Sentience Politics https://sentience-politics.org Effective altruism for all sentient beings Thu, 14 Jun 2018 23:04:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 https://sentience-politics.org/files/cropped-Sentience-Logo-favicon-32x32.png Sentience Politics https://sentience-politics.org 32 32 Year in Review: 2016 https://sentience-politics.org/year-in-review-2016/ Tue, 20 Dec 2016 18:10:59 +0000 https://sentience-politics.org/?p=13625 In the last year, we have not only established ourselves as political players in Switzerland, but also hosted an international conference, started to work in other countries, and have expanded our content. As we come to the end of the year, we are evaluating the comparative success of our different activities and discussing fundamental strategic questions, in order to achieve the greatest possible impact in 2017 for all sentient beings.

Looking Back at Our 2016 Goals

Political Campaigns

Switzerland: We plan three popular initiatives on the themes of fundamental rights for primates, effective poverty reduction and sustainable food.

This year we successfully submitted ballot initiatives on fundamental rights for primates in Basel and sustainable food in Lucerne. The fundamental rights initiative opened a debate on antispeciesism in various local media. We also supported our parent organization, the Effective Altruism Foundation, on their “one percent against global poverty” initiative by collecting signatures.

Germany: After the opening of our office in Germany, we aim to create a direct democratic initiative on sustainable food as well as a public campaign on cultured meat.

In October in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, we started a ballot initiative for vegan options in public canteens. The collection of signatures is currently ongoing. We unfortunately had to postpone our campaign seeking government support of research and development for cultured meat due to limited resources. We will probably begin this campaign in the first quarter of the new year.

Meta activism

Sentience Conference: We would like to organize the first conference for effective animal activism in Berlin.

In May we organized a two-day conference in Berlin, bringing together over 300 participants and 30 speakers to exchange ideas and pressing questions in effective activism for animals. The feedback was extremely positive: over 93% of respondents stated that they were either pleased or very pleased to have taken part in the conference.

Careers advice: Along with online materials on career choice for people who share our goals, we would also like to organize at least one workshop, to help activists to find a suitable career.

Our website now contains introductory material on career choice, but we unfortunately had to postpone a workshop which was planned for January of next year, since we had underestimated the work involved.

Research

Philosophy: In the course of the year six texts will be developed on our website, which systematically lay out our philosophical thinking.

Preliminary versions of these texts were prepared at the beginning of the year, and the updated versions now live on the site were published in the fall. We are working on German translations of the updated texts.

Policy papers: We plan to write at least three new policy papers within the year: fundamental rights for primates, cultured meat and invertebrate suffering.

All three policy papers were published in the first half of the year in German, and the fundamental rights and cultured meat papers were translated to English. We have not prioritized translating the invertebrate suffering paper.

Research agenda: By the end of the year we would like to create a comprehensive research agenda, which should serve as a guide for our future research. Building on this, we would like to gradually build up a network with external researchers.

In October we published our research agenda and the invitation to the research network on our website. Since then, over 200 researchers with suitable backgrounds have joined the network, which makes us optimistic about the future of this project.

Other activities

Lectures: We held lectures on our core themes at multiple events.

Events: We organized several events of various sizes.

Essay Prize: We announced an essay prize. By the closing date twelve essays had been submitted. The evaluation is ongoing.

Website: In the summer we made improvements to our website.

Mistakes

  • Because of unclear decision processes, the necessary preparations for the Berlin ballot initiative began later than we would have liked. After the problem was identified, decision making processes were changed and we launched the petition.
  • We did not communicate some developments and decisions proactively enough to our supporters. Namely, we failed to formally announce our internationalization plans and explain the reasons for our increasing internationalization. Transparency is important to us and to our supporters, so we have added a page on transparency to our website, and at the end of every year we will produce a Year in Review report. We also commit to making our decisions more clear as they happen going forward.
  • We opened the applications for some of our events too late, limiting the number of people who could attend.

We look forward to doing more for all sentient beings in 2017!

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Animal advocates should focus on antispeciesism, not veganism https://sentience-politics.org/animal-advocates-focus-antispeciesism-not-veganism/ Mon, 12 Dec 2016 15:25:41 +0000 https://sentience-politics.org/?p=13587 The following article was written by guest blogger Magnus Vinding. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Sentience Politics.

How can we help nonhuman animals as much as possible? A good answer to this question could spare billions from suffering and death, while a bad one could condemn as many to that fate. So it’s worth taking our time to find good answers.

Focusing our advocacy on antispeciesism may be our best bet. In short, antispeciesist advocacy looks very promising because it encompasses all nonhuman animals and implies great obligations toward them, and also because people may be especially receptive to such advocacy. More than that, antispeciesism is also likely to remain relevant for a long time, which makes it seem uniquely robust when we consider things from a very long-term perspective.

The value of antispeciesist advocacy

Antispeciesism addresses all the ways in which we discriminate against nonhuman animals, not just select sites of that discrimination, like circuses or food farms. Unlike more common approaches to animal advocacy, it demands that we take all forms of suffering endured by nonhuman animals into consideration.

Campaigns against fur farming, for instance, do not also cover the suffering and death involved in other forms of speciesist exploitation, such as the egg and dairy industries. Veganism, on the other hand, is much broader, in that it rejects all directly human-caused animal suffering. Advocating for the interests of comparatively few beings when we could advocate for the interests of many more with the same time and resources is likely a lost opportunity.

But even veganism is not as broad as antispeciesism, since it says nothing about the vast majority of sentient beings on the planet: animals who live in nature. Wild animals also suffer, and should not be granted less consideration simply because their suffering is not our fault.

Antispeciesism implies veganism – i.e. that we “exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose” – but unlike veganism it also requires us to give serious consideration to nonhuman animals who are harmed in nature. Antispeciesism implies that we should help wild animals in need, just as we should help humans suffering from starvation or disease that we didn’t cause. Unfortunately, nonhuman animals are often harmed in nature, and often do succumb to starvation and thirst. Fortunately, there is much we can do to work for a future with fewer harms to them.

Even if we expect people to be more receptive to messaging that is narrower in focus and easier to agree with, the all-encompassing nature of antispeciesist advocacy could mean it has the greater expected value overall.

But are people really less receptive to such advocacy anyways? The concept of speciesism may seem abstract and advanced, and may strike us as something only committed animal rights advocates know of and understand. Yet there are reasons to think that this gut intuition is wrong.

