Archive for August, 2007

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

“AETA is not about the crime, it’s about the politics behind the crime. All of the actions targeted by this legislation (with the exception of First Amendment activity) are already crimes. The problem that law enforcement agents have encountered is not that there’s a shortage of statutes available, but that they just can’t catch underground activists. This legislation won’t solve that. It will, however, stray into the dangerous territory of prosecuting intent. This bill is not about crimes (or First Amendment activity) but about the beliefs of the individuals, and the social movements, behind them. Conservative lawmakers who opposed hate crimes legislation because it mandated disproportionate sentences based on ideology should logically oppose AETA on the same grounds.” ~Will Potter, from his blog, greenisthenewred.com

“The AETA is ostensibly meant to target underground, illegal actions committed in the name of animal rights by groups like the Animal Liberation Front. But underground activists won’t lose much sleep over this bill. Their actions are already illegal (and they know it); the government has already labeled them the “number one domestic terrorist threat.” And yet these activists continue to demonstrate that heavy-handed police tactics will not deter them. Legal, aboveground activists are the ones who should be most concerned about this vague and overly broad legislation, under which they could be considered “terrorists.” The AETA sends a chilling message to activists of all social movements that political opportunists can use the rhetoric and resources of the War on Terrorism against them.” ~Will Potter, from “AETA Signed into Law,” published in Earth First! Journal, January 2007

On the 13th of November, 2006, only six congressional representatives were present to vote on legislation that would dramatically alter the climate of animal activism. A suspension of the rules allowed the act to fly through legislative procedures in less than fifteen minutes. The sole voice of disagreement, that of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, was not loud enough. On the 27th of November, 2006, George W. Bush’s signature turned the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) into law.

An act that includes civil disobedience in its definition of terrorism is understandably alarming to the activist community. The AETA states that even “non-violent physical obstruction of an animal enterprise or a business having a connection to, or relationship with, an animal enterprise, that may result in loss of profits but does not result in bodily injury or death or property damage or loss” can be punished with prison time and daunting fines. This is further detailed as offenses that do “not instill in another the reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or death,” do not cause “economic damage or bodily injury,” or that cause “economic damage that does not exceed $10,000.”

From the introduction of the act to the subsequent scaremongering and conviction of activists, Will Potter has chronicled the ongoing green scare on his blog, greenisthenewred.com. Potter is one of the few journalists to examine the government’s recent targeting of animal and environmental activists, much less make it his focus. In studying the AETA and its implications for the animal liberation movement, I reviewed the archives of Potter’s blog and his many published articles on this topic.
I have listened to Potter speak on two occasions: at a University of Washington presentation and at the Animal Rights Conference 2007. At both events the audience responded with questions about whether or not their personal, aboveground activism could be construed as terrorism. Could they go to prison for leafleting? Or protesting? Or, as the SHAC7 trial demonstrated, for operating a website?

The intent behind this legislation was clearly to squash activism. As Potter wrote: “The purpose of the balaclava-clad ad campaigns, the State Department briefings, the DHS memos, the outlandish prison sentences, the FBI harassment and the blacklists is not to protect national security or even to catch illegal, underground activists. The point is to instill fear in the mainstream animal rights and environmental movements—and every other social movement paying attention—and make people think twice about using their First Amendment rights.” The purpose was to scare activists out of being active.

However, the overall feeling at AR2007 suggested that perhaps this legislation is having an entirely different effect. Speaker after speaker encouraged us to not be intimidated. Emphasis was placed on knowing our rights, recognizing the threat, and choosing our risks wisely. No one suggested that anyone stop taking risks. Indeed, many individuals that I spoke to had decided that, if acting on their beliefs could land them in prison, they wanted to be sure that what they were doing was worthwhile. Presented with the choice of fear or resolve, most are choosing to up the level of their activism and striving to achieve as significant an impact as possible.

