Discussion of the terms Abolitionist, Welfarist, and Animal Rights


I’ve just read Roger Yates’ blog post Neo-Welfarist Animal Liberationists where he introduces the term neo-welfare animal liberationists (N-WALs) in an attempt to use something that will be less objectionable to the people who Gary Francione terms new welfarists.

Traditional welfarists are people who care only about the treatment of animals but who support the use of animals for food, entertainment, research and other uses. Francione coined the term “new welfarist” to refer to those animal advocates who would like to see an end to such uses of animals but who believe that incremental welfare reforms will both ultimately lead to that goal and alleviate suffering in the meantime. Francione disagrees with this position and believes it undermines abolitionist efforts by presenting a confusing message, by making people more comfortable about their “humane” use of animals, by legitimizing and further entrenching the institution of animal slavery, and by taking away resources that would be better devoted to vegan education. Francione also argues, from his experience as a lawyer, animal rights theorist and activist, that such reforms do not lead to fewer deaths or substantially better conditions for nonhuman animals.

The so-called new welfarists object to the term because they feel it lumps them in with conventional welfarists. Since their ultimate goal is the abolition of the use of animals as property, the “new welfarists” find the term offensive and misleading, and they point out that pursuing welfare reforms is only one part of a multi-pronged approach which also includes vegan education. They call themselves abolitionists since they advocate welfarism (among other approaches) as a way of moving towards abolitionism. They believe welfare reform will lead to shifting attitudes that will eventually lead to an end to animal abuse. Francione and some of his supporters argue that the label new welfarists is accurate simply because they promote welfare reforms, and the largest such organizations like PeTA devote most of their resources to promoting and publicizing welfare reform measures. Francione and Dan Cudahy, one of the commenters below, insist that new welfarism and abolitionism have nothing to do with each other.

Yates agrees that the new welfarist label is accurate but was hoping to find a term that the so-called new welfarists would be comfortable with. He is concerned with the fact that the term “animal rights” has lost the clear original meaning in which Francione and Regan use it. He believes that the so-called new welfarists are rightly called abolitionists, but should not associate themselves with the animal rights term or movement. I think this is an interesting point, although I’m not sure I agree with it, since some of the people in this group are in favor of animal rights, even if the leadership of PeTA approaches the issue from a utilitarian rather than a rights-based philosophy.

By way of background for those who are unfamiliar with utilitarian philosophy, utilitarianism generally deals with maximizing happiness/pleasure and minimizing suffering/unhappiness. The preference utilitarian view of Peter Singer  is based on equal consideration of interests, which may lead to different treatment and different rights. According to utilitarians, rights are relevant only to the extent that they increase or decrease happiness or the ability to pursue one’s interests. That’s why rights-based abolitionists object so strongly to the term “animal rights” being used by or applied to PeTA and to followers of Singer. Singer is a utilitarian and has never been interested in rights, although unfortunately on occasion he has used the term for the sake of convenience which has led to some confusion. The fact that he has been called “The Father of the Animal Rights Movement” (which even he finds strange) further adds to the confusion.

Utilitarians don’t object to the use of either nonhumans or humans, as long as no suffering is involved. Singer does not object to the use of animals for food or for other purposes that involve their death because he believes that while animals have an interest in the quality of their lives, they have no interest in continuing to live. He has no moral objection to using nonhumans for food as long as they are raised and slaughtered humanely. He has also said that there are possible scenarios where painful vivisection might be morally acceptable if the gain to humans were great enough.

It should be noted that not all utilitarians think alike. Negative utilitarians put more emphasis on the reduction of suffering than on the maximization of happiness. Negative utilitarian philosopher David Pearce does not agree with Singer that it’s morally acceptable to use and kill nonhuman animals for food, no matter how humanely they are treated. He does not believe that any experiment on nonhumans is acceptable that would not also be acceptable if performed on humans. Pearce has also pointed out that utilitarian and rights-based approaches are not necessarily incompatible.

I like the fact that Yates tried to come up with a term that the “new welfarists” would not object to, and I also think it would be good if those who do support rights were differentiated from the utilitarian ones who don’t. Yates says his proposed name was not well-received. If anyone has suggestions for names, please mention them in the comments. Maybe something that suggests the multi-pronged approach they take?

Yates’ blog post led to a long discussion in the comments section about different abolitionist approaches, between Matt, a reader who would be considered a new welfarist by Francione (but who himself rejects the term) and Roger Yates, Dan Cudahy and Gary Francione. The exchange went on for over a month and is more than 30,000 words long. It is often repetitive but there are some interesting things brought up on both sides. I have summarized some of the main points and given excerpts here, but at the very least I recommend reading the initial post, reader Matt’s initial comment and Roger Yates’ response. If you read on and want to give up reading after Gary Francione’s two comments, you won’t miss much.

