As if they voluntarily accept their fate

“This is what we need in this county,” Sonoma County Farm Bureau Executive Director Tim Tesconi told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “[Marin Sun founder and CEO David Evans] couldn’t open it soon enough as far as we’re concerned,” Jocelyn Brabyn at Salmon Creek Ranch near Bodega added.[1]

They were reacting to news that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had approved Marin Sun’s plans to re-open the Rancho slaughterhouse in Petaluma.[2] The slaughterhouse had been shuttered following a massive recall due to deceptive practices.[3]

The USDA has asserted that Rancho “processed diseased and unsound animals” without a full inspection and that the company engaged in “intermittent circumvention of inspection requirements.” The USDA repeatedly has refused to comment on most aspects of the recall or on the various federal investigations, but congressman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, has said that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is conducting a criminal probe.[4]

The slaughterhouse also played a role in supposedly humane slaughter practices. One of its customers explains on its web site,

Don McNab arrives early at Rancho on the day of slaughter to check on the cattle and prepare his notebook to take careful records of the kill. Don remains in charge of the live cattle and will quietly bring groups of animals through the corrals towards the knock box – the concrete, high-walled box where cattle stand to be stunned. These are the cattle that Don has spent months or years with and they are familiar with him. When he is around them he moves slowly but deliberately. These are the most important minutes before the cattle die. For reasons of humane animal handling, and for the quality and safety of the meat, it is exceedingly important to minimize any stress on the animal at the time of death. This is not a process to be rushed: if an animal hesitates anywhere in the corral, Don will wait patiently until it willingly moves ahead. . . . It is a careful and swift process. . . . Death will follow quickly while the animal is still unconscious. . . . It would be unacceptable to us to not be present for this entire process.[5]

This, in essence, is the ‘welfare’ argument, that is, that we ought to minimize the suffering of animals we exploit and that we can ‘lovingly’ or at least ‘humanely’ kill animals. It is an argument which seems like a no-brainer. Of course it is better to reduce suffering and such a motivation lay behind, for example, California’s Proposition 2, which mandated larger cages for chickens.[6]

The question, as [Wayne Pacelle, the first vegan to become president of the Humane Society of the United States] Pacelle sees it, is how to create change when Big Agriculture, with its big money, has made it nearly impossible to get meaningful farm-animal-welfare legislation passed. Here the ballot-initiative process is crucial, since it offers an end run around legislators by taking issues directly to voters. Another key element in Pacelle’s strategy has been to create ballot measures that offer only modest reforms on which both vegans and hamburger lovers (at least many of them) can agree. That tactic, however, has earned Pacelle his share of critics, including some who claim that while the ballot initiatives may seem moderate, they are just a first step in a vegan agenda to dictate what Americans eat. On the other side, extreme vegan [abolitionist] groups say Pacelle has sold out, giving carnivores a reason to feel virtuous about eating “happy meat.” Pacelle counters that he can’t please everybody: “Part of my job is to challenge certain orthodoxies. For people who want a vegan revolution — that’s too passive for me.”[7]

I’m unhappily coming around to the abolitionist perspective.

[Gary] Francione’s logic is hard-hitting, but his extreme [abolitionist] message is unlikely to resonate widely in a population that’s only 1.4 percent vegan. According to social psychologist and longtime vegan Melanie Joy, the abolitionist approach could attract a lot more supporters if it acknowledged, as HSUS does, that most people are going to embrace veganism on their own—you can’t strong-arm them into it.[8]

Actually, from what I can see, the percentage of vegans in the U.S. is a bit higher than that, about two or two and a half percent,[9] but the point stands that the proportion of human beings in the U.S. who have given up animal products is incredibly small, far below a critical mass that yet leads to a vegan future.