For additional information on the AETA, your legal rights, and the activists currently targeted by the green scare, check out the following websites:

http://www.noaeta.org

http://www.cldc.org

http://www.greenscare.org

http://www.nlg.org

Advertisements

Leave a comment »

Making the Neighbors Angry

“I hear activists being termed ‘extremists’ and ‘terrorists,’ surely it’s extreme to stitch up the eyelids of a kitten in a research laboratory, it’s extreme to transplant the head of one monkey onto another, it’s extreme to tear a young calf from his mother’s side to steal her milk and condemn him to a short life in a veal crate, it’s extreme to castrate a young piglet without anesthetic merely to argue that the meat will taste better when he’s murdered. Surely that is true extremism, real terrorism against the weak and innocent. I believe that those who seek to end atrocities of that nature are only guilty of one thing, and that’s compassion.” ~Robin Webb, responding in September 1991 to the question of justifying the ALF’s activities

Consider the vivisector who makes a cushy living off torturing animals in laboratories for frivolous research. Thousands of caged animals suffer and die at his hands. Convincing him to cease his practices would save countless lives. Yet appealing to his empathy is futile. Picketing the lab yields no results, the university doesn’t respond positively to your letters, and the animal welfare laws passed on a national level are not enforced. Short of an illegal action, what can you do?

One option is a home demo. Targeting individual animal exploiters through home demonstrations is a tactic that was brought into the discussion more than once at the conference. This aboveground strategy takes activists directly to the front lawns of the exploiter. It typically involves educating the neighbors and encouraging media attention. Most importantly, it ensures that the vivisector is not allowed to leave work behind him. His family, his neighbors, they all feel the repercussions of his choice. To spare everyone the trouble, all he has to do is make the decision to stop the cruelty.

Homes demos are, unsurprisingly, not endorsed by everyone in the movement. Indeed, many adamantly oppose this approach. Critics cite alienation of the community, negative media attention, damage to the cause’s reputation, and the employment of harassment and intimidation.

Those who speak in favor of home demos tend to be those who support direct action tactics. This was true of the interviews that I read this week with three of U.K.’s most publicly radical animal activists. It was in a booklet entitled Keep Fighting: Three Interviews with Britain’s Animal Liberation Front Press Officers. Clearly this was reading material produced on a budget. The photocopied, unnumbered pages fade into the margins. I cringed with every ‘you’re’ mistyped as ‘your.’ Yet despite it’s unimpressive appearance, the text is quite interesting. It is the transcript of interviews conducted in 1991 with Ronnie Lee, Robin Lane, and Robin Webb. As they explained to the interviewer, the three former ALF Press Officers were unable, for legal reasons, to discuss illegal activity in a way that could be interpreted as promotion. So, when asked about effective campaigning and “the way forward for the animal rights movement,” all three advocated home demos.

Ronnie Lee, the founder of the ALF, who has completed more than one prison sentence, admitted that, “marches and demonstrations outside of laboratories and other animal abuse establishments haven’t been very effective.” While discussing “winnable” campaigns, he suggested that, “a successful local campaign could be mounted … against vivisection.” He explains: “If you campaign against vivisection at a particular establishment using a type of campaign that puts attention on individual vivisectors, like harassing them personally, going outside their homes and disrupting their personal life, then you are going to stop those people, eventually you are going to stop those vivisectors from vivisecting because they just won’t be able to take the pressure anymore. You are going to have to target a lot of individual vivisectors before you close the lab, but all the time you are achieving these small victories of vivisectors who stop doing it, you are cutting down the number of vivisectors, you’re making it very uncomfortable for anyone to vivisect in that place.”

Likewise, Robin Webb saw home demos as an extremely effective approach: “To really stop the abuse – apart from unlawful direct action which the Animal Liberation Front carry out – find out who the animal abusers are, for example, vivisectors, go and demonstrate outside of their houses, leaflet their neighbors, make it clear to their local community how they make their money, that their mortgage repayments are paid with blood-stained money. They will then become outcasts in their own community. It will encourage them to find another way of earning a living. If the animals can’t get away from their exploitation, if the animals are imprisoned 24 hours a day, why should the abusers go home, put their feet up, and watch television?”

