Editorial feature: Moral leadership, big groups, & the meat issue

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2007:

Exemplifying moral leadership consists of
departing from typical conduct to demonstrate
standards of behavior which may never be fully
met by most people, yet will be respected,
appreciated, and emulated to whatever degree
others find comfortable and practical.
This is risky business. To lead, one
must step beyond the norms, taking the chance of
ostracism that comes with being different.
Trying to be “better” than most people
incorporates the risk of being perceived as
“worse,” especially if the would-be moral
exemplar is asking others to take the same risk.
Hardly anyone chooses to be considered a
“deviate,” a word which literally means only
varying from routine patterns of conduct, but
connotes perverted menace.
But mostly the behavior and qualities of
moral leadership are not consciously chosen in
the first place, and are not exhibited as the
outcome of an intellectual process.
Despite the labors of moral
philosophers–and editorialists–the study of
behavioral evolution strongly suggests that the
components of “morality” evolved out of the
intuitive gestures and responses associated with
social cooperation. Humans did not invent
codified moral behavior to make ourselves
different from each other; rather, the effort
was to make behavior more standardized, more
predictable, more conducive to social harmony.
“Thou Shalt Not Kill,” “Thou Shalt Not
Steal,” and “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery,”
for instance, all seem to have unwritten
antecedents in the social norms of many species
much older than humanity.

What is moral, for most people–as well
as most baboons, dogs, and crows, among other
species with a sense of “right” and “wrong”
assessed in scientific studies–is whatever is
socially acceptable. Social acceptance is the
measure of right and wrong. Exclusion and
rejection are the punishments.
Human social evolution amounts to the
gradual extension of moral consideration to
people who are not our immediate kin, often
interrupted by reversions to sexism, racism,
nationalism, and tribalism, which facilitate
exploitation and abuse by re-narrowing the scope
of ethical concern.
Extending moral consideration to animals
requires widening the scope of concern to include
others who may feel and suffer as we do, even if
superficially quite unlike us. Either
wholly intuitive empathy or completely abstract
scientific reason could lead to the conclusion
that as Jeremy Bentham wrote in 1780, “The
question is not, Can they reason? Nor Can they
talk? But, Can they suffer?”
Scientists from Charles Darwin in The
Origin of Species (1859) to Marc Bekoff in The
Emotional Lives of Animals (2007) have observed
and documented that the traits we recognize as
making us “human” actually exist along a
continuum of species. Therefore, to extend
human consideration to other animals is only
Yet, because the moral impulse appears
to originate mostly from feelings as basic as
maternal love, empathy rather than the influence
of scientific observation tends to predominate
when humans reach out to help animals.
Because empathy tends to be most strongly
felt toward those to whom one is closest, dogs,
cats, and horses were the first subjects of
humane work. Pigs may be as intelligent and as
capable of deep feeling as most great apes, yet
fellow great apes appear to be far more likely to
be conceded legal rights. As great ape
advocates emphasize, apes are our closest kin.
All of this comes into mostly subliminal
play in asking humane societies to adopt
progressive pro-animal food policies.
The request seems superficially simple
and obvious, asking the organizations to do no
more than live up to the ideals implicit in their
More than 99% of all the animals who
suffer and die due to human activity are raised
and killed, or fished and hunted, for meat.
Thus, if a humane society is to effectively
address animal suffering, it must address eating
Reality is that even in India, where
more than half of the world’s vegetarians reside,
about two-thirds of the population eats meat.
Globally, more than 95% of humanity eats meat.
Therefore, promoting vegetarianism or veganism
as the ethically ideal diet may be unlikely to
win majority acceptance for generations.
To win practical reforms reducing the
suffering of the billions of animals who are
raised, transported, and slaughtered with
appalling cruelty, animal advocates must seek
“stepwise, incremental” progress, as the late
Henry Spira advocated.
A vegan himself, Spira devoted most of
his last 15 years to opening the discussions and
initiating the agreements under which the
restaurant chains Wendy’s International, Burger
King, McDonald’s, and others have agreed to
enforce purchasing standards for animal products.
This in turn recently obliged many of the largest
producers of factory-farmed pigs and chickens to
introduce changes to reduce animal suffering,
such as phasing out farrowing crates and reducing
the numbers of laying hens crammed into each cage.
Though far short of the humane ideal,
each of these changes both reduces animal
suffering and helps to establish the idea that
animals should not be made to suffer, even if
causing them to suffer is economically expedient.
As basic expectations of the animal husbandry
industry increase, the opportunities expand for
introducing further reform.
Spira understood that not eating meat and
not wearing leather increased his moral authority
when he went to negotiate with animal industry
representatives. He did not expect to convert
any of them into vegans, or vegetarians, or
even to persuade any to eat less meat. He did,
however, seek to impress upon them that he lived
his ethical beliefs. Daring to demonstrate his
different outlook was part of his qualification
for asserting moral leadership. Boldly and
forthrightly done, it was respected.
Human leadership tends to be either moral
or governing, represented at the tribal level by
the shaman and the chief, and in developed
societies by the institutions of “church” and
“state.” Though the roles may be combined, they
represent different approaches toward achieving
social stability.
The shaman, or church, wins a following
by establishing a reputation for knowing great
secrets, or possessing greater wisdom than other
people. In secular societies, the roles of
shaman and church may be taken by non-clerical
intellectuals, including scientists and
philosophers, but the leadership dynamic is the
same: people choose voluntarily to follow the
leader, because the leader seems to know
something they don’t.
The social welfare role of religion in a
secular society may largely pass to other forms
of nonprofit institution, including humane
societies and food banks. The role of sacrifice
in supporting a priesthood long ago gave way to
collecting voluntary contributions of money.
Whether supporting a church, a humane society,
or any other nonprofit institution, donations
represent the confidence of the donors in the
role of the recipient as moral exemplar.
The chief, whether elected or
self-appointed, holds position by dominance.
Though some rule by force, most tend to
represent the interests of the majority of their
Humane societies often err in sacrificing
the opportunity to exercise moral leadership, at
cost of being perceived as different, in the
hope of achieving broader public support by
representing rather than challenging community
Animal advocacy donors expect humane
societies to advocate the highest practicable
ethic of concern for animals, and to take
positions that seek to improve the community
norms–and throughout the world, the most
economically successful humane societies tend to
be those that present an inspiring challenge, on
multiple fronts.
Although a humane society may hold
government contracts, for instance as a
community animal control agency, humane
societies are not elected by the general public
to represent the prevailing majority interests.
Rather, humane societies are supported by donors
to improve conditions for animals, not to
preserve the status quo.

