Sunday 5 July 2009

The ''Happy Meat''* Movement and the Animal Welfare / Animal Industry Partnership

by Karin Hilpisch and James Crump

* meat here represents all animal products

Animal welfare legitimises animal use

In his books, articles, and blog essays, Gary L. Francione has analysed comprehensively and in detail the status of animals as property which is embedded in laws that regulate animal use and is reinforced by welfare reform.

Jeff Perz puts it this way on an Internet forum: ''One of the reasons why abolitionism inevitably involves a critique of animal welfare is that, every time a new animal welfare law gets passed, the property status of other animals is that much more codified and entrenched'' (1)

And Dan Cudahy notes on his blog: ''More and more regulations add a regulating structure to animal exploitation supported eventually by more bureaucracy, more inspector jobs, and more ‘legitimacy’ to the entire enterprise, entrenching animals ever deeper into property and commodity status.'' (2)

This is inevitably so because animal welfare reform aims at improving the treatment of nonhumans but does not challenge their being used by humans. In fact, ''[c]ampaigns for welfare reform make sense only if the use of animals is morally acceptable and the issue is only how we treat the animals we use.'' Francione, Context Makes All the Difference.

It is self-evident that the legitimization of animal use and, thereby, the reinforcement of the property status is diametrically at odds with the abolition of animal exploitation.

On his blog, Francione writes: ''In much of my writing, I have argued that the promotion of the ‘happy meat’ approach has led not only to making the public more comfortable about consuming animal products but it has resulted in the creation of a disturbing partnership between animal advocates and institutionalized exploiters.''

The regressive and counter-productive ''happy meat'' movement is also the subject matter of Francione's blog essay, ''Happy Meat'': Making Humans Feel Better About Eating Animals which refers to other entries dealing with this issue.

Animal welfare and animal industry: good business and mutual interests

An example, as illustrative as it is disturbing, of the partnership between animal advocates and animal industry is the agreement between People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) about the gassing of chickens, the so-called controlled atmosphere killing, an agreement in which there were ''no differences of opinion about how animals should be treated,''and in which a welfare organization performed as an ''unpaid public relations firm'' of a company that sells death and as a free advisor to animal industry about how they can increase their profits. But PETA got its money's worth as well: proclaiming an “enormous victory,” a “historic victory,'' the organization ('‘half of our members are vegetarian and half think it’s a good idea’') can be sure of an constant stream of donations.

But it would be unfair to single out PETA in this regard without mentioning that the Humane Society of the United States – the largest and most powerful welfare corporation in America – also acts as a marketing division of, and as an economic advisor to, industry, the former by promoting “humane” animal products, and the latter by producing economic analyses detailing the higher profitability of, for example, group housing for sows as compared to the gestation crate. See A ''Triumph'' of Animal Welfare? Moreover, PETA and HSUS also make millions of dollars in donations by systematically misrepresenting the nature of welfarist campaigns. Even though welfarist reforms are invariably based on increased exploitative efficiency and would be implemented by industry on economic grounds anyway, they are nevertheless portrayed by PETA and HSUS as great “victories” and “successes” for the animals.

But the collaboration between welfare and industry thrives not only on the other side of the pond.

The ''happy meat'' movement in Austria: a case study

In 2008, a programmatic essay, entitled, ''Abolitionism versus Reformism or which type of campaign will lead to abolition eventually?''(3) in English and German (4), authored by the president of the Austrian Association Against Animal Factories [Verein gegen Tierfabriken] Martin Balluch, was spread on the Internet (and critically commented on by Francione: A ''Very New Approach'' Or Just More New Welfarism?). Therein, the author sets out his view that while there is a philosophical gulf between animal welfare and animal rights, there also is a political and psychological continuum, i.e., a continual development of society and the individual from regulated animal exploitation to abolition, i.e., from animal welfare to animal rights.

Balluch conceives this development as one in which welfare has a psychologically and politically indispensable role to play and, therefore, cannot be 'skipped'. Consistently, he thinks that vegan education, thought as the only way to abolition, ''cannot but fail''. This view becomes manifest in the association's policy of a massive promotion at all levels of ''humane'' exploitative practices and products:


— ''Straw makes happy'': a campaign which conveys to consumers of pig flesh the advantages of keeping pigs on straw rather than on slatted floors. (5)

— advertising of barn and free-range husbandry of chickens and rabbits (6)

— advertising of ''cage-free'' eggs which are being contrasted with battery eggs as an ethical alternative to a ''product for which sentient living beings are being relentlessly exploited as egg-laying machines.'' (7)(They 'forgot' to mention here that sentient living beings are also being relentlessly exploited for ''cage-free'' eggs.)

