Abolitionism versus Reformism
or which type of campaign will lead to animal rights eventually?
Animal welfare and animal rights
Animal welfare and animal rights are fundamentally different things. Animal
welfare first appeared in modern history in writings in the mid 18th century.
The first animal welfare group, the English RSPCA, was founded in 1824, the
first one in Austria, the WTV, in 1846 in Vienna. The first Austrian animal law
was introduced in the same year. Animal welfare is motivated by compassion and
empathy. The aim is to reduce the suffering of animals to a "necessary" minimum.
The first animal welfare groups worked mostly on helping animals in need,
especially so-called pets, i.e. animals, who live in human households as
companions. Killing of animals is no issue in animal welfare. As long as the
killing is done painlessly, it is of no ethical concern. The paradigm that
animals are there for humans to be used, is not questioned in principle. As long
as this use is done "humanely", there is nothing wrong with it. Animal welfare
does not question the animal-human relationship in society as a whole. The
primary aim is to alleviate suffering, hence social, and not to change society,
i.e. political. Animal welfare asks humans to be good people, to be kind to
animals, to show empathy and compassion.
Animal rights is a very different kind of ideology. Animal rights demand from
all humans to show respect for the equal basic rights of non human animals. The
value of animals is not determined by their usefulness for humans, by their
utility. The individual animal changes from object to subject, from thing to
person. The first ideas in this direction in modern society were provided by
Lewis Gompertz in the early 19th century. By the end of the 19th century, Henry
Salt had founded the first animal rights organisation, the Humanitarian League.
The animal rights ideology does not want to minimize "necessary" suffering. Its
goal is to achieve basic rights for all animals, to guarantee their autonomy, to
determine their lives by themselves. Hence, killing of animals becomes a central
issue. There is no act that restricts the autonomy of an animal more than to
violently kill him or her. The animal rights ideology wants to change the
animal-human relationship at the roots. The movement is primarily political. The
demand is justice, the motivation is to fight injustice in this world.
From animal welfare to animal rights
From this analysis we might conclude that animal rights is so completely
different from animal welfare that the path leading to the one must be very
different from the start, to the path leading to the other. How should thinking
in terms of animal welfare, without questioning the basic paradigm that nonhuman
animals are there for human needs, ever lead to animal rights? Even worse,
doesn�t good animal welfare practice, with good animal husbandry and "humane"
killing, stifle any further critical thoughts on the issue?
However, things are not as straight forward. The first hint in this direction
might be that the first animal rights thinker, Lewis Gompertz, who even demanded
veganism from humanity (without giving it that name), also co-founded the first
animal welfare society of the world, the RSPCA. But even closer to home: wasn�t
your first motivation to think on those issues triggered by empathy and
compassion, which you felt when you saw animals being abused? Isn�t it that the
power of those feelings motivated you to think deeper and eventually arrive at
animal rights? Aren�t still almost all animal rights activists today at least
also still influenced by such feelings, help animals in need at sanctuaries and
feel incapable of enjoying themselves in leisure activities, because the nagging
thought of animals suffering at human hands stops them from switching off? Is it
at all possible, psychologically, to sacrifice all your life to the animal
rights cause without compassion and empathy driving you? Don�t almost all
people, who end up living vegan, start by either reducing meat, or switching to
free range animal products, or at least by living vegetarian for a while, which
is also based on the use of animals? Doesn�t that mean that the fundamental
philosophical difference between animal welfare and animal rights suggests a
philosophical gap that isn�t actually there in psychological reality?
A further observation hints in this direction. Today, Austrian animal laws have
already left behind the pure animal welfare ideals introduced above. Let�s look
at a few examples of laws, which ban even the most "humane" use of nonhuman
animals in certain areas:
�6 (2) Animal law: Dogs and cats cannot be used to produce any animal product
like fur or meat.
�25 (5) Animal law: It is forbidden to keep any fur bearing animal for the
purpose of producing fur.
�27 (1) Animal law: It is forbidden to keep or use any animal, apart from
domesticated animals, in whatever way in a circus, even if those animals are not
used to earn money with.
�3 (6) Animal experiment law: It is forbidden to use any ape, i.e. chimp, bonobo,
gorilla, orang utan or gibbon, for any purpose in an experiment, if this
experiment is not in the interest of the individual ape him- or herself.
Further, a few animal laws actually change the animal-human relationship in
society and undermine the paradigm that animals are there for humans to use as
�285a Civil Law code: Animals are not things.
Constitution: The state protects life and wellbeing of animals as cohabitants of
�41 Animal law: In each province, animal solicitors funded by the province must
be established, who can get involved in all court cases regarding animal law,
i.e. they get access to all court papers, can call witnesses, submit expert
statements and appeal against verdicts on behalf of the animals involved
And in Austria there are laws already established that explicitly ban the
killing of animals, however painlessly and �humanely" conducted:
�6 (1) Animal law: It is forbidden to kill any animal for no good reason
�222 (3) Criminal law: It is forbidden to kill vertebrate animals for no good
Constitution: The state protects the life of animals as cohabitants of humans
Politically, we can indeed provide a continuous transition from laws that do not
restrict animal usage at all, to complete animal rights based on an equal value
of the lives of each individual:
No restriction of the use of animals
→ indirect protection (a ban on abusing animals if that upsets humans)
→ minimal direct protection (a ban on beating animals �too much")
→ relevant protection of economically irrelevant animals (�pets")
→ relevant restriction of economic use of animals (e.g. cage ban)
→ radical restriction of economic use of animals (only free range)
→ ban on killing
→ �weak rights" according to Mary Midgeley
→ the only right: to have animal laws executed
→ basic rights for some animals (e.g. Great Ape Project)
→ basic rights for all animals
→ equal value of life and suffering for all animals (incl. humans)
Hence we learn that while there is a deep philosophical gulf between animal
welfare and animal rights, psychologically and politically there is a continuum.