Big charities must set the example

Fulfilling the role of community
exemplars on the subjects of meat-eating and the
treatment of livestock and poultry would be
considerably easier for local humane societies,
worldwide, if the major national and
multi-national organizations set a strong example.
For local organizations, like it or not,
policy is often dictated by hometown economic
National organizations may draw support
from millions of animal advocates, whose
strength of commitment is relatively high. As
far back as 1990, three separate surveys of U.S.
animal advocacy group donors found that up to 85%
of those supporting animal rights and
antivivisection organizations were already
vegetarians or vegans.
Though vegetarians and vegans were not
then anywhere near becoming the majority of
supporters of mainstream national animal welfare
societies, they were the fastest-growing part of
the animal advocacy donor base.
While a 1996 survey of animal advocates
did not ask about personal eating habits, it did
find that farm animal issues were identified as
the issue of greatest concern by those who were
then under 40 years of age.
The risk of alienating donors to national
groups by taking a position against meat appears
by now to be quite low. Witness the economic
success of PETA, Best Friends, and the Humane
Society of the United States, which represent
three distinctly different tactical approaches to
animal advocacy, yet have all taken positions
against meat-eating.
But committed vegan and vegetarian donors
are scattered all over, with relatively few
concentrated among the potential donors to local
Humane societies can only be expected to
take a strong position on behalf of farm animals,
including encouragement of vegetarianism or
veganism, if supported by national and
multi-national organizations–and not just in
Most of all, the nationals and
multi-nationals need to stand up and say, “This
is what we believe┼á”
Ironically, there are presently more
labeling schemes promoted by U.S. and
multi-national animal advocacy organizations to
identify “humanely raised” meat than there are
major organizations which actively recommend
eating no meat.
Yet many of the most dedicated activists
have asked the big groups to at least endorse
vegetarianism as an ethical ideal ever since the
1824 formation of the London SPCA. The London
SPCA became the Royal SPCA by charter granted by
Queen Victoria in 1840.
Before royal patronage secured enduring
economic strength, the London SPCA nearly went
bankrupt in 1828. It was bailed out by Lewis
Gompertz–who was expelled only four years later
for the alleged offenses of being a vegetarian
and a Jew. For many years the RSPCA defended
itself against allegations of being anti-Semetic
by asserting that Gompertz’ vegetarian advocacy
was the crux of the issue.
Gompertz went on to found the Animals’
Friend Society, which he headed until 1848. The
RSPCA went on to introduce the first major
labeling scheme, called Freedom Food, in 1996.
“One in 20 farm animals in Britain is
reared under the Freedom Food scheme,” assessed
Guardian consumer affairs correspondent Rebecca
Smithers in March 2007, “but there are only 10
full-time officials to police it, which means
that farms can go up to 15 months without an
In consequence, Freedom Food has been
afflicted by one scandal after another. In
November 2006, for example, three employees of
a major egg company were arrested for allegedly
mislabeling eggs from battery caged hens as
“free-range.” On March 13, 2007, the ITV
program Tonight with Trevor McDonald aired
videotape of abuse and neglect at Freedom
Food-certified turkey and duck farms
The very first U.S. humane society was
the American SPCA, founded in 1867. The
founding president, Henry Bergh, was not a
vegetarian, but he clearly included animals who
were to be eaten within his scope of concern. In
1873 the ASPCA won passage of the Twenty-Eight
Hour Law, to limit the time that any hooved
animals could be kept aboard any kind of vehicle.
This was the first national legislative victory
for the U.S. humane movement.
Under current president Ed Sayres, the
ASPCA has emerged as a dynamic voice for animal
protection legislation at the state level
nationwide, and recently introduced an ambitious
effort to help humane societies in many parts of
the U.S. to reduce killing homeless animals by
improving shelter facilities and services.
The ASPCA has not neglected farm animals,
as one of the major supporters of the Humane Farm
Animal Care labeling program. But the ASPCA
stops short of recommending vegetarianism.
“The ASPCA believes that whether or not