In response to the argument “that you shouldn’t make the partners and children of the family pay,” Webb was unwavering. “It is not the responsibility of the campaigners, it’s the responsibility of the animal abuser. All they have to do is stop what they are doing, and their family won’t be involved in any unpleasantness anymore. It’s all the responsibility of the animal abusers. If they stop what they’re doing, then any demonstrations and picketing would stop.”

I found it highly noteworthy that these three dedicated activists, when unable to suggest ALF actions, chose to encourage this particular tactic. Does this suggest that demonstrating in neighborhoods is the next best thing to breaking into laboratories? Not necessarily.

These interviews, as I kept reminding myself, occurred sixteen years ago. I wonder if these three still espouse the same perspective. I am especially curious as to whether the optimism expressed in this booklet has endured such a lengthy passage of time with so little progress.

Recently Arkangel (arkangelweb.org), originally a magazine co-founded by Robin Lane to report on progress in the movement, posted an article on the rise of vivisection in the U.K. “Latest Government figures for 2006 on animal research,” reads the article, “show a rise to 3.01 million of scientific procedures on animals in the UK, up 115,800 on 2005 or just under 10,000 a month. In addition the report showed that 133,800 more animals were used in experiments, representing a 5% increase on the previous year.”

What does this say about the effectiveness of the movement? Would the situation be even worse if animal activists had not worked so tirelessly? Would the situation be better if activists had done more? If only I could ask Lee, Lane, and Webb for their opinion. Whatever their answers might be, to me these statistics mean only that this immense struggle for the lives of animals remains as urgent as ever.

Leave a comment »

On Violence, Liberation, and the ALF

“The question the animal rights movement should ask itself is: What course of action would we justify and engage in if it was our own mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children in the torture chambers and not nameless unfamiliar animals? And also: Is the ALF justifiable in its own moderate choice of tactics? Once we answer these questions honestly we might better appreciate that in over 19 years of operation in the US, the ALF has yet to cause physical injury or loss of life in a campaign that has achieved liberty for tens of thousands of the voiceless victims of humanity’s war against the animal nations. Meanwhile, corporate, government, military and private animal abusers remain committed to their own code of real violence and terror, as evidenced by their contemptuous disregard for all other life on earth” ~Rod Coronodo, from the article Direct Action Speaks Louder than Words

“Every time you walk past a dog on a chain, the radical feminist or ALF activist might remind you, you are making the political choice to allow that animal to spend his or her days in lonely anguish.” ~Pattrice Jones, from the article Mothers with Monkeywrenches: Feminist Imperatives and the ALF

Genocide and fishing vessels, torture and vivisection, rape and factory farms, murder and slaughterhouses. When I think of violence, all this and more clouds my mind simultaneously. And somewhere, in the periphery of the mental montage that is my conception of violence, is the violent activist. This would be the anti-abortion zealot with a handgun. Or the Weather Underground member with a strategically placed pipe bomb. However, as I read Satya’s series, Violence and Activism, from March and April of 2004, I realized that the violent animal activist was absent from my definition of violence.

When, if ever, is animal activism violent? Is it violent for a group of masked, sign-waving activists to holler incriminatingly on the front lawn of a vivisector’s home? Is it violent for the liberators of caged animals to vandalize the lab and render useless the tools of torture?

In a political climate that pairs ‘animal activist’ hand in hand with ‘terrorist,’ the controversy over direct action, animal liberation, and underground activism is as significant as ever. While reading Satya’s collection of articles, many of which directly advocated for nonviolence, I also looked at writings on the movement’s most notorious component: the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). In 2004 Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella published an anthology entitled Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals. The result is a fascinating insight into the history, rationale, motivation, perception, and tactics of this underground movement.

