What if it turns out that clearly advocating the case for animal rights, veganism, and the total abolition of animal use, brought in its wake various welfare reforms? What if this means that no substantial monies or effort is needed in this area from those who say they stand for the abolition of animal use - and then the funds and energy could be devoted to campaigns against the real structural problem facing animal advocates, cultural speciesism.
Sociologist Richard Gale has looked at the complex and ever-changing relations that exist between social movement organisations (SMO) and countermovement organisations (CMO), and the connections that each has with the state or with state agencies. In terms of animal use, CMOs typically represent the industries perceiving themselves to be under pressure from the animal advocacy movement. The countermovement, this “counterforce,” to use Harold Guither’sterminology, is well funded and very powerful. For example, in the USA, an umbrella organisation such as the Animal Industry Foundation, “works to educate consumers about how modern livestock and poultry producers operate and the importance of their service to the American public.” This group represents the interests of numerous “producer groups, agribusiness associations, and agribusiness companies” such as the National Cattleman’s Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Feed Industry Association, the National Milk Producers Federation and United Egg Producers.
Likewise, the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition (FAWC) was created to represent 45 industry groups and therefore was, “alarmed by the premises of animal activists, the criticisms of modern confinement livestock and poultry production, and the promotion of vegetarianism,” and worried (in public utterances at least) to the extent that it sees, “the animal rights movement as destructive to consumer choice and the farm economy.”
Gale points out that there may or may not be direct communication between social movement organisations and their countermovement mobilisations but both will tend to attempt to gain access to, and have influence over, state agencies. Therefore, since it is nearly impossible to conceive of any major social movement activity that does not involve the state to some degree, adequate social movement analysis must be alive to “the social movement-countermovement-state triad.” What this means is that developments and discourse in civil society created by social movement activity, in this case animal advocacy, will create dialogue between state agencies and industry representatives acting as a counterforce mobilisation. Apart from close links that exist between governments and user industries, the latter often enjoying what political scientist Robert Garner calls “insider status”, when governments consult on animal issues, they invite submissions from user industry representatives, academics, and the most respectable of the traditional animal welfare organizations. There is no need for any animal rights input in such proceedings since animal welfare is the only criteria ever applied, be it in investigations into the regulation of the use of animals in circuses, on farms, in laboratories, or any other use setting.
However, the impact of animal rights campaigning on public attitudes, and the amount of media attention given to animal rights advocacy, can and probably will become constituent parts of these deliberations. The efforts of the animal rights advocate, then, remains best expended at the civil society level, for example, in attempts to shift the way society thinks about nonhuman animals. Success in this sphere will inevitably result in welfare reforms along the way without the need for direct advocacy of it by animal advocates with aspirations beyond that of traditional animal welfarism.
Typically, of course, the animal user industries themselves respond to criticism from - or perceived to be from - an animal rights perspective with claims about animal welfare. The history of single-issue campaigning about animals enslaved in circuses is a classic example, although little of the claims-making is rights-based and is more in line with neo-welfarist orientations. While individual circus proprietors respond to demonstrations and claims-making about animal use with welfare statements, for example, here, here, and here, the circus industry, in consultation with government regulators, welcome - and advocate themselves - the regulation of circuses using animals. They do this because they know nothing beyond the notion of animal welfarism will enter into such deliberations. Therefore, while state-countermovement dialogue occurs on this level, both are likely to part-fund research about the pros and cons of different use systems. In other words, if they are to address animal use at all, they inevitably review it within the dominant paradigm of orthodox animal welfarism. This is what society does – it “understands” animal welfare because animal welfare suggests that “non-cruel use” is both feasible and desirable provided enough use regulation is set in place. Essentially, state regulators and countermovements are searching for welfare reforms that seems to satisfy prevailing public attitudes and also meet their primary objective of animal user industries not suffering economically.
This is where scientific disciplines such as animal welfare science play a vital role. Clive Phillips’ 2008 book, The Welfare of Animals: The Silent Majority, outlines the situation well. For example, Phillips recognises that a rapid intensification of animal agriculture occurred in the latter half of the twentieth century. At the expense of “family businesses” a new corporate enterprise emerged in “a new industrial farming sector,” bringing with it a fresh emphasis on economic imperatives. Phillips points out that there is “no universal truism that intensive systems are associated with low welfare and extensive systems with high.” Therefore, research is required into animal use systems.
The adoption of welfare modifications are considered where appropriate and especially when they do not impact on profits. The result, according to Phillips, is that in most “developed countries,” industry funds research to meet two objectives. The first is to increase profits, “for example by control of diseases or an economically viable increase in productivity due to alleviation of stress,” and the second is in response to demands by the animal advocacy movement.