One of the things discussed in the comments was the common objection that Francione-type abolitionism is too hard and too radical for most people, or at the very least too inconvenient. I tend to agree with the people who argue that it really isn’t that hard, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that most people still aren’t willing to do it. And no matter how hard it is, I’m surprised when the difficulty of becoming vegan is used as an argument for supporting welfarist reforms as it is here by Matt, the “new welfarist.” The difficulty of becoming vegan is not related to the number or effectiveness of welfare reforms enacted. People’s continued resistance is an indication that we need to find ways to make it easier and more convenient to become vegan, both dietarily and socially. I think it would be worthwhile to devote more resources to getting more and better meat and cheese alternatives on the market, and making vegan choices more accessible and more socially acceptable. I also agree with Dan, who wrote: “The more vegan education that happens, the easier it will be to go vegan.”

Here’s my summary/abridged version of the post and the comments that followed. As you are reading, please keep in mind that this is not the complete exchange. I’ve attempted to pull out the most important points and remove most of the parts that are repetitive, irrelevant, and merely argumentative, and in so doing, shaved off about 25,000 words. It’s possible that the people involved in the discussion would object to having only parts of their arguments read, so to get a truly accurate understanding of the views represented, please read the whole thing. This is just to give an overall impression of the discussion and what seemed like the most important parts to me.

Roger Yates starts out by reprinting excerpts from earlier forum posts of his:

I think I might try the notion of ‘neo-welfare animal liberationists’ (N-WALs) to differentiate such people from rights-based animal rights advocates for a while.

My chief concern is misrepresentation. As we know the KFC campaign is led by PeTA who insist on (1) calling themselves the ‘biggest animal rights organisation in the world’ while adopting Peter Singer’s utilitarianism for their philosophy on human-nonhuman relations and (2) deliberately calling Singer’s position a rights-based one consisting of animal rights philosophy.
The latter is a blatant lie but they care not about that. For his part, Singer tells me to stop wasting my time trying to persuade PeTA to alter their claims. Since I realise that Singer regards moral rights as ‘nonsense’, following Bentham, I cannot expect him to care much about the aspirations of rights-based animal advocates. It seems that PeTA are in the same boat.

In recent debates involving two leading reps of PeTA they both said that they use the term ‘rights’ as a convenience (Singer uses rights as ‘political shorthand’).

Neo-welfare animal liberationists believe that their reforms can lead to animal rights – they would seriously claim that ‘pushing’ KFC to gas chickens is a step toward that goal. So, in this sense, in the internal logic of the argument, they are entitled to regard themselves as abolitionists – what they cannot do is characterise themselves as animal rights advocates without doing violence to animal rights theory.


One major problem with it is that we have the major organisations within the animal protection movement moving AWAY from veganism and presenting veganism as just another option. Neo-welfare animal liberationists use terms like ‘veg*n’ and use the terms ‘vegan’ and vegetarian’ interchangeably as though they are in the same ethical region.

They certify meats as ‘humane’ and suggest that one can be a ‘conscientious omnivore’. Francione points out that Singer has begun to talk about veganism as a ‘fanatical’ position and suggests that advocates can have the ‘luxury’ of not being vegan sometimes – but he always did have such views in terms of the logic of his utilitarian position which is not opposed to killing nonhumans painlessly and replacing them with others and has said consistently since Animal Liberation that he cannot see a major ethical problem with free range farming. Essentially his position is firm on factory farming from the cruelty angle but then it gets all wobbly on less intensive use systems.

Yates summarizes by writing: “I am less concerned that such groups regard themselves as abolitionists than the fact that they may be characterised as animal rights mobilisations.”

A commenter named Matt attempted to explain his position. He is what Francione would call a new welfarist, but he considers himself an incremental abolitionist (a term that many Francione supporters would like to claim for themselves). He writes: “Some animal rights activists see welfare reforms as a pragmatic method to realize the goal of animal liberation… No abolitionist would support a welfarist organization.”

He is offended by Francione’s term new welfarist and his position in general towards anyone who supports welfare reforms for any reason. “Francione deliberately used the term ‘new welfarist’ to refer to abolitionists who take the incremental, welfare reform, approach to animal liberation because it is inflammatory and insulting.”

He points out that he is in favor of vegan education but wants to do other things to reduce the suffering of animals in the meantime. “I think that we certainly should advocate veganism to the general public. Everyone can change his or her own diet and lifestyle. But, in the meantime, while we work on getting people to go vegan, billions of animals are still suffering on factory farms and agribusiness is profiting.”

Yates responds to some examples given by Matt of welfare reforms that he (Matt) believes could lead to reduced animal use.

I do know that some advocates say one can successfully use animal welfarism ‘tactically’ to end some animal use. You say the Chicago example is such a case. Eliminate the use of bullhooks, you say, and bingo!, end of elephant circuses. Why? Elephants cannot be controlled without them? There is no substitute for a bullhook? Let us say you are right and the advocates are ‘tactically’ calling for the end of bullhook use because it is cruel and harms the welfare of the elephants and the public might agree. The circus people say they must use bullhooks but accept there are cruel and non-cruel ways of using them. Since we are in the purview of animal welfarism, those who decide this matter are likely to apply the welfarist ‘cornerstone’ concept of not causing ‘unnecessary suffering’ and ask, ‘how do circuses usually control elephants.’

