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Christian Vegetarian Association Presents:
Take Heart!

One More Thorough Response to Schonfeld:

Steve Kaufman shares with us his opinion about Schonfeld’s “Five Fatal Flaws of Animal Activism”:

I take issue with Victor Schonfeld’s commentary of January 18 entitled “Five fatal flaws of animal activism.” Mr. Schonfeld relates that he has been away from the animal protection movement since producing The Animals Film in 1977, and in my opinion his absence has not enhanced his assessment of the movement’s intervening history or future prospects. What he really raises are criticisms of certain contemporary animal protectionism strategies, and he gives no reasons why these are “fatal flaws” of animal activism.

Here they are, with my comments:

1. Instead of promoting animal rights goals as a major plank within broader social change movements, animal organisations insist on going it alone. Yet the Green party’s animal rights goals are as radical as any animal rights organisation's.

Reply: Animal activists have repeatedly been rebuffed by the larger and more powerful environmental organizations. While many environmentalists are concerned about species extinctions, they generally have much less concern for the welfare of individual animals, who are the focus of concern of many animal advocates. It has been the experience of many animal advocates that environmentalists are not at all interested in promoting a vegetarian or vegan agenda, evidently because they fear offending their largely meat-eating constituency.

2. One of the world's largest animal rights organizations routinely employs naked young women, including porn stars, to chase mass media attention. Would a human rights organisation stoop so low?

Reply: Schonfeld is likely referring to PETA, which often uses naked men as well as women. Their ads tend to be humorous, though the sex appeal can’t be denied. Are their ads degrading to women? Some might reasonably say yes and others no – it depends largely in the eye of the beholder. Are they effective for getting PETA’s message across? Without any evidence in his support, Schonfeld evidently thinks not. He seems to deride “chas[ing] mass media attention,” but he does not offer better strategies for getting animal rights messages out to the general public.

3. Animal rights organisations have been handing out awards and lavishing praise on slaughterhouse designers and burger restaurant chains after "negotiations" for small changes that leave the systems of exploitation intact.

Reply: If the changes are indeed negligible, then it would be inappropriate to praise those responsible for reducing animal suffering at human hands. However, there have been significant reforms that have ameliorated the tragic plight of nonhuman animals. Are these reforms counter-productive (which they would need to be in order to qualify as “fatal flaws”)? Schonfeld gives no evidence to support such a position. It is possible, through surveys, focus groups, and other means to scientifically assess whether or not Schonfeld’s criticisms have merit. Currently, we have anecdotes and general consumer patterns, and the latter are very likely influenced much more by massive animal exploitation industries and their multi-billion dollar advertising budgets than by the far smaller animal protection movement. Until research with a high degree of validity is done, the best Schonfeld can do is suggest that these strategies might be ineffective or counter-productive. To claim that they are “fatal flaws” seems unfounded.

4. Instead of animal rights organisations promoting a clear "moral baseline" that individuals should become vegans to curb their own demands for animal exploitation, groups have given their stamp of approval to deeply compromised marketing concepts such as "happy meat", "freedom foods", "sustainable meat", and "conscientious omnivores".

Reply: I agree that, if animal rights organizations choose to endorse reforms that reduce animal suffering, they should make clear that their ultimate goal is to see an end of animal mistreatment and/or exploitation. In general, I think animal rights groups they have followed such guidelines. Though PETA has endorsed practices that reduce animal suffering, they clearly remain committed to veganism and ending animal exploitation as their ultimate goal. Perhaps Schonfeld is referring more to certain animal protection organizations that are not dedicated to ending all animal abuse and that have more readily endorsed contemporary systems of oppression and abuse. Though animal rightists might not agree with some animal protection groups’ more modest goals, animal rightists can’t accuse those groups of abandoning their principles.

5. Tactics of violence and personal intimidation have at long last fallen out of favour, but activists now pour energy and resources into organisations that lack any real strategy for bringing an end to animal exploitation, whether for food or science.

Reply: I’m not sure whether or not Schonfeld laments the reduction in violent tactics, but he doesn’t offer any “real strategy” of his own. In truth, organizations like Mercy for Animals and Compassion Over Killing have generated a significant public outcry after exposing factory farming conditions via undercover videos. Meanwhile, they have orchestrated campaigns to reduce or eliminate animal products in fast foods, and to create husbandry standards for animal foods that are sold. Vegan Outreach distributes over 1 million booklets promoting veganism, primarily to college students. Are such strategies optimally effective, given the animal protection movement’s limited size and budget? Schonfeld does not demonstrate why such strategies fail to qualify as “real strategies for bringing an end to animal exploitation.”

Recently, three of the top 100 selling books focused on animal agriculture and encouraged veganism and/or moving toward veganism. The animal rights message is increasingly mainstream – a dramatic change since The Animals Film came out in 1977. Schonfeld and countless others deserve much credit for this gradual paradigm shift. I think the animal protection movement has benefited from a range of voices and a range of strategies, because different messages resonate with different people. No strategy should be immune to critical analysis, but I see no benefit in labeling certain strategies as “fatal” without compelling evidence.

Steve Kaufman.

Your question and comments are welcome

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