MONTH: June 2007
Moral leadership, big groups, & the meat issue
Exemplifying moral leadership consists
of departing from typical conduct to demonstrate standards of behavior
which may never be fully met by most people, yet will be respected, appreciated,
and emulated to whatever degree others find comfortable and practical.
This is risky business. To lead, one must
step beyond the norms, taking the chance of ostracism that comes with
being different. Trying to be "better" than most people incorporates
the risk of being perceived as "worse," especially if the would-be
moral exemplar is asking others to take the same risk.
Hardly anyone chooses to be considered
a "deviate," a word which literally means only varying from
routine patterns of conduct, but connotes perverted menace.
But mostly the behavior and qualities
of moral leadership are not consciously chosen in the first place, and
are not exhibited as the outcome of an intellectual process.
Despite the labors of moral philosophers--and
editorialists--the study of behavioral evolution strongly suggests that
the components of "morality" evolved out of the intuitive gestures
and responses associated with social cooperation. Humans did not invent
codified moral behavior to make ourselves different from each other; rather,
the effort was to make behavior more standardized, more predictable, more
conducive to social harmony.
"Thou Shalt Not Kill," "Thou
Shalt Not Steal," and "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery,"
for instance, all seem to have unwritten antecedents in the social norms
of many species much older than humanity.
Human social evolution amounts to the
gradual extension of moral consideration to people who are not our immediate
kin, often interrupted by reversions to sexism, racism, nationalism, and
tribalism, which facilitate exploitation and abuse by re-narrowing the
scope of ethical concern.
Extending moral consideration to animals
requires widening the scope of concern to include others who may feel
and suffer as we do, even if superficially quite unlike us. Either wholly
intuitive empathy or completely abstract scientific reason could lead
to the conclusion that as Jeremy Bentham wrote in 1780, "The question
is not, Can they reason? Nor Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?"
Scientists from Charles Darwin in The
Origin of Species (1859) to Marc Bekoff in The Emotional Lives of Animals
(2007) have observed and documented that the traits we recognize as making
us "human" actually exist along a continuum of species. Therefore,
to extend human consideration to other animals is only logical.
Yet, because the moral impulse appears
to originate mostly from feelings as basic as maternal love, empathy rather
than the influence of scientific observation tends to predominate when
humans reach out to help animals.
Because empathy tends to be most strongly
felt toward those to whom one is closest, dogs, cats, and horses were
the first subjects of humane work. Pigs may be as intelligent and as capable
of deep feeling as most great apes, yet fellow great apes appear to be
far more likely to be conceded legal rights. As great ape advocates emphasize,
apes are our closest kin.
All of this comes into mostly subliminal
play in asking humane societies to adopt progressive pro-animal food policies.
The request seems superficially simple
and obvious, asking the organizations to do no more than live up to the
ideals implicit in their names.
More than 99% of all the animals who suffer
and die due to human activity are raised and killed, or fished and hunted,
for meat. Thus, if a humane society is to effectively address animal suffering,
it must address eating meat.
Reality is that even in India, where more
than half of the world's vegetarians reside, about two-thirds of the population
eats meat. Globally, more than 95% of humanity eats meat. Therefore, promoting
vegetarianism or veganism as the ethically ideal diet may be unlikely
to win majority acceptance for generations.
To win practical reforms reducing the
suffering of the billions of animals who are raised, transported, and
slaughtered with appalling cruelty, animal advocates must seek "stepwise,
incremental" progress, as the late Henry Spira advocated.
A vegan himself, Spira devoted most of
his last 15 years to opening the discussions and initiating the agreements
under which the restaurant chains Wendy's International, Burger King,
McDonald's, and others have agreed to enforce purchasing standards for
animal products. This in turn recently obliged many of the largest producers
of factory-farmed pigs and chickens to introduce changes to reduce animal
suffering, such as phasing out farrowing crates and reducing the numbers
of laying hens crammed into each cage.
Though far short of the humane ideal,
each of these changes both reduces animal suffering and helps to establish
the idea that animals should not be made to suffer, even if causing them
to suffer is economically expedient. As basic expectations of the animal
husbandry industry increase, the opportunities expand for introducing
Spira understood that not eating meat
and not wearing leather increased his moral authority when he went to
negotiate with animal industry representatives. He did not expect to convert
any of them into vegans, or vegetarians, or even to persuade any to eat
less meat. He did, however, seek to impress upon them that he lived his
ethical beliefs. Daring to demonstrate his different outlook was part
of his qualification for asserting moral leadership. Boldly and forthrightly
done, it was respected.