to consume animals, and animal products such as
milk and eggs, is a personal and private
determination that must be left to each
individual,” states the ASPCA web site.
“However, the ASPCA firmly believes that animals
who are bred, raised and killed or harvested for
human consumption, like all animals, are
entitled to protection from distress and
suffering during their lives and at the time of
their deaths.”
This is essentially Bergh’s policy,
rephrased somewhat but not substantively amended.
The late John Kullberg, ASPCA president
from 1977 until 1991, did take a position
against meat-eating, briefly. He lost his job
within weeks.
The first national U.S. humane
organization was the American Humane Association,
founded in 1877. American Humane was
instrumental in winning passage of legislation
strengthening the 28-Hour Law in 1906 and the
Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. American Humane
today operates an animal product labeling
program, begun by longtime AHA Washington D.C.
office director Adele Douglass, who left in 2002
to found Humane Farm Animal Care.
But, “American Humane does not have a
‘food policy,'” president Marie Wheatley
recently told ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim
Bartlett. “Not about meat, not about fish, not
about dairy products or eggs. We do have a
policy that animals that are raised for food
should be treated humanely throughout their
lifespan,” Wheatley said.
This is similar to the position, or
rather non-position, of many of the other major
organizations which should be offering moral
Each opposes “unnecessary” cruelties to
farmed animals, usually without defining
“necessary” in any tangible way–and thereby
ventures little, if at all, beyond majority
public opinion in every nation where public
opinion about cruelty to farmed animals has every
been surveyed. Surveys demonstrate some
differences in levels of recognition of what
specifically is cruel, but not in basic
agreement that farmed animals should not be
caused to suffer.
The 521-word World Society for the
Protection of Animals addresses 15 different
aspects of meat production, but the WSPA
positions are phrased to avoid controversy.
For example, WSPA holds that, “Farmed
animals must be provided with shelter, exercise,
food, water and care in a manner appropriate to
their physiological and behavioral needs. WSPA
is opposed to any methods of husbandry which do
not fulfil these criteria.”
Most factory farmers could endorse the
same statement. Their difference of opinion
would be over the definitions of “physiological
and behavioral needs.”
WSPA “is in principle opposed to
mutilations which are carried out for
non-therapeutic reasons,” such as debeaking
laying hens. This does challenge the
agricultural status quo.
WSPA, based in Britain, further holds
that, “it should be our declared aim and public
demand to have all long distance transportation
of animals for slaughter replaced by carcass-only
trade.” However, while Britain permits live
animal exports, in compliance with European
Union policy, this WSPA position is aligned with
British public opinion, which for several years
stopped the British live export industry, before
the EU intervened.
The only point of the WSPA policy which
significantly contradicts present British norms
and public opinion worldwide is that “WSPA
opposes the commercial practice of allowing
anglers into fish farms to play the fish and then
to throw them back. The handling, transport and
slaughter of fish must comply with general humane
Recognizing that fish should be subjects
of humane concern demonstrates moral leadership.
On this topic, at least, WSPA is well ahead of
most of the humane community.
“We have no policy on
vegetarianism/veganism,” WSPA director general
Peter Davies told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “and like
Compassion In World Farming and the RSPCA, we
are not a ‘vegetarian Society.’
“We do have a policy for our staff,
which can be summarized as, ‘If we entertain as
an organization or as individuals on a Society
entertainment occasion, we serve vegetarian,
vegan, and high animal welfare food such as
Freedom Food or the Soil Association products.
Where it is not possible to source high animal
welfare food, we will only serve or choose
vegetarian or vegan options. We believe that as
a global alliance we will not dictate choice to
our member societies or to our loyal supporters
and donors,'” Davies said.
“At our June 2006 symposium the take up
of our meals was 56% Freedom Food, 36%
vegetarian, and 8% vegan–and these were all
convinced and active animal welfarists,” Davies

