“We are collectively mounting a major challenge to a system of production that has created so many animal victims over the past 60 years”
Movies, music or technology, where the USA leads others soon follow. And developments in food are no exception. America the trendsetter – what happens there is going to affect us everywhere.
So what is happening? Big Meat’s abhorrent factory-farming industry is no longer having it all its own way – new forces are emerging to challenge its stranglehold on Food USA-style. (Big Meat, We’re Making You History!)
One of the challengers, the seed-small Plant Based Foods Association, we’ve met already. The PBFA was set up just this year to represent and lobby for the plant-based innovators in the food industry, companies like Daiya, Tofurky and Impossible Foods, to name just a few of its 38 members.
Well now the PBFA has something of an ally in the newly-formed National Agriculture Advisory Board. I say “something” advisedly, because the NAAB is not exactly lobbying against meat. Or, like the PBFA, for vegan foods. It is an ally though – hopefully a powerful one – against the monstrosity that is Big Meat.
The NAAB is the brainchild of The Humane Society United States, and it promises to “work to achieve higher animal welfare standards in agriculture and to ensure that more humane supply chains are available to consumers, so they have more choice in the marketplace and can act on their beliefs about the merciful treatment of animals.”
You’re not going to like this if you’re an abolitionist. For anyone not au fait with the different philosophies driving the animal rights/animal welfare and vegan/vegetarian movements, here is the definition of Abolitionism:
Abolitionism is the advocacy of animal rights that oppose all animal usage by humans and maintains that all sentient beings, humans or nonhumans, share a basic right: the right not to be treated as the property of others.
This is the bottom line. This is what most vegans sign up to. And I have to declare a special interest, because the ‘godfather’ of Abolitionism, Gary Francione, was instrumental in my own conversion from long-time vegetarian to vegan 11 years ago.
Abolitionists are opposed to campaigning for animal welfare reform, because it doesn’t address that bottom line – animals being exploited by humans for humans. And it has at least three other possible disadvantages:
- firstly, it is a distraction and diversion of energies and resources from the movement’s main purpose – achieving that basic right for animals
- secondly, it may actually stop compassionate people from moving towards a plant-based lifestyle since it leads them to believe ‘high welfare’ products are ok
- and thirdly, products advertised as ‘high welfare’ are often anything but – a cloak to hide monstrous practices. High welfare schemes are often inadequately monitored.
I used to be an abolitionist. No, that’s not true, I still am. My most cherished hope is to see animals accorded what is innately theirs, the right to their own lives. Like many others passionate about this cause, I would gladly surrender my own life if that could free all animals from the cruel enslavement and abuse humans inflict on them. But I’ve had a mini-conversion recently. I’ve started to realise that pragmatism can carry us an awful lot further than idealism alone. So I’ve begun to believe that every animal welfare step in the right direction, every person, town or country adopting meatless Mondays, every part-time vegan, every plant-based healthy eater, every campaign that highlights the plight of hens and elephants, pigs and parrots, dogs and donkeys – ALL are contributing to changing the zeitgeist towards a more compassionate humane society where nonhuman animals’ welfare and interests are no less imperative than humans’.*
You have to meet people where they are. Most people do love animals. You have to work with that. You have to make respect for animals and opposition to their exploitation mainstream. We need to shed that noxious title ‘animal rights extremists’ and instead of confronting society head on, go for a strategy of constructive collaboration. To hardliners, this will be selling out. But sometimes we have to do things we wouldn’t ideally choose, because pragmatism works.
This is the strategy adopted by the HSUS and its CEO Wayne Pacelle. Wayne & the HSUS got SeaWorld to agree to give up breeding orcas by collaboration, not conflict. What SeaWorld got from the bargain was some badly-needed positive PR, and being able to hang on to the orcas still in their facilities. The campaign to get them released to sea sanctuaries goes on, but it was an important first step – there will be no more orcas born to a life of misery at SeaWorld.
Wayne may be a pragmatist, but as a vegan of more than 30 years standing, no-one can doubt his passion for the rights of animals.
But back to food.