Human leadership tends to be either moral
or governing, represented at the tribal level by the shaman and the chief,
and in developed societies by the institutions of "church" and
"state." Though the roles may be combined, they represent different
approaches toward achieving social stability.
The shaman, or church, wins a following
by establishing a reputation for knowing great secrets, or possessing
greater wisdom than other people. In secular societies, the roles of shaman
and church may be taken by non-clerical intellectuals, including scientists
and philosophers, but the leadership dynamic is the same: people choose
voluntarily to follow the leader, because the leader seems to know something
The social welfare role of religion in
a secular society may largely pass to other forms of nonprofit institution,
including humane societies and food banks. The role of sacrifice in supporting
a priesthood long ago gave way to collecting voluntary contributions of
money. Whether supporting a church, a humane society, or any other nonprofit
institution, donations represent the confidence of the donors in the role
of the recipient as moral exemplar.
The chief, whether elected or self-appointed,
holds position by dominance. Though some rule by force, most tend to represent
the interests of the majority of their subjects.
Humane societies often err in sacrificing
the opportunity to exercise moral leadership, at cost of being perceived
as different, in the hope of achieving broader public support by representing
rather than challenging community values.
Animal advocacy donors expect humane societies
to advocate the highest practicable ethic of concern for animals, and
to take positions that seek to improve the community norms--and throughout
the world, the most economically successful humane societies tend to be
those that present an inspiring challenge, on multiple fronts.
Although a humane society may hold government
contracts, for instance as a community animal control agency, humane societies
are not elected by the general public to represent the prevailing majority
interests. Rather, humane societies are supported by donors to improve
conditions for animals, not to preserve the status quo.
Big charities must set the example
Fulfilling the role of community exemplars
on the subjects of meat-eating and the treatment of livestock and poultry
would be considerably easier for local humane societies, worldwide, if
the major national and multi-national organizations set a strong example.
For local organizations, like it or not,
policy is often dictated by hometown economic considerations.
Though vegetarians and vegans were not
then anywhere near becoming the majority of supporters of mainstream national
animal welfare societies, they were the fastest-growing part of the animal
advocacy donor base.
While a 1996 survey of animal advocates
did not ask about personal eating habits, it did find that farm animal
issues were identified as the issue of greatest concern by those who were
then under 40 years of age.
The risk of alienating donors to national
groups by taking a position against meat appears by now to be quite low.
Witness the economic success of PETA, Best Friends, and the Humane Society
of the United States, which represent three distinctly different tactical
approaches to animal advocacy, yet have all taken positions against meat-eating.
But committed vegan and vegetarian donors
are scattered all over, with relatively few concentrated among the potential
donors to local projects.
Humane societies can only be expected
to take a strong position on behalf of farm animals, including encouragement
of vegetarianism or veganism, if supported by national and multi-national
organizations--and not just in abstract.
Most of all, the nationals and multi-nationals
need to stand up and say, "This is what we believe..."
Yet many of the most dedicated activists
have asked the big groups to at least endorse vegetarianism as an ethical
ideal ever since the 1824 formation of the London SPCA. The London SPCA
became the Royal SPCA by charter granted by Queen Victoria in 1840.
Before royal patronage secured enduring
economic strength, the London SPCA nearly went bankrupt in 1828. It was
bailed out by Lewis Gompertz--who was expelled only four years later for
the alleged offenses of being a vegetarian and a Jew. For many years the
RSPCA defended itself against allegations of being anti-Semetic by asserting
that Gompertz' vegetarian advocacy was the crux of the issue.
Gompertz went on to found the Animals'
Friend Society, which he headed until 1848. The RSPCA went on to introduce
the first major labeling scheme, called Freedom Food, in 1996.
"One in 20 farm animals in Britain
is reared under the Freedom Food scheme," assessed Guardian consumer
affairs correspondent Rebecca Smithers in March 2007, "but there
are only 10 full-time officials to police it, which means that farms can
go up to 15 months without an inspection."
