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October 30, 2011 / V A Nichols

Is the fox guarding the hen-house?


Deconstructing the Myth

Animal advocates developing and promoting animal products? Large-scale animal exploiters claiming to “advocate” for the very animals whose lives they take by the hundreds or thousands each week? Not science fiction. Not satire. Business as usual in the realm of US animal advocacy, which today is dominated by large corporate charities making backroom deals with those who profit from the use and killing of animals. The resulting conflicts of interest lead to ever more confusion for members of the public, who are having increasing difficulty distinguishing between animal advocates and animal exploiters.

As documented at right in the Omaha World-Herald, and also in press conference audio recordings, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has created a staff position titled “Director of Rural Development and Outreach” for a man named Joe Maxwell, who also happens to make money from selling pigs “raised like children” to slaughter. According to the World-Herald article, Mr. Maxwell is involved in the creation of a new alliance in Nebraska between a group of animal users and the HSUS, an alliance that will “develop standards and joint marketing efforts for humanely raised meat and other animal products.”

As demonstrated in this audio excerpt from a 10-18-11 press conference, HSUS staffer Maxwell speaks of “moving 900 to 1100 fat hogs each week,” for which he is paid $1.04 a pound, and tells how he sees his job as expanding the market for “humane” meat. He also indicates that a shortage of facilities for “processing” (killing and dismembering) these animals poses a challenge. This raises the question of whether his role with HSUS will include efforts to increase slaughter options for farmers such as himself.

Many would find it odd that the most well-funded animal advocacy organization in the country would put a person who profits from the killing of animals in a key public position. But consider the fact that HSUS has on its own board of directors John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, one of the largest meat retailers in America. Can a person responsible for annually sending millions of animals to their deaths credibly guide the course of an organization charged with advocating for those very same animals? And won’t Mr. Maxwell’s work to expand the market for “humane” meat potentially benefit the bottom line of Whole Foods? After all, Mr. Maxwell mentions that his farm’s “products” are raised according the standards of the Global Animal Partnership, a Whole Foods program which incidentally is run by former HSUS Vice President Miyun Park. Is this not a case of blatant conflict of interest?

Now that the affairs of HSUS and Whole Foods are so intertwined, how likely is it that HSUS would ever investigate or publicly take to task the huge meat-selling corporation run by one of its own board members? Mr. Mackey appears to have found a way to directly apply the resources of the largest US animal advocacy organization to the work of expanding the market for Whole Foods’ animal products, while at the same time insuring that this advocacy organization can never discredit him without discrediting itself.

The formal association of those actively involved in using and killing animals with a major advocacy organization at both the staff and board level, and the continuing validation of John Mackey as an “animal advocate” and even a “vegan” by leadership figures such as Farm Sanctuary co-founder Gene Baur, are significant milestones in the development of an “animal-welfare industrial complex.”

This was first described in the 2006 essay Invasion of the Movement Snatchers: A Social Justice Cause Falls Prey to the Doctrine of “Necessary Evil”

As animal organizations and the meat industry co-mingle their affairs in an increasingly bewildering tangle, their language, values, interests and goals are becoming indistinguishable, creating a kind of “animal welfare industrial complex” in which the “players” — dominant figures of the industry and the corporate animal movement — will regularly meet in private to negotiate the price of public concern for animal suffering. To the industry will go animal organization endorsements of an ever more bizarre array of “humane” products and “compassionate” practices. To the animal groups will go a pocketful of “partial victories” as well as a few gratuities like conference sponsorships and high-profile publicity opportunities. By making the process so orderly and rational, by whittling it down to a few key players with an unspoken understanding of the arrangement, all parties involved will receive a regular supply of what they need to keep growing at a rapid clip. More money. More customers/members. More political connections. More ability to dictate the terms of public discourse.

Several of the architects of the animal welfare industrial complex and its consequent co-option of grassroots animal advocacy in the US were themselves former animal rights activists. There is an instructive parallel here with the neoconservative political movement that gave rise to the “neocons” of Bush-era fame. Some of the architects of that movement were former liberals whose insider knowledge gave them a unique ability to undermine progressive political structures.

In a 2007 essay titled “Project for the New American Carnivore: From Lyman to Niman in 10 Short Years,” the term Neocarnism was coined to describe a belief system characteristic of former animal rights advocates who collaborate with various segments of the animal-using industry and participate in development, certification, endorsement, or promotion of alternative “humane” animal products, sometimes called “happy meat.” Practitioners of neocarnism claim that these activities do not create a conflict of interest, even for those who believe using and killing animals is morally wrong.

The “happy meat” and humane myth phenomena echo a pattern found in justice movements throughout history. As public concern grows for those being exploited on a mass scale, those profiting from that exploitation implement strategies aimed at redirecting public concern away from questions of justice (Do we have the right to use and kill others?), and toward questions of regulation (What is the right way to use and kill others?). The animal users want to avoid at all costs a public examination of the basic morality of their activities, and instead want to channel public concern for farm animals into the purchase of products created through the “right” forms of exploitation and killing.

When a person who currently profits from the use and killing of animals is put in a prominent outreach position at HSUS, isn’t the message being sent loud and clear to the public that even animal advocates believe the killing of “fat hogs” by the thousand each week is just fine, as long as it is done “the right way?”

Doesn’t this kind of message, repeated over and over, convey an aura of moral legitimacy to the meat, dairy and egg industries — and at a time when more people are just starting to wake up to the fact that these industries are destroying the lives of billions of animals, ravaging our planetary ecosystem, wasting vast quantities of water, topsoil and fuel, and directly contributing to an epidemic of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes?

How will this advocacy-industry collaboration be viewed by future generations? Will the philosophy of neocarnism and its proponents be seen as visionary, as morally bankrupt, or merely as out of touch with ethical and environmental reality?

In the words of John F. Kennedy, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”


NOTE  I do not enjoy sharing articles such as this.  However, the truth is important to the animals and to us as animal advocates.  VA~


One Comment

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  1. MARIA SONIA ESTRADA-SOLERO / Nov 1 2011 3:37 PM



    VA ~

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