That means on the one hand that it is at least possible, if not probable, that a
person develops psychologically from animal use via animal welfare to animal
rights. And secondly it proves that it is at least possible � even if we haven�t
provided data of its likelihood yet � that a society develops politically from
animal usage via animal welfare to animal rights. The least we can say for sure
at this stage is that such a development is not excluded in principle.
The easiest way to live: consumption of factory farmed animal products
Practical experience of decades of vegan outreach shows that it is pretty
difficult to reach the average person with the animal rights message. The
easiest way to get someone to start living vegan is to expose them to a vegan
social environment. Animal rights groups often have the experience that new
activists are not vegan, when they start to get active. But generally, even
without providing rational arguments, those people being active within a vegan
group will soon start to live vegan without outside priming. For social animals
like humans, the social environment has a very strong influence on their
behaviour. That, however, means on the other hand that in strictly speciesist
societies like ours, almost everybody growing up and living there will become
speciesist in the way they think and act. And it will be very hard indeed to
change that, especially with nothing but rational arguments.
Imagine such speciesist people are suddenly influenced by a media report, or by
passing by a vegan summerfest, or by a long chat at a vegan stall etc., and they
become aware of the problem and are willing to turn vegan. What frequently
happens then is that this effect does not last for long and sooner or later they
start eating animal products again, never mind how convinced they were of
veganism at the start. Why is that?
In a society as strictly speciesist as ours, it takes a lot of energy to live
vegan. There is the psychological pressure of not being considered "normal"
anymore, of sticking out in society. Suddenly you run into conflict with your
peer-group and your family. On the one hand, they will consider you complicated
or even fundamentalist, when you suddenly watch carefully whatever you eat or
buy, when you read every detail on the list of contents of a product. On the
other hand they might feel criticized by your mere behaviour: after all, you
refuse to eat the same as they do for ethical reasons.
But the problems do not end there. In your working place, in your leisure
activities, during your daily shopping, in restaurants etc. all the time your
choice to live vegan demands a lot of energy from you to justify what you do, to
ask uncomfortable questions, to go on other people�s nerves, not to buy
something you would have fancied and not to buy the cheapest and the easiest to
get. Permanently you spend more time and energy than you would have to
otherwise, and that must erode the original motivation of the most strong-willed
person. And in addition, albeit you invest so much, you do not seem to get
anything back! The amount of animals slaughtered does not decrease and society
does not seem to change even a tiny bit. Slowly, your original motivation dies
down until you adjust to the mainstream and go with the flow. Your veganism has
ended and is waiting for better days. That will happen especially in times of
crises, or when you have big changes in your life, e.g. when you change job, or
have a new partner, start a family or move house. The extra stress, or the fact
that suddenly some other important issues demand all your attention, might be
the trigger away from veganism. You just do not have the motivation of putting
so much time and energy into it anymore.
Those observations can be made clearer with the following picture:
The way society is organized, the system, changes the straight line continuum
from unrestricted animal use via animal welfare to animal rights (above) to a
structured surface (below). Single human beings can be considered as balls on
this surface. Without any additional energy input, the balls swiftly roll into
the trough. In our society that means consuming factory farmed animal products.
Say, someone wants to enjoy watching illegal animal fights or the torture of
animals, then s/he moves up the left branch. Since those activities are illegal
and have a bad reputation, it takes a lot of energy to stay up there, this
branch is very steep. You need to be highly motivated to sustain staying there.
If you lose interest, you will soon roll back into the trough.
On the other hand, if someone develops towards using organic free-range animal
products only, or even vegetarianism or veganism, then s/he moves to the right.
It also goes upwards in this direction, and if you want to stay there, or
develop even further to the right, then you need an increasing amount of energy
input. Those, who cannot sustain that energy loss, who lose the motivation to
invest so much and constantly swim upstream, will simply roll back. If you go
with the flow, you end up square in the trough and consume factory farmed animal
products like everybody else. Its by far the easiest and least time consuming
way to live.
Towards a vegan society through system change
If a singular event like one person turning vegan is to have a political effect
on society at large, it would have to happen en masse. In Austria, every year
80.000 people die and equally about 80.000 people are born or migrate into the
country. In order to change society at large this way, there would have to be a
rate of people turning vegan well above and beyond this number per year. In
reality, we are very far from that. The first ethical vegetarian restaurant
opened in 1878 in Austria. Since then, and especially around 1900, there were
many individuals and groups, who tried to turn people towards a plant-based
diet. But, with all their efforts, they failed, up until today. 130 years of
campaigning for humans becoming vegetarian or vegan did have no large impact on
society. It seems that the social pressure in our speciesist society prevents
enough people to turn vegan and stay vegan long enough to change society at
large. After 130 years of trying it, no vegan revolution is in sight. And there
are no signs that this will change anytime soon.
