you're reading...
Animal Law, Animal Welfare, Veganism

Right Wing Vegans?

Stephanie is currently a student in Animals and the Law at the University of Auckland, Faculty of Law, and a guest contributor to the Solution.  Students from this class will be contributing blogs to the Solution periodically over
the next month.

Grocery MarketThere is a stereotype of the vegetarian-going-vegan animal rights enthusiast of being a left wing voter.  Even my closest right-wing friends and family members joke about me being a ‘socialist’. I cannot convince them that I actually agree with them politically. A barbeque interrogation about why I am not tucking into a juicy steak seems to inevitably lead to questions concerning my political views, much to my friends’ bewilderment when they hear the unexpected: I’m right-wing, but don’t eat meat.

Yes.  I fall on the right of the political spectrum, and in general, I believe in the free market.  It promotes efficiency, hard work, innovation, and self-reliance.  Excellent.But, and this is a big but, I know that there are exceptions.  And my recognition of them does not change my political alignment.  Certain markets cannot produce desirable balances of competing interests when only subject to market forces.  Market forces are based on reaching economic allocative efficiency.

For some industries, this is fine.  Great, even.  The vegetable market is an example.  Demand equals supply thanks to handy price fluctuations.

Others however, are not suited to this model.  A problem arises when one competing interest is not a financial interest because it is not accounted for in the supply and demand model.  I take as an example the United States healthcare model. The financial incentives are all wrong.  Profitability encourages health insurance companies to actively seek out reasons to refuse to pay out when one of their insured clients become sick.  The results of this are devastating.  It means that Americans receive less healthcare and have to suffer the consequences.  But surely healthcare is for more important than money, so from a societal point of view, the market has failed.

The same goes for animal farming.  The result of animals’ legal status as property and being used in agriculture to turn a profit means that the financial incentives clash with the animals’ interests.  The financial incentive is to cram animals into a tight space, and treat them as badly as the given farmer’s conscience will allow, so long as the animals are healthy enough for productive purposes. The mere existence of factory farms, not to mention the extent of them, indicates that a farmer’s personal concern to treat one’s animals well is nowhere near regulation enough.   Arguments that the property status of animals provides an incentive for each animal owner to keep their animals in good condition are fundamentally flawed in relation to farm animals.  The incentive is to exploit the animals in order maximise profits.  Agricultural efficiency and the welfare of animals are simply not compatible.

Of course some farms are better than others and not all farmers treat their animals abhorrently, according to some welfare standards.  The animal rights standard does not accept any level of farming as it operates today, but an intermediate step is needed before this goal can be reached.  An appropriate intermediate step can be to improve farm animal welfare.  Although the welfare view and the animal rights view have their contradictions, including, importantly, whether the current property status of animals can continue to be endorsed, both views are a step in the same ultimate direction.  They share the common goal of improving the lives of animals.

The farming industry thus needs government intervention in order to reach the most desirable outcome from a societal point of view.  As a starting point, stricter regulations are needed to protect animals from exploitation.  This may include more detailed regulations regarding housing, feeding and use of animals in production.   The more extreme view, and my ultimate hope, is that the animal market will become state owned and controlled.  This endorsement of market regulation does not amount to a shift on the political spectrum, but rather a shift on the moral spectrum.

It is simply a recognition that as a society, we are becoming more and more concerned about animal welfare.  We are rethinking our use of animals and our moral standpoints on these issues are changing.  Left, and right wing.


15 thoughts on “Right Wing Vegans?

  1. Does it matter? You either like animals or finance their enslavement suffering and violent death. Theres nothing cool about hurting animals regardless of your political affiliation. Take the Greens, they still believe animals can be enslaved and killed and its ethical. I’ve yet to verify (she wont answer) but I have been informed that Jeanette Fitsimmons’s favorite meal is homegrown veal. If so she eats babies. (Source: whoar.co.nz). So theres no one to vote for if you’re an animal rights campaigner, we are effectively completely sunk. As are the animals.

