The Myth of “Animal Welfare”

“Humane” Meat, Shelter Killing and How HSUS, the ASPCA, PETA, and AHA Enable Abuse & Killing of All Animals


To Vegans & Animal Rights Activists Who Support the Killing of Companion Animals:

Animal shelters in this country exist for primarily one purpose: to provide a safety-net of care for our nation’s homeless animals. With half of all animals entering our shelters being killed rather than given the new beginning that they not only deserve, but which the No Kill movement has proven unequivocally is possible, to say that most of our animal shelters are failing in their mission is a gross understatement. But the betrayal goes even deeper than the killing, although by far that is the greatest harm. Because in addition to taking the lives of four million animals a year, animal shelters in this country are rife with abuse and neglect as well. Why? Because they kill.

Studies of slaughterhouse workers have found that in order to cope with the fact that they are paid to kill day in and day out, self-preservation motivates those workers to devalue animals in order to make what they are doing less morally reprehensible. In other words, the workers make the animals unworthy of any consideration on their behalf. The two most common methods of achieving this are indifference to animal suffering and even intensifying it, becoming sadistic toward the animals. In too many communities, the implications for shelters are frightening: American shelters are themselves frequently little more than slaughterhouses. By its very nature, therefore, shelter killing breeds a lack of compassion and caring for animals.

And not only do people in shelters work at a place that commits this ultimate form of violence, they have, in fact, been hired to do exactly that. Can we really be surprised when they don’t clean thoroughly, don’t feed the animals, handle them too roughly, or neglect and abuse them? How does shoddy cleaning or rough handling or failing to feed the animals compare with putting an animal to death? Because shelter workers understand that they have the power to kill shelter animals, and will in fact kill many of them, every interaction they have with those animals is influenced by their perception that the animals do not matter, that their lives are cheap and expendable and that they are destined for the garbage heap.

The tragic state of American animal shelters proves that when the harm of killing animals is permissible, other kinds of harm are fostered as well. And that is why the historical distinction between “animal rights” and “animal welfare” is a false one. Where there is no respect for life, there is no regard for welfare.

Indeed, the right to life should be the bedrock of any movement that claims to be rights-based, as the animal rights movement by its very name, does. Not only because each animal, like each of us, has an inalienable right to life, but because all the other things the animal protection movement claims to be seeking on behalf of animals are impossible without that first and most essential right. Without the right to life, no other “rights” can be guaranteed. How can we ensure animals the right to food, water, shelter and kind treatment, when those things can be taken away by killing?

Yet tragically, there is not a single, large national animal protection organization that represents a consistent moral philosophy for animals, one that advocates that animals have both a right to be free from suffering and a right to live. The ASPCA doesn’t. The Humane Society of the United States doesn’t. PETA doesn’t. And the American Humane Association doesn’t. And so their philosophy and actions on behalf of animals are inconsistent, sloppy, harmful and ultimately deadly.

With one hand, PETA passes out literature encouraging people to go vegan while the other hand injects thousands of animals, even species of animals raised for food, with a fatal dose of poison. HSUS claims to oppose the clubbing of baby seals in front of their mother, but gives a “Shelter We Love” award to a shelter where employees placed a mother cat and her kitten into a gas chamber with a raccoon so that they could watch the animals fight before turning on the gas, killing those animals slowly and painfully and laughing while they did so. The ASPCA’s makes millions on their now infamous commercials promising to protect abused and neglected animals in need even as they send the neediest of animals dropped on their doorstep down the street to be killed at one of the most abusive and filthy shelters in the nation and have allowed dogs to starve to death all over New York City. And last but by no means least, the American Humane Association, an organization that claims to be the “the nation’s voice for the protection of animals,” not only trains people to kill healthy companion animals with their “Euthanasia by Injection” workshops (“hands-on” workshops where living animals are killed) but condones, encourages and enables the suffering of millions of animals raised for food with their sham “Certified Humane” label which perpetuates the myth of humane meat.

Which of these harms would be permissible were these organizations to authentically represent a true animal rights philosophy, one that recognizes the inherent right to live of every animal? None of them. How could they justify their actions which lead to animal suffering and death in light of a concomitant belief that animals, like people, have an unalienable right to live? They couldn’t. And yet, paradoxically, because we criticize these groups for moral inconsistency that sabotages our cause and for actions that they take which undermine rather than further the rights and well-being of animals, we are constantly attacked by the very people who should share our concerns: our fellow animal rights activists and vegans.

