Science Weighs In At Last: Part Two
Response to Gary Francione’s Comments of March 3, 2011
July 10, 2011
Last year, two agricultural economists from prominent American universities concluded a study on
whether publicity about the suffering of farmed animals affects the demand for meat. Earlier this
year, I reported their findings on the European Vegetarian and Animal News Alliance (EVANA)
(“Science Weighs in at Last,” February 17): “Publicity regarding the welfare of farmed animals—
the preponderance of which is generated by campaigns for “welfarist” reforms—causes the public
to buy and eat less meat. And they buy less meat overall; they do not simply switch from one type
of meat to another.” Among the conclusions that I drew from this study were:
"1) It fatally undermines the abolitionists’ call for animal activists to boycott campaigns for
2) It directly supports the claim that 'single issue campaigns' for reform reduce overall animal
consumption by sensitizing the public to the plight of animals and forcing them to think of animals
as sentient beings who love life and fear death, long for happiness and dread suffering. When you
think of animals this way, it becomes very hard to eat them."
On March 3, 2011, Gary Francione, whom I quoted extensively in the February article, responded
with a post on his blog Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach headlined “Science Weighs In:
Animal Welfare Reform is Useless.” (More on that in a moment.) In this blog post, Professor
Francione announced that he was consulting with colleagues who are expert in statistical analysis
and that he would post “a more formal reply as things shape up.” In the meantime, he claimed
(without further elaborating) that the study “suffers from multiple methodological problems and is
poorly designed.” When you view these two comments together, they amount to saying, “The
study is seriously flawed, and as soon as I figure out how, I’ll tell you.” At any rate, since more
than five months have passed without further comment from Professor Francione, I am reluctant
to wait any longer for the appearance of his formal reply, and I believe it is important to reply to
claims made in his interim response.
The Importance of Slowing the Rate of Increase
First, Professor Francione says that the study is nothing for “welfarists” to get “excited” about
"[M]eat consumption is increasing and not decreasing. This study does not say that welfare
campaigns have resulted in any actual decrease in consumption. Rather, it says that demand,
measured over an approximately ten-year period, did not increase as much as the authors would
have thought if media attention on welfare issues had not increased. The authors acknowledge that
this reduction in demand increase is 'small, but statistically significant.'” (Italics in original.)
Readers who had not read my article would naturally think that this was his own discovery based
on his reading of the study, when, in fact, he is for the most part simply paraphrasing my February
17 EVANA article. This is what I had said:
"During the period of the study, the increase in negative animal welfare stories in the media did not
lead to an actual decrease in the consumption of meat. Rather, consumption increased at a lower
rate than would have been the case had there been no increase in negative animal welfare stories:
2.65 percent over ten years for pork and 5.01 percent during the same period for poultry. The
authors are careful to note that while this rate of reduction is relatively small, and is in fact less than
the rate of reduction caused by price increases, it is statistically significant . . ."
A slowing down in the rate of increase in the consumption of meat is important for three reasons—
none of which Professor Francione takes note of: First, it means that fewer animals are imprisoned
and killed than would otherwise have been the case—which seems worthwhile whatever your
ideology may be.
Second, unless precipitated by a specific and dramatic event—like reports that a certain crib toy is
implicated in infant deaths—we would expect an absolute decrease in demand for any consumer
product to be preceded by a deceleration in the rate of increase. Thus, we should regard this
slowing down in the rate of increase as a potential harbinger of an absolute decrease in the
consumption of meat.
And in fact, other indications are starting to appear that meat consumption in the United States may
have begun to fall in absolute numbers. According to The Farm Animal Rights Movement
(FARM), founded and led by animal rights pioneer Dr. Alex Hershaft, data collected by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) reveal that in 2008 the number of land animals killed for food
in the U.S. declined for the first time ever, by 0.6 %, despite an increase of 1% in the human
population. In 2009, according to FARM's analysis of numbers from the same source, the number
of animals killed on farms and in slaughterhouses declined an additional 2.6% from the 2008
number, despite an increase of 1.4% in the human population. ("Number of Animals Killed Drops -
Again!" in The Farm Report, the newsletter of the Farm Animal Rights Movement, Winter, 2010.