— an initiative recommending that Austrian ''companies which have rendered outstanding services in changing from battery eggs to cage-free eggs'' were given a ''Good Egg Award'' (8)
In the USA, PETA and other welfare groups are publicly praising a retailer for selling the corpses of ‘‘humanely’’ raised and slaughtered animals. (9) See '''Happy'' Meat / Animal Products: A Step in the Right Direction or ''An Easier Access Point Back' to Eating Animals''

The VGT's demand for ''incentive systems'' rewarding the use of abattoirs which are closest to the farm (9) matches perfectly PETA's giving its ''Proggy Award'' to a ''visionary'' slaughterhouse-designer. See '''Happy'' Meat.


The VGT markets animal products which have been produced in compliance with guidelines for ''animal- appropriateness'' by means of an auditing agency which was founded in 1995 by three welfare associations in Austria, ''as a neutral and independent organization for inspection''. The job of this institution is the ''control, certification and monitoring of producers and suppliers with regard to compliance with the guidelines'' according to ''criteria concerning species-appropriate chicken husbandry that have been developed by experts''. Products gained from such husbandry are certified ''animal welfare tested,'' a registered trade mark. (10)

Trademarks which certify the ''humane'' treatment of animals and are being promoted by welfare groups encourage the public to consume animal products which results in increased demand and, thereby, increased profits for suppliers.

When last year Balluch, along with nine other animal activists, was arrested and spent three months in prison, a number of open letters were written in support of the detainees. In one of them, Toni Hubmann, an ''organic'' egg farmer, lauds the teamwork between him, Balluch and two other welfarists that has been practised at the institution mentioned above since 2002. Hubmann writes: ''Any improvement or change in husbandry has been accepted by said gentlemen and implemented in agreement with the concerned farmers and merchants. This has led to said gentlemen's having had a significant role in the high acceptance of cage-free and fee-range systems in Austria. (…) Not only could the animal welfare organizations gain successes for the further development of national and international animal welfare but, with their commitment, they have helped sustain numerous small farming businesses.'' (11)[emphasis added]

After having been certified ''animal welfare tested,'' animal products are being promoted in a ''shopping guide for products from species-appropriate animal husbandry'': ''The VGT which for more than five years now has been engaged resolutely against cruel factory farming and the negative excesses of modern agribusiness, has, on the other hand, always been the first privately organized contact address in the search for alternative animal products.'' ''More and more people are striving towards a cultural progress in dealing with farm animal and wish to provide them, as reward for their ''services'', at least with a bearable life before death.'' (12) Occasionally, products ''from species-appropriate animal husbandry'' are not only advertised but also distributed to passers-by. (13)

Changing the system but not people's minds?

Balluch argues, among other things, against spreading veganism in society on the grounds that ''[m]any people, who did turn vegan, fall back to consuming animal products.'' For this there is, indeed, more than one example. And that this is so has mainly to do with the societal impact of those who, like Balluch, publicly declare that being vegan is extremely difficult and requires great energy expenditure. But as long as organizations and individuals who are perceived as animal advocates send a message to the public that consuming products from ''species-appropriate'' or ''animal-appropriate'' farming is morally acceptable, and that we can discharge our moral obligations towards animals by making exploitation more ''humane,'' most will not even consider going vegan.

According to Balluch, the animal rights movement's job is not to change the way people think about animals but to change ''the system'': ''The opinion of the majority or single people in society is of secondary importance.'' With this view, the VGT's policy is completely in line. It does not change people's minds but reinforces the notion that we can effectively protect animals and use them at the same time. But without changing people's attitude towards nonhuman animals, the ''system,'' which consists of people, will never change.

Struggling for animal rights or battling for market shares? The ''enemy'' is a partner

In his programmatic essay, Balluch claims that

— the struggle for animal rights is carried out between the animal rights movement and the animal industries, ''the only enemy in the political conflict to achieve animal rights,'' in which each tries to pull the public, which ''stands indifferent at the start,'' on its side;
— it must be the primary aim of the animal rights movement to produce political pressure to achieve incremental reforms which weaken and damage the animal industries.

