Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Welfare vs Abolition

I've seen a lot of discussion on Welfare Reforms vs. Abolition lately, so I thought I'd write about my thoughts on the matter.

Welfare reforms are thought of as a way to "help animals who are suffering now" - since the world isn't going to go vegan overnight. That's why vegans often support and promote welfare campaigns, as well as promote veganism. After all, even though it's far from perfect, it'll reduce suffering in the short-term, right?

My view is that although we like to think new welfare laws will help nonhuman animals, fighting for these laws to come about won't do anything to help them and aren't worth our time promoting. Perhaps a few people will look into the issue of animal use further through a welfare campaign, but for the majority of people, if anything, it'll make them feel better about eating "humanely raised" flesh and secretions of enslaved and exploited animals.

Let's imagine if say, battery cages were banned. Instead of being crowded in a cage, the hens will be crowded in a barn. Their brothers still get ground up alive, their sensitive beaks may still be seared off with a hot blade, and they will still be sent to slaughter at around 18 months of age. But doesn't it at least cause less suffering than battery cages..? Let's look at this through the eyes of a hen. She comes from the hatchery, to this "free-range" farm, crowded in a barn with hundreds of other hens. To her, it's hell. She's not aware that this hell could be worse in a battery cage. For the 18 months of her life, she is living hell.

The view from the welfarist approach is that since we're still a long way from a vegan world, we should be trying to reduce the suffering done to nonhuman animals in the meantime. However, would you say the same for a human rights issue such as child abuse or rape? Even though these issues are sadly far from over, would we ever tell someone that if they aren't ready to stop beating their child, they should do it five days a week instead of seven, or to "rape with compassion"!?

We need to be educating people about why animal use is wrong in the first place. I have met so many people who are buying free-range pork and eggs thanks to welfare campaigns, because they think they're doing something to help those animals, and these people haven't even heard the word "vegan" before. We need to be clear and consistent with our message. Buying or supporting free-range does not help these animals and instead reinforces the idea that they are our property for us to use. And reinforcing that idea is unlikely to help lead us to the abolition of animal use.

If you want do something that will help animals right now, then adopt, foster, rescue, and/or support animal sanctuaries who rescue and provide homes for those in need. These actions will directly make a difference in nonhuman animals' lives.

And please promote veganism, at every chance you get, be a voice for those animals. I know that sometimes a vegan world seems so far away, but changes are happening. Through people like you and me, educating others about veganism and nonviolence, we'll get there. We will. Don't give up. Never give up. Those animals need us.

To finish off, here's a chart that answers some of the common objections to the Abolitionist Approach:

Many people aren't ready for veganism yet, so we should ease them into it gently through welfare and "Go Veg" campaignsTry vegan activism and you'll find there are heaps of people ready to learn about veganism! We don't need to be advocating for anything less.
A vegan world is far away and animals are suffering in factory farms right now. Why do you only look at the bigger picture and don't care about the animals who are suffering now? It isn't that we don't care about the animals who are suffering now. If I could rescue all enslaved animals right now, I would, but I can't - because as long as there is demand, innocent nonhumans will still be bred and killed for us to use. We have to educate people and reduce the demand. It's true that there are people who are unwilling to go vegan, but we shouldn't give them the message that that they could buy "free-range" or "organically raised" because that at least "helps a little bit" (which really it doesn't) - no, we should be clear that if they really care about those animals, they should stop using them. And if they don't listen, just go onto the next person.
Vegan education won't save any lives in the short term. To affect the demand, we'll need a lot more vegans. Vegan education raises awareness on the issue of animal use. While it might take a while for the demand to make any significant difference, we'll have more people adopting, fostering, spaying, neutering, rescuing, donating to animal sanctuaries, and promoting veganism. These actions will make a difference in many nonhumans' lives.
Change will come quicker if we advocate for welfare reforms and single issue campaigns as well as veganismWelfare Reforms and Single Issue Campaigns give the confused idea that *some* forms of exploitation are worse than other forms of exploitation. Vegan education focuses on all areas of animal use. We have no need to be advocating for "happy meat" or vegetarianism or banning fur, we need to unequivocally advocate for veganism.
We can't force people to go vegan straight away, many need to change graduallyWe've never said it's an all or nothing thing. We understand that there are people who will need to transition to veganism gradually, but that doesn't mean we have to promote anything less than veganism. The point is, to educate people about veganism, and then once we've given them that information, they can decide what to do from there, but we don't compromise on our message to fit in with other people's wants.
Why are you picking on vegans who don't fit in with your views?We don't pick on or bully anyone. Our aim is to educate others about the problems of promoting welfare and single issue campaigns, so that they can in turn educate themselves. Please don't be offended if we challenge your position! We speak for the animals. It's about them, not us.

Recommended reading: Books on the Property Status of Animals by Gary Francione

For more on what we mean and don't mean by vegan education, please listen to Elizabeth Collins' podcast HERE.

And by Unpopular Vegan Essays, Ten Myths of New Welfarism.


  1. Great essay. Concise and very well explained.

    I have only one objection

    Why do you say "animals" to talk about nonhuman animals? We humans are animals too. I think that´s speciesist language. The same case when someone says "men" to talk about humans. That´s sexist language.

    1. Hi Luis, thanks for pointing that out. I usually use "other animals", not sure why I didn't do that in this post, I realize that kind of language is problematic and I do my best to avoid it. I'll change that. Thanks.