It is pretty likely that the result will be a tightening of the regulation of elephant use by the means of bullhooks – the complaint is articulated around the cruelty, not the use or control, right? So, already we get embroiled in the messy business of regulating atrocities. In the meantime, energy, money and time will have been diverted away from vegan education: the very best thing we can engage in for animal rights.

Too often this false choice is presented: do vegan education that gets virtually nowhere and takes hundreds of years –v- bringing about meaningful welfare reforms which really help nonhuman animals and can be achieved quickly.

You talk about the gestation crate ban in Florida. This is an animal rights goal, is it, to get these crates banned in Florida? Do people in Florida eat less pig flesh as a result or does it get shipped in? For vegans in Florida, of course, it matters not where the bits of pigs come from because they do not eat pigs. What’s the score in Florida now, animal welfare-wise? Do you have any way of telling? Do you know, for example, if you can be sure – is there any way of measuring – that more pig flesh from places with worse welfare standards than originally pertained in Florida is not being sold there now? Overall, welfare-wise, is it not possible that the situation is worse now? I am far from sure that these welfare measures do all that is claimed for them. After all, most often the nonhumans concerned are left in the hands of the same speciesists who were exploiting them before.

In his work, Francione explains the merits of the abolitionist position, which you say he does not do fairly.However, I suspect you mean by this that the rights-based position contains within it a critique of animal welfarism, be it traditional or new. but developed during and since Francione was acting as PeTA’s lawyer and after he began to see how the animal protection movement was busy watering down the notion of veganism as a baseline position and relying more and more on welfare reforms for their ‘victories’….

You write, “Everyone can change his or her own diet and lifestyle. But, in the meantime, while we work on getting people to go vegan, billions of animals are still suffering on factory farms and agribusiness is profiting.” Is it not the case that, while we work on anything, billions of animals will suffer on factory farms? The issue is what we work on, why, and what our claims-making is based on. Or, are we back to the notion that welfare comes easy and quickly and with meaningful change while abolition or rights will never come?

Matt responds:
… In my experience the people in the trenches often view things more pragmatically than the theorists. I think Martin Balluch wrote a great analysis of this pragmatic approach to animal liberation here:

In my own experience, I have noticed similar changes in people’s view of animals because of welfare concerns. I used to think that vegan advocacy was the most important thing to do because more animals are suffering in the “food animal” industries than any other industry and because if someone goes vegan they are likely to also reject fur, animal testing and animal based circuses. But then I started to meet a lot of people who were outraged by the abuse of elephants in the circus who started to get more involved in animal rights and eventually decided to go vegan. Many of these people said they would have never considered veganism before because they thought it was too radical. But after becoming more exposed to the concept of veganism and animal rights through a moderate animal welfare reform campaign such as banning bullhooks in Chicago, the concepts of veganism and animal rights started to seem less daunting to them.

In the same way, Prop 2 in California was clearly an animal welfare campaign with no obvious animal rights agenda. However, millions of people were exposed to the atrocities of factory farming because of Prop 2. Many of these people never considered animal rights or veganism because they thought it was too radical. But after being exposed to the issue via a more moderate campaign they started to think about the issues differently and eventually went vegan and became ardent animal rights supporters.

In my experience, pure vegan education is meaningful and we should all be doing that. But when we fail to recognize that welfare reforms can also play a significant role in moving society’s attitudes about animals along the continuum toward animal rights then we are missing something very important. Relatively few people are prepared to make a radical change in their lives. We are social animals and going against the norm is so extremely uncomfortable that many of us would rather die than be considered radical or worse, an outcast from society.

If we are to succeed as animal rights activists, we have to move away from this “all or nothing” mentality and start to work within the framework of human psychology and sociology. Welfare reforms play a very important role in moving society as a whole toward considering the rights of animals more seriously. As more people start to consider animal rights, the pure vegan education methodology will become more effective. Ideally, we will reach the critical mass needed to overturn the pervading dogma that humans can treat other animals however they please.

But again, my problem with Francione and others is the intentionally divisive and slanderous rhetoric they use against people and organization that are on his side. He can disagree with the methods of PETA and others all he wants and in some cases I may even agree with him. But when he falsely labels animal rights activists who see the importance of welfare reforms for the realization of animal rights as people who think it is okay to use animals (or welfarists) than I take issue with his position… We are all on the same side, but as long as there are those who will slander the positions of those with whom they disagree, we are not going to get anywhere.

I do not think it is okay to use animals for any reason. However, I also realize that the majority of society is at the opposite end of the continuum from me and I think that welfare reforms can be used as a sort of bridge to bring people over to my way of thinking. Very few people are willing to leap across a vast ideological chasm, but many will take a bridge across if you make one available to them.
At this point Dan Cudahy joins the discussion and writes:
Even if I were to accept your position on advocacy (and I do not at all), the facts are that the majority of the money and effort of the corporate welfare organizations that Francione criticizes goes toward welfare reform and goes toward welfare reform as a matter of Singer-style utilitarian *principle*.

PETA and HSUS are the abolitionist movements biggest obstacles. Yes, they are bigger obstacles than agribusiness itself because the public looks to them as the “authority” on “animal rights”. That is pathetic and disturbing, but true.