Since, as the article notes, the United States is a net exporter of both live animals and processed
meat, the number of animals eaten in the U. S. is actually somewhat lower than the number of
These numbers cannot be directly compared to the numbers in the Kansas State study. For one
thing, the study measured consumer demand while the USDA was measuring an early stage in the
supply chain. Nevertheless, when these complementary sets of statistics trend in the same
direction—downward—that represents clear and uncontradicted evidence that the demand for
animal products in the United States is declining for the first time in our nation’s history.
So, yes, I'm excited. And everyone who cares about animals should be excited along with me.
There is still a terribly long way to go. And progress made can be lost again. Nonhuman animals
have powerful enemies. But for the first time, we have hard evidence that we are moving in the
right direction, and that we are at last making concrete, measurable progress for animals. And the
Kansas State study demonstrates that negative publicity on farmed animal welfare—most of which
is generated by campaigns for welfare reforms—is a significant reason for this progress. We're
making measurable gains, and we know why--and that's certainly something worth getting excited
The Abolitionist Prediction is Wrong
The third reason why a reduction in the rate of increase in demand for meat is important is that it
falsifies Professor Francione’s oft-repeated assertion that welfare reform campaigns actually
encourage meat eating and thus stimulate the demand for meat. This is Professor Francione writing
on his blog in 2007:
"Animal welfare reform will not, as some claim, lead to the abolition of exploitation; it will lead to
more animal consumption." (“What Battle Are We Winning?”)
And this is Professor Francione writing on his blog as recently as April 21 of this year:
"Welfare 'reforms' . . . actually make matters worse because they encourage the public to feel
more comfortable about animal exploitation and to continue to consume animals and animal
products." (“Abolition in a Nutshell”)
This claim—which is a pillar of “abolitionist” ideology—is directly refuted by the Kansas State
study. The study, in fact, supports the opposite claim: that welfare campaigns support abolition by
forcing people to begin thinking differently about animals: to see them as sentient, sensitive
individuals rather than insentient commodities.
Why Not Beef?
The second of Professor Francione’s major criticisms of the study—and of the conclusions that I
draw from it—is that the study found a decline only in the demand for pork and chicken, not beef.
He seems to think that this points to some (unidentified) flaw in the study. But there are two much
more likely reasons. As I said in my February EVANA article:
"a) beef cows are the least horrifically treated of all factory farmed animals. Their abuse does not
generate images with the shock value of battery cages, confinement sheds, and gestation crates.
(The exception would be slaughterhouse scenes, but very few of these have appeared in the
"b) The 'welfarist' campaigns that generated the media interest studied by the researchers focused
primarily on poultry and pigs, specifically battery cages and gestation crates; they did not, by and
large, deal with cows. Although it is true that broiler chickens are not usually kept in battery cages,
to the American public a chicken is a chicken; I do not believe that they distinguish clearly between
laying hens and broilers."
Finally, Professor Francione makes much of the fact that the study looked only at beef, pork and
chicken. And he suggests that the decline in demand for pork and chicken may have been offset by
an increase in demand for other forms of meat, such as fish and other seafood. First, there is no
evidence for this one way or another; Professor Francione is speculating based on what his
ideology predicts should happen. The fact that the decline in demand for pork and chicken was not
accompanied by an increase in demand for beef suggests that consumers may not, in fact, be
migrating to other meats, but this is not conclusive.
But even if consumers were migrating to fish and other seafood, Professor Francione’s criticism
misses the point. There has been almost no negative publicity in the U.S. regarding the welfare of
fish and other forms of seafood. (Or—with the exception of geese and ducks raised for foie gras—
regarding any farmed animals beyond the three included in the study, which, of course, is why the
researchers chose those particular animals.) In fact, it has only been in the last two or three years
that scientists have finally accepted that fish can suffer. (I highly recommend Victoria Braithwaite's
rigorous but accessible, Do Fish Feel Pain? Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010.) And so, if
consumers are abandoning meat from animals who are universally known to be sentient, and about
whose suffering there has been extensive publicity, and are turning toward meat from animals who
are still not generally understood to suffer, and on whose behalf there have been no campaigns and
little if any publicity, this validates the effectiveness of welfare campaigns; it does not discredit
them as Professor Francione seems to think. If the public is reducing their consumption of all
forms of meat because of negative publicity about the welfare of pigs and chickens, so much the
better. But if they are switching to fish and meat from other animals who have not been the subject
of welfare campaigns, that simply points up the need for wider campaigns. We need to expand a
public education effort that has won gains for pigs and chickens, not shut it down.
