As a vegan activist should you be for or against animal welfare. What is the difference between animal welfare and animal liberation?
I wanted to provide a more comprehensive answer to an important question I received on the Facebook live stream: what is your position on animal welfare, or more specifically, welfarism.
If you haven’t guessed by this point: I am not a welfarist. [tweet this] Shockingly, the title of this post is not click bait.
For those not familiar, animal welfare, animal rights, and animal liberation are not synonymous terms or approaches. In this video, we’re not going to get into the nuances of rights vs. liberation, but I will explore that further in a separate installment. For the purposes of this video, I’ll just use the term liberation.
Both animal welfare and animal liberation operate on the premise that non-human animals are sentient beings capable of suffering, and thus deserving of consideration and protection. The exact nature of this consideration is where the approaches diverge.
Welfarism seeks to improve conditions for animals within the existing systems of our food, entertainment, research, and commercial industries, as well as provide protection for pets and wild species impacted by human activity.
In regards to so-termed “food animals,” free-range, cage-free, grass-fed, and humane labels are products of welfarism. I address the welfarist/humane approach in many videos, and I go into great depth in my speech “The Best We Have To Offer.”
But I felt it would be valuable to address this question in a dedicated video and in a more conversational manner than my more highly academic, comprehensive speeches.
There are several issues with the welfarist approach. Welfare regulations are designed to spare animals any “unnecessary” suffering—the unspoken implication being that some suffering is necessary when it benefits humans. [tweet this] Animals are still relegated to property status, every aspect of their lives and deaths dictated by humans.
Animal liberation denies the superiority of humans to other species and vehemently rejects the belief that one can kill with compassion.
There has long been active debate between welfare and liberation camps. There are vegans within the welfare camp who argue that though the ultimate goal is total liberation, there is value in improving the conditions for those animals currently in our systems of exploitation.
While there is certainly validity in this position, I find it vital to take an honest look at what welfare regulations actually mean for the beings they are designed to protect. This is the entire premise of my speech from Dublin Ireland. I spent many hours pouring over some of the most advanced animal welfare laws in the world—the very best we have to offer—to determine the actual implication for the animals.
I’ll share a particularly telling example that I covered in my response during the Q&A:
So the EU had this whole thing of banning battery cages for laying hens. And everyone was like ‘Ooh, laying hens, eggs in the EU they’re not in battery cages – we’re great!’ And that’s what the public hears, but when you actually look into the legislation, and people are like “well now, layer hens are going to get 750 square centimeters each it’s going to be fantastic!’
What actually happened is instead of battery cages—or “barren” battery cages—they now live in “enriched” battery cages, which means battery cages with some furniture and maybe a little more space. So, it even says in the legislation 750 sq cm per chicken, 600 of which are usable. So really each chicken has 600. A barren battery cage chicken has 550. So this groundbreaking thing that everyone freaked out about gives chickens an extra 50 sq cm each.
And now they have furniture to bump into and because laying hens are bred to produce eggs insanely frequently, they have very brittle bones, they are very prone to osteoporosis and fractures and now they have more stuff to bump into and so they actually have higher fracture rates. And non-caged hens have twice the mortality rate of battery-caged hens.
So, when we look at this, what are we really improving? What it seems that we are accomplishing with welfare is making ourselves feel better about doing the exact same thing that we’ve been doing, but now we don’t have to worry about it. That doesn’t really do much for the animals, I don’t think.
This was done, like 1999 or something, when it came time so now the ban is supposed to be in place, there were, I think it was 9 that said either we’re not going to be ready or we might not be ready or probably not going to be ready.  This was 12 years later. They had 12 years to add 50 sq cm per chicken and some furniture, and they couldn’t do it.
I mean it’s astoundingly ineffective. And I think it does so much damage because what the public sees, and what people see is: “eggs are now humane.” And when you look at it, the EU started eating more and more and more eggs when this happened. So, it actually seems to make it worse for the animals because now the demand is even higher.
Humane stuff is, I think, incredibly dangerous because it gives us the ability – I mean, we’re human, and we will do anything we can to not have to change a darn thing about what we’re doing. If we can keep doing what we want to do and feel good about it, that’s like the holy grail and that’s what welfarism allows us to do. As far as what it does for the animals – I don’t think much, honestly. [From Live Facebook Q&A]
This ability to continue exploiting animals without guilt is what I mean when I say that welfarism and humane treatment are worse than factory farming. Here is another concrete example from Ireland, one of the most idealized countries for humane treatment of farmed animals. Just prior to this portion of the speech, I’d covered how mother pigs are confined in farrowing crates throughout their pregnancy, only to have their babies taken time and again:
The sooner her babies are taken, the faster she can “re-enter production.” At her “time of service,” the astounding term for forceful penetration of her vagina with an instrument full of boar semen, she may legally be chained in place, one of the number of exceptions allowing the tethered restrained of pigs. Tethering stalls as a whole, where pigs were chained in place all the time were outlawed by the EU in 1995, but as we’ll continually see with all regulations, this came with ample exceptions, loopholes, and a 10 year window for implementation.
