standards
mini-revolution.” Together, they persuade frontline educators and citizen
activists that solely advocating for veganism is no longer the right approach.
Activists must now simultaneously support “humane” meat and “cage-free” eggs
as a purported transitional step for people who won’t give up consuming
animal products today. To do otherwise, it is argued, is tantamount to abandoning
billions of animals now trapped in the existing meat industry system.
Confronted with this seeming “contradiction,” large numbers of movement
idealists shift their views and begin adopting a more “realistic” position,
a textbook application of Duchin’s turn-idealists-into-realists formula.
This new “realism” includes public advocacy of non-vegan behavior—consumption
of “humane” animal products—alongside public advocacy of vegan
behavior—boycotting of all animal products. Eerily, these newly transformed
idealists even begin to refer to themselves as “realists,” and to
those who hold on to their own former values for non-participation as “purists” and “absolutists,” sometimes
even “selfish” or “self-righteous” in their “moral
Meat-ing People Where They Are
It is striking, and deeply troubling, how this new way of thinking of ourselves
and our advocacy conform so perfectly to Mr. Duchin’s roadmap for our future,
and how it so precisely echoes the “dilemma” of Whole Foods’ John
Mackey, who talks of how he would lose his position as CEO, the very basis of
his ability to make a difference, were he to impose his personal values and deny
his customers the opportunity to purchase a wide variety of animal products.
Therefore, given his concern for animals, Mackey is morally obligated to do what
he needs to do in order to maintain his position at the top, and to use the power
he has to create a new line of “animal compassionate” meat products,
while working with participating animal groups to convince the public to buy
them—thus, in Mackey’s own words, “pioneering an entirely new
way for people to relate to farm animals, with the animals’ welfare
becoming the most important goal.”
Likewise, some leaders of participating animal groups might reason that,
were they to “impose” veganism and the abolition of animal exploitation
on the public by refusing to offer them an approved “humane” animal
product alternative, they too would lose the money and members that they believe
are the basis of their ability to make a difference. Rather, in order to have
clout and credibility with the widest range of funders, legislators, journalists
and other “mainstream” people, they need to “meet people where
they are,” and offer “options.” They seem to believe that they
are, in fact, morally obligated to work with industry to develop and market “humane” animal
products that they claim will help the public and the meat industry transition
away from the most egregious forms of animal torture.
In order to see where this new “meet-people-where-they-are” approach
is leading our movement, we need go no further than the latest labeling scheme,
this one launched in Australia by an international animal organization. It is
called “Humane Choice,” and the press release enthusiastically declares
that the new label “will guarantee the consumer that the animal has been
treated with respect and care, from birth through to death... The Humane Choice
label will denote the animal has had the best life and death offered to any farm
animal... They basically live their lives as they would have done on Old MacDonald’s
Humane Choice? Old MacDonald’s farm? See how the roles are reversing? Animal
advocacy is no longer about ethics and social justice—it is now about consumer
choice. The selling of meat is no longer about commodification, exploitation
and profits—it is now about animal welfare. Veganism is no
longer a moral imperative—it is now a charmingly eccentric lifestyle choice.
Bringing us to Stauber and Rampton’s finale: Once this has been accomplished,
the ‘radicals’ can be shut out as extremists, the PR fix is in, and
the deal can be touted in the media to make the corporation and its ‘moderate’ nonprofit
partners look heroic for solving the problem. Result: industry may have to make
some small or temporary concessions, but the fundamental concerns raised by the ‘radicals’ are
The Animal Welfare Industrial Complex
Whether our movement came to its present state in whole or in part
through PR industry machinations, or if it is simply self-destructing of
its own accord,
we should be shocked and deeply concerned that the structure of today’s
animal movement so closely resembles the vision of moral compromise, division
and debilitation put forth by a meat industry PR consultant so many years
ago. However it was accomplished, it is undeniable that the firewall of linguistic
precision, critical thought and philosophical integrity needed to protect
movement from such degradation has been all but torn down.
It’s troubling to think about how things could have gone this far so fast,
but it stands to reason that Mr. Duchin and his ilk haven’t been twiddling
their thumbs for the past 15 years. As animal organizations and the meat industry
co-mingle their affairs in an increasingly bewildering tangle, their language,
values, interests and goals are becoming indistinguishable, creating a kind of “animal
welfare industrial complex” in which the “players”—dominant
figures of the industry and the corporate animal movement—will regularly
meet in private to negotiate the price of public concern for animal suffering.
