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Why The Mainstream “Animal Movement” Promotes Peter Singer

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Corporate welfarism is a problem. The various groups and “animal advocates” of the mainstream movement have spent the last four decades or so forming partnerships with institutional animal exploiters and – increasingly over the last two decades – have spent their time and resources slapping stamps of “humane” approval on the backs of animal corpses and secretions. Animal welfare is a business. It does nothing in the way of helping animals (on account of the limitations imposed by their property status) and actually increases the publics acceptance of animal exploitation by making people feel more comfortable about using animals as resources. It perpetuates the cycle of exploitation through promotion of that exploitation as a normative matter.

One thing that these groups and “advocates” have in common is their reliance on Peter Singer for ideological grounding. The mainstream “animal movement,” by and large, endorses Singer and holds him in high-regard as the so called “father” of their movement (more on this here). The reason a lot of animal welfare organisations get angry when you point out their moral inconsistencies, their speciesism and their promotion of animal exploitation, is that adherence to Singer’s moral theory is what enables them to function as a business enterprise. As abolitionists, we reject Singer’s position on the basis that it is overtly speciesist in denying the inherent value of all sentient beings, their desire for continued existence, and the fact that Singer embraces utilitarian moral reasoning and rejects fundamental rights. His position, understood correctly, is nothing but a licence to continue using and killing animals in “compassionate” ways.

His work is focused on a highly ambiguous notion that can be interpreted in countless different ways depending on the preferences and sensibilities of who you are talking to; the idea that we simply need to “reduce animal suffering.” Its ambiguity is what makes it easy to shape and market for the purpose of selling campaigns. Its lack of derivative meaning is what makes it appealing to non-vegans who wish to feel like they are “doing something” for animals without actually having to do anything.

Singer’s work is, in many ways, the machine that the mainstream movement uses to print money. They focus their campaigns and fundraising efforts on obscure forms of animal exploitation in order to garner the support of those who actively engage in animal exploitation themselves, and they justify this on the basis that they are attempting to “reduce suffering.” Rational discourse and discussion is strictly prohibited and if you attempt to point out the flaws in their reasoning you are labelled as divisive or as some form of oppressor for daring to question the actions of those who are “doing something.”

From a business perspective, this is a very clever tactic. Not only are they able to function and grow through the promotion of speciesism, they insulate themselves from criticism by labelling all who speak out against them as oppressors. We care about animals suffering right now and you don’t, so the story goes. The reality is they simply do not like the theory that fuels their entire enterprise being criticised. Without the ability to sell campaigns seeking to “reduce suffering,” they have no business.

Their paternal embrace of Peter Singer also allows them to justify promoting veganism not as a moral imperative, but merely as a way of “reducing suffering,” no different to consuming “cage free eggs” or “humanely raised” animal flesh. The sole purpose of Singer’s moral theory with respect to animals is to apply the principle of equal consideration to their interests in not suffering; he can envisage a world in which we still raise and kill animals for human consumption but where their interest in not suffering is given equal weight. This is possible for Singer given that he does not believe we are harming sentient beings by killing them. He considers sentient beings to be “vessels” of pleasure and pain, and – because as a partly hedonistic utilitarian the maximisation of utility involves bringing about the most “happiness” in the world – so long as the animal (or “vessel”) is replaced with another animal upon being killed, no wrong has been committed to the deceased. In Singer’s mind the deceased did not possess the desire for continuing to live, and utility remains maximised through the birth of a new animal to take the place of the previous “vessel.”

So for Singer – and subsequently the “movement” he drops off at school at 8 o’clock every morning – veganism is not an essential component of fulfilling our moral obligations to animals. This has become an incredibly lucrative idea for many animal welfare businesses. In effect, they can market and sell various levels of morality where – as a business strategy – there are explicitly no moral baselines. And there never will be. If they promoted veganism as a moral baseline, they’d cutting off a vast portion of their donor base who want to continue feeling that they are “doing something” whilst doing absolutely nothing. These groups continue taking money from these people whilst simultaneously promoting animal exploitation in the form of single-issue campaigns, petitions and welfare reform campaigns.

Peter Singer adores these measures because he sees them as being aligned with his desire to “reduce suffering.” The reality is that – like the theory that ostensibly supports them – they fail on both moral and practical grounds. This is why the mainstream “animal movement” unanimously promotes Singer; his work quite literally gives them a moral pass to promote animal exploitation and make a great deal of money doing it.

Join our abolitionist countermovement and become an advocate for the recognition of animal value and the abolishment of animal property status. On the individual level, that necessarily means going vegan. As a practical matter it means educating others to do the same.

Photo from Ave Maria Radio

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  • Such a pity — a tragedy, actually, for the (animal) victims — this needless, destructive, dogmatic divisiveness. So few vegans in the world, yet the “abolitionist” zealots fight with them instead of trying to reach the hearts of carnivores. This is not the way to cultivate compassion. Nor to reduce suffering. Nor, for that matter, to convert most people to veganism or abolition.

    — A Non-Dogmatic Abolitionist

    • Gary Francione

      Stevan Harnad:

      What are you talking about?

      It’s not a matter of being “divisive.” It’s a matter of criticizing an ideology which holds that, because animals (supposedly) have a qualitatively different level of self-awareness, they lack an interest in, or have a qualitatively different interest in, continuing to live. That is the basis of the welfarist movement, which holds that killing animals per se is not to harm them and that the focus should be reducing suffering. This has nothing to do abolition. One cannot be “divisive” unless there is a unitary whole that can be divided. There isn’t.

      I have attempted top engage you before. You never deal with the substantive issues. You simply repeat the welfarist PR slogans. You’re doing it here.

