The ASPCA defends animal shelters that kill animals despite readily available lifesaving alternatives. The ASPCA itself sends animals to their deaths at the city pound where it is located. When animal lovers try to reform their high-kill shelters, the ASPCA often fights them, siding with those who neglect, abuse, and kill animals in shelters. When activists in a Florida community complained that their local shelter killed despite empty cages, the ASPCA stepped in—not to help reform the shelter—but to use donor funds to buy them a new table on which to kill animals. And when legislation is introduced to stop shelters from killing animals who have an immediate place to go, the ASPCA uses its wealth and power to kill the bill, condemning as many as 25,000 animals a year to death in New York State alone.
And so it should come as no surprise that when ASPCA President Ed Sayres–who himself is neither vegan nor vegetarian–wades into the issue of animals raised for food, he would choose to champion their killers rather than those who are being killed. Recently, the ASPCA announced that they have donated $150,000 dollars to pay for a barn for “poultry” farmers. That’s right, an organization that was founded to protect the lives and interests of animals and fundraises off animal-loving Americans by promising to do just that, is footing the bill for a giant warehouse in which to house animals who are being raised for one purpose only: to be killed.
In describing the farm they are now subsidizing, the ASPCA explains that as long as people eat meat, that meat should be made in manner that is “high-welfare.” But under what warped definition of “welfare” can a process that ends with animals strung upside down and having their heads cut off possibly qualify? How is providing a grant for a business based on this model in any way consistent with the role of an animal protection organization? And when people donate money to the ASPCA because they promise to use it to help save the lives of animals, how is it fair to animals or their donors to turn around and give that money to those who profit off of their killing?
If the ASPCA truly wanted to help animals, it would work to build a future where humans no longer kill and eat animals and, in seeking this end, the way forward would be clear: invest in those who are experimenting with alternatives to meat. As we write in All American Vegan:
Currently, there is not one, large, powerful force deliberately steering a course towards the more widespread production and distribution of appealing ready-made vegan foods. It is a void that desperately needs filling and the answer as to who should do so seems obvious when you consider who stands the most to gain by its achievement: the animal rights movement.
Right now the animal rights community is promoting the idea that people should not eat animals without ensuring that there are widely available alternatives for people to eat instead. These products are not promoted aggressively, and when they are it is usually only to other vegans. The animal rights movement also plays virtually no role in their production and distribution. To create a compassionate society, we don’t need “free range” chickens; we need “chickenless” chickens. ..
The animal rights movement needs to comprehensively expand vegan options and the awareness of how to use them so that, ultimately, animal-based products are rendered obsolete because their cost will be recognized as too high a price to pay when ethical alternatives are abundantly available and identical in taste.
Imagine entire departments of the largest animal protection organizations, which already have tens of millions and even hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues, dedicated to transforming the American landscape to make it more vegan-friendly. To do that, they could have in-house Research and Development teams staffed by chemists and chefs producing cutting-edge vegan analogs. Once such products are developed, they could sell the foods themselves or share their discoveries with food companies that have national distribution. They could have staff members dedicated to meeting with and educating food companies about how to replace non-vegan ingredients in their products with alternatives so that we can begin to veganize America’s favorite brand-name foods.
Animal rights groups could focus on increasing the variety of vegan foods in public venues. They could invest in chains of fast food vegan restaurants. They could create culinary institutes that provide chefs with continuing education in vegan cooking and the art of vegan substitution. They could encourage vegan options on every restaurant menu by having representatives meet with chefs across the country, offering them delicious vegan recipes for every course (no steamed vegetables over rice, please!). And they could promote vegan-friendly restaurants and have campaigns to create vegan-friendly cities.
Imagine an incentive-based campaign such as “Vegan Nashville” or “Vegan Topeka” that set out to expand vegan options in a particular city. Such a campaign could have certain benchmarks a city must meet in order to earn the distinction of being “vegan-friendly” and be promoted accordingly. These benchmarks could include clearly labeled vegan options on restaurant menus, vegan options at school cafeterias, vegan-friendly tourist accommodations, and more.
In an era of mass consumerism, national animal rights organizations could promote vegan products to give them wider appeal. Vegan “wiener mobiles” and ice cream trucks could travel across the country offering free samples of veggie dogs, veggie burgers, vegan ice cream, and other vegan treats. Cash-strapped schools could be given subsidized vegan lunches to create new generations of future vegans. Animal rights groups could offer free vegan cooking classes around the country, introducing people to the concept of vegan substitution. They could push for vegan labeling laws that, like kosher certifications, would make identifying vegan products quick and easy. Billboards could draw attention to how easy it is to replace meat, eggs, and dairy products with vegan alternatives, as well as how familiar and delicious vegan food can be. And animal rights groups could create and expand opportunities for people to meet and fall in love with rescued pigs, chickens, and cows.
All this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Indeed, there is so much more our nation’s animal protection groups can and should be doing to help Americans overcome the single greatest roadblock preventing more people from eating a humane diet: the infrastructure we have inherited that favors the eating of animals and their products, and that therefore makes it hard, rather than easy, for people to do the right thing. Laying this important foundation for more widespread veganism is a desperately needed step in weaning Americans off products which cause so much cruelty, suffering and death. But instead of doing so, the nation’s wealthiest animal protection organization funds and perpetuates, rather than challenges, those who treat animals not as living beings with rights independent of their usefulness to humans but literally as pieces of meat.
That is not to say we embrace an “all or nothing” approach to social change, as all or nothing often means nothing for the animals. We applauded when Proposition 2 passed in California outlawing battery cages for chickens even though we’d like to see laws banning the eating of chickens. We support laws banning the gas chamber for killing companion animals in pounds and so-called “shelters” even though we’d like to see laws banning the killing of animals in pounds and so-called “shelters.” We believe we should never sacrifice our principles or our ultimate goals, but we also believe that pragmatism bent on success should be our guide, rather than ineffectual and unyielding dogma that leaves animals to continue suffering egregiously and unnecessarily when the means and public will exist to eliminate certain forms of cruelty. An activist can support incremental reform while also believing that abolition is the ultimate goal.
And so while we still believe that ending battery cages is not enough, we support efforts to make life for animals, however short, more bearable. Admittedly, we feel a bit dirty supporting “humane” farming laws. After all, humanely raised “meat” or eggs is oxymoronic. And ultimately, as we say in our book, we do not need “cage-free” or “free-range” chicken nuggets, we need chicken-free “chicken” nuggets. However we don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. We will continue to promote veganism, even as we support efforts to make life on a factory farm more bearable. But–and here’s the crux–it is not the job of an “animal protection” organization to fund businesses that exploit and ultimately kill animals so that they will treat them better before cutting off their heads. It is their job to seek laws to force them to do so. As Proposition 2 in California proved, Americans–including Americans who eat animals–are willing to do so.
Even taking the ASPCA at face value, their argument that the animals at the farm they are funding will be treated with compassion and respect is simply not true: where there is no respect for life, there is no regard for welfare. The distinction between animal welfare and animal rights is, quite simply, a fabrication used to justify exploitation and killing. And that exploitation and killing now comes with an ASPCA seal of approval.