To the industry will go animal organization endorsements of an ever more
bizarre array of “humane” products and “compassionate” practices.
To the animal groups will go a pocketful of “partial victories” as
well as a few gratuities like conference sponsorships and high profile publicity
opportunities. By making the process so orderly and rational, by whittling
it down to a few key players with an unspoken understanding of the arrangement,
all parties involved will receive a regular supply of what they need to keep
growing at a rapid clip. More money. More customers/members. More political
More ability to dictate the terms of public discourse.
The workings of this hypothetical animal welfare industrial complex fit comfortably
into the Orwellian culture of our post-9/11 society, where civil rights and
the rule of law are being systematically undermined in the name of protecting
our “freedom.” Central
to it all is our acceptance of the doctrine of “necessary evil,” which
leads us to go against our core values and rationalize our complicity in acts
of violence and injustice committed against others—acts that are often
described as “sad” and “regrettable,” but, let’s
be realistic, unavoidable and absolutely necessary if we are to accomplish our
righteous mission. Under the doctrine of necessary evil, there is nothing fundamentally
wrong with indefinitely incarcerating thousands of people suspected, but not
charged, tried or convicted of any crime, in a worldwide network of secret prisons,
and even torturing them—as long as all of it is done for noble reasons,
and according to the proper “standards.”
Consider the parallelism of these two passages, the first from the New York
and the second from the website of a new animal industry marketing campaign in
Although the C.I.A. has faced criticism over the use of harsh techniques,
one senior intelligence official said detainees had not been mistreated. They
given dental and vision care as well as the Koran, prayer rugs and clocks to
schedule prayers, the official said. They were also given reading material, DVD’s
and access to exercise equipment.
This is not veal from dimly lit crowded pens. These animals enjoy a very full
life, with plenty of space and light, inside suitable buildings over winter and
outside at pasture for the rest of the year; a varied diet; and the care of a
foster cow when available.
Yes, poor orphaned calves destined for the butcher’s knife are now going
to be lovingly nurtured by a “foster mom” before their lives are
prematurely snuffed out. And lest anyone feel bad about the brevity of the baby
cows’ existence, the industry helpfully points out that “with
a life span of six months, they live twice as long as even the slowest growing
they have the same life span as a good organic pig, and longer than many
So those who consume the flesh of these coddled calves are actually humanitarians
solving an “animal welfare problem.” By eating the unwanted male
offspring of dairy cows, we will spare these unlucky newborns from the morally
repugnant alternative, a shorter and more brutal life in a crate. One cannot
help but recall the quote attributed to an army lieutenant during the Vietnam
War who declared, “We had to destroy the village, in order to save
According to a newspaper report, nine days after the launch of this “Good
Veal” campaign, veal sales at one English supermarket chain rose 45 percent.
Notably, the campaign’s website features the endorsement and logo of a
large, well-respected European animal advocacy organization whose name begins
with the word “compassion.”
Hence, a decades-long boycott is all but neutralized. Think of how many people
worked, and for how long, to educate the public about why the eating of veal
should be taboo. Just how much specially labeled “Good Veal” does
one have to eat before the distinction dissolves, and it simply becomes good
to eat veal?
Once again, our movement’s fundamental concerns…artfully swept
The Art of Relentless Compassion
In this new era, to be a vegan advocate, to successfully encourage others
to boycott participation in the exploitation of animals, one must do so much
than expose people to the injustice of animal exploitation, help them overcome
the force of their own personal habits, resist family and societal pressure,
and see through the outrageous deceptions of the meat industry. Now, one
must also debunk the patent fallacy of “humane” happy meat products
enthusiastically endorsed, promoted and in some cases even developed by a
number of organizations
that are, essentially, the public face of animal advocacy.
If abolition of exploitation is our ultimate goal, as is so often claimed, and
if veganism is the single most powerful personal expression of opposition to
animal exploitation, why on earth would any animal organization participate in
making the job of vegan activists and educators so much harder?