But that’s not an argument against abolitionism. Abolitionists argue that ‘welfare’ practices lead at least to complacency, that they in effect enable morally unacceptable practices. I might offer figure 1, from the Press Democrat coverage of the Rancho shutdown as Exhibit A:

Original caption:
Figure 1. Original caption: “Cows wait to be butchered at Rancho Veal Slaughterhouse in Petaluma on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. (CONNER JAY/ PD )”

The photograph (fig. 1) is accompanied by a caption, which states, “Cows wait to be butchered at Rancho Veal Slaughterhouse in Petaluma on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014.”[10] As if they are aware of the fate that awaits them and as if they voluntarily, perhaps even eagerly, accept that fate.

At which point I have to ask, how’s that ‘welfare’ argument working out for you? The abysmally low percentage of vegans in the U.S. is not evidence for any increased consciousness among meat-eaters.  Instead, what I see, at places like Whole Foods Markets, are people seeking absolution by choosing to buy ‘humanely’ raised meat, and thus justifying to themselves their continued consumption of meat. Here’s Whole Foods founder John Mackey:

It’s my belief that most of Americans are in denial about factory farms in America. They don’t want to know what’s happening. They don’t want to look, because they’re not willing to give up meat. And it’s my belief that once we can really have animal-compassionate alternatives where people can buy this product and know that the animal was well-treated during its lifetime, that then they’ll be willing to look at what the factory farm is all about. I think when that happens, across the United States, there’s going to be outrage about factory farms. . . .

Sure, I wish Whole Foods didn’t sell animal products, but the fact of the matter is that the population of vegetarians in America is like 5 percent, and vegans are like 25 or 30 percent of the vegetarians. So if we were to become a vegan store, we’d go out of business, we’d cease to exist. And that wouldn’t be good for the animals, for our customers, our employees, our stockholders, or anybody else.[11]

Mackey pleads that if Whole Foods ceased to sell meat, people would just go elsewhere to buy meat, and Whole Foods would lose the business. Therefore, it is better for the animals for Whole Foods to continue to sell meat because presenting “humanely”-raised to consumers raises their consciousness that humane treatment is even an issue.

Ethically, that’s not an argument that holds a lot of water. It amounts to, I will knowingly commit this sin, profit from the sin, and claim to raise consciousness of the sin not through my own example, but through marketing, even though I acknowledge it to be a sin, because everyone else is doing it. In fact, the knowing aspect of the action raises the level of culpability.[12] The claim that marketing “humanely”-raised meat at least informs consumers that humanity is at issue pales before the message that would be offered by a confession of sin and a refusal to sin further. And the excuse that “everyone else is doing it” is no excuse at all. Mackey’s argument effectively privileges profit over ethics.

The difficulty with the abolitionist argument is that it is Manichean, that is, it essentially divides a realm of action or of people into a binary of good and evil, where even any act to mitigate the harm of animal exploitation and abuse remains evil, undistinguished from even more abominable abuses, such as a myriad of systematic abuses committed by the slaughterhouse industry, including the unnecessary sadistic acts of workers, as documented by Compassion Over Killing and other activists with videos the livestock industry has sought to ban as ‘terrorism’.[13]

[V]eganism, once widely understood within our movement to be a moral and ethical imperative, a commitment to not participate in the exploitation of others nor to cooperate with those who do, is rapidly being reduced to a mere “lifestyle choice,” a “tool,” to be selectively used as a means to an end. Similarly, the concept of animal rights, once widely understood to represent a zero-tolerance policy on the exploitation of animals, has become so diluted and degraded, as we shall later see, so as to be comfortably invoked by those who butcher thousands of baby cows and lambs every week.[14]

But if action is to be reasonably viewed as non-negligent, it must also be sufficient, that is, it must substantially advance a necessity. For vegans, that necessity should be a cessation of the mistreatment of animals—especially including killing them. That necessity does not appear to be advanced by a ‘welfare’ approach.

