What is the goal of animal-welfare reforms?

Prof. Gary Francione of Rutgers University takes issue–not surprisingly–with the claims made recently on behalf of the effects of animal-welfare reforms on meat consumption. He questions the methodology of the study and also notes that meat consumption is increasing overall (even if welfare reforms might have slowed the rate of increase). He also argues that even if the increase in meat consumption has slowed (or even decreased slightly), this isn’t much to show for the billions of dollars that have been poured into campaigns for welfare reform.

The last point is an important one to consider, I think. And evaluating it requires asking what the ultimate goal of welfare-reformist campaigns are. Is it to improve the conditions under which animals are raised? Or is it to raise awareness about those conditions, thereby encouraging people to eat less meat? If it’s the latter, then it’s far from clear that these kinds of campaigns are the most effective way to go about it (rather than campaigns aimed directly at reducing the consumption of animal products). Welfare-reformist campaigns seem to be sending something of a mixed message if the goal is really to reduce animal consumption.

On the other hand, if the goal is to reduce animal suffering (rather than to eliminate the use of animals altogether, as abolitionists like Prof. Francione favor), then animal-welfare campaigns and campaigns to encourage less meat eating could be complementary approaches (since both, at least in theory, could lead to a reduction in suffering). Part of the ambiguity here may be due to the fact that many of the large animal-welfare organizations include both people who would like to see the end of animal use and people who just want to see it made more humane. But getting clear on the goal seems to be a necessary first step in evaluating the effectiveness of various strategies.

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