Oscar Horta, a professor of moral philosophy who has delivered talks about animal rights around the world, has repeatedly put this pessimistic intuition to the test. At various talks delivered to Spanish high school students, he has attempted to systematically evaluate the attitudes of the attendees by giving them a questionnaire. One of the main results of this evaluation, according to Horta, was that: “[…] contrary to what some people think, most people who attended these talks accepted the arguments against speciesism.”1

This is significant: a majority of attendees accepted the arguments against speciesism. And perhaps we should not be that surprised. Most people understand the concept of discrimination already, and speciesism is just another form of discrimination. The fact that many people are already familiar with the concept of discrimination and agree that it is not justified suggests that there might be a template upon which speciesism can easily be argued against. This could be part of the explanation for why most of Horta’s attendees accepted the arguments against speciesism. Another reason might be that the arguments against speciesism are exceptionally strong and hard to argue with, and as students, Horta’s attendees may have been able to approach the topic with an open and rational mindset that made them particularly ready to agree with such arguments.

Another interesting finding from Horta was that students appeared more receptive to a message opposing speciesism than to one supporting veganism. As he reports:

”What is controversial is not really the discussion about speciesism. On the contrary, the most controversial point is (as might be expected), the discussion about whether we should stop eating animal “products”. Yet this discussion can also be carried out without major problems, at least if a couple of recommendations are followed: First of all, that this discussion arises not at the beginning of the talk, but rather towards the end, when speciesism and the need to respect all sentient beings has already been discussed. At that point, there is a greater willingness to consider this issue, because people who attend the talk then have a favorable attitude both toward animals and the speaker. But if we proceed in the opposite order and first argue for veganism and then raise the arguments about speciesism, the reaction is different. The result is that there is less willingness to consider the issue of veganism. And not only that, acceptance of arguments about speciesism is lower as well.”

If this difference in effectiveness between vegan and antispeciesist messaging is similar in the broader public, the implications for advocacy are profound: even if one’s goal is only to promote veganism, the best way to do so might be to talk about speciesism, rather than, or at least before, talking about veganism. That talking about veganism straight away seems to have made the students less receptive not only to veganism itself but also to arguments against speciesism is also worth taking note of.

More thorough replication of Horta’s findings, on larger, more varied populations would significantly increase our confidence in the conclusion that antispeciesist advocacy is superior to vegan advocacy for creating antispeciesists, as well as vegans. Until then, Horta’s reported findings do at least suggest that people can accept arguments against speciesism, and that antispeciesism might be among the animal rights memes that people are most receptive to.

Is vegan advocacy costly to wild animals?

Vegan advocacy could also be costly to animals not encompassed by vegan advocacy. Horta states:

“There are many people involved in antispeciesism who are afraid to defend the idea that we should help animals in need in nature. Even though they fully agree with it, they believe that most people totally reject that idea, and even consider it absurd. However, among those attending the talks, there was a broad acceptance of the idea.”

This is good news for animals and their advocates, given that the vast majority of nonhuman animals live in nature. Helping animals in the wild – for instance through vaccinations and cures for diseases – may be among the most effective ways in which we can help nonhuman animals. Vegan advocacy excludes consideration of their interests, but antispeciesist advocacy does not. This means that not only might it be costly to focus mainly on veganism in the interest of spreading antispeciesism or veganism itself (compared to focusing mainly on speciesism and then raising the issue of veganism), but it might also be costly with respect to the goal of helping animals in nature. It’s possible that talking about veganism rather than speciesism makes it significantly harder to bring about interventions that could help nonhuman animals.

Compared to veganism, antispeciesism is also much harder to confuse with environmentalism, supporters of which often recommend overtly speciesist interventions such as the mass killing of beings in the name of “healthy ecosystems” and biodiversity. This lack of potential for confusion is another strong reason in favor of antispeciesist advocacy.

Beyond veganism

Antispeciesist advocacy is also much more neglected than vegan advocacy. Veganism is rising, and there are considerable incentives entirely separate from concern for animals to move away from the production of animal “products”. In economic terms, it is inefficient to sustain an animal in order to use her flesh and skin rather than to grow meat and other animal-derived products directly, or replace them with plant-based alternatives. Similarly strong incentives exist in the realm of public health, which animal agriculture threatens by increasing the risks of zoonotic diseases, antibiotic resistant bacteria like MRSA, and cardiovascular disease. These incentives, none of which have anything to do with concern for nonhuman animals per se, could well be pushing humanity toward veganism more powerfully than anything else.

While veganism likely has a promising future, the future of antispeciesism seems much less clear and less promising still, and has far fewer people working to promote it. This suggests that our own limited resources might be much better spent promoting the latter. When thinking about how to build a better tomorrow, we should also consider the following tomorrows, and if we have a virtually vegan world a century from now due to the incentives mentioned above, the world will likely still be speciesist in many other respects. So in addition to the appeal antispeciesist advocacy has for the nonhuman animals whom humans are actively harming now, the explicitly antispeciesist approach is important for the sake of nonhuman animals in the future, including those whom we may not be hurting, but have the ability to help. Working towards a less speciesist future could both help close down the slaughterhouses, and help many animals long after.

Additionally, the spread of antispeciesism might also be a useful stepping stone toward concern for sentient beings of nonanimal kinds. Unfortunately, there is a risk that new kinds of sentient beings could emerge in the future – for instance biologically engineered brains – and become the victims of a whole new kind of factory farming. Just like concern for humans who face discrimination can provide useful support today when the case against speciesism is made, antispeciesism could well be similarly generalizable and provide such support in the case against new forms of discrimination.

A final point in favor of antispeciesist advocacy over vegan advocacy is that the message of the former is clearly ethico-political in nature, and therefore does not risk being confused with an amoral consumerist preference or fad, as veganism often is. The core of antispeciesism is clear, easy to communicate, and much follows from it in terms of the practical implications.

Additional Resources

Oscar Horta provides more reasons to favor antispeciesist advocacy in a talk entitled “About Strategies”.

  1. My own machine-assisted translation.  
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Adriano Mannino is leaving the Effective Altruism Foundation and Sentience Politics https://sentience-politics.org/adriano-mannino-is-leaving/ Wed, 07 Dec 2016 16:59:55 +0000 https://sentience-politics.org/?p=13551 During the last four years, Adriano Mannino helped found and grow the effective altruist movement in the German-speaking area. As a co-founder of the Effective Altruism Foundation (EAF) and its project Sentience Politics, he was the main creative mind behind many of our activities. For those who worked with him, he is an inspiring colleague and philosopher who introduced them to new ways of understanding and changing the world. Without his visionary personality, Sentience Politics and the effective altruism movement in the German-speaking area would not have experienced such rapid growth over the past years.