  1. [1]Robert Digitale, “Marin Sun Farms gets final OK to reopen Petaluma slaughterhouse,” Press Democrat, March 26, 2014, http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20140326/business/140329675
  2. [2]Robert Digitale, “Marin Sun Farms gets final OK to reopen Petaluma slaughterhouse,” Press Democrat, March 26, 2014, http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20140326/business/140329675
  3. [3]Robert Digitale, Jamie Hansen, and Kevin McCallum, “Petaluma slaughterhouse ceases operations,” Press Democrat, February 10, 2014, http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20140210/articles/140219969; Robert Digitale, “Number of businesses hit by Rancho Feeding recall triples,” Press Democrat, March 5, 2014, http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20140305/articles/140309788; Robert Digitale, “Slaughterhouse woes go beyond just cancerous cattle,” Press Democrat, March 7, 2014, http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20140307/articles/140309648
  4. [4]Robert Digitale, “Slaughterhouse woes go beyond just cancerous cattle,” Press Democrat, March 7, 2014, http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20140307/articles/140309648
  5. [5]BN Ranch, “The Unique Story of BN Ranch Beef,” February 18, 2014, http://eatlikeitmatters.com/news/the-unique-story-of-bn-ranch-beef/
  6. [6]Maggie Jones, “The Barnyard Strategist,” New York Times, October 24, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/26/magazine/26animal-t.html; Adam Kochanowicz, “Erik Marcus is vegan advocacy at its worst,” Examiner.com, November 27, 2009, http://www.examiner.com/article/erik-marcus-is-vegan-advocacy-at-its-worst; Erik Marcus, “Gary Francione / Erik Marcus Debate,” GaryFrancione.com, February 25, 2007, http://www.gary-francione.com/francione-marcus-debate.html; James McWilliams, “HSUS vs. abolitionists vs. the meat industry: Why the infighting should stop,” Slate, September 7, 2012 http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2012/09/hsus_vs_abolitionists_vs_the_meat_industry_why_the_infighting_should_stop_.html; Gary Steiner, “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable,” New York Times, November 21, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/opinion/22steiner.html
  7. [7]Maggie Jones, “The Barnyard Strategist,” New York Times, October 24, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/26/magazine/26animal-t.html
  8. [8]James McWilliams, “HSUS vs. abolitionists vs. the meat industry: Why the infighting should stop,” Slate, September 7, 2012 http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2012/09/hsus_vs_abolitionists_vs_the_meat_industry_why_the_infighting_should_stop_.html
  9. [9]Frank Newport, “In U.S., 5% Consider Themselves Vegetarians,” Gallup, July 26, 2012, http://www.gallup.com/poll/156215/consider-themselves-vegetarians.aspx; Vegetarian Resource Group, “How Many Adults Are Vegan in the U.S.?” December 5, 2011, http://www.vrg.org/blog/2011/12/05/how-many-adults-are-vegan-in-the-u-s/
  10. [10]Robert Digitale, “Number of businesses hit by Rancho Feeding recall triples,” Press Democrat, March 5, 2014, http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20140305/articles/140309788
  11. [11]John Mackey, quoted in Grist, “An interview with John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods,” December 18, 20014, http://grist.org/article/little-mackey/
  12. [12]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  13. [13]Steven Best, “It’s War! The Escalating Battle Between Activists and the Corporate-State Complex,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2004), 300-339; Jason Black and Jennifer Black, “The Rhetorical ‘Terrorist’: Implications of the USA Patriot Act for Animal Liberation,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2004), 288-299; Brett Snider, “Undercover Animal Rights Activist Arrested for Animal Cruelty,” Findlaw, November 25, 2013, http://blogs.findlaw.com/legally_weird/2013/11/undercover-animal-rights-activist-arrested-for-animal-cruelty.html; John Sorenson, “The Myth of ‘Animal Rights Terrorism’,” Brock Review 12, no. 1 (2011): 91-99; Paul Watson, “ALF and ELF — Terrorism Is as Terrorism Does,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2004), 279-287; David Zahniser, “Central Valley slaughterhouse closed over inhumane treatment,” Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2012, http://articles.latimes.com/2012/aug/22/local/la-me-0822-slaughterhouse-20120822
  14. [14]James LaVeck and Jenny Stein, “Project for the New American Carnivore: From Lyman to Niman in 10 Short Years,” Tribe of Heart, July 2007, http://www.tribeofheart.org/tohhtml/pnac.htm

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