Dogs, cats, & venison

Some major animal welfare societies not
only evade the meat issue but actively support
meat consumption. For example, ANIMAL PEOPLE
recently received complaints that ranched venison
was served at the 2006 International Companion
Animal Welfare Conference– an event which had in
several recent years served only vegetarian food,
and in 2006 was held in Slovenia, a nation whose
president, Janez Drnovsek, is a longtime
The International Companion Animal
Welfare Conference is sponsored by Dogs Trust,
Dogs Home Battersea, and the North Shore Animal
League International.
Since their programs focus entirely on
dogs and cats, an argument could be made that
they do not have the same ethical obligation as a
humane society serving all sentient animals to
oppose eating all meat, on principle.
But an organization need not formally
address either the treatment of farm animals or
dietary choices to at least refrain from
participating as consumers in industries and
practices which are of focal concern to a large
number of the people actively working for animal
welfare worldwide.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE has often pointed out,
even if the majority of the officers, directors,
and employees of a humane organization personally
choose to eat meat, public functions should be
free of meat.
Pro-vegetarian food policies need not be
complex. The PETA policy is simply, “Animals
are not ours to eat, wear, or experiment on.”
Given that premise, almost anyone can deduce
without further instruction that if one wishes to
eat meat, wear fur, or perform vivisection,
one must do away from PETA headquarters and PETA
PETA opposition to meat-eating was more
implicit than an active campaign theme until the
mid-1990s, but since then the PETA anti-meat
efforts may be their most successful, based on
media notice and donor response.
The Best Friends Animal Society has
likewise always been pro-vegetarian, directed
and run by longtime vegetarians and vegans.
Although Best Friends has not actively campaigned
against meat, nor on farm animal issues,
visitors to the Best Friends sanctuary in Kanab,
Utah see a consicientious effort to set a good
“At Best Friends we have a policy that
all food served at the sanctuary is vegetarian,”
explains international community response manager
Amy Hogg, “with an increasing preference towards
vegan foods. Likewise any food presented by
Best Friends at a fundraising, adoption or
conference event is vegetarian and, in many
cases, entirely vegan. While a lot of people
participating in our events may not be vegetarian
or vegan we believe that our meat policy reflects
the Best Friends philosophy of ‘Kindness to
(all) Animals.'”
The Humane Society of the U.S., within
six months after the mid-2004 election of current
president Wayne Pacelle, introduced essentially
the same policies with a comprehensive analytical
statement which attempts to anticipate and answer
all arguments, and makes clear that while HSUS
offers vegetarianism as the ideal, it is more
committed to incrementally reducing the suffering
of farmed animals in any way that it can.
Notes the preamble, “The vast majority
of meat, eggs, and dairy products sold in
American grocery chains and restaurants come from
animals raised in intensive-confinementŠliving
creatures are being treated as biological
‘machines.’ HSUS is also concerned about
commercial fishing and fish production
practices,” the statement adds. “The
proliferation of massive fish farms raises basic
questions about their welfare. And commercial
fishing practices continue to deplete many fish
populations in dramatic ways and result in the
by-catch of extraordinary numbers of non-target
animals, including marine mammals, birds, and
other fish.”
The conclusion is that, “Considering the
foregoing abuses of animals, degradation of the
environment, and detriment to human health,
HSUS promotes eating with conscience and
embracing the Three Rs: reducing the consumption
of meat and other animal-based foods; refining
the diet by eating products only from animals who
have been raised, transported, and slaughtered
in a system of humane, sustainable agriculture
that does not abuse the animals; and replacing
meat and other animal-based foods in the diet
with plant-based foods.”
Says HSUS senior vice president and chief
of staff Andrew Rowan, “While this is a fairly
bland statement when it comes to vegetarianism,
HSUS no longer spends its (donated) funds on
animal food products. Thus, the food at HSUS
Expo,” the largest humane conference worldwide,
“is all vegan, and the food at any HSUS or
Humane Society International event is now
expected to be vegan. When HSUS employees are
eating on expense accounts, they are expected to
order vegetarian items.”
Even the restaurant order becomes thereby
a position statement, reaffirming the recently
revitalized commitment of HSUS to providing moral
leadership on behalf of all animals, not just a
favored few species.

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