‘Gateway’ arguments within animal rights reform
- Published: 18 April 2010
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Should vegetarianism, ‘happy’ meat or animal products, and animal ‘welfare’ be promoted as gateways to the abolition of animal exploitation? Gary L Francione thinks not.
I want to address a set of related arguments that are commonly referred to as “gateway” arguments.
The three primary gateway arguments are: (1) that we should promote some version of vegetarianism that allows for eating dairy products, eggs, or even fish as a gateway to veganism; (2) that we should promote “happy” meat/animal products, such as KFC chicken that has been gassed rather than electrocuted, or “cage-free” eggs, as a gateway to lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarianism and then veganism; and (3) that we should promote animal welfare reform as a gateway to the abolition of animal exploitation.
I reject these gateway arguments for both theoretical reasons and practical reasons.
As a theoretical matter, even if vegetarianism was a gateway to veganism, or “happy” meat was a gateway to vegetarianism, or welfare reform was a gateway to the social acceptance of abolition, should we promote something that is morally wrong as a way of getting to something morally right?
It is, of course, better if a rapist does not beat a rape victim in addition to raping her/him. But does that mean that we should campaign in favor of “humane” rape as a gateway to no rape?
Some forms of racism are better than other forms of racism, but would anyone seriously suggest that we should campaign in favor of those supposedly “better” forms of racism? It is better to torture a person less severely than more severely, but would we campaign for “humane” torture?
Of course not. Where issues involving humans are concerned, most of us see the problem and few, if any, of us would campaign for “humane” rape or “humane” racism or “humane” torture.
But where nonhumans are concerned, many of us are ready to jump ship and promote things that we acknowledge violate the fundamental rights of animals. There is no morally significant difference between meat and dairy or between meat and fish.
There is as much (if not more) suffering in a glass of milk as in a pound of steak and a fish values her/his life as much as the cow values her/his life.
“Happy” meat/animal products do not involve any greater protection for animal interests and these animals are all still treated in ways that involve what would be regarded as torture were humans involved. Welfare reform is a direct equivalent of promoting “humane” rape or “humane” racism.
Therefore, these gateway arguments have the disturbing characteristic of promoting conduct or practices that explicitly violate the fundamental rights of animals when we would never do that in a human context. The gateway approach is speciesist on its face.
As a practical matter, gateway arguments share in common an empirical or factual premise: that lacto-ovo-pesco-vegetarianism will lead to veganism; that “happy” meat/animal products will lead to vegetarianism and veganism; that welfare reform will create a social and political climate more favorable to abolition.
In order for gateway arguments to work, it has to be the case that there is a clear causal connection between the gateway component (vegetarianism, “happy” meat/animal products, welfare reform) and the desired goal (veganism, vegetarianism, abolition of exploitation).
The problem is that there is no evidence to support these assertions of causal connection. Although there certainly are vegetarians who have become vegans, there are also many vegetarians who never go vegan.
With respect to the claim that “happy” meat/animal products will lead to vegetarianism that will lead to veganism, that claims not only lacks support, but the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction.
That is, the “happy” meat movement is actually moving us backwards in that more and more people–including those who were once vegetarian or even vegan–are once again feeling comfortable about consuming animal products.
After all, if People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals gives an award to Whole Foods as Best Animal-Friendly Retailer, claiming that “Whole Foods has consistently done more for animal welfare than any retailer in the industry, requiring that its producers adhere to strict standards,” it sends a very clear message that eating the corpses and other animal products sold by Whole Foods is a morally acceptable, even if not morally ideal, thing to do.
The claim that welfare reform is a gateway that will lead to social acceptance and achievement of the abolition of exploitation is also not only without any factual support but is clearly false.
The animal welfare approach has been the dominant moral and legal paradigm for 200 years now and we are using more nonhuman animals in more horrific ways than ever before in human history. There is no historical evidence that regulation is a gateway to abolition or leads to abolition in any way; there is no historical evidence that welfare reform leads to anything more than more animal exploitation.
We cannot justify animal exploitation as a matter of basic morality. Gateway arguments are inconsistent with the fundamental rights of nonhumans not to be treated as human resources and rest on factual premises that are not only without support but that are demonstrably false.
Addendum: What about the argument that many vegans were first vegetarians so we ought to promote vegetarianism rather than veganism?
Even if it were true that most vegans were vegetarians first, that would not mean that we ought to promote vegetarianism.
If we explain the moral reasons in support of not consuming any animal products to someone and that person is not ready to go vegan, she will take whatever incremental step she wants to take, including adopting various forms of vegetarianism.
But we have left veganism as the aspiration and we have been clear that we cannot draw a morally defensible line between flesh and other animal products. If we promote any variety of vegetarianism short of veganism, we reinforce the false belief that there is a distinction between meat and dairy or other animal products.
So even if vegans usually start off as vegetarians, we ought still to be promoting veganism. I should add that it remains a question in my mind as to whether those taking vegetarian “first steps” do so precisely because that is what they are being advised to do by animal advocates who are confused on this issue.
Gary L. Francione is Distinguished Professor of Law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers University School of Law-Newark. He is the author of several books on animal rights and blogs here.
This topic will be discussed and debated in Gary’s forthcoming book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, which he co-authored with Professor Robert Garner, to be published shortly by Columbia University Press.