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The veal comeback: proof that animal welfare activism doesn’t work

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Veal was one of the first targets of “compassionate” exploitation by animal welfarist organizations. Images of baby cows cramped in tiny cages were easily publicized as examples of cruelty that was existing behind the closed doors of animal agriculture. Throughout the late 1980’s and 1990’s, veal farming was villainized against their full grown counterparts, and a single issue campaign was born. Large animal welfare groups would celebrate the impact they had on the industry, that saw the popularity of veal in the 1950’s and 60’s as a thing of the past. But we already know that single issue campaigns don’t work. An article called “Why it’s time to welcome back veal” was published by The Telegraph in the UK, and has been recently making the rounds. In in, author Xanthe Clay shows us that not only did veal campaigns do nothing to end animal exploitation, but that it’s now possible for more exploitation to take place under a “higher-welfare” label.

The article starts by looking to legitimize humane meat, perhaps the most absurd concept of present day, by speaking of the RSPCA’s approval of it through the Freedom Food scheme. The animal welfare groups label “makes it easy to recognize products from animals that have had a better life.” Immediately, we are supposed to buy in to the idea that the treatment of baby cows is more important that the raising and murdering of them. From a group dedicated to “helping” animals, no less. It doesn’t matter where they spend their time, and if that time spans days, months, or years; to call the commodifying of life “humane” is nothing short of sickening. The welfare regulations that take a cow’s brief time from the inside of the cage to a slightly larger space benefits the veal producers, the charities that profit from campaigning for new laws, and the consciences of people who need help tucking away their morals before dinner. It never helps the animals. Yes, Ms. Clay, I do shudder at your insistence that veal isn’t cruel.

The author goes on to call vegetarians attention to veal being a byproduct of the equally cruel dairy industry. But rather than exploring the possibility of dairy being as important to end as veal, she plays the “waste” card, before comparing how much “better” shooting a baby cow is than starving them. If we are to believe this, we should all go out and buy veal immediately, because the passion to bring it back means less starving cows. As always, while we might want less harm for animals, focusing on the treatment of them excuses their use. Then, we pickett and fight for better conditions, and no less cows face their death. Then, we can put “pasteurized,” “organic,” and RSCPA labels on the meat all we want, and it still came from the unnecessary killing of another living being. The only way to stop the promotion of animal use, in this case veal and any animal people ate instead during the boycott, is to fight to end all exploitation.  

Some time has passed, and people have forgotten the slogans, t-shirts, and campaigns. So now, big business is ready to capitalize on what consumers have taught them is a selling point. Veal producers can rebrand, hire a new PR team, and make it popular to eat veal again. But where are the welfarist groups now? They already had their spotlight, their donations, and their “win.” But when people continue eating veal, we can see it was all for nothing. Now, the focus is on bigger cages for chickens. Welfarists will push that it’s the first step to getting chickens out of cages altogether, and then on to making sure chickens are free. But if veal is our precedent, it’ll ensure that in a short time from now, our donations will have been long spent and the egg industry will be back to making people feel comfortable buying eggs from chickens that had a “happy life.” Forgive me for being repetitive, but single issue campaigns don’t work. They make consumers feel better about buying products that animal welfare groups are paid to label as “better.” It’s complete bullshit as it helps industry, and industry alone. That’s how even the American Veal Association, The Humane Society, and the ASPCA can all claim they care about humane treatment, while directly contributing to animal use.

If we are to end animal exploitation altogether, we need to focus on veganism as a moral imperative. Vegan education will have a greater impact on the industry than all regulations combined. Regulations not only allow big business to continue in their devastation more efficiently, but they pat the backs of well-meaning consumers who shell out the extra cash to feel better about their role in an animal’s death. It makes absolutely no sense to masquerade as caring for an animal by “improving” their conditions, when that’s by the standards of the people using them. The only way to legitimately sit out on participating in animal exploitation is veganism.

Ms. Clay’s article closes with a veal recipe. I’d prefer to end mine with a simple set of ingredients for the future; vegan education and the rejection of animal movements that prioritize single issue campaigns. Eating veal is as cruel today as it’s ever been, and the boycott veal movement should leave a bitter taste in the mouths of welfarist activists.

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  • freeda brocks

    This would also highlight the failure of Gary Francione’s approach, If the world was vegan, we wouldn’t have a veal industry.
    If single issue campaigns don’t work, how come people go vegan after getting involved with them?

  • Dr. J

    Single-issue campaigns CAN work, and they can be the foot in the door to launch bigger campaigns. Example: the campaign that led to the end of federally funded chimpanzee research in the U.S. Now the NIH is looking at all nonhuman primate research. But in the big picture, WELFARE campaigns don’t work because they legitimize the use of animals for human purposes. “Humane meat” is a disgusting cop-out for those seeking to justify killing animals to eat them.

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