Last week, the board of the Effective Altruism Foundation accepted his resignation as its president and member. Multiple considerations were relevant to the decision, including strategic differences between Adriano and our management, his plans to focus on research and writing in the future, and the avoidance of conflicts of interest resulting from new projects he aims to co-found. After thorough deliberation, we concluded that working on separate projects will be most effective to achieve our shared goal of reducing the suffering of all sentient beings. We are very grateful for Adriano’s crucial contributions to our organization and the effective altruism movement, and wish him all the best for his personal and professional future.

We see this as an opportunity to improve our organization and movement even further and are excited to continue collaborating with you!

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Expanding our moral circle to reduce suffering in the far future https://sentience-politics.org/expanding-moral-circle-reduce-suffering-far-future/ Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:07:46 +0000 https://sentience-politics.org/?p=13503 Discussions about the far future often center on two possibilities: humanity going extinct or having our potential permanently curtailed, or humanity building a flourishing, space-faring mega-civilization. These discussions usually present humanity’s extinction or permanent decline as the worst possible outcome, and some argue that minimizing these existential risks (“x-risks”) is the most important thing we can do to influence the future. What’s often missing from these discussions focusing on human survival is a consideration of possible future scenarios in which humans, whether we survive or not, create massive amounts of suffering. For those of us who care more about whether individuals are happy or suffering than whether they exist in the first place, these risks of astronomical future suffering (dubbed “s-risks” by our sister project, the Foundational Research Institute) would be worse than the extinction of humanity, so reducing their threat may be substantially more important than merely ensuring our continued existence.

Risks of astronomical future suffering should be of particular concern for people who reject speciesism. While it’s possible that there are s-risks that only involve human suffering, s-risk scenarios are much more likely to come from disregard for nonhuman sentient beings. For example, if we continue to disregard the suffering of animals in the wild, we risk multiplying that suffering by spreading wild animals to other planets. (For other concrete examples of S-risks, please refer to “Risks of Astronomical Future Suffering” by the Foundational Research Institute.) Given that future animal suffering matters just as much as current animal suffering, and because there will be many more future animals than currently existing animals, reducing these risks of astronomical future suffering imposed on nonhumans should be a top priority for antispeciesists.

It seems to me that promoting antispeciesism is a robust way to reduce s-risks. While reducing the likelihood of specific s-risks requires a strong technical background, spreading antispeciesism can broadly reduce the threat of s-risks by ensuring that nonhumans are morally considered in the first place. This strategy can decrease s-risks even under high uncertainty about which are most likely. There are likely many more risks of astronomical future suffering than the ones we can imagine now, and widening society’s moral circle puts us in a better position to prevent and mitigate bad developments.

Unpopulated worlds are sometimes better than populated ones

Intuitively, it’s easy to believe that populated worlds are better than unpopulated ones. Humans generally want life to flourish and be happy — we’d prefer a utopian civilization to a lifeless desert. But populated worlds are not better than unpopulated worlds in all situations.

First, consider the following: some people have had lives that were so terrible that it would have been better for them not to have existed in the first place. I believe that the average factory farmed chicken has such a life. Chickens spend their lives in filthy sheds with thousands, to tens of thousands of other chickens, often only having about a foot of floor space. They are bred to grow very quickly, and because of this, their legs often cannot support their bodies and collapse underneath them. After a short and miserable life, chickens are hung upside down and have their throats dragged across a knife. Considering how full of suffering their lives are, it would be better for farmed chickens to never exist.

Now, suppose you are asked for a preference between two worlds, world A and world B. In world A, 1000 kittens are being tortured and no one else is alive. World B has no life in it whatsoever. It makes sense to prefer world B over world A, even if one generally prefers worlds that have life in them, because for the kittens in world A, it was a great harm to be brought into existence in the first place. By contrast, world B contains no suffering, as there are no beings in it who can suffer.

Extrapolating from the above thought experiment, we can see why s-risks are worse than human extinction. Isn’t the vast majority of all sentient life being tortured for eternity worse than the destruction of all currently existing life? While the end of all life would be a tragedy, allowing for the torture of all life would be vastly more tragic, as we would be subjecting many beings to a fate worse than non-existence.

The importance of society’s moral circle

Our moral circle is the boundary we draw around those we consider worthy of moral consideration. Consider how society believes we ought to treat a dog as opposed to  a rock: most people extend moral consideration to dogs, and believe that we cannot simply treat them however we feel like, but that whenever possible, we ought to avoid performing certain actions towards them if those actions will cause the dog pain and suffering. We do not believe that we have such obligations towards inanimate objects, like rocks, so we consider it acceptable to do whatever we wish with rocks.

There is an enormous danger in excluding other sentient beings from our moral circle and ignoring their pain and suffering. Most historical atrocities have resulted from such exclusion, from the Holocaust, to the transatlantic slave trade, to the Spanish Inquisition. Psychologists even point to such moral exclusion, which essentially reduces the excluded to the moral status of an object, as the key factor enabling torture and genocide.

If society’s moral circle were to shrink and once again exclude people who now make up part of our citizenry, that would likely increase the suffering in the world. And if there are still sentient beings who we are failing to consider, we are probably causing them massive harm — and in fact, this is the case with our exclusion and mistreatment of many nonhuman animals.

Given the diverse harms that have resulted from moral exclusion, we can expect any regression or omission to leave us susceptible to committing similar atrocities. Consider it this way: when something or someone is excluded from our moral circle, we can do anything to them. Large-scale cruelty does not require malice, just indifference. Farmers and the people who work for them generally do not hate animals, but because they only or primarily care about how they can profit from animals’ bodies, it’s easy for them to devalue and ignore those animals’ suffering (if not psychologically necessary). We can expect great suffering in the members of any group of sentient beings we push outside of our moral circle — not always because of malice, but as a result of standard goal-oriented behavior.

In the interest of the many sentient beings who could exist in the future, we must not only prevent our moral circle from shrinking, but aggressively expand it to include every being capable of suffering.

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Trump Wins, and the World Loses https://sentience-politics.org/trump-wins-world-loses/ Wed, 09 Nov 2016 16:35:33 +0000 https://sentience-politics.org/?p=13463 As a think tank committed to politics for all sentient beings, we at Sentience Politics are disheartened by the outcome of America’s election last night. The next US President will be an exceptionally prejudicial, anti-intellectual, and self-interested man, and he will have the support of a Republican majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. We can also assume that he will select socially conservative justices for the Supreme Court, giving it a conservative majority as well. But perhaps what is most significant is that he has the support of 48% of America’s voters1.

