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Lights, Camera, Slaughter

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We’ve all seen it at the movies. The metaphorical pacifier in the mouth of a non-vegan audience. The “American Humane” logo drifting on to the big screen just as the theatre janitors start pacing the isles and sweeping up popcorn. If you’re anything like me and enjoy listening to the ending credits, you’ll have seen that logo many times. Assuring viewers every time it creeps up that “no animals were harmed” during the making of the feature you just watched.

Like all traditional animal welfare groups, American Humane normalises and promotes the continuation of animal exploitation by assuming the legitimacy of our use of animals as resources. Along with other groups of the same ilk, such as HSUS, American Humane do not question the use of animals for food, clothing, or any of the other ways in which humans exploit vulnerable non-humans on a daily basis. In their focus on particular aspects of use or exploitation – without reference to any overarching ideal or value with respect to animal life – they merely perpetuate the false notion that some forms of exploitation are perfectly acceptable, while others no different – and that constitute the very same use of animals as resources – somehow require our attention.

A film production company in southern Alberta recently came under investigation by American Humane after 5 bison were slaughtered in a scene depicting a buffalo hunt. In a rather confused statement, American Humane said that instead of using “already existing bison product(s) for sale as food,” the animal wrangler responsible for the scene instead arranged for the purchase and slaughter of the bison, specifically for that scene. In essence, what American Humane is saying here is that slaughtering animals on camera can potentially violate policy, while slaughtering those very same animals off camera and packaging them up as “food” is perfectly acceptable. Their issue is not that the animals were killed. Indeed, they believe slaughter to be a legitimate practice. The issue was that the slaughter violated a number of their policies that “prohibit any animal to be injured or killed for use in a movie.” Whatever the motives for these policies, the beneficiaries are clearly not intended to be the animals.

Additionally, American Humane “found no wrongdoing on behalf of Longview Beef Jerky, the company that performed the slaughter.” The animal wrangler, John Scott, simply “violated the watchdog group’s guidelines by arranging to have the bison killed for him.” Again, the killing of the bison was not the problem. The violation of American Humane policy was. This is something that all welfare measures concerning animals have in common – the animals are never intended to be the direct beneficiaries of a policy or piece of legislation. Animals are chattel property and their value as property is determined exclusively by a human owner; property itself cannot be the direct beneficiary of policy or legalisation. That would be like saying that laws against theft are in place for the benefit of table lamps and home cinema systems. Whatever the property, it is to remain a thing with no legally recognisable interests. Just like how property laws against theft are intended to be for the benefit of a property owner, laws or policies that ostensibly protect animals are intended to benefit humans or protect the owners of animals in some way.

In a remarkable turnaround, the American Humane spokesman, Mark Stubis – who initially maintained that the killing of the bison was an “egregious violation of (their) guidelines” – later stated that “the investigation found no evidence of inhumane treatment in the methods used to put down the animals and the SPCA (Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) will not be pursuing charges.” In his fight against them, the animal wrangler, John Scott, even stated that the slaughter “was monitored by two American Humane people: pictures were taken, receipts were taken” and that “everything was done to perfection.” Scott maintains that the debate over the “No Animals Were Harmed” approval by American Humane comes from photos of the slaughter that were leaked online to “animal advocates” without them “knowing all the details of the slaughter.” He is now looking to press charges against the employees who broke their confidentiality agreement and leaked the photos online.

All American Humane has done in this case is explicitly promote and further normalise the idea that there are somehow “humane” ways to exploit and kill sentient beings who do not want to be exploited and killed. This is simply corporate welfarism doing what it does best – ensuring the continuation of animal exploitation by promoting the idea that the only interest animals possess that requires our attention is their interest in not suffering. And even then, as animals are property, recognition of that interest is contingent on whether not there is a human benefit to be gained from considering it. If there no human benefit to be gained from recognising an interest beyond a certain level (as is the case in all of our animal exploitation), then treatment that would be considered torture were humans involved is considered “humane,” and “necessary.” In other words, the American Humane’s proclamation that the bison were slaughtered “humanely” is not only meaningless in the sense that it is impossible to inflict “humane” suffering and death on any sentient being who values his/her life and who does not wish to suffer or die; it’s also meaningless because “humane” in this context quite literally means the infliction of suffering and death with the most human benefits. It has nothing to do with the actual use and treatment of the animal or the interests of the animal him/herself.

We should not make the mistake of believing that groups like American Humane are in this for the benefit of animals. If they were, their logo would never be used. Animals are “harmed” in films every time the cast and crew go for lunch; rights are violated every time an animal is used as a prop on set; and the animal exploitation represented by the cast and crew – and by extension that of the non-vegan audience – is legitimised every time the American Humane logo traverses the screen.

Respect fundamental rights by going vegan. Fight for those rights by advocating for veganism and the abolition of animal property status.

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