Best summarizes the unique composition of the ALF in his introduction: “Given the decentralized and anonymous nature of ALF actions, the ALF in principle is not about authority, ego, heroism, machismo, or martyrdom; rather, it is about overcoming hierarchy, patriarchy, passivity, and politics as usual so that creative individuals can dedicate themselves unselfishly to the cause of animal liberation” (Best, 24).

It is crucial to emphasize that, in the entire history of the ALF, not a single human or nonhuman animal life has been taken. Despite the autonomy of each ALF cell, there is a list of overarching guidelines. This short list includes rules for taking “all necessary precautions” against harm. The primary purpose is, as explained in the ALF Primer, “to liberate animals from places of abuse … and place them in good homes where they may live out their natural lives, free from suffering,” “to inflict economic damage to those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals,” and “to reveal the horror and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors.” The ALF is a logical response to an industry that profits from the perpetuation of violence against nonhumans. When decades of begging the public to empathize has yet to halt the reality of widespread animal exploitation, ALF activists bypass the painstaking route of public conversion and literally liberate the animals.

The media and pro-vivisection groups such as the Foundation for Biomedical Research like to depict the ALF as angry, arrogant young men in baklavas wielding crowbars. This unfortunate image is one that Pattrice Jones, in her essay, recommends replacing. She proposes giving a “feminine face’ to the ALF. “What happens,” asks Jones, “when you change that mental image” of “a black-clad young man” to “a young woman or a gray-haired grandmother?” (Jones, 149). As Jones explains, the ALF is in fact “consistent with both ecofeminism and anarcha-feminism” as well as “with radical feminism in general” (Jones, 144). This is one of many positive angles from which to understand and support the ALF that few have bothered to explore or embrace.

Rather than focus on the laudatory aspects of the ALF, some prominent figures and organizations in the movement have chosen to distance themselves from ALF actions rather than be tainted by controversy. As Karen Dawn pointed out, in 2003 the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) withdrew from the Animal Rights Conference. The organization’s excuse was that, by associating themselves with “the rhetoric of Rod Coronado and Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC)’s Kevin Jonas” they “would damage HSUS’s mainstream image (which translates into millions of much needed mainstream dollars in donations) and subvert HSUS’s standing in the legislative arena” (Dawn, 214).

Bruce G. Friedrich offered an intriguing counter-perspective to the choice of many organizations to disassociate from the ALF and other, aboveground radical groups such as SHAC. He argues that ALF actions are “useful to the movement” in that “they shift the debate” by making “the rest of the movement respectable” (Friedrich, 257). As he explains, “those who work on the radical fringe push that fringe outward and make others, formerly radical from society’s vantage, seem far more mainstream. And that, of course, is our goal: to alert society to the fact that animal liberation is every bit as reasonable, as a movement and philosophy, as was the abolition of slavery and suffrage for women” (Friedrich, 257).

Indeed, the tactics employed by the ALF are not so very alien or radical when put in the context of the history of social justice movements. As Kevin Jonas, who is currently serving a six year prison sentence for his involvement with SHAC, wrote for Satya (almost two years before he was convicted as a terrorist), “Many people do support liberations, property destruction, violence, forms of terrorism, and even murder” (Jonas, 18). They have “supported such violent tactics in the crushing of the Third Reich, the establishment of fair labor practices, and … to kill Osama bin Laden. Winning animal rights is what is so threatening and ‘terrorizing’ – not the way in which is fought – for the prospect of such principles being accepted would undermine a great many cultural, economic, and societal institutions which depend on animal oppression for their survival” (Jonas, 18).

Yet even the most radical activism on behalf of animals becomes tame in comparison to the violence perpetrated every second by animal exploiters worldwide. As Best wrote, “For every scratch an activist might inflict on an animal exploiter, a sea of blood flows from the bodies of animals; consequently, it is the height of perversity to brand activists rather than animal exploitation industries as the ethical misfits” (Best, 334). In this light, the cultural and societal reactions to ALF actions are irrelevant beside the countless lives that liberation tactics has and continues to save.