In the latter case, industry insists that “such changes cannot be made without scientific evaluations of welfare impacts” and this research usually takes about ten years to complete. While Phillips points out that industry is reluctant to fund welfare research or implement changes if profits are threatened, there is one important proviso to this: “Of course even if profit is reduced in the short terms, in the long term a better market may be accessible if welfare is improved, such as to consumers paying more to purchase products from animals kept in high welfare systems.”
Clearly those who profit from the use of animals are carefully and constantly monitoring their own business, as all successful businesses do. They are quite prepared to pay for research to keep them ahead of the game and profitable, and if that means employing experts such as Temple Grandin, they will. However, they also monitor the general discourse about the use of animals created by animal advocacy and, as ever, in league with their political allies, they will respond to rights-based claims-making to abolish animal use with suggestions and implementations of welfare reform. Since they always respond to animal rights with animal welfare, there is no need for specific welfare reforms to be advocated: industry experts and paid consultants will do that regardless. Such reforms will arise in the normal cut and thrust of social movement and countermovement exchanges, media reportage, and as a result of countermovement and state-level dialogue.
Not only may it be the case that animal advocates who seek abolition of animal use need never advocate for particular welfare reforms, and stick to challenging the power of cultural speciesism, it is also likely that some welfare reforms are delayed by animal advocates demanding them, especially, as PETA did recently in relation to KFC and CAK, when advocates always loudly announce that they are successfully “pushing” business into making changes against business wishes (whether that is factually true or not). As in all political negotiations, none of the parties want others to claim “victory!” at their expense, leaving them vulnerable to the recriminations from within their own community, some of whom are likely to have had their interests damaged, leaving them feeling betrayed and dissatisfied.
As suggested, the overarching sociological reality that must be acknowledged is that animal welfarism is the dominant paradigm when it comes to assessments of the human use of other animals. The ideology of animal welfare, at least in terms of the “western world,” is deeply embedded into the structure of society and the psychology of its citizens. Generation after generation socialize their children to care about the welfare of animals while they use them, and generation after generation internalize these social lessons that amounts to animal use is not the issue. This is why all animal users virtually without exception claim to have the welfare of their animal property at heart; that they “love” the animals they use and commodify; and they are also just as critical as anyone else of cases that violate the basic principles of animal welfare. For example, those in the animal user industries are undoubtedly equally outraged about what Michael Vick did to dogs, and just as opposed to teenagers shoving kittens in microwaves, or people slashing horses in fields and stables as any animal advocate. However, they need not think outside of the principles of animal welfare to hold such views and, therefore, they need not think contextually about Vick’s diet or lifestyle, or consider a kitten-killer’s leather clothing, or a “horse ripper’s” love of ice cream and milk shakes made from the stolen baby food of mammal mothers.
The fact that animal welfarism is so deeply entrenched in the value system of society is also reflected in the general public response to animal rights. Those who grew up learning the tenets of animal welfarism and, believing the generalised welfarist promise of “non-cruel use,” can have a hard time understanding the claim that a rights-based approach to the human use of animals is necessary or desirable. Therefore, taken out of their comfort zone within the welfarist view, the general public also will respond to rights-based claims with thoughts about animal welfare. Likewise, “celebrity chefs” will do exactly the same. Such TV personalities, for example, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, have taken steps to improve the welfare of battery chickens and other “food animals.”
However, since many animal advocates accept that only a paradigm shift in human consciousness about animals will bring about any meaningful benefits for them, and since many accept that the general societal reaction to animal rights is informed by the ideology and practice of animal welfarism, animal advocates who engage in animal welfare are merely working within the status quo - moving the pieces around the board - rather than encouraging the adoption of a brand new game. In the words of Donald Watson, vegan animal rights advocates must “ripen up” the population to the idea of animal rights, rather than expending time, money and energy on identifying “low-hanging fruit” which does little or nothing to challenge the property status of nonhuman animals. This conventional view of animals – that they are items of property – “its” to be owned - is, after all, a major problem that prevents their rights being respected. Engaging in welfarism inevitably strengthens the view that animals are items of property and does little to weaken prevailing attitudes.
Although many animal advocates claim to agree that no animal use can be justified, they claim that they must campaign for welfare reform as it is the only thing that it realistic at the present time. However, given the sociology and indeed the economics of welfare responses to rights-based claims-making, there are important reasons why making rights claims is the only rational response to animal exploitation. Let the users worry about the welfare of their captives, we have to win respect for the rights of nonhuman animals and convince people that use is a rights violation. The more successful we are in doing that, the more welfare reforms will flow from the ongoing relationships within the social movement-countermovement-state triad.