It’s common to read on social media that because the writer of a comment claims to support ‘better welfare regulations’, they assert that whether or not they are vegan, they are doing something to help our victims that those of us who promote unequivocal animal rights education are failing to do. It’s even said that if we must promote rights and veganism – frequently mocked as an idealistic and hopeless aim – we should be promoting ‘better welfare regulations’ at the same time. It’s presented as a ‘belt and braces’ approach and at face value that sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? However, over time, I’ve acquired a different perspective.
First of all, it’s vital to understand the concept of ‘welfare regulations’ in the context of our non-human victims. Welfare is a seductive word that has increasingly mimicked the language of care and respect for a long time and remained unchallenged. It certainly trotted glibly off my own tongue for decades while I wasn’t vegan and frankly I now realise that although it sounded good, I hadn’t even a clue what it meant. After years of vegan living and advocacy I have now come to realise this; ‘Welfare’ doesn’t mean what we think it means. I’ll repeat that because I really want readers to think about it. ‘Welfare’ doesn’t mean what we think it means.
Welfare – surely it’s about making life better for other animals, isn’t it?
I used to think so. In fact it’s common to think that regulations and guidelines referred to under the general heading of ‘welfare’ are designed to protect the well-being, the experiences or the individual autonomy of those who are designated as resources to meet our demands as consumers. We’re encouraged to think that regulations are all about making sure that our victims have some sort of a better life than they might otherwise have had. I spent decades being a nonvegan ‘animal lover’, completely taken in by this notion. I wasn’t alone. It’s comfortable to soothe any niggles of conscience by latching onto the industry hype and telling ourselves that ‘at least our victims had a good life’; their ads and PR are designed to make us do exactly that.
However regulations and guidelines are not designed for any such purpose, a fact that seems so often to escape us, considering the shock, outrage and vitriol of online responses to extracts from said guidelines according to major agricultural advisors (aka ‘welfare’ organisations) like the ‘XYZ’SPCA when they appear on social media; for example extracts describing how to carry out ‘PACing’ or ‘thumping’ piglets, ‘gassing’ and ‘maceration’ of hatchlings (use Google), stunning, live transport and a myriad other standard and legal practices. It’s clear that shocked commenters don’t expect ‘welfare’ organisations to be advising on stocking densities, slaughter methods and the like. But once we stop imagining that ‘welfare’ has anything to do with our victims’ wellbeing or rights as individuals, it all makes complete sense. That’s what these organisations are actually employed to do, to advise regarding the minimum and/or most profitable standards by which victims may be commodified. It’s just that we’re encouraged to think they have a different purpose altogether.
‘High welfare standards’ – we hear it all the time
There’s a clue to this hiding in plain sight every time an industry representative gets an opportunity to comment on an issue relating to their business. They always talk about ‘welfare standards’. Because they want us to consider the term significant, it’s used every single time there’s a chance for publicity, regardless of the question. It’s the answer to everything.
Remember these are the industries and individuals that exploit reproduction for breast milk or eggs, use others for ‘entertainment’ or forced labour, ‘farm’ the living to sell their corpses for profit, and everything in between. Do we really think for a moment that all the boasts about codes of practice that depend on designating innocent creatures as inanimate resources and using them to death, are really about how wonderful everything is from a victim’s perspective? Do we really think that they care about the torment of sentient individuals scientifically proven to share our capacity to value their lives and relationships, when the entire concept of nonhuman use is completely dependent on ignoring that such considerations exist? If so, I’ve a few bridges for sale.
Considering first principles
To use any individual as a commercial resource automatically denies any and all rights that each has as an autonomous, feeling individual, despite the promotion of insidious deceptions such as ‘humane exploitation’ which encourage us to imagine otherwise.
In order to meet consumer demand for animal-derived substances and services it must first be taken as read, enshrined in law, that victims are our property to be used as resources. Everything that is done to them, all regulating of the activities that stem from it is built on that founding principle.
The purpose of ‘welfare regulations’ is to safeguard the commercial value of those designated as resources and assets and used to generate profit. This commercial value, which translates to financial profit for our species, is safeguarded through consistent practices that seek to protect equipment and operatives, and through maintaining the consumer confidence that keeps shoppers spending money. Through implementation of regulations, any lessening of the oppressive regime of relentless misery to which our defenceless victims are subjected, is purely coincidental because as previously mentioned, the fact that they are even in this situation means that they are not deemed to matter as individuals.