Matt responds to Dan with:
I think the ultimate goal of an animal rights advocate should be the abolition of the human use of animals for any reason. Right? It doesn’t so much matter to me if that goal is realized through welfare reforms that lead to eventual animal liberation or the purist abolitionist approach if that can lead to animal liberation. All I am interested in is getting to animal liberation.If you call someone a welfarist you are saying that they think it is okay to use animals if it done so “humanely.” If you call someone who believes in total animal liberation as a goal and the welfare reform approach as a method a welfarist then you are not only being inaccurate, but you are being insulting and divisive.

…PETA clearly states that it believes animals are not ours to use for food, for clothing, for entertainment, for research or for any other reason. PETA thinks that the way to realize its goals of attaining 100% animal liberation may be to work for welfare reforms that serve to educate the public and cripple or weaken the industries involved in exploiting animals. You may disagree with PETA’s approach, but you would be disingenuous to call it a welfarist organization.

Dan’s response to that was:
PETA and HSUS have a ton of money, yet PETA uses most of it for welfarism. HSUS doesn’t even have the word “vegan” on their website (unless they’ve recently added it, which I seriously doubt). These groups could finance major public vegan education campaigns, teach people how and why to go vegan, but it’s more lucrative to buddy up to corporate agribusiness in an industry- welfarist partnership, so that’s what they do….The way I see it, there are two movements: 1) the abolitionist movement, which promotes veganism as the only way to respect the important interests of sentient nonhumans and rejects and criticizes any and all forms of welfare reform, whether the reform is thought to be an end in itself or a means to an end; and 2) the welfarist movement, which consists of everyone who wants to reform animal exploitation and murder, some as an end in itself and others as a means or “tool” to “reduce suffering”, sometimes even to “dismantle factory farming” and wants to get along and go along with animal exploiters of all stripes, as long as they reform or “take a step in the right direction” (which is welfarese for “VICTORY! Send us your donations!).

…For more information on why I think like I do and for many more arguments, read Gary Francione’s Rain Without Thunder (have you bothered to read that book?); read all of Francione’s blog, and read the following links:
http://abolitionistanimalrights.blogspot.com/index.htmlMatt responds:

I would only support welfare reforms that were strategically designed to educate the public about veganism and to cripple the ability of animal exploiting industries to exploit animals. Welfarist ideology has no place in the animal rights movement. Welfarist tactics can sometimes be used to achieve animal rights goals.You say: “PETA and HSUS have a ton of money, yet PETA uses most of it for welfarism. HSUS doesn’t even have the word “vegan” on their website (unless they’ve recently added it, which I seriously doubt). These groups could finance major public vegan education campaigns, teach people how and why to go vegan, but it’s more lucrative to buddy up to corporate agribusiness in an industry- welfarist partnership, so that’s what they do.”

PETA’s annual budget is about $30 million. HSUS’s annual budget is about “$120 million. KFC’s annual advertising budget is about $200 million. $30 million dollars may sound like a lot to you and me, but when you consider that PETA’s entire budget is only a small fraction of just one fast food companies advertising budget, you start to see that PETA isn’t really that rich after all. PETA could spend its entire budget on vegan advertising and still not come close to the advertising capabilities of just one fast food company.

In addition to promoting some welfare reforms in the industry, PETA does a lot of vegan education. It’s website GoVeg.com is an award winning website that surely has convinced hundreds of thousands of people to go vegan: GoVeg.com: http://www.goveg.com/. GoVeg.com has lots of tips for activists to promote veganism and PETA will even give activists free materials and lots of personal advice to promote veganism. I have gotten thousands of dollars worth of free vegan promotional literature from PETA over the years. It’s http://www.vegcooking.com is designed to help the restaurant industry add vegan options to menus and provides restaurants and chefs with the resources they need to offer vegan items to customers. It also has lots of advice and resources for activists to use to promote veganism to the restaurants in their areas. Nowhere, on any PETA website do they promote anything that isn’t vegan. They don’t promote “humane” meat, dairy, eggs, honey, silk or anything else. It’s all 100% vegan. All of their literature promotes 100% veganism. At the same time PETA promotes veganism, it also uses other methods (some I agree with, others I don’t) in an effort to promote kindness to animals and ultimately achieve animal liberation. It’s a multi-pronged approach.

When a vastly weaker army is confronted with a vastly superior army, the weaker army has to make compromises. It has to sacrifice some of its soldiers. It has to use guerilla tactics, espionage, and many other methods all together in a concerted effort to even stand a chance of victory…. A multiplicity of methods is in order. That doesn’t mean that every tactic that someone comes up with is right, it just means that we need to be open to any and all ideas if we are going to win this war. Saying you have the one and only right answer is just not going to cut it.

If we can bring people who are way on the other side of the fence a little closer to our position with welfarist reforms then I support that. Once those people start agreeing that animals deserve some consideration that may make it easier to use vegan education to bring them 100% in line with our ideology. I think that if we don’t offer some way for people who think that veganism and animal rights is too far removed from their current worldview to even consider some way to come closer to understanding our position, we are never going to win those people over – and sadly, those people make up the majority of the population.I’ve read almost all of the links you have provided already. I have been engaged in this debate for some time. I agree 100% with the animal rights ideology. I don’t disagree with the method of vegan education. I just don’t think that Francione and others who advocate for only vegan education and nothing else have convinced me of their position.