No matter an individual’s group identities or memberships, their needs should be considered. We already expect Trump’s presidency to be bad for animals and many humans (including his supporters), but beyond the policy changes we can worry about over the next four or eight years, this election fundamentally represents a step backwards in our social and political progression towards consideration of everyone’s interests. The terms to come may see progressives’ ability to work on the frontiers of social and political change — including the pursuit of rights for nonhuman beings — severely stifled, as we fight to merely protect what has been achieved so far.

It is sobering that this (the writer’s) country would elect this man to our highest office, and give him the support of all the federal “checks and balances”. Who exactly did America just elect to represent us?

We elected someone remarkably and blatantly prejudiced. Trump has made countless discriminatory comments about and towards women, Muslims, Latinos and many more individuals, and he openly excludes many people from his moral circle by prefacing their identities with a “the” — “the blacks,” “the gays,” “the Hispanics” — as though they are some unfamiliar “other” and not fellow persons and citizens. He puts issues that intensify discrimination at the front of his platform, like his proposed mass deportation of Central and South American immigrants, a wall between the US and Mexico, and a ban on Muslim immigration that unambiguously violates the constitutional right to freedom of religion. We elected someone whose supporters views are anti-Muslim, largely xenophobic, and significantly more racist than those of his rival’s supporters, the average white American, and even supporters of earlier Republican candidates. We elected someone who rose to political prominence by insisting that our President was not born in the United States, and who did not concede that he was wrong until long after his racist “birther” movement compelled the President to release his birth certificate (and still has not apologized).

We elected someone who openly prefers deceit and ignorance to truth and knowledge. Trump is extremely under-qualified for the office of the President of the United States — or any public office, for that matter — and unlike even the most qualified Presidents and candidates, he has no interest in seeking counsel from experts or the public, and is satisfied being his own consultant. His has expressed disregard for education, praising the poorly educated for being the “smartest” and “most loyal” people — probably knowing that his support base is largely uneducated and that people with college degrees are much less likely to support him. He also tells more than four times as many lies as truths, which may have encouraged his supporters, who may be particularly prone to “backfiring” when presented with facts that contradict their beliefs.

And we elected someone who consistently puts himself first.

Trump is no longer just a threat to social progress. The threat he’s been posing since the primaries started to come to life last night, when America elected him to one of the most powerful seats in the world. Those seats desperately need to be occupied by judicious and altruistic leaders who seek to improve the lives of those they govern as much as possible — but Trump is the complete opposite.

As we said after Britain voted to exit the EU, in the face of such regression, we must continue to push for bold policies that consider everyone’s interests, no matter how steep the climb to equity.

  1. At the time of writing, with approximately 92% of votes counted, Clinton holds the popular vote, by a +0.2 margin.  
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Our Support for the Massachusetts “Minimum Size Requirements for Farm Animal Containment” Initiative https://sentience-politics.org/support-massachusetts-minimum-size-requirements-farm-animal-containment-initiative/ Tue, 01 Nov 2016 16:05:31 +0000 https://sentience-politics.org/?p=13386 As a political think tank that seeks to fully consider the interests of all sentient beings, we take an interest in the current Massachusetts campaign to end some of the most intensive confinement practices in animal farming, appearing as Question 3 on the Massachusetts ballot accompanying the US presidential vote next week. If Massachusetts voters support the law, it will “prohibit the sale of eggs, veal, or pork of a farm animal confined in spaces that prevent the animal from lying down, standing up, extending [their] limbs, or turning around.” We are happy to join other nonprofit organizations, elected leaders, businesses, and numerous other parties in endorsing the measure.

We are supporting the initiative because such intensive confinement causes intense suffering to the animals. We recognize that such reforms represent limited improvement to farmed animals’ still agonizing lives, but they do alleviate part of their torment. More importantly, we suspect this and similar reforms will inspire further public support for farmed (and ultimately all) animals. We want to expand on this last consideration briefly because we consider the long-term effects of our actions particularly compelling, and think they are sometimes neglected by the animal advocacy community.

We share some advocates’ concerns that legal or corporate policy changes that lessen the suffering of farmed animals, but do not directly challenge their use as property or reduce their numbers, risk inducing some level of complacency in the public, potentially making society more comfortable with our still deplorable treatment of these animals and reducing our ability to effect positive change for animals in the long-term. Many advocates are particularly concerned by “humanewashing”, the labelling of products whose production involves severe animal suffering with terms and images that mislead consumers into believing that the animals led happy lives.

However and although we think much more research is needed on this topic we currently think such reforms are likely to inspire more momentum for the farmed animal advocacy movement than complacency with problems of animal farming. As with many research conclusions in the complex and understudied field of effective animal advocacy, our confidence in this judgement is low. We intend to pursue and support further research on this topic, including investigation of the history and sociology of how such gradual improvements may affect a social movement’s success.

Evidence in favor of welfare reforms

Our current optimism about welfare reforms is based on the following observations:

First, there is some evidence1 that welfare reforms decrease the total number of animals raised, perhaps through increasing prices or shifting public sentiment.

Second, from the limited track record of welfare reforms for farmed animals, we see some evidence of momentum over complacency. A recent wave of cage-free commitments in the US was followed in short order by a commitment from United Egg Producers, a cooperative of egg producers in the US, to phase out the killing of male chicks, suggesting that reforms create momentum for further reforms2.

Third, we have informally observed that media coverage of these reforms often highlights the shortcomings of animal farming and focuses on what’s next, rather than suggesting that the reformed products offer a solution to the problems of animal farming3.

In terms of corporate reforms, advocacy groups that build relationships with companies in the pursuit of those reforms may also be better positioned to negotiate further changes, such as the adoption of animal-free alternatives.

There is also evidence that “foot-in-the-door” strategies can be effective at compelling individuals to take bigger steps, and that is precisely what welfare reforms represent a step away from a total lack of concern for these animals, and towards a full consideration of their interests. This strategy seems more effective on individuals who grew up in more individualistic cultures with more consistent/less flexible perceptions of the self, suggesting both that American culture, if not Western culture more generally, is particularly suited to this approach, and that compliance with subsequent requests is dependent on internal perceptions rather than who makes the request meaning subsequent requests can be made by different advocates or groups. There is evidence for the potentially similar effectiveness of “door in the face” strategies, though this effect may be dependent on the same people making both the initial (extreme) and final (lesser and actually sought) requests, and it is unclear whether this “reciprocity” effect can scale to requests from a broader movement.

In the bigger picture, we expect a gradual move away from factory farming to achieve more support from the public, industry, and policymakers than an attempt to move abruptly from where we are farming an extremely high and still increasing number of animals, and confining the overwhelming majority of them in factory farms to an agricultural system that does not subordinate the interests of nonhuman animals to the comparably trivial interests of the animal agriculture industry. Reforms, which are small progressions away from the current norm, can assist such a shift though we also need consumers to reduce their consumption of animal-based foods (aided by businesses providing compelling animal-free alternatives), and we need policymakers to take other steps to reduce the scale of animal farming.