There is a study commissioned in 2004 with the IFES institute in Austria that
supports this observation. When people were asked whether they agreed with a ban
on caging laying hens for egg production, 86% said that they want a ban on this
practice. But at the same time, 80% of eggs being bought in Austria were from
exactly such battery farms. Clearly, while most people were already persuaded
that caging hens is animal abuse and unethical, they kept buying exactly those
products they apparently disapproved of. And this is not because they were not
aware of that. They were, for example when asked in supermarkets. After all,
eggs from cage systems are nowadays clearly marked as such, on the egg as well
as on the packaging. The explanation simply is that eggs from cage systems were
available everywhere, they were the cheapest, they were in all products like
noodles and cakes, and they were served in restaurants and hotels. To avoid eggs
from cage systems would have taken a lot of energy, and people were just not
prepared to invest that. Especially since many of those who did, saw absolutely
no change in society and soon gave up for that reason alone. If you choose the
easiest way of life and go with the flow, you had to consume battery eggs, never
mind your opinion whether it is unethical or should be banned.
But the animal rights movement can also use this attitude of most people, to
rather go with the flow and live the way of life of least resistance, to its
benefit. We have already observed that the easiest way to turn people vegan is
to expose them to a vegan social environment. Religious sects use that
characteristic of social animals by forming close-nit groups, cut off from the
outside world, where the sect can sustain a way of life the rest of society
considers utterly weird. Were the members of the sect still imbedded in "normal"
society, they would not be able to sustain their way of life. The animal rights
movement, however, is not satisfied with establishing some small vegan
communities within larger society. The movement wants to change society as a
whole. How to achieve that then?
Let�s look at the data. In 1996, the Austrian animal rights movement decided to
start a campaign against wild animal circuses. At that time, the majority of
people probably didn�t care either way, but of the remaining minority, a
majority surely supported wild animal circuses and saw no reason why to find
this tradition unethical. Media, similarly, reported favourably on those
circuses. But in 2005, a ban of wild animal circuses was introduced. In
consequence, there were neither wild animal circuses left in Austria, nor were
any coming into Austria to perform. Since that year, nobody in Austria can visit
wild animal circus shows anymore.
But nobody misses them nowadays either! The campaign had a 100% success rate
changing the behaviour of Austrians. But during the campaign, nobody tried to
change the minds of individual people. That never was the strategy. Instead, the
campaign just removed such circuses from Austria. While having not changed the
minds of people, this changed their behaviour. Instead of going to the circus,
people started spending their time with their kids in another way. The system
change � no wild animal circuses existing � led to a 100% change in behaviour.
In the above picture that would mean moving the trough to the right towards more
animal welfare. The easiest way of life becomes living without wild animal
circuses. If you still wanted to go to one, you would have to leave the country
for that purpose. To sustain that way of life, i.e. to keep going to wild animal
circuses, would mean a lot of energy investment, which neigh nobody is willing
But the effects of the system change go even further than that. Already now,
media have started to report negatively on foreign wild animal circuses. The
rules of socialisation, as sketched above, imply that after 1 or 2 generations
have grown up in a society where wild animal circuses have been banned for
ethical reasons, their attitudes change as well. Wild animal circuses start to
be considered as animal abuse of times gone past, when there was much less
respect for animals. Such an opinion we find ever more frequently in Austria
Another example supports this view. Let�s look at the campaign against battery
eggs. In 2005, the animal rights movement decided to start a campaign to remove
battery eggs from the shelves of all supermarkets in Austria. Remember that at
this time 86% of the population opposed battery farming as unethical, but only
20% actually did act correspondingly and did not buy battery eggs. The campaign,
again, did not aim to change people�s minds. That would have been useless,
since, after all, most people were already opposed to battery farms. So, the
campaign attacked supermarkets and shops selling battery eggs. And it succeeded.
By 2007, it was impossible to buy any battery eggs, including from enriched cage
systems, in Austria.
What happened with the consumers? They quickly adapted. Nobody was missing
battery eggs. The easiest way to live was now simply not to buy battery eggs.
And exactly that happened. The campaign, again, did not change anybody�s minds,
but the system change had a 100% success rate in changing people�s behaviour:
nobody bought battery eggs anymore.
The data provide clear evidence: while trying to change people�s minds has very
limited success and even less influence on their behaviour, system change leads
to a 100% success in behavioural change. Applying these findings to veganism, we
have to conclude that political animal rights activists should primarily try to
change the system and not people�s minds. The latter is simply hopeless as a
strategy to change society. If it is being pursued exclusively, it will have no
effect on society at large.
Let�s look at an example. Say, we want to gain some land from the shallow sea to
establish new living space. Trying to change people�s minds is like trying to
remove the water from the sea with a spoon. You might succeed in removing some
drops, but the larger picture will not change. You could never have enough
people removing water with spoons to actually get the land dry. A system change
now would be for example to drive in with a digger and to build a dam. Now the
water in our area is isolated from the water in the sea. The system is changed.
We don�t have to remove the water now, we just let nature take its course. And
after so and so long, the water will have dried out and we can use the land. The
system change did not remove single drops, but it led to a lasting change of the
In our picture above of the structured surface, a system change would mean
moving the trough to the right. If we succeed to do that, then people will
follow, will roll into the new trough, and live differently, without you having
to persuade them one after the other. That battery eggs are not available
anymore is for example a move of the trough to the right towards barn eggs
becoming the norm, which are better animal welfare. Ultimately, we need to aim
for moving the trough all the way to the right towards animal rights and
veganism. When there are no non-vegan products available anymore, then people
will automatically become vegan and in a few generations it will be the accepted
attitude in society as a whole.
