Longest Journey Begins With a Single Step: Promoting Animal
Rights by Promoting Reform
By Peter Singer and Bruce Friedrich
In recent years, there has been an odd controversy in animal rights
circles as some activists fight against welfare reforms for farmed
animals. A few groups have gone so far as to argue against campaigns
for better slaughter practices for chickens, better living conditions
for hens, and have even picketed Whole Foods for trying to make living
and dying conditions better for the animals they sell. We find this
to be both curious and counterproductive to the goal of animal liberation
that we all share.
Not only is it possible to work for liberation while supporting incremental change,
such change is inevitable as we move toward this goal. The vast majority of people,
if they care about animals, will support incremental improvements, even if the
increments do not liberate the animals. People are likely to progress in a way
that causes particularly abusive systems to be improved or eliminated before
full animal liberation is achieved.
If society says that animals have no rights or interests at all, moving from
that mentality to complete liberation will be impossible. However, once society
understands apes, chickens, pigs and other animals have some interests that must
be respected, that certain things are not okay, the view of animals in society
will change, and bigger changes become possible. Now that some of the world’s
largest corporations are saying, “Yes, animals can suffer; this is a real
concern,” suddenly the discussion has moved to our playing field. The philosophical
argument granting chickens freedom from battery cages also logically demands
that we cease to exploit them for our own ends.
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the Humane Slaughter Act (HSA) and the recent concessions
made by the fast food industry leave much to be desired. But would animals be
better off and liberation further along if the animals suffer more while we fight
for the ultimate goal? Of course not.
If one were to believe what those who oppose welfare campaigns are saying, one
might imagine that before these reforms, large numbers of people were refusing
to eat meat, but now they have decided that, because animals are not treated
so badly, they can eat meat again. That is not the case, of course. Rather than
salve consciences, passage of the AWA and HSA, as well as the advance of the
fast food campaigns, have placed the issue of cruelty to farmed animals before
millions of people as an important societal issue. That can only help to advance
the day we’re all striving toward.
As another example, look at countries where animals have no protection from slaughter
by the most inhumane methods. Sadly, these countries also have few vegans and
animal rights sympathizers. If the anti-welfare reform camp were right, one would
expect them to have more vegetarians than countries like Britain, where animals
are better protected.
The Philosophy of Animal Liberation Demands That We Work for and Support Reforms
Put yourself in a chicken’s place today: Would you prefer to live in the
horror you’re in, bred to grow seven times more quickly than natural so
that your bones splinter and your organs collapse, or would you prefer to be
able to live without chronic pain? Would you prefer to live your life crammed
into a small cage, unable to lift your wings, build a nest, or do almost anything
else that you would like to do, or would you prefer to, at the very least, be
able to walk? Would you prefer to be hung upside-down by your feet and then scalded
to death or lose consciousness when the crate you are in passes through a controlled
atmosphere stunner? If, as we all believe, each individual animal deserves to
have her interests considered as an individual, then welfare improvements are
good. We can’t ignore the vast suffering of these billions of animals for
some hypothetical future goal.
Conclusion: Whose Side Are You On?
Fast food campaigns and the campaign to ban battery cages, which have been heavily
supported by the hard work of tens of thousands of grassroots activists, have
improved the lives and deaths of tens of millions of animals. As the industries
shift, the improvements will apply to billions every year. As just one example,
the stocking density changes for hens, although meager, mean that conditions
have gone from 20 percent annual death rates to two to three percent annual death
rates; for all of the animals, this is a marked improvement. Transport and slaughter
standards for chickens are also a U.S. first, and are improving lives and deaths
for millions of animals annually—billions once the entire industry is forced
People who denigrate the improvements that the fast food corporations have implemented
are not, we suspect, reading the industry journals, which are filled with anger
that the animal rights movement has forced them to improve conditions. Nor are
they putting themselves in the place of the animals involved, whose living and
dying conditions have improved. It’s instructive, perhaps, to look at who
agrees and who disagrees. Those who oppose the reforms implemented by Burger
King and the others include the National Chicken Council, the National Pork Producers’ Council,
and every other meat industry and anti-animal trade group.
We understand the appeal of battle cries such as “not bigger cages, but
empty cages.” But a bit of comfort and stimulation for an animal who will
be in that cage her whole life is something worth fighting for, even as we demand
empty cages. Not only is it the best thing for the animals in the cages, it’s
also the best thing for animal liberation. It’s another stepping stone
on the march.
Peter Singer is the author of Animal Liberation and professor of bioethics at
Princeton University. Bruce Friedrich is vice president for international grassroots
campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), www.PETA.org.
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