Evidence against welfare reforms

Some psychology experiments suggest that, on the individual level, taking moral actions could make people less charitable in the future, an effect known as “moral licensing” or “moral balancing”. For example, one study suggests that having people make “green” consumer choices makes them more likely to “balance” out their environmentally-friendly actions with indulgent, environmentally-unfriendly actions. This could suggest that purchasing products with higher welfare standards (or which are labelled to suggest as much) would encourage some negative action, or a more lenient attitude towards animal farming. However, there is data supporting both such “moral balancing” and the opposite effect of “moral consistency” in individuals’ behavior, and it is difficult to know how these individual behavioral effects correlate with broader social and attitudinal complacency or momentum.

Cooperative advocacy

The evidence we have now for the long-term effects of reforms like the one on the Massachusetts ballot is weak, but it leans towards momentum, in addition to a compelling near-term mitigation of suffering for farmed animals. Even if individual advocates or organizations are skeptical about welfare reforms, the animal advocacy movement’s resources are dwarfed by the animal agriculture industry’s resources, so it is important for us to cooperate with and support one another whenever possible. The movement is still young enough that we need to continue trying a diversity of strategies to determine what works best. If you are interested in participating in our research efforts to better understand the impact of strategies like welfare reforms, or to address other important questions, take a look at our Research Agenda and sign up to our Research Network.

And if you live in Massachusetts: Vote “yes” on Question 3!

  1. In the US, conversion to cage-free egg farms may result in a 3% decrease in the number of eggs consumed. Refer to this analysis published in Poultry Science for some discussion of elasticity and the effects of reforms on egg farming.  
  2. That announcement was followed by a commitment by Perdue to improve its farm and slaughter treatment of chickens raised for meat. Perdue’s treatment of chickens had recently been exposed by undercover investigators with Mercy for Animals, so the prospect of getting ahead of the rest of the industry on other reforms was probably not their sole motivation for commitment. Many of the details of the commitment are also vague, so it’s unclear how much of this announcement is humanewashing and how much reform will happen nor is it clear how humanewashing, disentangled from reforms, affects social momentum and complacency. (For instance, when companies encourage consumers to believe the animals are happy, implicitly insisting that their suffering matters, how are those consumers affected when they realize that the animals were suffering tremendously after all? Unfortunately we have too little information at this time to discuss such questions.  
  3. See for instance these articles by the Guardian and the New York Times.  
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Dear Science: Can we help wild animals? https://sentience-politics.org/dear-science-can-we-help-wild-animals/ Mon, 19 Sep 2016 15:01:29 +0000 https://sentience-politics.org/?p=12810 In a recent Washington Post article titled, “Dear Science: If an animal is lost or injured, why shouldn’t I help it?”, we see the unquestioned refrain that we should let nature take its course, leaving someone who is suffering to their fate.

The authors of the Washington Post article begin with a reasonable approach, saying that it can be difficult to assess whether our impact is harmful or helpful. For example, some young animals who look lost or abandoned actually are not. In cases like these, figuring out how to help the individual animal can be difficult. For these few paragraphs, the authors seem mostly concerned with the welfare of the animals.

Unfortunately, the broken record begins to play when the authors consider the bigger picture. They completely let go of the welfare question and begin calculating in terms of abstract entities like species. The authors bolster their advice with a claim that it’s “what the science has to say,” but few scientists would suggest science can answer ethical questions like whether a species matters more than individuals.

The well-being of sentient creatures seems much more important than the preservation of any of their lineages. If you had to escape a burning house and could either save the residents, or an exceptionally beautiful painting (with no donatable resale value), would you ever choose the painting? A species is not sentient, so why would we prioritize it over the needs of sentient beings?

Because it’s individuals who matter, the authors’ assumption that conservation is the sole measure of morality when intervening in the wild seems misguided. If we are optimizing for conserving a species, are we doing the most we can for the individuals that species is comprised of (and the other individuals we are impacting)? As the authors state, “aiding animals is sometimes antithetical to the notion of conservation.” That is probably true, and it only means we need more research on how conservation actually affects wild animals’ welfare, because we could be doing more harm than good.

The authors appeal to the fact that today’s extinctions are primarily human-caused, but that doesn’t make species conservation more important than animal suffering, and neither does the observation that “individual animals die from natural causes all the time.” If someone is suffering and dying, it makes no difference to her whether that’s caused by humans or a natural process. Either way, she suffers.

The focus on individuals’ welfare is obvious in the human case. If someone is suffering in extreme poverty in a geographically isolated community, and that community is struck by a drought, we don’t resign to let nature take its course with them — we readily (and rightly) offer our assistance. Of course, we should ask the people in need for more information about those needs, and carefully consider the potential indirect impacts of our intervention, but we would ultimately be focused on the wellbeing of those individuals. We need to show wild animals the same compassion.

A final important point is that human civilization does not exist in a vacuum separated from the rest of the world — we affect the natural world with everything we do. We redesign ecosystems and affect massive numbers of animals with agriculture and the construction of our cities. Anthropogenic climate change will transform the planet’s landscape. Because ecosystems are very complicated, it is difficult to fully assess any intervention, so we have cause to be cautious and thorough when we intervene — whether we do so in the interests of the animals or ourselves. There are so many animals suffering in the wild, and our actions will affect them either way, so it is important for us to expand our scientific study of wild animal suffering and potential ways to help them.

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Why we work on fundamental rights for primates https://sentience-politics.org/why-we-work-on-fundamental-rights-for-primates/ Tue, 02 Aug 2016 09:41:22 +0000 https://dev.sentience-politics.org/?p=11706 Sentience Politics selects and prioritizes campaigns based on their potential impact, i.e. the number of individuals affected. One of our ongoing campaigns concerns fundamental rights for primates, which may seem ineffective at first glance. After all, the number of non-human primates is almost negligible compared to the number of animals suffering on factory farms – so why did we just launch a popular initiative on fundamental rights for primates?

First off, this initiative will set a precedent. Granting fundamental rights to the first non-human individuals gives us a “foot in the door” for extending rights to other animals, including chickens, pigs, and cows. Of course, a right to life and bodily integrity for them implies a plant-based diet.

Second, popular initiatives can create a lot of media attention, even if the demand ultimately gets rejected. Demanding rights for non-human primates has the potential to spark societal and academic debate about anti-speciesism – but in contrast to discussions about plant-based diets, this debate largely takes place outside the context of people’s everyday food choices (which often leads to rationalizations of meat consumption). For the average citizen, it is much easier to support fundamental rights for primates than to change dietary habits. Moreover, the underlying philosophical case may also be more appealing to current and future decision-makers than the usual debate on veganism.