System change by weakening animal industries
How can we move the system towards veganism? In parliamentarian democracy, in
principle the population can decide how the system is run. In reality,
especially since our society is a representative and not a direct democracy,
that is not so easy. People can only vote every 5 years, and only one of a
handful or parties, i.e. by voting they must support a whole host of opinions
and not just one.
But still, we do elect parties into government. They will not exactly do what we
would most prefer, but if their decisions deviate far enough from our opinion,
then we will kick up a fuss in society. The larger that fuss, the larger the
dissatisfaction of people and the more likely the party in government will not
be re-elected. Hence governments are very wary of conflicts in society. They
want to avoid that. If one arises, they want to resolve it. On the other hand,
if there are no conflicts, if everything is calm, if criticism is brought up in
a friendly and tolerant tone, then there cannot be much dissatisfaction, so the
government will not risk to change anything to be safely re-elected.
Hence, system changes only come through conflicts in society. It starts with a
segment in society being decidedly unhappy with the status quo in a certain
issue and kicking up a fuss. If the fuss increases to a fully blown conflict,
government will have to react. They need to keep the lid on it so that it does
not escalate and eventually remove them from office. That means, in a conflict
between two sides, the government will side with those, who are more capable of
deepening the conflict, of kicking up more fuss, of producing more political
pressure. If the public takes the side of one or the other party in the conflict
that can obviously also be of vital importance. A fuss kicked up by one side
will create much more political pressure, if in the eyes of the public theirs is
a just cause.
In animal issues, the conflict is between the movement and those exploiting
animals. Let�s call the latter animal industries. The conflict in society for a
system change towards the end of the exploitation of animals, i.e. veganism,
hence is a direct conflict between the animal rights movement and animal
industries. The side that is capable of producing more political pressure will
win at the end. The public stands indifferent at the start and is the target of
the propaganda war between the two fractions. Each tries to pull the public on
their side. Since animal industries are very powerful and influential,
politically, a system change against their will is very difficult, but possible.
It is very important to distinguish at this point between animal industries,
which are the enemies of change, the public as an observer, whose sympathies
both sides are wooing for, and the government, the judge so to speak, who both
sides try to impress with their political pressure.
In thinking about political theories, it is vital to ground your thinking on
data and direct experience to see whether we are still based in reality and not
dream and fiction. Politics is the art of changing society. Politics are purely
consequentialist, i.e. its value must be judged solely by its consequences. Good
politics lead to a better society, bad politics to a worse one. For political
change, there are many unknown parameters influencing the outcome. Hence
strictly theoretical thinking can very easily lead astray. How should I know,
for example, that a certain factor, pointing in one direction, will have more or
less effect than another, pointing in the other? Only through practical
experience. What kind of experience can we provide in this context? What do the
data say about the theory presented here?
The campaign against wild animal circuses in Austria was directed against the
circuses themselves, only marginally towards the public. The tactic was to
permanently protest outside each and every show of all wild animal circuses in
Austria, in order to spoil the fun of visitors of the circus. This
confrontational approach very soon led to an escalation of the conflict. The
circuses resorted to violence and physically assaulted many activists on a
number of occasions, sometimes very seriously and premeditatedly. The movement
retaliated with 3 arson attacks. In addition, the circuses started a number of
law suits against the campaign, while the activists reported breaches of any
regulations to the authorities. After 6 years, every single wild animal circus
had gone bankrupt. The government had not reacted so far, since the conflict
never reached societal proportions, neither the public nor the media did take
At the end there were no wild animal circuses left. And without any opposition,
it was easy to introduce a ban. By weakening and eventually completely
destroying animal industries in this conflict, a ban and a lasting system change
Another example to study is the campaign against battery farms. In this sector,
animal industries were very powerful and could not be challenged directly. By
threatening with economic disaster, unemployment, removal of locally important
industries and a massive reduction in tax payment, their influence on local,
regional and hence federal governments was enormous. The animal rights movement
was no match for them. But regarding battery farming, the movement did not have
to start from scratch with regards to the public. Over decades, the public had
been fed the view that battery farms are the epitome of animal abuse. Even
children�s books covered that issue and in all schools battery farming was a
topic. That was why, in 2004, there were already 86% of the public in favour of
a battery farm ban.
But that alone would have changed nothing. As stated before, 80% of the people
still bought cage eggs and the government had no reason whatsoever to act, since
there was no conflict apparent. In this situation, the animal rights movement
decided to start a campaign for a ban on battery cages, i.e. a ban on all cages,
including the so-called enriched ones. In parliament, the situation was
advantageous, since with the socialists and the greens in opposition, almost 50%
of MPs could be won as allies. Against this coalition, only the conservatives in
government stood firm, pushed by the political pressure of the mighty battery
This is why the movement started to focus on the conservatives and attacked them
at each of the following 3 elections (2 provincial elections and one
presidential election). Conservative election placards were removed in large
numbers, or defaced, and many anti-conservative placards appeared everywhere. It
went so far that the conservatives paid security to guard their placards in the
night, and indeed a number of conflicts with animal rights activists were had.
In addition, activists started to disrupt all conservative election rallies and
organized an anti-conservative campaign with the clear message: those voting
conservative vote for battery farms. At the height of this conflict, on the day
before the election in one province, the head of the conservative party jumped
from the stage where he was holding his last election speech and attacked a
nearby animal rights activist, punched him in the face and ripped his banner. On
the next day, it was headline news in all newspapers: conservative party leader
punched animal activist! And the conservative party did lose 50% of the votes in
In the other province, where the conservatives had been in government, they lost
the majority to the socialists. And in the presidential elections, the mounting
pressure became so large that their presidential candidate felt obliged to say
in her last press conference that she, personally, does favour a ban of battery
farms. When the conservatives lost this election as well, they gave in. The
political pressure from the animal rights movement had exceeded the political
influence of animal industries. In 2005, a complete ban on all cages for laying
hens, including enriched cages, was decided on in parliament and took effect
2009. Those, who have experienced this campaign first hand, all agree that it
was the amount of political pressure that led to this decision. In an open
conflict, with the help of broad sympathies within the public, the movement beat
animal industries and forced the influential egg industry into submission. That
opened the way for a system change. Today, as said before, no-one is buying eggs
from cage systems anymore.
A number of other examples could be provided here, like the campaign against the
caging of rabbits, where the government was forced to recall their �compromise"
of enriched cages and agree to a complete ban by 2012 eventually. But one other
example is worth looking at in more detail. In a region in the province Upper
Austria, the trapping of songbirds is a deep rooted tradition. Hence this
province exempted bird trapping from the general ban of trapping animals. When
animal law became a federal matter in Austria, the provincial bans on trapping
animals were extended to Upper Austria too. The government overlooked that this
would ban the practice also in this region, were it was such a strong tradition.
The trappers are very powerful and influential in their region. All political
parties are really scared of them there. That influence extends to the
provincial but not to the federal government. On the other hand, the animal
rights movement is much more capable of producing political pressure on the
federal level than on the provincial level in rural Upper Austria.
Now, when the provincial governor of Upper Austria realized that the new law
would ban bird trapping in his province too, he intervened and tried to get the
animal minister to put an exception for songbird trapping in Upper Austria into
the law. Without any other influence, the minister was willing to do that and
proposed it. But then the animal rights movement stood up and started a very
confrontational campaign against the minister, with daily demos in front of her
office for months and disruptions of all her public appearances. She succumbed
to this pressure and did not put this exception into the law. But the provincial
government is responsible for enforcing the law in the province, and they, being
under such influence of the bird trappers, decided simply not to execute it.
We see: solely the political conflict in society between the animal rights
movement and animal industries determines the laws and their execution. The
side, which can muster more support and political pressure on an issue, wins.
The corresponding law determines the system in society, which eventually defines
how people behave and how animals are being treated. The opinion of the majority
or of single people in society is of secondary importance. Even a large majority
against battery eggs did not ban battery farming or stop them from being sold.
It was only political pressure and the system change that followed, which
changed society and how animals are treated.
Do incremental system changes lead to animal rights?
The data presented so far prove that a system change can be achieved through a
political conflict against animal industries. If a system change, however, was
to bring global veganism, it would have to mean the end of the whole of animal
industries. Can animal industries be made to completely disappear by step for
step victories, which bring incremental reforms?
From a purely theoretical point of view, the psychological-political continuity
from animal use via animal welfare to animal rights suggests that indeed it is
possible. A society without any restrictions on animal use sees non-human
animals as commodities for the benefit of humankind without any ethical value.
Such a society will not have any empathy and compassion for animals. The
historic example of Austria before the first animal laws serves as a good
example of such a society.
Historically, from that starting point, slowly compassion, animal welfare and
animal laws developed. At this stage, ethical vegetarianism could get a foothold
at the end of the 19th century. Slowly, the first ideas of animal rights
developed and from the 1980s onwards, there is a lively and thriving animal
rights movement. The ideology of animal rights and the animal rights movement
have their psychological and political roots in animal welfare.
Similarly, the development of single people generally advances from compassion
and animal welfare feelings, which might have led to less consumption of animal
products (probably rather of the free range variety), to vegetarianism and
eventually to the full animal rights vision and veganism. Psychologically,
compassion and animal welfare form the basis for animal rights too.
We can provide further data for this observation. In 1998, after a long and hard
fought for campaign, Austria introduced a ban on fur farms in 6 provinces. In
the remaining 3 provinces, a new animal law restricted the use of "fur animals".
It became only legal to keep foxes on a natural floor and mink with swimming
water, i.e. bare cages were banned. However, this classic animal welfare law
based on the idea of "humane" exploitation gave way 7 years later to a complete
ban on all fur farming, i.e. on keeping animals for their fur in whatever way.
This law obviously goes beyond animal welfare and towards animal rights. It does
say that non-human animals are not there for human benefit only, since the
benefit of getting fur does not justify to keep and to kill animals even if in
the most humane way. This complete ban on fur farming is therefore a good bit
further towards animal rights on the continuum from welfare to rights, than the
ban on bare cages only. And it came on the basis of an older welfare law.
The ban on fur farming means that the fur industry is weakened, since at least
in Austria their production sector has been completely wiped out. On the other
hand, the ban on fur farming did not reduce the amount of fur being sold in
Austria, since the furriers just switched to imports. Does that mean, a fur farm
ban cannot be considered progress towards animal rights?
The Austrian animal rights movement can only directly change things in Austria.
But the Austrian fur farm ban indeed was an example to follow for a number of
other countries, and now we have some form of bans at least in England,
Scotland, Wales, Italy, Croatia, Holland and Sweden. If the fur farm bans are
being picked up in ever more countries and one day in the whole of the EU, then
an import ban could be introduced, like today�s import ban on cat and dog
products, or possibly seal products in the near future. That would be a system
change so that all EU citizens would stop using fur at all. There is no reason
why other continents could not follow suit, so that their animal rights
movements master enough political pressure to get fur farm bans there too.
Eventually, fur production could end in the whole world. In that sense, a ban on
fur farming in Austria is no doubt a first step towards the end of fur as a
consumer product altogether, i.e. the end of the exploitation of any animal for
Let�s look at the ban of battery farms. In contrast to the fur farm ban, the ban
on battery farms did not mean the end of egg production in Austria. But,
nevertheless, this ban directly led to a reduction in the number of eggs
produced (and the number of hens exploited) by 35%! Since the ban was
introduced, the number of laying hens being used in Austria has gone down by
35%. The reason for that is twofold. Firstly, a barn egg production unit of the
same size fits only about half as many hens as a battery unit. That is because
barn hens have much more space and the number of floors stacked above each other
is limited. In addition, since barn hens can move freely inside the shed, they
use much more of the energy they take in through their food in movement and heat
production. So, a barn hen needs twice as much food than a battery hen, who
cannot move at all, for producing the same amount of eggs! That means that egg
production with the new system has become more than twice as expensive.
The ban on battery farming brought with it a drastic reduction in the amount of
hens used and a dramatic increase in production costs per egg. So far, the egg
industry did not dare to put that cost increase directly onto the price of the
egg. They know that the single most important factor determining which products
consumers buy is the price. If products get more expensive, fewer of them will
But it is exactly this effect, which the animal rights movement can use to for
its purposes. If the movement succeeds against the resistance of animal
industries to introduce strict new animal laws, which reduce production capacity
and increase production costs, then that will dramatically weaken animal
industries. Consumers will buy less of the more expensive products, even if they
did not change their opinion on its ethical justification. Very expensive meat
and very expensive eggs will become luxury items, which can be consumed even
less frequently. The surviving animal industry will have shrunk immensely. That
means, in a next conflict with the animal rights movement, the reduced animal
industries will have even less influence and power to resist further reforms and
further tightening of animal production restrictions, so that the vegan
alternatives will have much better chances to win out on the free market and
remove animal products further still.
Regarding meat, the biggest hope for vegan alternatives lies in plant based
meat substitutes and tissue engineered meat, i.e. in-vitro produced muscle cell
cultures. Details to such products can be found here:
If this kind of future food can establish itself on the market, it will be in
direct competition with animal meat. When strict animal laws make the production
of animal meat much more costly, then the ground is set for tissue engineered
meat to win out. That would further accelerate the abolition process of animal
production, since weakened animal industries mean harsher animal laws. If tissue
engineered meat manages to completely eradicate animal meat, then a ban on
animal farming of any kind will be coming by itself. And that we managed to
achieve without having changed people to vegans first. In fact, most people
could still eat the same sort of meat, consisting of the same cells. But because
of the psychological continuum from animal welfare to animal rights, a shift in
public attitudes towards animal rights and veganism will be expected in
practice. When all animal usage is banned, then animal rights will be
established in no time.
Do animal welfare reforms serve to establish the attitude that animals are only
there for humans to use?
Through the work of the animal movement, animal welfare has received a positive
image, which is being used for advertisement purposes. Animal industries have
started to use this fact to market their products, often without their way of
dealing with animals having anything to do with animal welfare at all.
Consequently, weak animal laws, like a little more space in the battery cage for
the hens, could provide a basis for such advertising without costing animal
industries much, since such changes do not increase production costs
significantly. However, that effect should not be overestimated, since animal
industries will advertise regardless, and such advertising effects usually do
But another aspect of this is often recited as an argument against animal
welfare reforms. If certain products are sold as "animal friendly", especially
when animal welfare and animal rights organisations promote those products in
some way, consumers, who are concerned about animal issues and could have been
reached by animal rights arguments, might calm their consciences and consume
more of those products without a second thought. In this way, such reforms might
stand in the way of spreading the animal rights message that the exploitation of
non-human animals must be questioned at a fundamental level.
Whether this effect exists, though, and how important it is, is purely a
question of psychology and must be answered by studies on the effect of messages
in advertising. As a matter of fact, at the moment there are no data, which are
supporting this idea. There is no empirical indication that this effect actually
has a significant impact on society. Indeed, there is an opposite effect, which
might as well have a more profound consequence. A positive image for animal
welfare, after all, means that compassion and empathy for animals get a higher
value, and that means there is more support for further animal welfare reforms.
And if people do open up to the idea of animal welfare and its underlying
motives, then the experience shows that they are more likely to be prepared to
think about animal rights. Animal welfare and empathy form the psychological
basis for animal rights.
But let�s look at the data. In Austria, every year the animal laws are being
tightened. The speed of these reforms, and the degree to which they increase the
restriction on animal use, had a tendency to increase in the last years.
Certainly in the last 10 years, new animal laws have been introduced, which
restrict animal use to an, until now, unknown degree. Remember the restriction
of fur farms in 1998, which was then followed by an outright ban in 2005. A
rather weak regulation on how wild animals can be kept and used in circuses was
followed by a complete ban 15 years later. The law governing animal experiments
from 1988 was updated in 2006 to include a complete ban on all experiments on
apes. Regulations on how to keep rabbits for meat production were introduced in
2005 and tightened to a ban on all cages by 2008, to come into effect by 2012.
The regulations on keeping laying hens were tightened in 1999, again in 2003 and
then came a ban on all cages in 2005 to take effect by 2009. Clearly, the
development of animal laws shows in practice, that they are being tightened
regularly and ever more severely. That supports the above suggestion that there
is a political continuum from animal use via animal welfare to animal rights,
and that banning certain particularly revolting aspects of animal use leads to
more bans and more animal welfare and even towards animal rights, when a certain
use is banned completely (like fur farming) or when even the most "humane" kind
of killing is banned.