Jones asked her readers, “Who do you hope will be around if you are ever confined in a cage or about to be forcibly impregnated?” (Jones, 145). It’s a question worth considering when we get caught up in arguments over the most appropriate tactics. You can define them as violent, nonviolent, or by some category of your own invention, but in the end all that truly matters is that the ALF is opening cage doors and liberating lives.

Leave a comment »

Young and Impatient

“Although animal use, like war, comes packaged as an eternal violence, a natural, regulated, and therefore socially permissible violence, advocates are not obliged to consider the animal rights movement a war, with all the good-and-evil rhetoric that perspective absorbs. Copying the activity of warmakers or soldiers, forcing people to behave or not to behave in certain ways – this perpetuates the paradigm of daily social control by some authoritative force. Other people are not the enemy of animals rights; if there is an enemy at all, it is the tendency to depersonalize others. Using conscious animals as means to an end means depersonalizing them. It involves alienating some individuals, some population, from our moral community, so that we can pull from them what we want. Militancy reinforces precisely the same social habit.”

~ Lee Hall, from Capers in the Churchyard

When I first picked up Lee Hall’s Capers In the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror, I was puzzled by the title and the image of an ancient churchyard on the cover. Halfway into her work, it became evident that the churchyard was no metaphor. It is the actual gravesite of Gladys Hammond, the mother of a British couple that earned their living through breeding animals for biomedical experimentation. In 2004, as the pinnacle of a long-running campaign to close this farm (which notably sold animals to Huntington Life Sciences), Hammond’s coffin disappeared from her grave. Anonymous activists offered to return her bones in exchange for the closure of the farm. The farm stopped breeding lab animals. This gutsy action, which resulted in the imprisonment of four activists, is an isolated example of a creative tactic. Yet it is under the headline of this unique action that Hall proceeds to criticize the movement. The book is scathing evaluation of welfare reform, animal liberation activism, militant activists, and animal rescue. Though she has no other examples of grave excavation, Hall condemns other prevailing tactics for ceasing animal suffering as though they were all buttressing this one offense.

Hall’s indignation over Hammond’s remains has less to do with disrespecting a grave than with alienating the community from a compassionate cause.  She is deeply concerned with how the public perceives the movement. Considering her preoccupation with the opinions of meat-eating bystanders, Hall unwaveringly depicts direct action activists according to the mainstream stereotype.

Much of Hall’s scathing critique of liberationists is based on assumptions and misrepresentations. Hall insinuates that militant activists are too shortsighted and impatient to engage in worthwhile approaches. Young and tattooed, they are all idealists self-embedded in simplistic good-and-evil scenarios. They are in it for the thrill, the risk, the glory of self-sacrifice. Their actions on behalf of animals are nothing more than “indulgence in authoritarian tactics and in violence” (Hall, 75). And in this “community that’s thought to have a high female presence,” Hall alleges that “showy male leadership is common” (Hall, 65). “Thought” is the imperative word here, seeing as Hall has no statistics or demographics from which to legitimize her illustration.

From my vantage point, “militant” animal activists defy Hall’s stereotype in almost every way. Granted, many have tattoos and are under thirty, but that is irrelevant to the ideology. The ALF, Hall’s favorite example, is comprised of individuals who choose to risk their own freedom in order to spare the lives of animals. They are underground and receive no credit unless they are caught. Such direct action, stemming from compassion for all species, employs exclusively nonviolent tactics. The suggestion that these activists, who are fighting against systemized animal abuse, in fact revel in violence, intimidation, and “establishing hierarchy” is both offensive and inadequately defended (Hall, 29).

