At the recent Animal Rights 2008 conference, pattrice jones distributed a wonderful report titled
“Strategic Analysis of Animal Welfare Legislation: A Guide for the Perplexed,” which is, thankfully, available online. Her report considers the importance of activists working on campaigns for welfare legislation in the animal rights movement. “Animal welfare and animal liberation need not be separate projects,” she writes. “In the case of factory farming, welfare reforms can provide immediate relief of suffering while at the same time contributing toward economic strategies intended to drive these exploitive industries out of business.” Ultimately, according to pattrice, “Welfare reforms that offer substantial relief of suffering while also raising the costs of animal exploitation should be favored, so long as no harms can be demonstrated.”
She contextualizes her position with a bit of background:
“In recent years, a hardline ‘abolitionist’ position in which efforts to improve the well-being of currently existing animals are condemned as ‘welfarist’ impediments to the future liberation of animals has gained momentum within animal advocacy. The absolutist style of discourse favored by the most vocal proponents of this position has had the effect, over time, of obscuring the important distinction between true ‘welfarists’ — such as members of the ‘North Carolina Responsible Animal Owners Alliance,’ who believe that animals are rightly property but who argue that animals ought to be treated humanely — and true animal liberationists who support measures to improve the welfare of animals either as interim measures or as steps in a strategic plan for the liberation of animals. Thus such prominent women in animal liberation as Ingrid Newkirk of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (who has argued that any recognition of any animal rights by legislators is a step toward the recognition of full rights) and Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns (who has argued that the interests of individual existing animals ought not be ignored by humans who purport to speak for animals as a group) has been mischaracterized as welfarists, often in quite insulting terms. Such derisive mischaracterization has created a bullying atmosphere in which persons who are less certain of their position in the movement may hesitate to depart from doctrinaire opinions for fear of being similarly smeared. Female activists, in particular, may shy away from expressing concern for the welfare of actual animals for fear of being labeled soft-minded or sentimental. This state of affairs makes it difficult for activists to collectively talk through the nuanced details that always must be discussed when people try to put principles into action in the real world.
“At the same time, some proponents of animal welfare legislation also have engaged in discursive practices that make productive debate difficult. Here, the distinction that has been blurred is the all-important difference between condemning specific inhumane practices and promoting ‘humane’ exploitation of animals. While most animal rights organizations that sponsor or promote animal welfare initiatives are very careful never to cross that line, a few high-profile slip-ups have given an aura of legitimacy to the mistaken equation between the abolition of specific factory farming practices and the promotion of ‘happy meat.’ Gratuitous public insults of imprisoned animal liberation activists by proponents of more moderate tactics amplify the illusion that working for ultimate animal liberation and caring for animals in the here-and-now are necessarily two different projects. The opacity and lack of accountability of the upper echelons of national organizations promoting welfare initiatives has, like the discursive stridency of some abolitionists, made productive dialogue difficult. Disenchanted and angry at powerful organizations that neither explain their actions nor accept responsibility for their impact on the movement, grassroots activists who ought to be helping to think through and implement the coordinated strategies we will need if we are ever to make more than a dent in the production and consumption of animals retreat into alienated silence or join the ranks of the ‘abolitionists’ actively working to undermine efforts to reduce ongoing animal suffering.
“This sorry state of affairs might rightly be called a crisis. Animal advocates represent a rather small minority within the population of the world we hope to change. We cannot afford to be divided against ourselves. Nor can the animals afford for us to indulge in the luxuries of self-satisfaction, unthinking preference for particular tactics, or insular groupthink.”
I encourage all activists to devote some time to carefully reading this well-considered report.