And so guidelines and standards are developed by the exploitation industries and those who partner and advise them, to standardise and legitimise their procedures; developed by those that profit from creating victims to sell to consumers; referring to concepts like ‘five freedoms’ without even a trace of irony or shame. In this way consumers feel reassured about paying for the ruthless exploitation of those whose right to live unharmed is a complete irrelevance in a profit driven system where treasured lives are simply a means of generating profit.
Those who profit from them defend their use of them by referring to the ‘animal welfare standards’ which guide their work. Let’s be absolutely clear about what animal welfare means. It is an industry term that refers to the legal breeding of sentient animals into a life where they are deliberately killed.
It refers to the minimum standards by which other animals can be owned, commodified, and exploited. It refers to standard legal practices such as hyperconfinement, mutilation, electrocution, gassing, live mincing, scalding, separating mothers from their babies, and breaking the bonds between animals who know each other. It includes taking their milk and eggs, and it includes killing them. In contrast to animal rights, animal welfare is not only irrelevant but a facade that hides the root injustice and is thus entirely complicit in their exploitation. What matters is that they are unjustly owned and that their only value is to their owner when, in reality, the value of a life matters most to the one living that life. ~ Go Vegan World
So what do we think we’re trying to protect?
Let’s counter that with a few questions.
How can the industry’s regulations ever protect the feelings, experiences, the well-being or the individual autonomy of our sentient victims, when the thing every creature desires more than anything – to live unharmed – is the one thing specifically excluded from every use that our species makes of them?
How can the industry’s regulations ever protect our victims from harm, when they are not in a position to give their consent for any of the things that are done to them? Even when they are understandably terrified or in agony or frantic to escape from the processes and procedures our species inflicts, their absence of consent is ignored.
How can the industry’s regulations safeguard the bonds and relationships shared by our victims when the entire industry is based on exploiting reproduction and the subsequent destruction of families to create vast numbers of victims to use and to kill.
Industry necessarily must refuse to acknowledge that such considerations even exist, because their every single action is such a profound violation of every one of them that their trade simply could not acknowledge them and continue unchallenged. The reality is that there are simply no laws that protect what we think we’re trying to protect.
And so, when we promote ‘better welfare regulations’, we may think that we’re demanding better treatment for our victims, making their lives ‘better’ while they await their inevitable slaughter, but we’re not. First and foremost, we’re supporting the principle of creating victims to use as resources while mistakenly viewing the industry’s own regulations as something that relates to victim wellbeing. We’re putting our approval and support behind the principles that lead to ‘hyperconfinement, mutilation, electrocution, gassing, live mincing, scalding, separating mothers from their babies, and breaking the bonds between animals who know each other.’ and in doing so, achieving exactly what those industries require. We’re making their job easier by perpetuating misunderstandings about ‘welfare’, helping lull an unchallenging consumer base into thinking it means something to do with victims rather than profit. We’re putting our stamp of approval on the very principles that define using others as resources, which is one of the reasons that so many think it’s possible to support this concept without being vegan.
It seems to me that we can approve the principle of using others as our resources and act as unwitting champions for the industries that do this by promoting their code of practice, the one that they themselves shamelessly plug at every chance, their ‘welfare regulations’.
Or we can utterly reject the whole idea of using other individuals as our resources because they value their lives, because they deserve to live unharmed and because we have no need or right to use them. This means that we are duty bound to promote their rights, to advocate veganism and nothing less.
Far from being a ‘belt and braces’ approach, I suggest that promoting animal rights and supporting ‘welfare regulations’ are mutually exclusive courses of action. One rejects the principle of using other individuals by promoting veganism as the only way to acknowledge their rights. The other first accepts, then supports and encourages the status quo by championing industry guidelines and bolstering nonvegan consumer confidence.
Please just give it some thought.
‘Let us not forget, there is a reason why human rights groups do not develop or endorse ‘humane’ methods of torturing and executing political prisoners, and why children’s rights advocates do not collaborate with the international pornography industry to develop standards and special labeling for films that make ‘compassionate’ use of runaway teens. To do such things is to introduce moral ambiguity into situations where the boundaries between right and wrong must never be allowed to blur. To be the agent of such blurring is to become complicit oneself in the violence and abuse.’