In contrast, Hall’s arguments against welfarism are eloquently on target. She writes that “professionalized welfare advocacy,” which “largely functions to ensure that activists conform to the received social and economic template” would be more accurately labeled as “husbandry” (Hall, 99). This revised label better describes an approach that fails to address the exploitable status of nonhuman animals. She explains that “true attention to an animal’s welfare would not permit the fashioning of that animal into a commodity, let alone advertising companies that base their success on that paradigm” (Hall, 99).

Yet Hall’s writing, by bouncing back and forth between criticisms in an organizational style that left me scatterbrained, does not bother to distinguish between the very distinct forms of activism. The radical tactics of SHAC are compared to passive welfare reforms such as pushing supermarket chains to stock cage-free eggs. It is almost as if Hall’s choice to simultaneously attack dissimilar poles of the movement were deliberate. Taken together, it makes it easier to depict different philosophical approaches as one hypocritical and irrational series of blunders.

After dismissing the prevailing tactics of animal activism as either ineffectual or counterproductive, Hall flounders in her own inability to offer a viable alternative. Her vision of “the most comprehensive peace movement ever known” is blurry. For a book brimming with the details of the movement’s flaws, there is a notable lack of details regarding her envisioned solution. From what I could piece together, Hall is proposing “an animal-rights advocacy that’s based on everyday living” (Hall, 126). Apparently this would consist of compassionate vegan outreach while “unraveling our hierarchies” and “giving up the human clubs of whiteness, of maleness, and even of humanness, kicking the habit of defining ourselves as possessors of dominion over all that fly, walk, swim, and crawl over the contours of a weary planet” (Hall, 132).

If the path to Hall’s utopia is patiently waiting for the world to embrace veganism and adopt non-speciesist egalitarianism, then she can count me out. In the meantime billions of animals are enslaved and exploited. Liberation, welfarism, and every other strategy to save animal lives may be riddled with imperfections, but at least they act. Crossing our fingers that animal exploiters can be gently convinced to change radically without confrontational tactics is not going to get any animals out of factory farms any time soon. Call me shortsighted and naive, but as Hall pointed out, “this impatience has a particular appeal to young people” (Hall, 67).

Comments (1) »

Compassionate Exploitation

“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 the situations where the boundaries between right 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.” ~James LaVeck

“Promoting free-range, sunshine and fresh air before a ‘stunned’ slaughter for animals sugarcoats the bits and pieces of their bodies for the public, it isn’t getting our job done and it’s dishonest to the animals depending on our help … The real work isn’t negotiating with the animal industries, but with educating the public. The biggest threat to animal farming is veganism.” ~Patty Mark.

Last fall I received two issues of Satya magazine in the mail that dramatically altered the way that I thought about farm animal activism. Satya’s September 2006 issue, Killing Us Softly?, and October 2006 issue, Milking Us Gently?, were devoted to the elevating controversy over ‘humane’ animal products. Each issue was comprised of essays by and interviews with activists from oppositional ends of the debate. I decided that these noteworthy back issues were well worth revisiting. However, rereading the arguments of so many passionate activists in the wake of AR2007, I was struck by the magnitude of this standstill. Almost a year after these writings were published, the movement remains just as indecisive, inconsistent, and impeded by a widening internal divide.

At the conference, the controversy was politely simplified into a sterile welfarist versus abolitionist debate. Awkward plenaries featured speakers taking turns giving speeches about their personal philosophy.

I was grateful to return to the productive contrast of these Satya issues. The magazine was successful in keeping the discussion coherent. As editor Catherine Clyne explained: “This is about the consistency of our messages and actions and their consequences. It’s about the 10 billion animals killed for meat each year in this country – humanely raised or not – and what we’re doing to stop that.” It is not about, as Erik Marcus insisted during one plenary, a mere difference of “opinions.” These opinions carry the weight of the movement’s effectiveness and define our ability to actually save lives.