Third, the number of sentient beings who exist right now are vastly outnumbered by those who will come to exist in the future. We want to help as many non-human animals as we can in the long term, not just now. That’s why we need to change not only the current eating behaviour of our society, but also the underlying speciesist attitudes.

Demanding fundamental rights for non-human primates questions the barrier between humans and non-human animals. The legal protections only benefit a small number of individuals at this point, but they may be critical in shaping how future generations view non-human animals. Human history shows that achieving fundamental rights was crucial for overcoming racism and sexism. As people get accustomed to or grow up with new laws, their attitudes are shaped in the direction indicated by the laws. In this way, achieving fundamental rights for primates can be a milestone for overcoming speciesism, and will in turn help the trillions of beings who will come to exist in the future.

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How much suffering is necessary? The sad state of UK animal law https://sentience-politics.org/how-much-suffering-is-necessary-the-sad-state-of-uk-animal-law/ Wed, 06 Jul 2016 14:47:46 +0000 https://dev.sentience-politics.org/?p=11445 Summary: Animal law in the UK purports to protect animals from ‘unnecessary suffering’. It does no such thing. In reality, the test for whether a cruel practice is legal is whether it is an industry-wide accepted norm. As well as traditional animal advocacy focussing on dietary and individual change, we should do three things. First, campaign for an independent body accountable for animal welfare in the UK government. Second, advance animal law indirectly through other areas of law that are less ambiguous. Third, call upon judges to apply the usual principles of legal reasoning to animal welfare.

Thou shalt not suffer (unnecessarily)

On paper, animal welfare law in the United Kingdom looks rosy. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it an offence to cause “unnecessary suffering” to an animal (and its predecessor, the Protection of Animals Act 1911, similarly prohibited “unnecessary suffering”). The Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2007 states that all farmers must take “reasonable steps” to ensure animals are not caused “unnecessary pain, suffering, or injury”. Even the law governing animal experimentation, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, says that experimenters must protect animals from “avoidable suffering and unnecessary use”.

This begs an obvious question: How much suffering is “necessary”? The statutes listed above aren’t particularly helpful. The Animal Welfare Act, for example, directs the court to consider whether “the suffering could reasonably have been avoided”, or whether the conduct causing suffering was that of a “reasonably competent and humane person” (s4(3) AWA 2006). These vague guidelines do little to address the suffering that is routinely – and legally – inflicted upon the billion animals slaughtered in UK factory farms each year. The guidelines do not explicitly tackle the hard questions: Is meat consumption “necessary”? Are factory farms? Is starvation and mutilation “necessary”?

These practices appear only to be legal by some complicit understanding between the government and the judiciary. It seems the law of “necessity” is fatally underdetermined when it comes to animal suffering. For comparison, then, let’s see how it works when we are talking about humans.

When is murder (of human animals) necessary?

We need to go back to 1884. In the summer of that year, a ship set sail from Southampton with a crew of four, and sunk off the Cape of Good Hope. Luckily, all four crew members were able to get aboard a lifeboat. Unluckily, all they had with them was two cans of turnips.

Ten days later, the crew were drinking their own urine. The seventeen year old cabin boy Richard Parker was immobile, and possibly unconscious, from hunger and drinking seawater. On the nineteenth day, Captain Dudley and his shipmate Stephens cut Parker’s throat with a penknife. The remaining crew consumed his flesh, survived, and were rescued four days later by a German freighter.

Back in England, Dudley and Stephens confessed and were charged with murder. The only possible defence the court could consider was one of necessity: Should the pair be found not guilty because they had no other choice but to kill Parker? After much deliberation, the court ruled no. The policy implications were too dangerous; Lord Coleridge acknowledged that a defence of necessity could act as a “legal cloak [for] atrocious crime”. To this day, then, the case of R v Dudley and Stephens is authority for the fact that there can be no defence of necessity to murder.

Dudley and Stephens also marked the beginning of a string of case law developing the defence. Over the years, two key ideas have emerged. The first is that the test of necessity is very difficult to satisfy. This makes sense. If laws are to be respected, one cannot break them with impunity unless there is a very, very good reason.

The second is that we cannot say something is necessary if a reasonable alternative is available. Again, this is quite obvious. If there had been an abundance of water and food on that lifeboat, there wouldn’t have been much for the Court to consider.

While discussing this case, it is important to make clear that the doctrine of necessity is, strictly speaking, a defence to committing a crime. But the broader point is that the court is perfectly capable of understanding what ‘necessary’ means; no special legal interpretation is required. In short, ‘necessary’ means there are no other reasonable options available.

When is (non-human animal) murder necessary?

Let’s pause for a second to imagine we lived in an anti-speciesist world. That is, a world where the interests of all individuals are weighted equally according to their needs, not their species membership. In this world, the doctrine of necessity would be the same whether applied to human or non-human animals.

When faced with the suffering of a non-human animal (for example, an animal that had been raised for slaughter in factory farm conditions), the court would first remind itself that establishing the suffering was ‘necessary’ will be very difficult. Then, the court would consider whether there were any reasonable alternatives available.

Let’s see. The Academy of Nutrition of Dietetics, the largest nutritional organisation in the world, reports that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases”. Official health bodies around the world support this view.

In an anti-speciesist world, the legality of keeping animals in factory farm conditions would be an open-and-shut case. We should not harm animals unnecessarily; the consumption of animal products harms animals; we should not consume animal products. Case closed.

Clearly, we do not live in an anti-speciesist world. But what kind of world do we live in? If the legal system does not really prevent unnecessary suffering, how does it operate? We can get an idea of this by looking at a few case studies. Of course, the law does not operate in isolation, but is simply one of the many institutions that uphold speciesism and animal exploitation. What the cases reveal, however, is that when he law does step in, it is not to prevent unnecessary suffering, but rather to placate the interests of the animal agriculture industry.

The principles of reason no longer apply: How the courts condone unnecessary suffering

Roberts v Ruggiero (QBD, 3 April 1985)

This case concerned the use of veal crates (which was legal at the time of the trial, but has been banned since 2007. The UK continues to shoot around 100,000 calves per year for veal, however.)

Veal crates were tiny, individual wooden stalls into which calves were crammed to spend the duration of their short lives. These crates caused tremendous suffering to calves, who received nothing but a liquid diet, were provided with no bedding, and were not even able to turn around. A claim was brought arguing that the use of these crates caused unnecessary suffering to the calves. So far, so reasonable.