Already, sanctuary workers, educators and frontline vegan activists are reporting
that members of the public, when confronted with the reality of farmed animal
exploitation, increasingly indicate that they will express their concern
for farmed animals, not by boycotting or reducing their consumption of animal
but by purchasing animal products marketed as “humane.” Whole
Foods, not surprisingly, is often mentioned by name.
“ Humane” animal products appear to be a nearly perfect antidote to
the inner conflict brought about by awareness of one’s own complicity in
the exploitation of animals. But sadly, by trading a sacred truth for a clever
lie, “humane” labels make a mockery of an authentic moment of
If we step outside the mindset of the animal welfare industrial complex,
and choose instead to model our approach on successful social justice movements
of the past, it becomes clear that our job is to relentlessly investigate
the industry’s exploitation; to rescue animals and offer sanctuary;
to educate the public about who animals are and why it is wrong to use and
them; and to create and promote ideas, products, social values, commercial
practices, traditions, artworks, language, philosophy, and laws that are
that do not in any way participate in or reinforce the legitimacy of the
exploitation of any being.
Such a time-tested way of working for peaceful change is both practical and
powerful, and well suits the dignity of the cause we serve. It speaks to
the best in human
nature, and produces ever-growing waves of change. Each person who joins
in signals a reprieve for a large number of animals, adds to the common pool
and wisdom, and becomes another caretaker of a vision uncontaminated by pessimism
or self-interest. This naturally grows our movement without diluting the
strength or clarity of our message, and wins the respect of those vast numbers
who are willing to listen and learn from us, but are not yet ready to join
our cause. To them—the people working through doubt or lifestyle transition—we
respectfully offer opportunities to learn more while experiencing the joy
of our nonviolent culture, as well as constant encouragement to reduce their
of the products of suffering. Over time, by transforming more and more individual
lives, we can, and will, transform an entire society.
Walking this path, we can be confident that each step we take, large or small,
is a step in the right direction, a step toward liberating countless beings
from a life of exploitation and suffering. And rest assured, under the mounting
of public outrage at the cruelty and injustices our work relentlessly exposes,
the meat industry will have no choice but to respond by “improving” their
practices. If history is any guide, in many cases their claims of making things
better for the animals will be little more than self-serving fabrications. But
sometimes the changes they make will actually decrease the suffering animals
endure before slaughter, and of course, we can all agree that’s a good
But we don’t need to be a part of dreaming up the details of the industry’s
new and improved systems of exploitation, and we certainly don’t need to
put our good names and our movement’s credibility behind the questionable
products that result. Let the industry pay people like self-described animal
advocate and slaughterhouse designer Temple Grandin to do that. And let such
professional apologists “take the credit” for creating more efficient
and more profitable methods of “killing with kindness.”
Let us not forget, there is a reason why human rights groups do not develop
or endorse “humane” methods of torturing and executing political prisoners,
and why children’s rights advocates do not collaborate with the international
pornography industry to develop standards and special labeling for films that
make “compassionate” use of runaway teens. To do such things
is to introduce moral ambiguity into situations where the boundaries between
and wrong must never be allowed to blur. To be the agent of such blurring
is to become complicit oneself in the violence and abuse.
Let us be clear. When we endorse the consumption of any kind of animal product,
we’re not only encouraging an act we ourselves know to be immoral—not
only blurring the line between right and wrong—we’re also willfully
ignoring animal agriculture’s massive contribution to global warming, world
hunger, chronic disease, worker abuse, desertification and third world poverty.
Let us not be too quick to assume that others are not ready to absorb the full
force of truths we ourselves hold as self-evident. The world has seen quite enough
cynicism by now, and is ready for something new. Let us freely share with everyone
the best truth we have, and let us do so with the courage, altruism and integrity
of the unapologetic idealists who have come before us—those whose historic
words and deeds have redefined the limits of human potential.
A principle is a principle, and in no case can it be watered down because
of our incapacity to live it in practice. We have to strive to achieve it, and
striving should be conscious, deliberate and hard.—Gandhi
James LaVeck is cofounder of the nonprofit arts and educational
organization Tribe of Heart and producer of award-winning documentaries The
Witness and Peaceable
Kingdom. A substantial revision of Peaceable Kingdom, which will include
of the ethics of “humane” meat, is currently in post-production.
To learn more, visit www.tribeofheart.org.
© STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC.