By Dr. Steven Best
The nonhuman animal advocacy movement is at a crucial crossroads where truly it is now do or die. In the early 1980s, a new animal rights movement glowed bright with potential; in just a few years, however, the light faded to black as corruption, opportunism, and bureaucracy snuffed out the promise of genuine change. As they evolved, it became increasingly obvious that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other groups emulated the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to become corporate behemoths and mainstream machines. Increasingly co-opted and compromised, animal rights groups frequently worked with, rather than against, the exploitation industries in order to regulate, not eliminate, the ongoing nonhuman animal holocaust.
In the last decade, for instance, PETA pressured McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC to increase cage size and adopt "less cruel and more profitable" slaughter methods, while HSUS aggressively campaigned for "humane meat" and "cage-free eggs." These groups ultimately serve corporate exploiters' interests and champion capitalist principles generally. But whereas PETA began as a grassroots organization in 1980, and continues to defend the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and to promote veganism, HSUS has been a bureaucratic welfare group since its inception in 1954, it consistently denounces the ALF, and has always capitulated to carnivorous culture as it barely gives support even for vegetarianism.
Lest anyone in either the industry or advocacy camps had any doubts, HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle put them to rest in a sycophantic July 2009 interview on Agritalk radio. Pacelle virtually apologized for being vegan in his private life and assured the flesh, vivisection, hunting, zoo, and circus industries that they had nothing to fear from HSUS, as his goal is to promote "decency and mercy toward animals" and not to close their operations.
In direct response to the wretched reformism and opportunism of bureaucratic "welfarism," a new movement emerged to reconstruct nonhuman animal advocacy unequivocally as a struggle for animal rights, not "welfare"; for the total abolition of nonhuman animal slavery rather than its regulation; and for veganism, not "humane" animal-derived products of any kind. To a significant degree, the new vegan abolitionist movement has been shaped and defined by the work of Gary Francione, professor of law at Rutgers University. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Francione exposed the duplicity of "new welfarists" who use the term "animal rights" but pursue "welfarist" policies. These policies, Francione argues, are incoherent and dilute the meaning of rights; "welfarism" in any form, he insists, works to the benefit of industries and thus increases, rather than decreases, the demand for animal-derived products; it only aggravates, rather than alleviates, speciesism and the plight of nonhuman animals in horrific systems of exploitation.