Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is there a "reasonable" group?

I have a number of friends who began following the farm animal welfare debate once they found out I was writing a book on it. Lately, they have all been asking me the same thing: is there an animal welfare group led by "reasonable" people. By "reasonable" people they are referring to meat-eaters who do not believe in bestowing animals with any "rights," but giving them a good life nevertheless.

Indeed, it is difficult to talk to anyone in the livestock industry about the animal welfare issues because they are so opposed to animal rightists that they refuse to acknowledge that the rightists may be right on some issues. "Better not treat chickens better," they say, "or we will start on a slippery slope towards veganism and the abolition of pets."

First, let me say that I know a few people in these groups, and while some may not view them as "reasonable", they are very nice people who I enjoy talking to. It does not surprise me that the most ardent supporters of better animal care also happen to be vegans and animal rightists. The leaders of Mother's Against Drunk Driving also similarly most likely to have extreme views on alcohol, probably in support of a complete prohibition. Moreover, some are not as opposed to farming as you might think. I had a pleasant conversation with Jennifer Fearing once, who was one of the most important promoters and organizers of Prop 2 in California, and she seemed sincerely interested in helping California egg producers comply and prosper under Prop 2.

Frequently I am asked whether there is any group promoting better care for farm animals who are also meat-eaters and who also do not support "rights." The Animal Welfare Institute comes to mind, but I have heard from a good source the leader is a vegan--which is an immediate turn-off to some people. I suppose the American Humane Association might be viewed as a "reasonable" group. The AHA certainly promotes the institution of pets, which animal rightists seem to oppose.

However, one must wonder why, if HSUS is not in the "reasonable" group, why it receives more donations than any other group? Livestock industries like to claim that they raise so much money largely because of their name, which makes people think they support local animal shelters.

If I was HSUS I would actively promote a meat-eater and perhaps a farmer within the organization. Even if it were a facade, I would make it clearly visible that meat-eaters are an important part of HSUS. That would help remove an obstacle to talking about farm animal welfare. Maybe then we could have a legitimate conversation on a large-scale about how farm animals should be treated, instead of allowing conspiracy theories to divide us into two enemy camps.