Because there was no absolute decrease in the consumption of meat during the period covered by
the study, and because consumers may have migrated to fish or other meats not covered by the
study (and there is no evidence that they have), Professor Francione concludes that, “science has,
indeed, weighed in: animal welfare reform is useless and completely cost-ineffective.” But as I
have shown above, the reality-based lesson to be learned from this study is the direct opposite of
the lesson Professor Francione wants us to draw. And so, his “useless” comment is itself useless
because it is based on his ideology and not on the evidence.
Even the authors of the study—who are paid employees of the animal-industrial complex—come
to precisely the opposite conclusion from Professor Francione, warning producers that negative
publicity about animal welfare is a threat to their markets. And this reveals an all-important fact
about “abolitionist” theory. Like all fundamentalist, dogmatic ideologies, “abolitionism” as the term
is used by Professor Francione and others is self-contained and self-justifying. It is closed and
close-minded, a hermetically sealed system that cannot adapt and correct itself when confronted
with new evidence. New information that calls its fundamental dogmas into question is subjected to
ideological interpretation that distorts the evidence until it fits the theory, no matter how much
violence this does to the facts. And a system that cannot acknowledge the world as it is can never
be a guide to creating a better
A Brief Digression: The Chicken or the Egg
After the February EVANA article appeared, I received a private email from Mahi Klosterhalfen,
Vice President of the Albert Schweitzer Foundation (Albert Schweitzer Stiftung fuer unsere
Mitwelt)—which I discuss here with his kind permission. Known for his leading role in the
campaign against battery cages in Europe, Mr. Klosterhalfen is highly respected internationally as a
dedicated and knowledgeable advocate. In his email, Mr. Klosterhalfen suggested that my use of
Dr. Martin Balluch’s estimate of a 35% reduction in the number of laying hens in Austria following
the establishment of new welfare standards may have given readers a wrong impression. He
pointed out that a reduction in laying hens in Austria does not automatically translate into a
comparable reduction in egg consumption because Austrian consumers could be—and in fact likely
are—buying eggs imported from other EU countries with less stringent regulations. And if this is
the case, then the total number of laying hens in Europe has not, in fact, gone down because the
flocks in other countries have been increased to supply Austria with eggs.
I agree. Mr. Klosterhalfen is entirely correct. And re-reading my article in light of his critique, I
realized that I had expressed the point I was trying to make so poorly that it got lost, and I thank
him for pointing this out so that I may correct it. My intent was to demonstrate that contrary to the
claims of the “abolitionists,” welfare reforms can, in fact, have a significant discouraging effect on
animal agriculture where they are applied. And Austria’s experience suggests that if stringent
reforms were implemented on a wide enough scale—say, for example, the entire European Union,
or the entire United States—the “Austrian coop closing effect” would, in fact, reduce the number
of laying hens in Europe (or America).
The United States faces the same problem with regard to handguns. Some jurisdictions, such as
New York and Washington, D.C., have comparatively strict laws governing the possession and sale
of handguns. (The federal law is too weak to be effective.) Other jurisdictions, such as the states of
Virginia and North Carolina have very permissive handgun laws, with the result that for decades
New York and Washington have been flooded with handguns whose original point of sale was
Virginia, North Carolina or some other state with permissive laws. But this does not mean that
handgun laws are useless. Quite the opposite; it means that they should be extended nationwide.
The same is true of laws banning battery cages. The ultimate significance of the 35% reduction in
the number of laying hens in Austria is that it points to the need to expand welfare reforms
geographically as well as to other species.
As I have said many times before, and will continue to say, the only legitimate goal for the animal
rights movement is a world that is vegan. And vegan advocacy is the movement’s heart and soul.
But this advocacy is supported, not undermined, by reforms that reduce the suffering of animals
and by the campaigns that lead to them. A bird needs two wings to fly. Animal rights needs two
tracks to succeed: the first track is vegan and vegetarian advocacy; the second track is reform
campaigns aimed at producers and reduction campaigns aimed at consumers. Claims that reform
campaigns sabotage efforts at abolition have always been unsupported by evidence and are now
contradicted by it. These claims are the product of a rigid ideology that is unable to react
appropriately to facts that are not as the dogma predicted they should be. Logic, common sense,
and now empirical evidence all tell us that reform campaigns are useful tools in the effort to end the
slavery and slaughter of animals.