If PETA needs to promote some rather minor welfarist “victories” to keep the morale of its activist base up, to raise money to continue the fight, to get activists motivated and optimistic enough to keep working for animal liberation, then I say good for them. Promote every little victory that you can. Keep the conversations going. Keep the industry backpeddling.
Dan responds:
*Vegan Education Paradoxically Helps Encourage Welfare Reform*Vegan education – because of its inherent nature of educating about animal agriculture (among several other things) – paradoxically encourages welfare reform. One of three broad reactions arise when people are faced with vegan education as it relates to animal ag education: 1) indifference or sadistic enjoyment; 2) aversion, but not enough aversion to go vegan, and 3) aversion sufficient to go vegan. The group in category 2 are the ones who get interested in happy meat and welfare reform. They are a large, wealthy, and growing part of the population in industrialized nations. They are the ones buying happy meat, maybe going l-o veg, supporting HSUS and often PETA (they make up the vast majority of PETAs membership). Vegan education helps their ranks grow and does not hinder their progress except for a few of them eventual get exposed to enough vegan education to go vegan.

*Welfare Reform Hinders Vegan Education*

Welfare reform, on the other hand, not only has no causal nexus to veganism, but actually hinders efforts at vegan education by reinforcing the status quo that there’s no real need for veganism, especially when groups like HSUS and PETA are endorsing it. Sadly, the general public looks to HSUS and PETA as the authority on what “animal rights” people think. The general public is not aware of the differences between Gary Francione and PETA/Singer, and the differences are enormous. When PETA strikes a deal with KFC Canada, the public looks at it as an endorsement of KFC, and it is an endorsement!

*Welfarist Abolitionism: An Inherent Contradiction*

Which brings me to another point: the inherent contradiction of combining welfare reform efforts with efforts at vegan education and abolition. Lately, I’ve seen some new welfarists (what you call “incremental abolitionists”) criticize ‘humane’ animal products. Now these are folks who are vegan and should criticize ‘humane’ animal products – that’s not the problem at all. The problem is that these people see criticizing support for welfare reforms as “divisive”, thereby lending support to ‘humane’ animal products. So on one hand, they are supporting welfare reform, but on the other hand, they are criticizing ‘humane’ animal products. This is contradictory. The lunacy must stop.

*A Philosophical Difference: The Primary Reason We’ll Never Agree at the Superficial Level Unless We Agree Philosophically*

Abolitionists are concerned to abolish the use or exploitation of animals. The use or exploitation is the core issue for abolitionists. We think of less cruel treatment as better than more cruel treatment, but treatment is not the core issue. The abolitionist view is essentially a deontological view (I say “essentially” because there are nuances within the broader deontological view and in meta-ethics on which abolitionists may disagree).

Welfarists and new welfarists (what you call “incremental abolitionists” [which, remember, is what I call us]) are concerned primarily about the treatment of animals. It would be fine and good with PETA, et al, if we all went vegan. That is, new welfarists think of abolition as better than no abolition, but the core issue for new welfarists is treatment. The new welfarist view is essentially utilitarian (again, “essentially” because there are also nuances here).

Abolitionists know as well as anyone that welfarism isn’t going away any sooner than animal exploitation is going away. Our criticism of welfarism in all forms is literally a criticism of animal exploitation itself. We will continue to state our case, and as Roger says, make our claims.

If people are receptive to welfare reform but not to veganism, it is because welfare reform requires either nothing or almost nothing from them, while veganism requires them to actually respect animals and the rights of animals (which REALLY is NOT that difficult!, welfarist claims notwithstanding).

Matt responds:
You say: “Welfare reform is always about bogus notions of ‘humane’ animal products for non-vegans.”Not true. Welfare reforms are about taking positive steps in the right direction toward alleviate unnecessary suffering for animals. They are about educating the public and making it more difficult for animal exploiters to do business. Abolitionists like myself do not see welfare reforms as an end point, but rather as a necessary rung in the ladder. Once battery cages are banned we don’t sit on our laurels, we start working on the next step toward abolishing the use of chickens altogether.

You say: “vegan education is the *only* thing that can possibly lead to more vegans”

That contradicts my own experience. In fact, I have witnessed many more people come to veganism through welfare reform activism than through direct vegan education. Like it or not, veganism and animal rights are considered “radical” and “scary” concepts. They exist outside the social norm and few people are willing to step outside of social norms and make changes to their lifestyle that could turn them into outcasts from society. However, many people care about animals and will get involved in a fight to alleviate their suffering. Many of the people who get involved in welfare reform campaigns do eventually lose their fear of social ostracism and take the plunge into veganism. I’ve witnessed it many times first hand.

You say: “Vegan Education Paradoxically Helps Encourage Welfare Reform”

Yes, that’s true.

