In the arena of animal ethics, Abolitionist animal rights advocates work towards the abolition of all animal use and believe that the means to achieve that end is promoting veganism as a moral baseline and rejecting “happy” exploitation (consumption of products from so-called “humanely” raised and slaughtered animals). New Welfarists claim that they hope to eventually see the end of all (or most) animal use and the means to that end is “happy” exploitation and animal regulation via incremental institutional reforms. To gain a basic understanding of animal rights vs. animal welfare, please watch the video of this title here. There are many essays on this website, authored by animal rights theorist Professor Gary Francione, which explain the differences between abolitionism and welfarism and the reasons why the Abolitionist Approach is the only approach which has the potential to be effective in ending all animal exploitation. This essay is inspired by the work of Francione and I am grateful to him for the insights he has provided on this very important issue. This does not mean that he would necessarily agree with all of its contents and any deficiencies are mine alone.

Someone sent a message to Professor Gary Francione on his Facebook Page, Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights today:

I was pondering this morning: 

At the point at which the New Welfarists believe that their ideology will one day lead to (“happy” farms and pastures where animals live in LaLa Land until they are Delightfully Put To Sleep For Food), where is the ideological leap that it takes to make the case for abolition within that belief system? 

In other words, once all animal treatment is “humane” in their view, how do they expect people to then make the conclusion that it is time to abolish ALL use? At that point, I think, the use of nonhuman animals wouldn’t be as “repulsive.” I personally believe all use is disgusting, but if the New Welfarist ideology becomes as pervasive as they’d like, I don’t believe that there would be a necessary moral system in place that would lead people to believe, “Oh, yeah…now that animals aren’t being tortured anymore, it’s time to abolish any and all use.” The only approach that does that is getting people to understand that NO use is acceptable.

Francione’s response: 

Great question. I have *no* idea why anyone thinks either that: (a) welfare reform will lead incrementally to a state of blissful treatment for animals used by humans; or (b) once we get to the state of blissful treatment, there will be a move to abolish use. Neither belief makes any sense.” (Professor Francione has written extensively on the failure of welfarism on his site Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach)

Indeed, why would anyone think such a preposterous thing? It’s completely illogical. It seems odd that many seemingly otherwise intelligent people subscribe to such a fanciful notion.

But could it be that the hallmark of welfarists is that when it comes to animal issues they just don’t think? Period. At least not clearly in terms of what would be most effective in ending all animal use.


The large welfarist animal corporations like HSUS and PETA, with their big budgets, dominate the arena of animal advocacy, and many animal advocates have yet to encounter the abolitionist approach, which is a grassroots movement relying purely on the efforts of committed individuals. However, those who subscribe to New Welfarism do commonly appear to have an aversion to thinking, to reading and to rational discussion in relation to animal issues when presented with the possibility of an alternative such as abolitionism. Perhaps there is a disincentive for them to think because:

a). They are employed by a large animal corporation and may not want to give up their quarter of a million dollar salary, if they are the CEO, or whatever benefits they get as less than the CEO.

b). They’ve hitched their fortunes to selling books and giving lectures about animal issues and know that their career will more likely flourish if they jump on the welfarist bandwagon, because it doesn’t challenge anyone or threaten the status quo.

c). They enjoy their steak, fried eggs, cheeseburgers and ice cream and have no intention of giving them up. At the same time they want to think of themselves as people who care about animals, so resolve this by consuming so-called “humane” animal products, all of which involve torture and murder. They’re encouraged to do this by the welfarist organisations who promote the belief that we can discharge our moral obligations to animals in this way, and that there is no necessity to go vegan.

d). They know that it’s wrong to consume animal products but they lack the moral fortitude and strength of character to to do anything as non-conformist as going vegan and thereby risk ridicule and rejection from friends and family. At this time, welfarism, including consuming “happy” animal products is so much more socially acceptable than becoming a vegan, even if it does involve moral failure.

e). Being a welfarist is easy. All you have to do to absolve your conscience is to make donations to animal welfare charities. You don’t actually have to change your behaviour in any way — just like buying indulgences from the Church in medieval times. 

f). It’s conceivable that a very small number of welfarists may be unfortunate in being genuinely unintelligent and therefore unable to resist the propaganda and slick marketing of the large animal corporations. They may be sincerely confused or incapable of understanding an alternative like the abolitionist approach, based on rational argument, which requires only average intelligence. 

None of the above has anything to do with thinking reflectively and clearly in terms of what is actually best for animals and ending their exploitation. In one way or another, all of these attitudes, with the exception of f), are based around an unreflective stance of what is best for oneself as part of a speciesist sense of entitlement. I’m not denying that many animal advocates believe themselves to be sincere in their support of welfarism as the best approach to animal advocacy, and would be affronted at being assigned to the above categories. However, I consider that their position typically involves a measure of bad faith due to a lack of recognition of their own speciesism.

Putting aside that the idyllic situation for animals, where they are treated perfectly humanely, which welfarists believe can be incrementally achieved through institutional regulatory reforms is nothing but an impossible fantasy due to the fact that all animal use involves torture, no-one in the welfarist camp has explained how it is that the leap could be made from this situation to total abolition of all animal use, even though New Welfarists claim this is their ultimate goal. This concept is repeated as an article of faith with no basis in reality; it is not substantiated by any logical argument or evidence. The evidence is that consumption of animal products is increasing and some people are reverting from veganism to omnivorism because they believe that animals are now being treated humanely. Why would welfarists expect this trend to change?

Basic logic would dictate that the better the public believes animals are being treated, and the more the discourse focuses on treatment rather than use, the more they will feel that they are fulfilling their moral obligations to animals through consuming “happy” animal products. Consequently, the less they will see any reason to become vegan as the solution to animal exploitation. Thus, the property status of animals only becomes more entrenched. In this scenario, the more “successful” welfarists are, the more failure is assured. 

In other words, welfarists could not be more wrong about the relationship between their stated goal and the means they adopt to achieve it. This is not a difficult concept and is surely obvious to anyone who genuinely makes an effort to put aside speciesist prejudice long enough to think seriously about the issues. Theoretically, welfarists are truly like the fabled emperor without a suit of clothes.

No wonder then, that when we, as abolitionists, attempt to engage with welfarists, we so often encounter irrational and defensive behaviour like name-calling, character attacks, obfuscation, denial, fantasy, refusal to engage, misrepresentation of the abolitionist argument, claims that we “don’t care about the animals now” and attribution of attitudes like “aggressive”, “fundamentalist”, “extremist” etc. All of these are ways of avoiding doing the one thing that would be disastrous for the welfarist position and that is to think, clearly, honestly and without speciesist bias about what is necessary to end animal use. Indeed, many abolitionists have found that it is easier to talk to members of the general public, who have no previous interest in animal advocacy, but do have moral concern about animals and are receptive to rational argument about how to address that concern, than it is to talk to those who are aligned with the reactionary and discredited dogmas of welfarism.

(Thanks to the person who asked the above excellent question of Professor Francione on which this essay is based). 

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