In consequence, Freedom Food has been
afflicted by one scandal after another. In November 2006, for example,
three employees of a major egg company were arrested for allegedly mislabeling
eggs from battery caged hens as "free-range." On March 13, 2007,
the ITV program Tonight with Trevor McDonald aired videotape of abuse
and neglect at Freedom Food-certified turkey and duck farms
The very first U.S. humane society was
the American SPCA, founded in 1867. The founding president, Henry Bergh,
was not a vegetarian, but he clearly included animals who were to be eaten
within his scope of concern. In 1873 the ASPCA won passage of the Twenty-Eight
Hour Law, to limit the time that any hooved animals could be kept aboard
any kind of vehicle. This was the first national legislative victory for
the U.S. humane movement.
Under current president Ed Sayres, the
ASPCA has emerged as a dynamic voice for animal protection legislation
at the state level nationwide, and recently introduced an ambitious effort
to help humane societies in many parts of the U.S. to reduce killing homeless
animals by improving shelter facilities and services.
The ASPCA has not neglected farm animals,
as one of the major supporters of the Humane Farm Animal Care labeling
program. But the ASPCA stops short of recommending vegetarianism.
"The ASPCA believes that whether
or not to consume animals, and animal products such as milk and eggs,
is a personal and private determination that must be left to each individual,"
states the ASPCA web site. "However, the ASPCA firmly believes that
animals who are bred, raised and killed or harvested for human consumption,
like all animals, are entitled to protection from distress and suffering
during their lives and at the time of their deaths."
This is essentially Bergh's policy, rephrased
somewhat but not substantively amended.
The late John Kullberg, ASPCA president
from 1977 until 1991, did take a position against meat-eating, briefly.
He lost his job within weeks.
The first national U.S. humane organization was the American Humane Association, founded in 1877.
American Humane was instrumental in winning
passage of legislation strengthening the 28-Hour Law in 1906 and the Humane
Slaughter Act of 1958. American Humane today operates an animal product
labeling program, begun by longtime AHA Washington D.C. office director
Adele Douglass, who left in 2002 to found Humane Farm Animal Care.
But, "American Humane does not have
a 'food policy,'" president Marie Wheatley recently told ANIMAL PEOPLE
publisher Kim Bartlett. "Not about meat, not about fish, not about
dairy products or eggs. We do have a policy that animals that are raised
for food should be treated humanely throughout their lifespan," Wheatley
This is similar to the position, or rather
non-position, of many of the other major organizations which should be
offering moral leadership.
Each opposes "unnecessary" cruelties
to farmed animals, usually without defining "necessary" in any
tangible way--and thereby ventures little, if at all, beyond majority
public opinion in every nation where public opinion about cruelty to farmed
animals has every been surveyed. Surveys demonstrate some differences
in levels of recognition of what specifically is cruel, but not in basic
agreement that farmed animals should not be caused to suffer.
The 521-word World Society for the Protection
of Animals addresses 15 different aspects of meat production, but the
WSPA positions are phrased to avoid controversy.
For example, WSPA holds that, "Farmed
animals must be provided with shelter, exercise, food, water and care
in a manner appropriate to their physiological and behavioral needs. WSPA
is opposed to any methods of husbandry which do not fulfil these criteria."
Most factory farmers could endorse the
same statement. Their difference of opinion would be over the definitions
of "physiological and behavioral needs."
WSPA "is in principle opposed to
mutilations which are carried out for non-therapeutic reasons," such
as debeaking laying hens. This does challenge the agricultural status
WSPA, based in Britain, further holds
that, "it should be our declared aim and public demand to have all
long distance transportation of animals for slaughter replaced by carcass-only
trade." However, while Britain permits live animal exports, in compliance
with European Union policy, this WSPA position is aligned with British
public opinion, which for several years stopped the British live export
industry, before the EU intervened.
The only point of the WSPA policy which
significantly contradicts present British norms and public opinion worldwide
is that "WSPA opposes the commercial practice of allowing anglers
into fish farms to play the fish and then to throw them back. The handling,
transport and slaughter of fish must comply with general humane principles."
Recognizing that fish should be subjects
of humane concern demonstrates moral leadership. On this topic, at least,
WSPA is well ahead of most of the humane community.
"We have no policy on vegetarianism/veganism,"
WSPA director general Peter Davies told ANIMAL PEOPLE, "and like
Compassion In World Farming and the RSPCA, we are not a 'vegetarian Society.'