You say that “welfare reform, on the other hand, not only has no causal nexus to veganism, but actually hinders efforts at vegan education by reinforcing the status quo that there’s no real need for veganism”

Not true. Welfare reform campaigns have a wider reach than vegan education alone because welfare reforms are easier (less radical) for the mainstream media. Since a greater number of people are reached via a welfare campaign, and many people choose to go vegan and adopt an animal rights philosophy after becoming involved in a welfare campaign, these welfare reform actions actually are great tools for introducing people to veganism. Compared to the number of these animal welfare reform advocates who go vegan after getting involved in a welfare campaign that is coupled with vegan education, I believe there are relatively few animal welfare reform advocates who decide to go the “humane” animal products route.

As for the general public, yes, welfare campaigns do encourage members of the general public to purchase “humane” animal products. But vegan education alone doesn’t convince the general public to do anything at all because veganism is so far outside the social norms.

So yes, when PETA strikes a deal with KFC to improve its welfare standards and offer vegan meal options, it is an endorsement of KFC. The general public will now think that KFC is better than other chicken joints. Now, those other chicken joints will have to make similar welfare reforms in order to compete with KFC. The chicken industry will now have to put a lot of time, money and energy into changing its business practices. That means less time and money that can be spent on advertising. The animals, though still killed and exploited, may have slightly better lives. Now the general public knows they can eat something vegan even at places like KFC, so veganism doesn’t seem so hard or outside of the social norms anymore. Now PETA’s vegan education efforts will be more successful. Many animal welfare advocates who were involved in the KFC campaign have become vegan after learning so much about the industry and by becoming more at ease with the vegan lifestyle through regular exposure to it. Sure, the general public takes PETA’s deal with KFC as an endorsement. So what? It wasn’t a final victory for the animals, but it was a major step in the right direction.

You say: “The problem is that these people see criticizing support for welfare reforms as “divisive”, thereby lending support to ‘humane’ animal products. So on one hand, they are supporting welfare reform, but on the other hand, they are criticizing ‘humane’ animal products. This is contradictory.”

I don’t think there is a contradiction at all. I am saying very clearly that it is not okay to use animals, even if it is done “humanely.” I can still support a campaign that educates people about animal rights and makes it harder for those who exploit animals to do business. You can believe in animal rights and still support campaigns aimed at eliminating the worst abuses of animals. If that makes some people think it is okay to eat “humane” meat, I can’t help that. Most of those people were eating meat anyway. But I can tell you from my own experiences that many people who eat meat and get involved in a welfare reform campaign end up going vegan.

You say: “Abolitionists are concerned to abolish the use or exploitation of animals.”

Yes, I agree. So the term abolitionist can be applied to myself and to groups like PETA.

You say: “Welfarists and new welfarists… are concerned primarily about the treatment of animals.”

That’s not entirely true. Welfarists are concerned primarily about the treatment of animals. “New welfarists” are concerned with to abolish the use or exploitation of animals and think that welfare reforms may help achieve that goal. Since so called “new welfarists” are primarily concerned to abolish the use or exploitation of animals, then they are abolitionists, not welfarists. The term welfarist is viewed as insulting and inaccurate to people who fall into this category because their primary concern is to abolish the exploitation of animals. The term welfarist implies otherwise and so I take issue with that word. I believe that Francione and others who use this word understand this point, but use the term welfarist anyway because it is so divisive.

“Neo-welfare animal liberationists” is certainly a better term because it at least includes these people in with the animal liberationists. Use whatever term you like. If you want people like me to agree with your position, then best to use a less offensive term.

You say: “If people are receptive to welfare reform but not to veganism, it is because welfare reform requires either nothing or almost nothing from them, while veganism requires them to actually respect animals and the rights of animals.”

Very true. Veganism also requires that people become social outcasts (in many circumstances). I’m not saying it isn’t possible or necessary (I went vegan overnight without a second thought) but going vegan in a non-vegan world does make life a lot more complicated. Some people simply do not have the will or the drive to stick with it for long. That’s why I think we need to strike at the roots – or chip away at the animal exploiter’s ability to do business. If it is more expensive, less convenient and less socially acceptable to eat factory farmed meat, then people will eat less of it and/or go vegan. If it then becomes more expensive, less convenient and less socially acceptable to eat “humane” meat, then people will eat less of it and more people will go vegan.

Dan responds:
You claim that welfare reforms make it more difficult for animal exploiters to do business. I disagree. I think welfare reforms are a strategic opportunity for animal exploiters to make people feel better about exploiting animals. I think welfare reforms are a “win-win” for corporate welfare organizations (like PETA) and industry. PETA gets victories and more donations. Industry gets moral public support from the welfare organizations.

It may be true that, as you say, many people who started out in welfare campaigns went vegan, but if you think that correlation is causal, I disagree. I think it is because they were exposed to vegan education and had contact with vegans. It is vegan education and the contact with vegans that *caused* these people to go vegan, not the welfare campaigns themselves. The only legitimate point you might have here is that welfare campaigns may attract the kind of non-vegans who are more likely to be influenced by vegan education, but to claim a causal connection is mistaken. Further, there are probably less expensive ways of attracting the kind of non-vegans who would be receptive to veganism than welfare reform campaigns.