The court, however, decided otherwise. As the calves didn’t suffer “beyond that which was general in animal husbandry”, the argument went, their suffering could not be unnecessary. This perverse reasoning is a catch-22 for farm animals; suffering is prohibited, but suffering inherent in the farming process doesn’t count. In other words, as the use of veal crates was a standard industry practice, the court simply didn’t dare to rule it illegal. This reluctance to disrupt industry norms has tragically persisted for decades.

Compassion in World Farming v Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs [2003] EWHC 2850 (Admin)

Globally, we breed and kill around 44 billion chickens a year. That’s 1,400 per second. Think about that. In the time it will take you to read this sentence, more chickens will be killed than all the victims of Ebola in Sierra Leone.

This case, brought by Compassion in World Farming, concerned the way we treat them. In the UK, we have selectively bred chickens to grow much faster and much larger than they ever would naturally. As a result the birds suffering from a host of crippling health problems, from broken bones, to bleeding blisters, to internal organ failure.

Remember, there are two ways in which the UK farm industry exploits these birds. First, to consume their bodies. Second, to consume their eggs. Now, the rapid growth of birds raised for chicken meat is not a problem for the industry. They are simply left to grow beyond what their brittle bones can bear, suffering the painful consequences, and be slaughtered in their infancy. Rapid growth is a problem, however, when it comes to egg laying hens. Chickens are only able to lay eggs when they reach sexual maturity at around 18-24 weeks. But if the egg-laying hens were fed normally, their fast-growing genotype would mean that they would barely be able to stand, let alone lay eggs, by the time they got to 18 weeks.

The industry solution was to starve the egg-laying hens for the first twenty weeks of their lives. Birds were routinely fed less than half the food they needed, and in some cases as little as twenty per cent. Unsurprisingly, a study found that the birds were “chronically hungry”.

The court was presented with all of these findings at trial. The relevant law required that all animals “must be fed a wholesome diet” and in “sufficient quantity to promote a positive state of well being” (Paragraph 14 of the Annex to Council Directive 98/58/EC).

If you were being fed around 20 per cent of your daily caloric needs, which is around two slices of bread per day, a court would not need much convincing that you were not receiving a “wholesome” diet. Yet once again the court rejected the blindingly obvious conclusion that the practice was unlawful, and once again deferred to industry standards.

At the Court of appeal, Lord Justice May decided that the restricted diet was “appropriate”, even if the birds were persistently hungry, as it was taken as a given that the legislation allowed the intensive farming of chickens of fast-growing genotypes. The idea that the court could intervene to prevent nonhuman animal suffering, at the expense of industry profits, was not even entertained.

Ford v Wiley 23 QBD 203 [1889]

There is certainly reason to be despondent. It seems that any farming practice, if sufficiently widespread, will be upheld by the court, and preventing “unnecessary suffering” does not seem to be part of the equation.

But even this dire situation presents a sliver of hope. If we can work towards changing industry practices, then it is possible the legal system will step in and declare abuses to be illegal when they are on the decline.

Admittedly, we do have to back a long way to find a case in support of this. All the way to 1889, in fact. In the case of Ford v Wiley, a farmer in Norfolk used a common saw to remove the horns of 32 young cattle. This caused the cattle excruciating pain, which the farmer sought to justify as it was more profitable and convenient for him.

Importantly, at the time of the case sawing off the horns of calves was a dying practice that had been recently re-established. It was no longer the widespread norm that it had been in previous decades. Accordingly, the court did not simply write-off the suffering of the calves as “no more than usual” for the farming industry, but rather considered that there must be some proportionality between the suffering inflicted and the objective achieved.

Judge Hawkins didn’t mince his words: “[T]o put thousands of cows and oxen to the hideous torments described in this evidence in order to put a few pounds into the pockets of their owners is an instance of such utter disproportion between means and object, as to render the practice as described here not only barbarous and inhuman, but I think clearly unlawful”.

The point is this. If an industry practice is on the way out, it is possible that the court will conduct an analysis that actually considers the suffering inflicted. This conclusion can lead us two ways. First, we should work on changing industry practices, rather than waiting for the courts to declare them illegal. Second, we should consider changing court practices, rather than waiting for industry to sacrifice its profits to animal welfare. The third option, of course, is attempting to turn our speciesist institutions upside-down. This is the most difficult, most long-term challenge, and one that will involve a fundamental shift from viewing animals as objects to be used to viewing them as individuals to be cared for.

What is to be done

It is important to realise that (despite what some lawyers might think), the law is not the be all and end all of how our society is run. The law is just one cog – and a pretty small one – in the speciesist system that enables routine abuse of animals. That said, the judiciary has a unique place in our political system, in that it has the ability to rule certain abuses illegal, and effectively force the executive to make the practices they are condoning explicit. For example, if the judiciary ruled that starving birds was illegal, the UK government would have swiftly enacted new laws stating that it was. However, at least the government would have had to be explicit in saying starvation is acceptable. As it stands, they don’t even have to do that much.

With this in mind, let’s look at some of the things we could do to make our justice system more just. We’ll start with some non-legal measures, and then look at what lawyers and judges should do.

Non-legal measures

Many animal advocacy groups in the UK urge people people to turn vegetarian or vegan. This is important; the average meat-eater in the UK consumes around 7,000 animals in their lifetime. However, it does not directly tackle the problem that our political and legal institutions primarily view animals as resources to be exploited, rather than individuals capable of morally-relevant suffering.

In order to change this paradigm, we need to restructure institutions to make them accountable for representing the interests of animals.

Other European countries have measures in place to this effect. Switzerland, for example has an Animal Welfare Committee in Government, a Parliamentary Group for the Protection of Animals, and a (small, but existent) Animal Party. The Netherlands has the Animal Welfare Police; Germany has a Minister for Animal Welfare, and an Animal Welfare Committee and Commissioners; and Denmark has an Animal Welfare Minister, Special Committee, and Councils.

Admittedly, this collection of buzzwords has not overturned the speciesism that pervades national policy-making, and their direct impact may be difficult to measure. In principle, however, these initiatives acknowledge the need to have some independent body accountable for animal welfare within government. Lobbying for an Animal Welfare Ombudsman or Commission in the UK therefore seems like a worthwhile strategy for many animal advocacy groups.

Legal measures

There are two things to be done here.

First, lawyers should work on animal law indirectly through other areas of law. One of the biggest problems with animal law is that is it so vague. Judges are left to decide what amounts to “unnecessary suffering”, or what a “positive state of wellbeing” means. They are not sufficiently directed on what this should translate to in reality, and as a result largely defer to the animal agricultural industry on what is a common and acceptable practice.