A more restrictive animal law in one sector can also trigger more restrictions
in other sectors, when for example the ban on cages for laying hens in 2005 was
used to justify the introduction of a ban on cages for rabbits in 2008.
Is it possible that when a certain standard of animal welfare has been reached,
suddenly this process stops and no further tightening of animal laws can ever be
achieved so that the ultimate aim of animal rights cannot be achieved this way?
There is no indication for that. After the ban on cages for laying hens in
Austria, half of the larger farms just closed down and the other half changed to
barn egg production. The latter, still, is a classic factory farm with 9 hens
per m� (even if it was 16 hens per m� in the battery cage). But since all
battery farms have closed down now, immediately the criticism of the new and
more expensive barn system has already started. Newly formed animal rights
groups, who have never seen battery cages, have already broken into barn egg
farms and released the shocking film material to the media, who have broadcast
it. The animal rights group most instrumental in achieving the ban on battery
cages has published a new 40 page booklet on animal agriculture in 2008, which
explicitly, and with graphic footage, criticises the barn egg system among all
the other forms of production and demands law changes as well as suggesting
veganism. Even the manager of a large supermarket chain, which has removed all
cage eggs from their shelves 14 years ago, has already approached animal groups
and told them that he wants to remove barn eggs in the future as well. The
experience hence is that the move to attacking the newly established barn system
has started much earlier than expected. Even though there is not much scope,
politically, to introduce a new ban very soon, that topic might become a matter
of serious debate within 10 years. If the whole process is being repeated then,
i.e. instead of a cage ban, a barn egg production ban, and barn eggs are being
removed from the shelves in supermarkets, what should stop the movement to
continue this process until all laying hen farming is banned? Like it happened
with fur farming?
If becoming critically aware of the aspects of particular animal abuse in animal
agriculture, and supporting animal welfare per se, are psychological
preconditions for individuals to move on to animal rights, it is to be expected
that societies with higher animal welfare standards will have larger animal
rights movements, more animal rights thinking will prevail and more vegan
options will be available. And societies with much less animal welfare standards
should show the opposite tendency. And indeed, that is the case. European
countries like England, Sweden or Austria have high animal welfare standards and
a thriving animal rights movement. On the other hand, countries with very little
animal welfare like China seem quite disinterested in all animal issues and
veganism as an ethical choice is unknown.
If we include all aspects, the data suggest that very restrictive animal law
reforms are not just no obstacle for animal rights, but they actually promote
the development of society in this direction.
Additional aspects of the incremental reform process
Which reforms are being called abolitionist and which reformist, seems to be
rather arbitrary and dependent on a particular ideology. Gary Francione defines
5 criteria in his book Rain without Thunder (Temple University Press,
Philadelphia 1996), which determine when a law is to be called abolitionist. A
full cage ban is being cited by him as an example of an abolitionist law in
contrast to a law merely enlarging the space per hen in the cage. A cage ban
means the interest of the hens in free movement is being respected, he observes,
albeit respecting this interest brings no advantage for the industry exploiting
the hens. Francione, though, argues purely theoretically. He does not provide
any data to support his suggestions, and his definition of abolitionism seems to
be deontological and not consequentialist, although it is hard to see how a
theory on how to act politically should not be solely concerned about whether
the action actually does promote the political aim in its consequences or not.
Even more radical is Lee Hall�s opinion, published in the book Capers in the
Churchyard (Nectra Bat Press 2006). For her, every law, regardless what it says,
as long as it does not guarantee fully equal rights to all animals at once, is a
reformist law and must be rejected. Her reason for that position is that any
such law would in some way implicitly condone some form of animal use. A ban on
fur farming, for example, condones leather production, rights for all apes
condone the view that all non-apes should have no rights and so forth. Hall even
says that any campaign that has a goal that falls short of complete animal
rights and veganism for all, is reformist, because it suggests that all forms of
animal use outside this goal are legitimate. She subsumes even ALF activity
under reformist campaigning. For her, friendly vegan outreach is the only path
towards animal rights, the only truly abolitionist activity. But Hall does not
supply any data that support her ideas, neither in the book nor on enquiry. But
without data her theory seems highly dubious.
Animal law reforms generally improve the quality of life for the individual
animals, who are protected by the law. A laying hen in a cage surely has a much
worse life than a hen in a barn or free range system. This aspect, however, as
much as it might be of central interest to the animals themselves, plays no role
in politically evaluating whether a campaign goal will lead towards animal
rights or not.
Worldwide, more than 2000 activists have been locked up in prison cells for
their animal rights actions so far, because they have broken speciesist laws.
From the ethical point of view, their incarceration is unjust and a breach of
their right to freedom. A number of groups therefore support those prisoners,
but not just individually, also with political campaigns. People are asked to
sign petitions to improve the prison system, like ban isolation cells and allow
for vegan food provisions. Those groups, albeit they disapprove of locking up
animal activists altogether, have decided that they would rather campaign for a
realistic goal that might be achieved and that will improve the lot for the
prisoners. Such campaigning must be called reformist and not abolitionist by any
standards, but nevertheless, radical abolitionists will not disapprove. Nobody
asks, surprisingly, whether such campaigns do not legitimize incarceration of
animal activists in the minds of the public, and whether their success in
achieving better prison conditions will not serve to strengthen the habit in
society to lock up activists, who have liberated animals.