"At our June 2006 symposium the take
up of our meals was 56% Freedom Food, 36% vegetarian, and 8% vegan--and
these were all convinced and active animal welfarists," Davies added.
Dogs, cats, & venison
Some major animal welfare societies not
only evade the meat issue but actively support meat consumption. For example,
ANIMAL PEOPLE recently received complaints that ranched venison was served
at the 2006 International Companion Animal Welfare Conference-- an event
which had in several recent years served only vegetarian food, and in
2006 was held in Slovenia, a nation whose president, Janez Drnovsek, is
a longtime vegetarian.
The International Companion Animal Welfare
Conference is sponsored by Dogs Trust, Dogs Home Battersea, and the North
Shore Animal League International.
Since their programs focus entirely on
dogs and cats, an argument could be made that they do not have the same
ethical obligation as a humane society serving all sentient animals to
oppose eating all meat, on principle.
But an organization need not formally
address either the treatment of farm animals or dietary choices to at
least refrain from participating as consumers in industries and practices
which are of focal concern to a large number of the people actively working
for animal welfare worldwide.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE has often pointed out,
even if the majority of the officers, directors, and employees of a humane
organization personally choose to eat meat, public functions should be
free of meat.
Pro-vegetarian food policies need not
be complex. The PETA policy is simply, "Animals are not ours to eat,
wear, or experiment on." Given that premise, almost anyone can deduce
without further instruction that if one wishes to eat meat, wear fur,
or perform vivisection, one must do away from PETA headquarters and PETA
PETA opposition to meat-eating was more
implicit than an active campaign theme until the mid-1990s, but since
then the PETA anti-meat efforts may be their most successful, based on
media notice and donor response.
The Best Friends Animal Society has likewise
always been pro-vegetarian, directed and run by longtime vegetarians and
vegans. Although Best Friends has not actively campaigned against meat,
nor on farm animal issues, visitors to the Best Friends sanctuary in Kanab,
Utah see a consicientious effort to set a good example.
"At Best Friends we have a policy
that all food served at the sanctuary is vegetarian," explains international
community response manager Amy Hogg, "with an increasing preference
towards vegan foods. Likewise any food presented by Best Friends at a
fundraising, adoption or conference event is vegetarian and, in many cases,
entirely vegan. While a lot of people participating in our events may
not be vegetarian or vegan we believe that our meat policy reflects the
Best Friends philosophy of 'Kindness to (all) Animals.'"
The Humane Society of the U.S., within
six months after the mid-2004 election of current president Wayne Pacelle,
introduced essentially the same policies with a comprehensive analytical
statement which attempts to anticipate and answer all arguments, and makes
clear that while HSUS offers vegetarianism as the ideal, it is more committed
to incrementally reducing the suffering of farmed animals in any way that
Notes the preamble, "The vast majority
of meat, eggs, and dairy products sold in American grocery chains and
restaurants come from animals raised in intensive-confinementSıliving
creatures are being treated as biological 'machines.' HSUS is also concerned
about commercial fishing and fish production practices," the statement
adds. "The proliferation of massive fish farms raises basic questions
about their welfare. And commercial fishing practices continue to deplete
many fish populations in dramatic ways and result in the by-catch of extraordinary
numbers of non-target animals, including marine mammals, birds, and other
The conclusion is that, "Considering
the foregoing abuses of animals, degradation of the environment, and detriment
to human health, HSUS promotes eating with conscience and embracing the
Three Rs: reducing the consumption of meat and other animal-based foods;
refining the diet by eating products only from animals who have been raised,
transported, and slaughtered in a system of humane, sustainable agriculture
that does not abuse the animals; and replacing meat and other animal-based
foods in the diet with plant-based foods."
Says HSUS senior vice president and chief
of staff Andrew Rowan, "While this is a fairly bland statement when
it comes to vegetarianism, HSUS no longer spends its (donated) funds on
animal food products. Thus, the food at HSUS Expo," the largest humane
conference worldwide, "is all vegan, and the food at any HSUS or
Humane Society International event is now expected to be vegan. When HSUS
employees are eating on expense accounts, they are expected to order vegetarian
Even the restaurant order becomes thereby a position statement, reaffirming the recently revitalized commitment of HSUS to providing moral leadership on behalf of all animals, not just a favored few species.