You say that compared to the number of people who go vegan after getting involved in a welfare campaign coupled with vegan education, the number of people who decide to go the ‘humane’ animal products route are relatively few. That is hard to believe. However, I could believe it if the vegan education component is very strong among those involved, and perhaps it is. But that would only reinforce my claim that it is vegan education that is the cause of veganism, not welfare reform campaigns. In my experience, people who really believe in ‘humane’ animal products DON’T go vegan. In my experience, it takes serious vegan education to break people of the belief that ‘humane’ animal products are okay.

I think you wildly overestimate the economic burden of KFC, et al, changing its business practices. Here’s a question for you, Matt: Why do PETA and HSUS present welfare reforms in terms of their profitability to animal exploiters? The fact is, industry has been seriously looking into gassing chickens CAK (or CAS) for a few years now because of *profitability*. Yes, CAK requires less personnel costs, results in less damage to chicken carcasses, and over time, the capital investment is supposed to pay off huge. Not to mention the profitability that comes from better PR. Further, it is questionable how much less chickens will suffer since they will still be handled cruelly in transportation, including all of the sadistic torture that bored workers put them through. For more information on the profitability of CAK, see the following link:


Francione and others (including myself) use “new welfarist” because it is accurate as defined and we are frustrated with the overwhelming focus of time and effort of the likes of PETA and Farm Sanctuary, including many vegans, on welfare reform efforts. We are also frustrated with the idea of veganism as merely “a(n) (optional) tool to reduce suffering” and merely “a boycott of cruelty” rather than as a moral baseline, or minimum standard, of a movement that seeks to abolish animal exploitation. When people see veganism as a “tool” or a “boycott”, it is no wonder that they go back to eating ‘humane’ animal products after they find animal products that they consider ‘humane’.

PETA promotes Peter Singer as the “Father of the Animal Rights Movement”, but Singer sees nothing wrong with consuming so-called ‘humane’ animal products. As long as PETA, et al, promote welfare reform, don’t see veganism as a moral baseline or minimum acceptable standard, and promote Singer as “our father”, we will call PETA, et al, new welfarists.

I disagree with you 100% that veganism “requires that people become social outcasts (in many circumstances)”. Wow. I’m almost speechless. While it is true that veganism can be extremely difficult for children due to parents, even up through high school, for normal adults veganism most certainly does NOT require one to “become [a] social outcast.” Matt, I live in the middle of ranch and rodeo country. I’m a partner in a CPA firm. Most of my clients (which are mostly local governments), many of them in very rural, animal exploiting ranch and rodeo areas, know I’m vegan and they also know why. They get along with me fine. In fact, most of them love working with me. I even go to lunch with them occasionally and if there is any avoidance of lunch, it’s on my end, not theirs. I have non-vegan friends, most of whom I’ve had since before I went vegan. I’m anything but a social outcast. Granted, if I started bringing up veganism all the time, I probably would be shunned to the extent that I did. But with people I deal with on a regular basis, I think living by example is the best advocacy. They will come to respect “radical abolitionist animal rights activists” by knowing and getting along with me for years. They may even go vegan themselves someday. People don’t refuse veganism because they’re afraid of being social outcasts (with a few exceptions); rather, they refuse it because they are not sufficiently educated about veganism (the how and why and how good vegan food actually is) and because it is socially acceptable to be non-vegan. We really have to get away from this notion that “veganism is difficult” if we are to move forward at all.
You talk about making it easier to go vegan. The more vegan education that happens, the easier it will be to go vegan.

You say you support the banning of battery cages, but oppose “cage-free eggs”. Public support of banning cages, especially heavy public support (e.g. PETA), is an implicit support of cage-free eggs, whether you like it or not. We can use battery cage information, slaughtering method information, and other information in our vegan education, but we should always criticize all exploitation of all forms. Because of our use of cage information in our vegan education materials, industry might try to eliminate them as a strategy move, but we should not be their advisers on how to exploit animals “better”. This speaks to the point I made earlier that you ignored: new welfarists are concerned primarily with *treatment* or *how* animals are exploited, and eventually want abolition, but now is not the time for that. Abolitionists are concerned primarily with abolishing exploitation eventually and incrementally via vegan education and see welfare reform as a strategic goal of animal exploiters.

Matt responds:
I admit that it is vegan education that “causes” people to go vegan in the scenario I presented, but it is the welfare reform campaign that attracted their interest to begin with. Without the welfare campaign, many people who view veganism as too radical will not even consider going vegan. That is why I say you sometimes need both the welfare reform campaign and the vegan education working together – like PETA does.

PETA promotes Singer as the “father of the animal rights movement” because he is historically viewed as such. His book Animal Liberation may have inspired PETA, but he isn’t on PETA’s board nor does he have any direct influence on the organization. Equating PETA with Peter Singer is another one of the misleading tactics that Francione uses that I find unpalatable. PETA cannot be held responsible for everything that every animal rights or animal welfare advocate ever says. PETA only has control over its own messaging.