In Wayne’s book ‘The Humane Economy’ he talks of the “two revolutions at work in the food industry:
- first, how so many of the biggest food retailers are adopting policies to cleanse their supply chains of animal products that come from extreme confinement systems on factory farms
- second, how entrepreneurs are developing cultured and plant-based food items that will upend conventional thinking about the form and origin of our protein sources.”
- And, in what he calls a multi-pronged approach, “there’s a third revolution at work, and the people behind this one are farmers and ranchers who reject factory farming practices and honor long-standing traditions of animal husbandry and proper care.”
It’s the same pragmatic approach as we saw in the HSUS’s dealings with SeaWorld.
In a nutshell, the Humane Economy is all about encouraging consumers (and who doesn’t want animals’ lives to be better?) to make compassionate choices. And to demonstrate to suppliers that it is a positive marketing, PR and profit-making plus for them to adopt humane practices. And this is where the NAAB comes in, hopefully to be a big player in the Humane Economy. In Wayne’s own words:
“The national council will be chaired by cattle rancher Kevin Fulton, who established the first HSUS state agriculture advisory council in Nebraska. It is made up exclusively of family farmers who incorporate higher animal welfare standards in their operations. These experts will help The HSUS’s own Rural Development and Outreach team by serving as advisers and resources in legislative and regulatory work.
They’ll also promote traditional family farmers who are currently practicing or who plan to transition to verified higher animal welfare standards. It was Kevin who said his goal is to make sure that the animals he raises “have only one bad day in their lives,” referring to his efforts to ensure that animals raised for food have access to pasture and a good quality of life, in contrast to the overcrowded, heavily drugged animals on factory farms, whose every day is typically filled with privation and stress.
That can only be good, right?
They will also encourage more farmers and ranchers to become certified with animal welfare programs like the Global Animal Partnership (GAP), and encourage food retailers to adopt programs to sell GAP-certified products. There are now 290 million animals on farms certified under GAP’s auditing program who are living under more humane standards than animals in conventional production systems – with the broad adoption of the GAP program by Whole Foods Market providing the shelf space that has driven this shift in agricultural production in the United States.
The HSUS now has 11 state agriculture advisory councils covering 13 states, all created over the past four years, and the working farmers who are members of these councils are doing a great job of advocating for an end to intensive confinement of animals on factory farms and calling on consumers to connect more directly with their food choices.
This is all part of The HSUS’s program of conscious consumption, with our construct being the three “Rs” for farm animals: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products, and “refining” our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.
We are grateful to all of the farmers and ranchers raising their voices against agricultural production practices that subordinate animal welfare and other core values in favor of a ruthless approach to efficiency that produces terrible animal suffering on a routine basis. With our efforts to lobby major food corporations to honor higher welfare standards in their supply chains, the emergence of food technologists who can give us remarkable plant-based and cultured proteins, and the farmers who are reaching for higher standards, we are collectively mounting a major challenge to a system of production that has created so many animal victims over the past 60 years.”
Before abolitionists in droves turn their rage upon me, let me just say this: what I want more than anything in the world is to see all animals regain the rights that they should never have had stripped from them by the human race. And I will move heaven and earth to help make that happen. But in the meantime, there are still a lot of people eating meat and dairy, and some will continue to do so, maybe – sadly – till the end of time.
So what about the individual pig, cow and chicken in the system as we speak? Should we not care what they experience in life? Should we not seek to minimise their suffering now?
“Animals jammed into cages and crates cannot wait until the world goes vegan,” Pacelle to the NY Times. “I’m quite sure they want out of this unyielding life of privation right now, and once that question is settled, then sensible people can debate whether they should be raised for the plate at all.”
I don’t love the idea of the National Agriculture Advisory Board. I don’t want anyone to use animals for food. But I do think on balance the NAAB may prove an effective ally in the much-desired overthrow of Big Meat.
“By every measure, life will be better when human satisfaction and need are no longer built upon the foundation of animal cruelty.”
Abolitionism and welfarism don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Let’s make abolition our aim, and practice good welfare while we’re on the way there.
Wayne Pacelle is riding the crest of a cultural tsunami with his concept for the Humane Economy. The more he talks to the movers and shakers, the journalists and the public, the more we talk about it and keep sharing news about it, the more it takes hold in our societies. And the sooner we will bring it about for the animals.