Save One Animal Or Improve The Lives Of Many?

Animal advocates are at war.

With each other.

The issue is how best to protect animals, and while there is a range of opinions, the two primary polarized camps are known as the welfarists and the abolitionists.

The well-known Humane Society of the United States exemplifies the welfarist approach. Its mission is to relieve animal suffering, here and now, as much as possible. That may mean making marginal improvements in the conditions at factory farms, which HSUS has been successful at. They recently played a major role in persuading at least 19 pork suppliers to eliminate gestation crates (eventually — McDonalds plans to take ten years to make the change). HSUS calls itself “America’s mainstream force against cruelty, exploitation and neglect.”

Other causes welfarists undertake include better policing of the treatment of animals in zoos, circuses and movies, and sharpening the teeth in laws against animal cruelty.

Abolitionists, on the other hand, want no part in improving the conditions in which humans use animals: they want to end that use, and they are not interested in any in-between efforts. For instance, they want factory farms closed and an end to the consumption of animal products. Represented by Rutgers law professor Gary Francione among others, they consider welfarists’ work to be worse than a waste of time — they consider it counterproductive. Abolitionists argue that by making factory farming slightly less cruel, they make it more palatable to consumers, who will then have less incentive to stop eating meat and other animal products. When animals are mistreated, abolitionists seek to publicize the fact towards the end of recruiting more allies and more vegans.

The debate between these camps has simmered higher and lower for years, but recently came to a head when animal advocate, Texas State University professor and blogger James McWilliams addressed the feud in Slate.

“The rift dividing HSUS from [vocal abolitionists] might seem insignificant, but it’s not. In fact, it threatens to weaken the cause from within,” he writes.

Francione has previously written that the statement “you’re being divisive” “translates as: ‘we have nothing to say in reply.’”

The two camps take very different views of the public’s role in animal exploitation. Both welfarists and abolitionists want to convert consumers of animal products to animal advocates. For abolitionists, that means nothing short of veganism, which amounts to a complete boycott of animal exploitation. Welfarists will applaud any step towards improving animals’ lives, from signing a petition to expand tiny battery cages for egg-laying hens, to observing Meatless Mondays, to becoming vegetarian or vegan.

Some abolitionists consider the general public culpable even as they court it. Francione writes that “the real exploiters are those who create the demand for animal products in the first place. The institutional exploiters are certainly culpable as well but they are responding to the public demand for animal products.”

While this war plays out primarily in books, articles and websites read by people who have already chosen a side, it has very real ramifications. Welfarists work sometimes against and sometimes with factory farms to change the facts on the ground for animals today, and they have had success, including the planned reduction in gestation crates noted above. Who knows what more they could do with more allies.

I am vegan. If I could abolish animal exploitation I would do it in a heartbeat. It is my ultimate goal. But that doesn’t free me from the moral obligation and the demands of basic decency to help animals who are suffering today. If I abandon them because I think their suffering is more likely to bring down animal exploiters, I am exploiting them for my own purposes.

I couldn’t look a calf in the eye who had been stolen from his mother at just a few days of age, was caged in a tiny veal crate that did not let him turn around, was being malnourished on a diet designed to induce anemia, and would be butchered while still a baby, and say “sorry buddy, I don’t want to help you. You are worth more to me suffering than you are happily gamboling in a pasture with your mother nearby, so toodles.”

That is why I sympathize with activists who break into factory farm facilities and rescue or euthanize the animals trapped and tortured inside, as Jonathan Safran Foer described in Eating Animals. These brave souls face jail for their missions of mercy. They are abolitionists who do not turn a deaf ear to the cries of animals who are in pain right now. If only other animal advocates could find ways to synthesize their views and coordinate their efforts instead of trying to make each other look bad, we might be a step closer to freedom for non-human animals.

What do you think? Do you identify as an abolitionist or a welfarist?


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Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

You're right, Sheila, but the problem is that radical and extreme vegans think their way is the ONLY way and their way is abolitionism and total abstaining from using any animal product or using or "owning" animals for any reason if it mean the animal doesn't have "equal" rights and 100% complete freedom. Most of us who have been animal lovers our entire lives but also have a sense of reality and common sense understand this is counter-productive in that cats and dogs, not to mention livestock, would not fare very well unless we humans helped them by controlling their populations, their environment to some extent by offering safety (fencing so they don't wander around on the freeways) and provide veterinary care such as vaccinations, spaying/neutering, etc. We don't let our animals wander freely, so I guess that is imprisonment in the eyes of those radical/extreme vegans, and because we don't believe in allowing cats/dogs to drive cars, vote or do the grocery shopping, we are exploiting them since what is left is merely "using" them for our "pleasure".