      Gary L. Francione
      Rutgers University

      P.S. If you would like to have a public discussion about this, let me know, We could do something on a platform like Skype. Let others determine whose position is correct.

      • Hi Gary,

        Thanks for your reply. Here are a few clarifications that I think might help:

        1. I too am a vegan abolitionist (activist).

        2. This means that I do anything I can to help and protect animals.

        3. I don’t eat or wear or use animals in any way.

        4. I do anything I can toward abolishing the use of animals.

        5. I do anything I can to try to encourage people to become vegans as well as activists doing anything they can to help and protect animals and to abolish their use.

        I realize that most people in the world are carnivores and do not (yet) share all of 1 – 5. So I think that the more people begin to do at least part of 1 – 5, the better for the animal victims, present and future.

        I don’t hold any part of the ideology that you attribute to the welfarist movement. I am sure that there are people who hold some or all of those views, but they are not vegan abolitionist activists.

        I am an abolitionist vegan activist who is also a welfarist, and so are many others. I think that not only do I not fit the stereotype you describe as the ideology of “welfarists,” but that that stereotype does not fit many other abolitionist vegan activists who are also working for animal welfare, including those who are provisionally making common cause with non-vegans who are merely trying to reduce rather than abolish animal suffering.

        I would be very happy to have a public discussion with you. I admire your heart, your feelings towards animals, and all you are trying to do to help animals and to abolish the horrors. But my public discussion with you will be ecumenical, because I do not oppose the positive efforts of fellow abolitionist vegan activists to end the horrors. I just greatly regret divisiveness among abolitionist vegan activists as well as negative stereotyping. I don’t think fighting with one another helps the countless animal victims that we are all fighting to help and protect from the horrors.

        Best wishes, Stevan

        • Gary Francione


          You say: “I am an abolitionist vegan activist who is also a welfarist, and so are many others.”

          No, you’re not an abolitionist.

          In the 1990s, many welfarists said they really wanted to achieve animal rights (which required abolition) but they supported welfare as a means to that end. I wrote a book in 1996 (Rain Without Thunder) in which I discussed this phenomenon, I called it “new welfarism.” I explained the theoretical and practical problems of that position. What you are articulating is *exactly* that position: you’re an abolitionist but support welfare. Abolition is a position that says that the means must be consistent with the end. You cannot simultaneously support abolition and welfare,either in some absolute way or as a supposed means to the end of abolition. You are articulating a new welfarist position. You either are not familiar with my work or you don’t agree with it but I have yet to see you make a single substantive argument against it.

          You say: “I don’t hold any part of the ideology that you attribute to the welfarist movement.” But you say: “I am an abolitionist vegan activist who is also a welfarist.” So you’re a welfarist but you don’t embrace the welfarist ideology? Sorry, that makes absolutely no sense.

          There is no divisiveness amongst abolitionists. There are abolitionists and there are new welfarists. They are two separate approaches to animal ethics.


          • Hi Gary,

            I know your position and I know your work and I admire and value it, as I do the work of all sincere, dedicated vegan abolitionist activists.

            But yes, I cannot agree with you that one cannot be working toward complete abolition while also working for immediate welfare improvements along the way. I know you hypothesize that this entrenches and reinforces animal exploitation and the industries that thrive on it.

            That is a hypothesis. It might be right, it might be wrong. I believe it is sometimes right but often wrong. I also cannot bring myself to not do whatever I can to lessen the current victims’ immediate suffering on the strength of a hypothesis. I might have been able to do it (for a while) if there were overwhelming evidence to support the hypothesis, and if abolition were around the corner, but neither of these is alas the case.

            One is free, of course, to define “isms” in any way one wishes. You are working toward the total abolition of animal use by humans. So am I. I would say that by the ordinary rules of nominalizing verbs in English, that makes us both “abolitionists.” On the road to abolition, I am also working toward reducing ongoing animal suffering as much and as soon as possible, by any means possible. Knowing your compassion and motivation, I am absolutely certain you are too.

            It seems reasonable to say that working to reduce animal suffering is working to increase animal welfare. But the path from a noun (welfare) to an ideologized hyper-noun, “welfarism,” is more arbitrary and subjective. And I think you have projected an ideology onto those who are trying to reduce current animal suffering on the path to total abolition, describing them as people who are delaying or deterring abolition, either inadvertently, or deliberately, for their own interests.

            There do indeed exist many people who are deliberately or inadvertently delaying or deterring abolition for their own interests. Such people, either knowingly or unknowingly, really aren’t abolitionists.

            But that simply does not cover all the people who say, truthfully, that they are abolitionists, and act accordingly, and who also say, truthfully, that they are “welfarists” as well, trying to reduce animal suffering along the way, and act accordingly.

            Nor is there any reason to believe that formulating a hypothesis or attributing an ideology makes real people fit one’s hypothesis or one’s attribution as a matter of fact. That rather exceeds the definitional power of language.

            I will be directing a Summer Institute on “The Other Minds Problem: Animal Sentience and Cognition” in Montreal in June 2018. The daytime sessions will be scientific ones, focussed on sentience and biological/psychological needs, species by species, from invertebrates to fish to birds to mammals to primates. The evening sessions will be about ethics and practical activism for immediately reducing and eventually abolishing animal suffering. I hope you can come and give a talk.

            With best wishes,


          • Gary Francione

            Stevan: Please, at your convenience, send me a formal invitation. I would be delighted to attend and present. I disagree that this (the effect of the property status of animals; the economics of animal welfare) is a matter of speculation or hypothesis. On the contrary. And that is the talk I will present. Gary

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