The Dark Side of the Animal Welfare Movement

Sam Woolfe January 1, 2014 2

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are usually referred to as an animal rights organisation. But this is a mistake. No animal rights organisation would euthanize 89% of animals at their own animal shelter. This is what PETA have been found guilty of doing at their shelter in Norfolk, Virginia. Of course, some animals which are turned in may be suffering to an extent which would justify euthanasia. However, PETA’s high euthanasia rate does not reflect this. Many of the animals are treatable and adoptable. In response to accusations of hypocrisy, PETA said that they had no choice, that given the overpopulation issue and the inability to find homes for these abandoned animals, euthanasia was the only compassionate choice.

On they argue that many of the animals are turned away by ‘no kill’ shelters and that these animals are often elderly, injured, diseased or aggressive. They say that their high euthanasia rate is an unfortunate but necessary statistic. The alternative would be to abandon these animals on the streets or keep them locked up in cages. Part of their solution to the overpopulation crisis is by offering a spay and neutering service to prevent unwanted cats and dogs from being born. We should also appreciate how emotionally distressing it must be for PETA employees to have to euthanise any animal. The lives of some animals are so bleak and miserable that a peaceful end to their suffering really is the only option. However, others beg to differ. Given PETA’s $37 million annual budget, surely this money could be spent on achieving higher adoption rates, instead of radical and shocking publicity stunts.


A true animal rights organisation would oppose the use of animals categorically, including euthanizing them for your convenience. PETA might claim that their high euthanasia rate reflects the necessity to end suffering, but if these animals were replaced with human infants, would the same rules apply? I don’t think so. Part of the problem with PETA comes down to the organisation’s prolific nature – like many other big charity organisations, they are more concerned with promotional activities (such as advertising celebrity supporters) than they are with the actual cause. Another part of the problem with PETA comes down to the philosophy underpinning the organisation – the philosophy of animal welfare.

This philosophical position says that animals can still be slaughtered, used in scientific experiments and how they are kept (in zoos, farms, circuses, for other sports etc.). Animals can still be treated as property, so long as harm and suffering is minimised, given the fact that animals are sentient. The animal welfare position is usually opposed by the animal rights position. Some claim that increasing concern for the welfare of animals – the animal welfare movement in action – is a sign that we are gradually abolishing our use of animals altogether. The animal rights philosopher, Gary Francione, on the other hand, believes that these minor improvements in an animal’s life are a futile attempt to use animals in an ethical way.

Gary Francione

Gary Francione

These attempts are just as futile and unethical as an attempt to improve the conditions of slaves or to molest or rape someone in a way which takes their welfare into consideration. The animal welfare movement is just as inconsistent and unjustifiable as a slavery welfare movement, a molestation welfare movement, or a rape welfare movement. Slavery, molestation and rape of any human is wrong in itself and cannot be justified by reducing the victim’s suffering. Slavery should always be abolished – it can never be ‘improved’. Likewise, the treatment of a sentient animal as a commodity is wrong in itself. It makes no sense to say that the well-being of an animal is taken into account when they are being killed, tested on or used for human entertainment. The very act of treating them as property automatically means that their well-being is ignored. The concept of ‘humane meat’ or ‘humane eggs’ is oxymoronic.

I’ve explained before why organic and free range animal products are a myth. Animals in ‘organic’ or ‘free range’ conditions are tortured and suffer in many of the same unimaginable ways as non-organic and non-free range animals. But to see the dark side of the animal welfare movement in action, look no further than the following examples. Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) is a label which is stuck on to all meat, egg and dairy products that come from “farm animals raised to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards”. (Quote taken from AWA’s website). Apparently you should trust the AWA when you can’t visit the farm yourself. This is very misleading.

As this rare footage shows, meat products will deserve an AWA label even when the animals (pigs in this case) have been gassed to death with CO2. This footage proves that ‘humane slaughter’ is a myth and that you can never trust ‘welfare labels’ on animal products. These labels are deceptive – they only serve to make the abolitionist approach more difficult to realise. They give consumers the false impression that buying products with these labels means that they are making an ethical choice. What they are is a marketing tool. Since these companies realise that there is a demand for ‘compassionate meat’, they are willing to provide a superficial proof of this compassion (with a label), whilst continuing to exploit animals. Consumers are being manipulated and the lives of animals are no better. For more about so called ‘humane’ farming practices, check out this article.


Another example of the animal welfare movement’s dark side is their support of cruel organisations. PETA agreed with KFC Canada’s decision to introduce the least cruel method of bird slaughter available – gassing them to death. But as you have seen already from the previous footage of gassing pigs, the cries and frantic behaviour of the animal suggests that there is nothing humane about gassing. PETA was “thrilled to announce” this as a “historic new animal welfare plan”; as well as using phrases such as “enormous victory” and “historic victory!” PETA then agreed to end their boycott against the Canadian division of KFC.

PETA compared this gassing method (CAD – controlled atmosphere killing) with traditional slaughter methods (electric stunning) and concluded that CAD is preferable from an ethical, environmental and economic standpoint. The Humane Society of the United States has also backed CAD for its economic benefits and likelihood to increase the quality of the meat. As Francione stresses, PETA tends to care more about its revenue and fame than they do about animals. As he puts it, “Indeed, this is the modus operandi of the modern animal movement: identify practices that are not economically efficient and that are in the process of being changed by industry anyway. Launch a campaign to bring about what would happen in the natural course of events, declare victory, and fundraise. That is exactly what is happening here.”

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