For a deeper understanding

The texts below are taken with some modifications from Estiva Reus and Antoine Comiti, Meat Abolition, published in Cahiers antispécistes n°29 (February 2008) and edited as a booklet. This text presents detailed arguments for abolition, explaining why fundamental ethical choices should lead us to this option and why abolition is the only reasonable goal for the affected animals, both from an ethical and an environmental standpoint.

Is abolition an utopia?
The reconversion (providing for the future of former animal exploitation workers)
Some fishing facts
For a sentience-based ecology
Making the abolition project part of the world today
Feet on the ground, head in the stars

Is abolition an utopia?

The idea expressed here is that we must now work explicitly towards the legal banning of the production and consumption of animal flesh. It is both a necessary and  possible to obtain this without waiting for a revolution in the way of thinking or the organisation of our societies.

The international movement for the abolition of meat, also called movement to close down slaughterhouses promotes the following position:

Because meat production involves killing animals,
because their living and slaughtering conditions cause them to suffer,
because eating meat isn’t necessary,
because sentient beings shouldn’t be mistreated or killed unnecessarily,

farming, fishing and hunting animals for their flesh, as well as selling and eating animal flesh, should be abolished.

“Animals should not be harmed or killed unnecessarily”: throughout the world, this principle is generally accepted. Throughout the world, the consumption of animal products for food is the main reason why humans harm and kill animals without necessity. This principle is not without consequence: some people refuse to consume products of animal exploitation, others reduce their meat consumption, still others choose products from farms that offer some guarantee on how the animals are treated; some countries pass laws protecting farm animals. But this is not enough to reverse the trend: the number of animals raised and fished in the world is growing constantly, and factory farms have become the norm. It is illusory to wait for laws protecting animal welfare to finally ensure decent conditions for the billions of animals eaten every year: it is difficult for farmers to put the well-being of animals before the profitability of their farm, and there is neither enough space nor a big enough workforce to properly care for so many animals.

Recognising the fact that the production of animal flesh has disastrous environmental impacts will not necessarily lead to an improvement in the fate of animals: if the animals’ interests are not taken into account as such, this recognition may, on the contrary, lead to more intensive farming.

The contrast between the obligations we recognise having towards animals, and the way in which we actually treat them, does not imply that our declared good intentions are mere hypocrisy.What we learn from this contrast, however, is that spontaneous changes in consumer behaviour are not sufficient to put an end to the butchery. There are reasons for this. The situation is familiar: the problems of road safety, pollution, human poverty or child abuse cannot be solved by relying solely on the capacity of each person to modify their way of life.

To bring to an end the hideous fate awaiting the animals that we eat, the problem should be raised at a political level. A process must be begun which will finish by laws being passed to ban predation (hunting and fishing) and production (farming) of animals for human consumption. Public institutions also have a role to play in retraining workers who depend on these activities.This process begins by the public expression of the demand for the abolition of meat.

The reconversion (providing for the future of former animal exploitation workers)

Taking political action to abolish tthe production, marketing and consumption of animal flesh will raise the question of the future of the people who live from farming or fishing, and of possible government intervention to facilitate their career change.

Workers in animal exploitation industries

Most commercialized animal flesh is industrially produced. The jobs available are mostly for low skill work, which is both physically and psychologically taxing. Most workers don’t stay long in these jobs, and most of them come from socially disadvantaged groups. Acts of deliberate cruelty are sometimes perpetrated on animals, but for the most part the workers’ violence is inherent in the organization and the purpose of the job. They cannot carry out the tasks for which they are responsible without neglecting, mistreating or killing animals. Some workers may be indifferent; this is not the general rule. The employees assigned to these tasks are aware of the brutality of the world they work in, and of the need to harden themselves in order to carry out the work. Sometimes their own insensitivity frightens them when they realise they are mechanically doing what at first seemed repulsive. [...]

Small producers in developing countries

At the other extreme of production models, fishing and farming practiced with low or no capital investment represents a resource for many families in poor countries. [...] The livelihood of 120 million people depends (most often partially) on fishing, with a large proportion (in employment terms) of traditional fishing carried out by the poorest populations. [...]

