Abuse: Promoting Animal-Derived Food
By Joan Dunayer
In February 2006 the Humane Society of the U.S. publicly
asked the White House to “use cage-free eggs instead of abusive
battery-cage eggs” for its annual Easter Egg Roll. Most readers
will, I hope, find that request both foolish and morally askew. Cage-free
eggs, too, are products of abuse. Artificial eggs could easily be used.
Perhaps less obviously, asking consumers to buy cage-free rather than
battery eggs also is misguided. Using eggs for food is just as unnecessary
as using them for play, as non-animal alternatives are readily available.
Activists who promote cage-free eggs seek to mitigate the intense suffering
of egg-industry hens by causing a shift in the numbers of caged versus
uncaged hens. However, endorsing any form of speciesist exploitation
is counterproductive and morally wrong.
Campaigns for cage-free eggs, “humane meat,” or other animal-derived
foods take time, energy and funds that would be better devoted to vegan advocacy.
Increasing the percentage of vegans reduces the number of hens who suffer in
the egg industry; it also weakens all industries based on speciesist exploitation.
Prompting people to switch from battery eggs to cage-free does neither. Instead
it marginalizes veganism by implying that avoidance of eggs is difficult or impossible—too
much to expect. Some activists promote veganism and animal-derived food. They
give with one hand and take back with the other. We should endorse only veganism,
In addition to being misplaced, a focus on methods of confinement is too narrow.
The public is encouraged to think that the problem is caging, crating or some
other “husbandry” practice. Exploitation itself goes unchallenged. “Welfarists” argue
that a hen would rather be uncaged than caged. Of course. But a hen can’t
see the whole picture. We can. A hen wants what’s best for herself. We
want what’s best for all animals over all time. If we focus on one particularly
severe abuse after another, we walk on a treadmill. We don’t move closer
to nonhuman emancipation. To make real progress, we need to address the cause
of all the abuses: speciesism. Promoting cage-free eggs, or any other nonvegan
food, perpetuates rather than combats speciesism because it legitimizes speciesist
exploitation. All such exploitation is abuse.
Support for products such as cage-free eggs, “free-range turkey” and “grass-fed
beef” falsely suggests that these products aren’t cruel. Most cageless
egg production involves the mass murder of male chicks. Uncaged hens commonly
are debeaked, intensely crowded, surrounded by filth, denied all veterinary care,
given little or no access to the outdoors (with “outdoors” often
being nothing more than a small, muddy yard), and killed when their egg-laying
declines. Even at its least cruel, food industry enslavement and slaughter entails
human-created suffering. Relentless genetic manipulation has afflicted chickens,
turkeys, pigs and other animals bred for food with crippling deformities and
other disabilities. To varying degrees, all food industry captives experience
deprivation; they’re all denied natural surroundings, activities and relationships.
Breeding and rearing animals for food is inherently cruel.
Many nonvegans are eager to believe that animal-derived foods can be humane.
In a 2000 Zogby America poll of 1,204 U.S. adults, 81 percent of respondents
indicated that they’d willingly pay more for eggs from hens kept under
better conditions. When individuals who call themselves animal advocates promote
a product—whether or not they label it “compassionate” or “humane”—much
of the public concludes that the product is virtually cruelty-free. People reasonably
(but wrongly) assume, “Animal advocates wouldn’t condone something
cruel.” In a July 2006 article on food choices, Washington Post journalist
Candy Sagon wrote, “Note to PETA: Don’t worry. I couldn’t live
with the guilt. I ended up buying the brown eggs from free-roaming happy hens.” What
has happened when people associate PETA with “happy” exploited hens?
A piece titled “Meat Eaters Without the Guilt,” by food writer Tamar
Haspel, appeared in The Washington Post in August 2006. “Livestock” needn’t
suffer, Haspel contended. People “with a concern for animals” can,
with a clear conscience, eat the remains of animals who were “treated well.” Thanks
to “free-roaming pork,” people “can have the moral high ground
and the pork chop.” In reality, only veganism is humane. That’s the
message we need to convey.
Endorsing any nonvegan food negates a core principle of animal rights: Other
animals are not ours to exploit. “Animal agriculture” violates nonhumans’ most
basic moral rights, their rights to life and liberty. “Of course, you still
have to kill them,” Haspel says of pigs reared for slaughter. Not to worry. “Even
animal rights hard-liner Peter Singer” doesn’t disapprove. As Haspel
notes, Singer approves of breeding, rearing and killing animals for food if they
have pleasant lives and are killed quickly and painlessly. In other words, give
the slave a happy life and, when you choose, end that happy life. Singer believes
that enslavement and slaughter can be appropriate for nonhuman animals. How little
respect does that indicate? According to Singer, most animals—many mammals
and all nonmammals—are, as expressed in his book Practical Ethics, “replaceable.” They “do
not qualify for a right to life.” That view certainly isn’t animal
rights. But it’s no wonder that Haspel and many other people mistake Singer’s “welfarism” for
animal rights. Many groups and individuals call themselves “animal rights” even
as they recommend different “husbandry” and slaughter methods. The
antithesis of animal rights, “animal agriculture” is deeply speciesist
and entirely unjust. Condoning (either explicitly or implicitly) any speciesist
exploitation impedes movement toward nonhuman emancipation; it undermines efforts
to convince people that nonhuman enslavement is immoral.
“Welfarists” often accuse animal rights advocates of being insensitive
to nonhuman suffering. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Animal rights
advocates understand that all food industry captives lack genuine welfare. Animals
regarded as dispensers of eggs, milk or flesh are treated accordingly—as
things, not persons. With “welfarism” the suffering goes on and on
and continues to increase. We need to speak and act in ways that demonstrate
and demand full respect for nonhuman animals. Only such respect can maximally
reduce, and ultimately end, the massive suffering.
Joan Dunayer is the author of Animal Equality: Language
and Liberation (2001)
and Speciesism (2004).
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