We want those who claim to be vegan—who claim to care about the plight of animals raised for food—but who condemn us for criticizing the large, national groups they love for the actions they take which brutally harm companion animals to see what, exactly, they are enabling when they defend groups which claim to speak for animals but do not promote their right to live. We want them to see how they don’t just hurt dogs and cats whose lives and rights they so casually discard, but how they enable the suffering and killing of animals they do claim to care about—chickens, cows and pigs. We want them to see the crimes against animals which a belief in the myth of a “humane death” enables and which they, in turn, further enable by promoting the groups that champion such a myth.

Like HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA, the American Humane Association defends animal shelters that kill animals despite readily available lifesaving alternatives. AHA in fact, teaches people how to kill healthy and treatable animals and provides them with animals to kill. And so it should come as no surprise that when Foster Farms slits the throats of millions of chickens every year or when other factory farms put live, baby male chicks into a giant grinder because they don’t lay eggs or grow fast enough to provide maximum profitability to the industry. AHA does not condemn it. Instead, they give it a seal of approval.


Recently, Foster Farms announced that they were awarded the American Humane Association’s “Humane Certified” label which now appears on the package of every dead Foster Farms chicken sold in America. Thanks to AHA, American consumers will be lulled into a false sense of complacency that eating animals is consistent with being humane, that supporting a company that kills millions of animals a year is consistent with a belief in animal protection. Like HSUS and the ASPCA which likewise promote the myth that raising and killing animals for food can be “humane”–and like PETA which, in Ingrid Newkirk’s own words, does “not support right to life for animals” and who told the New York Times that when it comes to people eating animals, “screw the principles”–when AHA condones and enables harm to animals, when they call cooking the bodies of dead animals a “joy” and recipes which call for those bodies “scrumptious,” they do so on behalf of the entire animal protection movement.


According to AHA, Foster Farms raises its chickens in a humane manner. But, what, exactly, do they mean by “humane?”

Does it prevent animals from being kept in crowded indoor cages in warehouses? No.

Does it require chickens to be allowed to go outside, to get fresh air and sunlight, to be able to act in accordance with all of their instincts to ensure their happiness and psychological as well as physical well-being? No.

Does it mean you cannot cut the beaks of chicks? No.

Does it mean that you cannot place live, newborn male chicks into a grinder to be killed? No.

Does it prevent chickens from being hung upside down by the feet, electrically stunned, and then have their throats slit? No.

Does it mean you cannot cut the teeth of piglets? No.

Does it mean you cannot cut the tails off pigs? No.

Does it mean you cannot use an electric prod on cows? No.

Does it mean that you cannot use restraints to forcibly inseminate a cow or a pig? No.

Does it prevent castration of newborn calves by placing a rubber band around their scrotum to cut off blood supply? No.

And, like chickens, does it mean that these cows and pigs are not ultimately slaughtered? No.

Under what warped definition of “humane” can a process that ends with animals having their throats slit possibly qualify? The kind where Foster Farms pays AHA a royalty/certification fee to say so. Whether by selling out companion animals or those raised and then killed for food, it is evident that AHA and the other national organizations do not speak for the animals, but for the people and industries which harm them. The question becomes: why do those who should be their most ardent critics—vegans and animal rights activists—defend them?

The simple answer is that they have been taught to. With the lie that killing companion animals is a “necessity” and that the system of animal agriculture based on exploitation and killing can be “humane;” with the philosophy that no one within the animal protection movement is allowed to stand up for principles if it means speaking out against powerful organizations; in a movement in which cults of personality are everything and names like Newkirk, Pacelle and others demand unquestioned allegiance even when they consistently betray the cause they have pledged to protect; and by selling a model of dependency where activism means donating and deferring to large organizations rather than empowering the grassroots to effect local, and by extension, national change, these groups not only shield themselves from scrutiny and accountability for their harmful actions, but they have taught legions of activists to regard the most sincere and authentic voices within the animal protection movement—those who question the prevailing dogma and who argue that all animals have an inalienable right to live—as dangerous and threatening instead.

Whether it packaged as “humane meat” or “pet overpopulation,” the idea that killing animals is acceptable if done for the right reasons, by the right people or under the right circumstances are merely different manifestations of the same insidious lie that permeates and hinders the animal protection movement at the beginning of the 21st century: that killing animals who are not suffering can be humane. It can’t. It isn’t. And if you are a person who is going to claim to speak on behalf of animals, then authenticity, morality, and integrity compel you to challenge and stand up to this pernicious idea and the groups that perpetuate it.


For further reading:

ASPCA Donates to Kill Chickens

Is It All Its Cracked Up to Be?


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