In 1998 91% of Ireland’s mother pigs were still confined to sow stalls or tethered. And when sow stalls, also known as gestation crates, were subsequently outlawed through a 2001 EU decision, again with ample fine-print exceptions and only for a certain portion of their pregnancy, Ireland was one of nine member states found to be non-compliant in 2013, with the European Commission stating they’d “had twelve years to ensure a smooth transition to the new system and to implement the Directive.” [From The Best We Have To Offer]
The ineffectiveness of welfare legislation is not isolated to any one country or governing body, though the level of supposed protection does vary greatly. For example, in the United States there are no federal laws governing the treatment of animals in our food industry. Absolutely none. We do have an Animal Welfare Act, first passed in 1966, but like so many welfare acts around the world, it completely excludes animals raised for food, as do the majority of state anti-cruelty regulations.
While animal advocates blame this lack of legal protection for the allowance of such cruel practices as intensive confinement, routine mutilation, including the removal of testicles, tails, horns, beaks, or toes without any anesthetic, and the live grinding up of male chicks in the egg industry, among other atrocities, welfare legislation does not by default eradicate such abuse. For example, it’s a worldwide standard to dispose of male chicks by tossing them into a grinder while fully conscious.
This isn’t a barbaric practice isolated to corrupt, abusive facilities. Grinding babies is a welfare regulation. It’s part of the “necessary suffering.”
If you’re wondering why this hasn’t been exposed on the news, it has. And every time it’s people are appalled, outraged, disgusted. They wonder how any person or industry could be so barbaric. And they continue to eat eggs, not realizing they’ve just answered their own question. The European Commission estimates that the EU kills 330 million chicks every year, with global estimates at 3.2 billion. [From The Best We Have To Offer]
I could talk about this subject for days and still not cover everything. And I’ll certainly continue to explore its depths in future videos. But I think perhaps what may bring the most clarity regarding the efficacy of welfarism, is imagining these measures being applied to ourselves:
I mean it really is absurd when we step back and think about it. Do we have manuals on how to humanely rape hamans? Or how to compassionately kidnap? Or ethically rob? Of course not because those are oxymorons. They cannot coexist. But when it comes to our treatment of animals, we will bend over backwards and create massive paper trails of regulations to feel good about what we are doing.
We turn these living beings into data points, flowcharts, and percentages—calculate to a decimal point’s certainty the exact cost of every aspect of their lives and details for their deaths. We relegate the annual mass murder of over 3 billion day-old conscious, innocent babies to a footnote. A footnote in a study conducted for the welfare regulations we’re so graciously creating. We deem them legally sentient, deserving freedom from hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear, distress and mental suffering, as the EU did—then use this very recognition of their capacity to feel the same emotions and sensations as we do to design—in language so disturbingly detached it’s nothing short of sociopathic—the exact manner in which we may legally violate, imprison, cut, burn, alter, and murder them.
This is how profoundly illogical our thinking is when it comes to animals. It goes against all basic human understanding. Knowing better but doing wrong anyway is worse than having no knowledge. Yet we have the audacity to hold this legislative recognition of non-human sentience on high as a giant step forward for the rights of animals. As if systematically exploiting individuals with fully admitted knowledge and comprehension of their capacity to suffer is something to commend.
Look what we offer ourselves as evidence of progress: one news report extolled the reduction in animals slipping and falling on their way to slaughter in one abattoir in one country. When we look at our actions from the other side, the perverse absurdity of our deluded self-congratulations is astounding. If you were in the place of these beings, how grateful would you feel if your captor laid down a bathmat on the ramp to your execution?
Is this really the best we have to offer? Being the most courteous murderers? The most considerate rapists? Pouring untold resources into these convoluted laws and regulations, all the while completely blind to the fact that there’s another option entirely. [From The Best We Have To Offer]
I hope this video has more thoroughly illustrated why I’m not a welfarist. I’d encourage you to see the links I’ve provided below as well as on the blog post for this video to do your own further research. If you really want to dive in, see my full speech from Ireland, and its respective blog post.
As I’ve said many, many times, in order to make informed decisions, to look ourselves in the mirror and ask if we are truly living the values we purport to have, we must know the truth. We must educate ourselves about what is really going on, not rely on what we’ve been taught. We must make decisions based on facts, not fantasy. This is why I am so emphatic about putting in the hours upon hours of research to get to the truth. To provide what the laws actually say, not simply offer my personal opinion.
I’ll leave you with the powerful words of Alex Herschaft, the founder of the Farm Animal Rights Movement and a Holocaust survivor. You can hear more from him in this video as well:
“I don’t believe in small improvements to the living conditions of the chickens and cows. Slightly increasing the sizes of the cages is like giving me a hot meal while I’m imprisoned in the ghetto. It’s like asking an abusive man to continue beating his wife but in a less brutal manner. The solution is for all of us to stop eating meat, eggs and dairy products.”
Please share this video with your friends, family, and within any discussions of animal welfare, so that others may find solid, cited information on this topic.You can use the social buttons at the base of this post and/or the tweets linked in the post body.
I would like to thank my $50 and above patrons and my whole Nugget Army Patreon family for making it possible for me to conduct this research, deliver speeches all over the world and create hundreds of free educational videos.
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— Emily Moran Barwick