Running campaigns to achieve realistic animal laws has produced a number of very
large animal welfare and animal rights societies, which became powerful and
politically influential. The larger such a society, the more mainstream and tame
it will be. In Austria, though, there is a clear move of large societies to
become more radical and pro vegetarian. All those groups together earn 30
million euro per year in Austria in donations alone, and even if only a small
part of that money is spent on spreading compassion and empathy for animals
amongst the public, it will serve to build fertile grounds for animal rights.
Some of those societies actually explicitly promote veganism in their
literature. If all animal groups would have to change to purely abolitionist
campaigning, they would drastically shrink to the size of vegan societies and
would lose all their influence and ability to promote veganism too.
In principle, using film material that shows particularly shocking animal abuse,
must be called reformist propaganda. After all, those pictures suggest that
keeping these animals without the cruelty is alright. That means, those pictures
do not question animal use, but animal abuse. By rejecting such films, though,
the movement would be stripped off the most powerful weapon in the propaganda
wars. In reality, since there is a psychological continuum from animal welfare
to animal rights, those films actually do produce vegans and animal rights
activists, which once again shows that the abolitionist argument is false.
Reformist campaigns bring successes. The last 10 years of reform campaigning in
Austria produced a formidable list of such successes, which clearly make the
Austrian animal law the best in the world. But successes are the lifeblood of
activism, because activism costs energy and to sustain activism for long, you
must be highly motivated. If you can see that your activism actually changes
society that boosts morale and your motivation to stay active rises. But for
vegan outreach, there is no similar feeling of success. Many people, who did
turn vegan, fall back to consuming animal products. And society at large does
not seem to change at all � after 130 years of such campaigns. It is extremely
unlikely that a significant amount of activists can sustain friendly vegan
outreach without recognizable successes for a very long time.
The analysis of political activism for animals together with data on experiences
so far, suggests the following approach for achieving animal rights in the long
The primary aim of the animal rights movement must be to produce political
pressure to achieve incremental reforms towards animal rights. A reform is a
step towards animal rights if it significantly damages animal industries, i.e.
if it weakens them and/or forces them to use more expensive production systems.
That is so, because the only enemy in the political conflict to achieve animal
rights is the animal industries. Without them, animal rights would be reality.
Weakening animal industries through tough animal laws serves a purpose in two
ways. Firstly, it weakens the opponent for future animal laws, and secondly it
makes animal products more expensive so that fewer people will buy them and the
vegan alternatives will have a better chance when competing on the free market.
Stricter animal laws do not hinder people becoming aware of animal rights
issues, but they actually promote that, because animal welfare is the
psychological basis for animal rights.
To produce enough political pressure, a large number of activists and the
sympathy of the public are advantageous. But both of those aims are secondary
aims, because they only serve to help achieving the primary aim, to weaken
To try and convince individual people, person for person, is a tactic which
cannot but fail, as long as the system is not changed. That is so, because the
system in society determines the behaviour of people in it. In an extremely
speciesist society, to live vegan costs an enormous amount of energy, so that
only a tiny minority will ever have enough motivation and resolve to be able to
sustain it for longer. On the other hand, a system in society that does not
provide animal products, will automatically make people lead a vegan life, and
latest in one or two generations of young people growing up in a vegan society,
the awareness of animal rights will follow.
Using purely rational arguments, we can argue convincingly that animal rights is
the ethical ideal. We do not need to use empirical data of human psychology or
concern ourselves with the political situation at a particular time in society
for that. The ethical ideal is founded on deontological and not
But if we want to put that ethical ideal into practice and change society, we do
depend entirely on psychological input. Politics are good, if they change
society successfully towards the ethical ideal. That means, in contrast to the
situation before, the value of politics is solely measured
consequentialistically, i.e. only by its consequences. There are no politics,
which are right or wrong by themselves, like Immanuel Kant claimed for example
for lying, which supposedly was unethical by itself, even if lying in certain
circumstances could save lives or move society towards the ethical ideal.
It is basic knowledge on human psychology that humans are much more social than
rational animals. If humans were purely rational animals, we could ignore
psychology in politics and solely argue rationally, without the use of empirical
data. Theory and practice would be the same. But humans are indeed much more
social than rational animals. And that means for the animal rights movement:
Social entities like compassion, empathy and suffering are very important
factors to motivate humans to change their behaviour. In contrast,
abstract-rational entities, like personhood or rights, do not.
One of the most important aspects determining human behaviour is their social
environment. Humans want to be well integrated into their society and live in
harmony with it.
Humans have a strong need for social security, i.e. they generally want that
things stay as they are and that change happens slowly and in a controlled way.
The animal rights movement must adapt their political campaigning strategies to
these psychological facts. That means, political campaigns must incorporate the
Centre your campaign material on presenting suffering and stimulate compassion
and empathy in people. Abstract-rational phrases using terms like rights or
personhood should play no significant role.
The goal of the campaign should be presented to the public in a way that it
seems to them that if it was achieved, a certain clearly distinguishable aspect
of suffering of animals will be totally alleviated.
The aim of the campaign must be to change society, the social system in which
people live, and not individual people�s minds.
The campaign should not demand huge changes in society. The goal must be
realistic and should not lead into the unknown. The whole development of society
must be slow and continuous.
Hence, it is of vital importance to distinguish between the abstract-rational
philosophy on a deontological basis in theory to justify the ethical ideal, and
applied-social psychology on a consequentialistic basis in practice to justify