In the light of what has been said above, it is difficult to see, however, in what way the VGT's activities are possibly suited to weakening and damaging animal industry. When two parties are inextricably entangled, as is evident with the animal welfare movement and animal industry, this relationship can hardly be characterised as a "conflict" but rather as symbiotic, representing two sides of one exploitative system, with the result that to the animals, it does not matter much whose side the public takes. Temple Grandin, the ''visionary'' slaughterhouse designer, put it best when she said that ''proper handling of animals that are to be slaughtered 'keep[s] the meat industry running safely, efficiently and profitably.''' (14)

Obviously, the organic sector of animal agriculture is not referred to as the ''only enemy in the political conflict to achieve animal rights.'' But it is, more than anything else, the partnership between animal welfare and animal industry that is the stumbling block to abolition because in it, both sides figure as animal exploiters. There is no morally relevant difference between a battery egg and a ''cage-free'' egg, or between the flesh of a pig that has been kept on slatted floor and the flesh of a pig that has been kept on straw. The one who furthers the demand for animal products is no less an exploiter than the one who supplies it. Producing and consuming animal products are rights violations; so is promoting animal products:it treats nonhuman rights holders as much like commodities as producers and consumers do. It is just as immoral. An immoral institution – animal industry – cannot be fought by another immoral institution – animal welfare.

Organizations like the VGT are the most powerful societal force against veganism and, depending on this, abolition.

Sources: [The URLs of the sources regarding the activities of the VGT have been changed after this essay was published.]

(1) quote Jeff Perz,
(This subforum is available only to registered members of the board.)

(2) Dan Cudahy, ''Abolitionism versus New Welfarism: A Contrast in Theory and Practice''

(3) Abolitionism versus Reformism

(4) Abschaffung versus Reform

(5) ''Straw makes happy''

(6) free-range chickens

free-range rabbits

(7) ethical alternative

( 8) Good Egg Award

(9) "Dear John,*

The undersigned animal welfare, animal protection and animal rights organizations would like to express their appreciation and support for the pioneering initiative being taken by Whole Foods Market in setting Farm Animal Compassionate Standards. We hope and expect that these standards will improve the lives of millions of animals."
* John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market

(10) incentive systems

(11) auditing agency

(12) open letter

(13) shopping guide

(14) ''In addition, leaflets and 'Toni's free-range Easter eggs' ['Toni's Freiland-Ostereier'] in a 4-pack are distributed to passers-by.''

(15) ''According to Grandin, proper handling of animals that are to be slaughtered 'keep[s] the meat industry running safely, efficiently and profitably.'''
Gary L. Francione, Abolition of Animal Exploitation: The Journey Will Not Begin While We Are Walking Backwards

Critics of new welfarism are often confronted with the objection that they deny dissenting activists their honest convictions and good intentions. That is not the point. The point is to make an assessment as to whether or not someone's actions are logically and credibly coherent with the goal they claim to be pursuing. This requires critically reflecting on the structural conditions of those actions which may contradict the declared goal.

As a general matter, an organization whose activities involve running costs which are paid by membership fees and donations cannot act independently of the interests and goals of its members and donors. In order to continue to exist, such an organization inevitably has to act in accordance with the interests of those whose money forms its economic base.

In the context of animal advocacy, this means that in a society in which 99% of the population use animals, mainly by consuming animal products, and consider this just as necessary or at least as normal and natural as breathing air and drinking water, the majority of the members and donors of an organization which appears to act on behalf of animals is formed by animal users, unless the organization exclusively and unequivocally promoted veganism, or accepted only vegan members, donors, and sponsors. Where this is not the case, the organization will, in order to continue to exist, inevitably act on behalf of those who use animals and who, not being educated why it is morally wrong to use animals, wish to continue to do so.

In other words, for reasons of self-preservation, the goal to abolish animal exploitation cannot seriously be pursued by such an organization. The possibility of its existence is in principle incompatible with that goal. And an institution which sustains functionaries, managers and other employees economically, cannot be conceived of as one which is intended to become ''superfluous'' by eliminating what makes it allegedly necessary. (People who work for these institutions have financial obligations which make them utterly dependent on the income they receive from them.) That's why the institution's policy will be designed to accommodate the public to the greatest extent possible in order to ensure a steady flow of financial support mainly in the form of donations and membership fees. This is achieved through runming campaigns which make animal exploitation appear morally acceptable in order to make people feel (more) comfortable about it.

Animal advocacy aiming at the abolition of animal exploitation must be independent of the financial support of those who are interested in continuing to exploit animals. An individual or group that is not independent of the support of those whose interests are opposed to the avowed goal of its policy stands in a manifest conflict of interest which the person or group attempts to circumvent by identifying their interests with animals' interests. This is, of course, a self-serving rationalization.

Just as it would be self-delusion to credit a politician with having something serious to say about a political issue from which he benefits economically, a conflict of interest deprives animal advocates' defence of their policy of the authority needed for it to be deemed worthy of serious consideration.