As long as PETA’s goal is animal liberation and the organization offers some reasonable justifications for its welfare reform efforts as a means to achieve animal liberation, one can justifiably call PETA an abolitionist organization. I’m sorry if you are confused by the concept of promoting veganism and animal liberation while at the same time working on welfare reforms aimed at chipping away at the foundation of animal exploitation. But again, as I’ve explained, I think vegan education and welfare reforms can work together to gain more ground than either tactic can do alone.

Martin Balluch’s analysis of this combined approach has empirical support behind it.

The number one reason why people don’t go vegan is that they don’t think it’s convenient enough, and we all know people whose reason for not going vegan is that they “can’t” give up cheese or ice cream. But instead of making it easier for them to help animals, we often make it more difficult. Instead of encouraging them to stop eating all other animal products besides cheese or ice cream, we preach to them about the oppression of dairy cows. Then we go on about how we don’t eat sugar or a veggie burger because of the bun, even though a tiny bit of butter flavor in a bun contributes to significantly less suffering than any non-organic fruit or vegetable does or a plastic bottle or about 100 other things that most of us use. Our fanatical obsession with ingredients, or being 100% pure, not only obscures the animals’ suffering—which was virtually non-existent for that tiny modicum of ingredient—but also nearly guarantees that those around us are not going to make any change at all. So, we’ve preserved our personal purity, but we’ve hurt animals—and that’s anti-vegan.
The same is true of activism. If we strive to be 100% pure in our vegan activism efforts, we sometimes run the risk of turning people off, or making it less likely they will become vegan. If we make it less likely that other people will go vegan, then we are hurting animals and hurting our chances of achieving animal liberation. So, if a welfare reform campaign can serve to open people up to the idea of veganism, then I support that welfare campaign.
Gary Francione joins the conversation with:
Dear Everyone:

What Matt and others like him do not seem to understand is that we are not “on the same side,” as Matt seems to think. I see groups such as PETA doing nothing more than making animal exploitation more acceptable and further enmeshing animals in the property paradigm. In many ways, PETA has developed into the most significant impediment to meaningful social change for nonhuman animals.

Moreover, Matt’s rhetoric reflects the unfortunately cult-like atmosphere that characterizes the new welfarist movement. Discussion is not permitted. Anyone who disagrees is “divisive.” Matt does not address the substantive arguments that I make. He just says that I should not make them because they are “divisive.” Such an approach does nothing to facilitate the progress of ideas. And discourse can only be “divisive” if there is a unity to divide. There isn’t.

I continue to believe that those who endorse the abolitionist approach spend their time and resources educating the general public about veganism in creative and nonviolent ways. Let the new welfarists, animal protectionists, animal liberationists, or whatever you call them, go naked rather than wear fur, promote the gassing of chickens, or give awards to Temple Grandin. We are really involved in fundamentally different enterprises.

If X promotes welfare reform and Y characterizes X as a welfarist, then that is an empirically accurate description. The fact that X believes that welfare reform will lead to abolition someday (despite the complete absence of any empirical evidence supporting that belief) does not mean that X is not a welfarist. I characterize such people as “new welfarists” because they differ (in certain respects) from most of the classical welfarists. But the bottom line remains the same: if X promotes welfare reform, X is a welfarist. Whether X hopes to achieve abolition, or hopes to secure more and more welfare, is really irrelevant. X is a welfarist. No “slander.” No “mudslinging.” Just a plain old empirical fact.

I note that you keep using the expression “animal liberation.” You should know that this expression is usually applied to those who subscribe to the views of Peter Singer. And Peter Singer certainly does not advocate abolition as the ultimate goal. He maintains that animal use can be morally acceptable if our treatment of nonhumans gives greater weight to animal interests.

Matt objects again to being characterized as a welfarist: “You say that supporting welfare reform means you are a welfarist. This is not true because the word welfarist refers to an ideology that views animals as property and welfare reform refers to a tactic to improve the lives of animals. One can be in favor of improving the lives of animals and not view animals as property.”
The discussion between Matt and Dan continues without any progress being made…
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83 Responses to “Discussion of the terms Abolitionist, Welfarist, and Animal Rights”

  • abolitionist Says:

    Thanks for the digest. This doesn’t seem to have been the best use of Dan’s time.

    Along the lines of Gary’s post, perhaps abolitionists are better off spending their time educating non-vegans about matters fundamental to animal rights than trying to ‘deprogram’ new welfarists (not that there haven’t been *some* who ‘saw the light’). It simply seems that–barring rare occasions when a new welfarist is present and actively listening instead of arguing the point–engaging with new welfarists is an inefficient use of our (limited) resources at this time.


  • Dan Cudahy Says:


    I agree that it was not the best use of my time, and about half way through, I suspected as much, although I thought there were a few good points left to be made. I gladly let Matt have the last word after it seemed every point to be made had been exhausted.

    It is rare that I debate this issue anymore. Educate, yes; debate, no.


    veganB12 Reply:

    Some thoughts
    1. As a more positive term for “new welfarists” I suggest “progressive abolitionist”
    2. So much debate with so little evidence. The only “evidence” offered on both sides is qualitative not quantitative.
    3. there is an urgent need for a well thought out and constructed survey to made into why people went vegan, what or who influenced their decision etc.,


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