Helping animal industry workers change career

Although animal flesh is not necessary for healthy human nutrition, it ensures an income to the workers who currently produce it. No coherent ethics would support an activity simply because it creates jobs. (Should efforts to prevent disease or wars be abandoned in order to safeguard jobs in the pharmaceutical or armaments industries?) On the other hand it is realistic – and ethical – to ensure the future of those who earn their living in animal production when we plan to abolish these activities.

Millions of poor families will not abandon farming or fishing if this involves going from great poverty to extreme poverty. Abolition is only possible if policies are created to help them work in other sectors. Incentives may also prove necessary to facilitate the transport of plant products towards zones which neither produce nor import enough to feed the human populations.

One might add that the activity of small, poor producers is already compromised, irrespective of the abolition of flesh-producing and flesh-consuming activities. The rapid disappearance of small farms shows they are economic dead-ends  in the context of current evolutions in agriculture. A social backlash can only be avoided by policies aimed at developing jobs in other sectors.

When fishing, animal farming and derived activities form part of a richer economic fabric, the decline of these sectors has no long term negative consequences. Many industries have disappeared in the past: demand is reoriented towards other sectors, providing new jobs. The fact remains that economic difficulties linked to the disappearance of animal industries will target particular populations in particular geographic regions, leading local population to fear for their economic security. Besides, disappearing jobs are not necessarily replaced by new jobs right away, risking drops in income. Even when these adjustment delays are absent, the jobs that are lost and the jobs that are created may not carry the same social weight. The former belong to workers in well-established positions, who will resist a deterioration of their situation in exchange for new jobs with low benefits in which they gave no experience. This asymmetry adds weight to the perception that public opinion has of such evolutions: one can sympathize more easily with identifiable people, who show their anxiety when faced with impending losses than with the unknown beneficiaries of new jobs and the mostly invisible suffering of the farmed or fished animals. This is why we will be more successful at leading our societies out of the age of animal flesh if we avoid getting bogged down in the false alternative “save jobs or save animals”. The future of workers in livestock farming or fishing is a question that some abolition supporters should take on by devising and promoting policies aimed at restructuring the economic livelihoods of all workers. This is one of the reasons why the question of animal flesh should be considered on the political level. The transition towards an economy from which animal industry will have disappeared will take place in better conditions for the workers concerned if all the means at the disposal of the public authorities are mobilised to this effect.

Providing an economic future for animal industry workers is not just a question of public opinion. There is no real conflict between ethics and realism. It is only fair that all citizens should contribute (if only as taxpayers) to the required economic adjustments, rather than having all the costs bear only on the workers of an industry that served the whole community. Many have as much – or as little – choice in what they consume as in what job they work in. And above all: the abolition of animal industry belongs to a movement towards a civilization more attentive to the needs of all sentient beings. It is not a question of enforcing some kind of reverse speciesism in which human sentience is discounted. To consider that it is the community’s duty to ensure that former animal industry workers find their rightful place in a less violent society will be evidence of this reinforced attention. It should also remove one of the obstacles to treating animals more fairly: the fear that the end of humanism will lead to a devaluation of the values and institutions which have been somewhat successful in fostering more peaceful relations between human beings, and in providing some solidarity.

For a sentience-based ecology

If human beings do not stop fishing, oceans will be practically empty in 2050. Fishing is a main cause of environmental destruction. More than global warming, more than farming, more than industrial pollution.

Halfway throught the century, oceans will be underwater deserts. Their inhabitants not deported, but massacred. When we speak of the deserted oceans of the future, aquatic animals are often thought as mere components of a single totality : the ocean.

But oceans are not merely “the environment” and aquatic animals are not mere components of an ecosystem : they have their own lives and explore their own space. These inhabitants are now facing extermination.

The following excerpt is adapted from the article :

A bearable environment: for whom?

The most urgent question to be asked is: Who is affected by the environment? For whom must this planet remain sustainably inhabitable?” Humans are not the only sentient beings on earth. Other animals also have an interest in enjoying habitats suited to their needs. Cages, nets and fish hooks are certainly not a decent environment for them. What is the meaning and value of “sustainable development” and “green growth” if it consists in making life impossible to endure for all those who share this planet with us?

Solving environmental problems caused by livestock farming through the abolition of the industry of flesh-eating is neither more difficult nor less beneficial than undertaking some complex reform toward an “ecologically-friendly” form of livestock farming. Even if we considered only the interests of human beings, better outcomes could be attained through abolition rather than reform of such an industry. From the point of view of the animals, the difference between the two options is infinite.