The questions tackled by Satya were all without clean-cut answers. Who is truly benefiting when animal products labeled ‘free-range,’ ‘cage-free,’ ‘free-farmed,’ ‘grass-fed,’ ‘certified humane,’ and ‘organic’ take such an upsurge in popularity? What is happening to the movement when animal advocacy organizations applaud and endorse the consumption of ‘humane’ meat, eggs, and dairy? Will incremental improvements in factory farms save more or less animals in the long run?

Many activists fighting for improved factory farm conditions have conceded to the institutional power of factory farms by accepting agribusiness’ indestructibility as a given. If it is not possible to shut down every slaughterhouse tomorrow, then it seems logical to focus our energy on lessening the brutality that occurs today. To make life a bit more bearable for the animal who we won’t be able to save. In one of the conference sessions, Karen Davis reminded us how, for the hen in a battery cage, a bigger cage does make a difference. How can we tell her, asked Davis, that factory farm reform is only a pointless fight for longer chains?

This perspective was eloquently described by Lee Hall’s article as “seductive but largely illusory.” As Bob Torres explained: “Welfarism is accepting defeat before we’ve even begun the battle. It accepts as a premise that genuine vegan and abolitionist outreach can’t be and aren’t effective enough, and so trades for measures which (though may decrease suffering in the short-term) actually reify the condition of animals as ours to exploit … It is justifying slavery by asking for longer chains; it is asking the abuser to abuse more gently.”

Yet the gentling of abuse is a change that many activists perceive as a success. Enslaved animals are marginally better off, and consumers are demonstrating that they care enough to pay a little more for animal products produced under these improved conditions. ‘Humane’ animal products and the companies that sell them are being lauded, even endorsed, by some animal advocacy organizations.

Then again, does the marketability of ‘humane’ animal products signify a public potential for veganism or a public grateful to hear that they can be animal-friendly without kicking the meat habit? While free-range eggs, organic milk, ‘humane certified’ meat, and the like may be a steppingstone for some, for others it is undeniably a leap backwards. As the founder of Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary pointed out in her interview, countless people are choosing ‘happy meat’ over vegetarianism: “No exaggeration: every person or group who visits the sanctuary, no matter what their background, age, sex, or socioeconomic position, beams with pride when they proclaim, ‘It’s okay, I only buy cage-free eggs and organic milk.'” James LaVeck reiterated this point, writing that “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 animals products, but by purchasing products marked as ‘humane.'”

When I first read these essays nearly a year ago, I was in the process of learning firsthand just how true LaVeck’s words are. The welfarist organization that I worked for had instructed me to contact all of the small-scale farms in the area that sold ‘free-range’ eggs. My coworkers saw nothing problematic in the assignment. From their well-intentioned standpoint, a local alternative to factory farms was an easier sell than veganism. This was indeed the case – people were practically lining up to assuage their guilty consciences by purchasing ‘free-range’ eggs rather than cut eggs from their diet. That month I spoke to over two dozen farmers, mostly small-scale organic vegetable farmers selling eggs for supplemental income. All save a handful informed me that their eggs were in such high demand that they were turning away customers.

The factor that cemented my own beliefs regarding the futility of promoting ‘humane’ animal products was a phone conversation that I had with one of those farmers. He was quite gregarious on the phone, cheerfully telling me how his chickens roamed the organic orchards by day, scratching blissfully in the pesticide-free soil. I asked how long the chickens lived at his farm. They only lasted about three years, he explained, before their egg production declined. Knowing full well that a hen could naturally live to be fifteen, I inquired as to where the chickens went after three years of laying. The farmer laughed and said that he didn’t really know, but that they “probably were turned into dog food.”

As that farmer demonstrated, and as countless animal welfare measures continue to demonstrate, the “longer chains” solution overlooks the underlying problems with animal exploitation. It does not question the notion that animals are pieces of property for us to utilize and exploit. Will being a little nicer to our property increase said property’s chances of escaping property status in the long run? Maybe. But with happy meat sales skyrocketing, would-be vegetarians opting to be conscientious omnivores, and slaughterhouses massacring record numbers, the outlook is grim.

Leave a comment »