Sheila Stevens
Sheila S.3 years ago

Why does this have to be an either/or situation? Both sides have valid perspectives from within their respective points of view. One works toward demolishing present suffering; the other wants to eliminate the problem entirely. They need each other.

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Ummmm, so Janice M., who has NO member profile comes in and calls Pego basically a liar for having stated her own experiences. That's cute. Janice, or whomever you are, the only carnivores I know of don't post on Care.2, as the cats and dogs I've encountered can't read or write. The entire content of your post is to insult those with whom you don't agree and it's obvious you either haven't read a single comment made by any of us previously, or you're only here to stir-the-pot with the same old, tired and false propaganda. We've heard it all before. If you've drunk enough of the "Koolaid" that you truly believe it, that's your right, but stop with the accusations that anything but YOUR beliefs is wrong.

Janice McClellan
Janice McClellan3 years ago

Pego writes "Yet, it has been shown over and over that many, many of us CANNOT have a healthy long life as vegans. We chose to remain what nature has made us..."

Please cite your source. I have never seen is shown that one cannot be vegan, only carnivores' claims that they tried it and couldn't do it. Fact is there is no nutritional necessity in animal products for optimum human health. It is the nutrient that is important, no the source. Protein, calcium, Omega 3s, viamin Bs, and every other nutrient can be found in plant sources. As for "We choose to remain what nature has made us", nature made us with the option of choice, not with instinct which implies no choice. We can choose to live cruelly or we can choose to live compassionately. You can argue the health ramifications till the cows come home, but you can never win the moral argument. Compassion trumps cruelty every time.

Pego Rice
Pego R.3 years ago

If I could give you 2 an extra star each, I would

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

I'm glad I wasn't the only one wondering, "HUH"? at that comment, Erica. I thought maybe it was to the wrong discussion, so I sort of ignored it.

I'm still scratching my head about Veronique's comment about money being better spent to educate about veganism. Oh, I see.........instead of spending money to save animals, it should be spent to brainwash people into converting to their way of living. That makes perfect sense...........NOT!

Erica B.
Erica B.3 years ago

Harsha R...what the heck does your comment have to do with this article? And, why did you make such a bigoted and nasty comment to begin with? For one thing, EVERY country has SOME "evil, cruel, and corrupt people," they are normally called The Religious Right and Republicans in MY country. EVERY country also has MANY compassionate, loving, and decent people. Why do you have a problem with India's people?

Veronique P.
Veronique P.4 years ago

Got cut off below... All this money wasted just for that??? This money could have been spent on Vegan education so that people realize they should just stop eating animals completely. What a waste of time for the animals.

Veronique P.
Veronique P.4 years ago

This article missing the point made by abolitionists. Of course we would help an animal who is suffering in front of us. That is not true that we don't care. But the point is that welfarism doesn't really help animals. The point Gary Francione makes over and over is that welfarims "improvements" happen because they are in the interests of the animal industrial exploiters from an economic point of view not because they feel pressured by welfarists to make changes. The author of this article has not understood the point made by Francione or other abolitionists (including myself). Making cages bigger (which actually don't really help animals as there is no way to say how it will be applied) doesnt help anmals. It does however help consumers feel better about what they eat. If HSUS say that "victory, we have bigger cages", consumers who are speciesists themselves will think that it's ok to continue to eat animals because HSUS said so. That is a gross detriment to animals. Bruce Friedrich, who went from PETA and now works for Farm Sanctuary, says that this is making progress. However, it has been showed that the images of "Enhanced" colony cages (supposed to be replacing the old battery cages) that he showed at the last Animal Rights Conference were seriously non representative of the truth. Who will inforce these so-called improvements? The speciesists who work in these factories. When these so-called improvements will happen? 18 years from now!!! All this money wasted just for t

Pego Rice
Pego R.4 years ago

Yet, it has been shown over and over that many, many of us CANNOT have a healthy long life as vegans. We chose to remain what nature has made us and just do the best we can, still.