Other areas of law are much clearer. Key cases in patent law, environment law, and freedom of information law, for example, can all have animal welfare implications. Take patent law. The case of Upjohn involved the patenting of a mouse who had been modified to lose all of its hair and serve as a test subject for balding treatments. The European Patent Office had to consider whether the patent would be contrary to “ordre public or morality” (article 53(a) European Patent Convention). The EPO ruled that the mouse was not patentable. In the case of Octomouse, however, which involved a mouse who was genetically modified to develop cancer for the purposes of medical research, the patent was granted. Cases such as these help to provide a benchmark that animal welfare law can learn from. They also expose the inconsistency in our treatment of animals: If it is unethical to breed a mouse for curing baldness, why is it ethical to breed billions of animals for slaughter?

Second, let’s tackle the application of animal law directly. We need judges who are willing to stand up and state the obvious when current practices are clearly illegal. When the law says animals should be fed a “wholesome diet”, for example, it makes a mockery of our legal system that routine starvation is declared lawful.

Of course, there are enormous barriers to making this happen. We are speciesist. We favour the status quo. Animal welfare is not a vote-getter, and subsequently not a law-maker. Not only huge corporations, but almost all individuals, have a vested interest in keeping animal products cheap and factory farms out of our minds. And – importantly – the principle of judicial deference indicates that judges should avoid trampling over Parliament’s intentions when they interpret the law.

Yet despite these hurdles, the judiciary remains in the business of dispensing justice. They remain separate from the executive and the legislature precisely to make sure that impartial justice remains possible. The court cannot be in the business of ruling that black is white, no matter how many vested interests are at stake.

Lord Mansfield, the Chief Justice of England in the case of Rex v Wilkes in 1768, wrote that,: “The constitution does not allow reasons of state to influence our judgement […] We must not regard political consequences, however formidable they might be […] Justitia fiat, ruat coelum – Let justice be done, though the heavens fall”. Lord Mansfield’s words seem to speak directly to the dilemma judges face when asked to rule on animal law. They also recall times when justice has been done, even in the face of overwhelming political pressure.

In 1610, it was the judiciary who decided that Acts of Parliament can be struck down if they contravene “common right and reason”. In 1772, it was the judiciary who declared slavery so “odious” as to be illegal. In more recent times, it was the judiciary who declared that deep interrogation is torture, that being gay is not a crime, and that police must investigate rape claims. Perhaps, in 2020, 2040, or even 2060, it can be the judiciary who declare that factory farming is the worst crime in history.

This won’t happen overnight, or even in the foreseeable future. It also won’t happen without a fairly radical shift in our political and judicial system. But it is important we take steps in the right direction. Take one small step now, and consider learning more about, or supporting, Sentience Politics.

 

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China’s meat consumption is going up, not down – and dietary guidelines alone won’t change that https://sentience-politics.org/chinas-meat-consumption-is-going-up-not-down-and-dietary-guidelines-alone-wont-change-that/ https://sentience-politics.org/chinas-meat-consumption-is-going-up-not-down-and-dietary-guidelines-alone-wont-change-that/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2016 07:34:55 +0000 https://dev.sentience-politics.org/?p=11403 The Chinese government is planning to cut their population’s meat consumption by 50% through “new dietary guidelines“, according to a recent story in The Guardian. But this is highly misleading, as reported changes are very unlikely to achieve anything close to a 50% decrease. In the absence of a larger, as yet unspecified governmental initiative, it’s clear that dietary change alone will be insufficient to curb China’s growing hunger for meat in coming decades.

A look at the updated Chinese Dietary Guidelines reveals that little has changed since they were last updated in 2007. Back then, the per capita maximum intake for “meat and poultry” was set to 75g/day, a figure that for some reason remained unchanged in this year’s update – even though actual consumption per capita rose from 110g to 135g in the meantime. So while the new guidelines do indeed recommend people to eat about 50% less meat than they currently do, it’s clearly evident that simply setting up these guidelines has not achieved its desired result in the past. Without providing stronger nudges for people to follow the recommendations, it’s unclear how this demonstrably failed approach is supposed to make consumers to cut their meat intake in half. Viral ad campaigns starring Arnold Schwarzenegger may help, but are unlikely to make the cut.

Nevertheless, the article sheds important light on the massive, yet relatively overlooked problem of China’s growing demand for meat (a matter we touched upon in a previous post). Following three decades of rapid industrial and economic growth, a majority of Chinese households now find themselves able to afford eating meat on a regular basis – a practice considered rare and luxurious until relatively recently. As a result, meat consumption in China has increased at such a staggering rate that, since 2000, Chinese consumers (along with those of India, but we’ll focus on China here) have been pushing the global average meat consumption upwards – despite the fact that the rest of the world has seen a reduction in meat consumption during the same period.

It’s hard to overstate the devastating effect this will have on sentient animals in food production. Despite producing more than half of the world’s pork, the People’s Republic of China does not have any laws in place to protect farm animals from cruelty, and its domestic animal industry has become infamous abroad for engaging in a number of extremely cruel slaughter practices. Moreover, the new guidelines actually recommend a 20% increase in egg consumption compared with 2007 guidelines – which, if followed (it’s unclear whether they would be), this would spell even worse news for the Chinese egg industry’s hens – of which there are already around 2 billion. Even in countries with some of the world’s best animal welfare laws, egg-laying hens are routinely forced to endure lifelong suffering in factory farm conditions.

Plant-based diets and moral concern for animals may be close to achieving critical mass in the West. But the same achievements are still far away for Chinese animal activists, who despite their persevering efforts continue to find themselves held back by a political environment marked by government censorship and crackdowns on civil activism. Additionally, many of the soy-based meat substitutes enjoyed by vegetarians in the West have a much lower social status among consumers in China, where they’ve been a staple food of farmers for centuries.

Rising meat consumption in China is already a problem of truly massive proportions, and the country’s unique political environment means that addressing this problem is likely to require different approaches than those that have proven effective elsewhere. At the same time, solutions like cultured meat may prove even more effective in China than elsewhere, given the high level of coordinated engineering that will be needed at some point in its development timeline. Other, as yet unknown solutions may prove to have an even greater comparative advantage. This highlights the importance of exploring many different approaches in our efforts to phase out the suffering of factory farmed animals.

In any case, it’s important that we remain focused on finding effective solutions to reducing suffering – and that includes not being distracted by misleading accounts of apparently good news.

This post is a correction to our sharing of the Guardian article in question on our Facebook page a few days ago. Many thanks to Kelly Atlas for drawing attention to the article’s problematic claims, and for her input on this post.

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