The movement for the abolition of flesh-eating must help humanity to progress towards an ecology grounded in sentience rather than humanism. We must manage the earth in the interest of all its sentient inhabitants. We must stop thinking about animals as “natural resources” to be used as we please as long as humanity’s long term interests are not compromised.

Making the abolition project part of the world today

Does the movement for the abolition of flesh-eating reduce its chances of becoming a political issue by the long-term nature of its demands? No parliament or government will decide to prohibit the use of animals as food in the near future; no big political party of our time will integrate such demands in its programme. Consequently, if the movement is seen as asking nothing less than the final event which would seal its success (i.e. total abolition), it risks having practically no influence on the current themes of day to day political life.

However, there is no reason why things should be like this. There are a host of partial measures which are consistent with progress towards abolition. Such measures include : reducing and eventually ending subsidies to livestock farming and fishing, taxing meat and fish, ensuring respect for the right not to eat meat in schools, workplaces and community restaurants, discouraging young people from entering the livestock and fishing trades (and all associated trades), preventing the opening or extension of livestock farms, debunking propaganda that presents animal products as indispensable to our health and obtaining the prohibition of the production and importation of kinds of flesh produced in particularly horrible conditions. Businesses, distribution networks, and private individuals can create flesh-free zones on their own territory.

Supporting the abolition of flesh-eating does not necessarily imply cutting all ties with those who are working towards improving farming conditions and protesting against factory farms. There are varying opinions within the movement for the abolition of flesh-eating about “welfarist demands”. Such demands are expressions of the attention given to the plight of animals in our societies. In fact, to attack factory farming is to attack practically all livestock farming. Many different points of convergence are possible, as long as they don’t encourage delusionary hopes that widespread animal well-being will soon be the norm in farms.

The demand for the abolition of flesh-eating does leave the efforts aimed at informing the public in the background. The aim is not to insist exclusively on a  more “collective” approach to the problem. No collective evolution can happen without winning the support of the members of society. The aim is to communicate with individuals as consumers and citizens, so that the two approaches are mutually strengthened.
Organisations for the protection of animals have already act on the different levels of decision-making : private individuals, political institutions, business and research institutes and civil society organisations, etc.).

The task of the movement for the abolition of flesh-eating is not an upheaval in the methods employed or the campaigns waged, even if new themes are added. Its primary task is to facilitate the reinterpretation of a multitude of approaches already in place and to associate these with new actors. Beyond their immediate objective, many of these actions will make sense as steps towards the abolition of flesh-eating, because this horizon will have been explicitly fixed, entering the public arena as a serious candidate for the possible future.

Abolition will not creep up on us, taking baby steps at a steady pace. Rather, there will be an acceleration and then a “jump” leading to complete abolition. Until this day, many partial measures may represent signs (and effective progress) that make the idea of the abolition of flesh-eating more credible and tangible. Those measures must be seen as preparations for the end of the mass killing of animals for human consumption.
The movement for the abolition of flesh-eating is also about speaking out: it exists because individuals and organisations declare themselves in favor of the prohibition of the consumption of animal flesh. It exists because this belief is seen as something more than a mere wish for a better world not destined to come true.

Feet on the ground, head in the stars

The abolition of flesh-eating is a reformist approach. We don’t need to revolutionize beliefs and social relations from top to bottom in order to install a radically new order. This is about bringing an operational response to a concrete problem: the hideous fate of animals that are killed to be eaten. Moreover, the abolition of flesh-eating would help safeguard the habitats of wild animals, would contribute to solving many food and health problems afflicting human beings, and would preserve the planet for the sake of its future inhabitants.

What would be utopian is not to aim for the abolition of flesh-eating, thinking that we are on our way towards a provinding decent life and death and conditions for the animals that are bred for food, hunted or fished. This will not happen. Even less in the context where controlling environmental damage caused by rapidly expanding meat production is likely to become a motivating factor for even more intensive farming.

Although limited in its objective, the project for the abolition of flesh-eating aims at nothing less than the greatest reduction of suffering and death ever achieved. Through its aim and its means, it leads to a civilisation more attentive to all sentient beings affected by our choices. At the end of the journey, we may not have created a paradise on earth, but we will have put an end to the closest thing to hell.