    Sadly our economy is built on animal suffering. This is how we roll. How pointless is the animal welfare act when we have battery chickens pig crates and things like greyhound racing. We dont care, its just not in us. We delight in our savagery. Despite it ruining our country, water and moral fabric.

    Posted by AaronC | 15 January 2010, 12:04 pm
    • To take a more optimistic viewpoint, you could say that any party could support animal welfare or even animal rights. There is potential for a political consensus, which is a good thing.

      Posted by Stephanie Irons | 15 January 2010, 8:42 pm
  2. Vernon Tava :

    ‘[M]y ultimate hope, is that the animal market will become state owned and controlled.’

    I must say, that’s a decidedly left-wing idea!

    Posted by Vernon Tava | 15 January 2010, 4:51 pm
    • My point is that I can be a right-winger and support market intervention in some markets!

      Posted by Stephanie Irons | 15 January 2010, 8:39 pm
  3. My hope is that animals will cease to be traded as property. I think that so long as we deny animals rights and treat them as property, they will inevitably suffer. Trading animals in any kind of market – state owned, regulated, or lassiez-faire – inevitably commodifies them, reducing them to economic units and resources, denying their independent subjective existences.

    Posted by David Tong | 15 January 2010, 6:21 pm
    • You make a good point, but I’m not sure that such a radical change is needed to improve the lives of animals. Especially in the short term, we can make significant improvements working within the property paradigm.
      On a philosophical level you are completely right. But given the current suffering of animals, I am concerned primarily with pragmatics and making improvements now.

      Posted by Stephanie Irons | 15 January 2010, 8:48 pm
      • This really comes down to whether you accept Francione’s practical/empirical argument in favour of abolition. According to Francione, welfare reforms assist the industry, discourage veganism, and produce little tangible benefit to animals, if any. So according to Francione, campaigning for incremental reforms within the welfare model does not make any real difference to improve their lives.

        Philosophically, I think we both agree (and agree with Francione), but, practically, I lean towards Francione’s position.

        Posted by David Tong | 20 January 2010, 9:38 am
  4. What a great counterpoint to Max Harris’ brilliant article, which (and I don’t think it is too controversial to say) came from a decidedly leftist point of view. I disagree with you on a wide variety of fronts regarding your political and economic arguments (especially your argument that vegetable markets are ‘free’ markets, considering the vast constellation of corporate power that has fundamentally restructured the way vegetables and grains come to our table) however, and this is the key point, for the purposes of being a vegetarian or vegan, it doesn’t matter what political ideology colours your choice. Personally, my primary justification argues stems from a ‘left’ viewpoint, that raising and feeding livestock requires far more land than we have to provide a animal-based diet for the 6.75 billion people we currently have on this earth, a figure which jumps up about 30 million people every 10 weeks. Interestingly, this same argument contains concepts that readily translate into right-wing thinking as well – animal products are an ‘inefficient’ way of providing food for people (especially given the limited integration of animals within ecologically sustainable agriculture, where they can play an important role). And, I recognise other justifications as being equally valid. While Max is right when he says the personal is the political, it is a point that must be made with a grain of salt, given the divisive nature of political arguments in common discourse. What I mean to ask is whether one’s justification really matters – I believe that disembedding animals from the property concept is a brilliant goal, but I also recognise that state regulated animal markets could promote a far more welfare-friendly environment for some of the nation’s animals. At the end of the day, I wonder the utility of political allegiances in relation to animal issues, as they have a tendency to divide. Does anybody have any thoughts?

    Posted by Edward Miller | 17 January 2010, 9:39 am
  5. I’m with you Ed, and, I suppose, with Stephanie as well. I’m not convinced that one’s place on the political spectrum is a defining feature of animal discourse, although you are both correct to point out that free market ideology is not particularly beneficial to animals. It’s worth noting that to the extent there is any real difference between Labour and National, it certainly never operated to the benefit of animals. There are good arguments to be made that animals did worse under Labour than National. Indeed, I can’t think of a single policy put in place by Labour during its reign that helped animals – with the exception of the decision to end live sheep export. Labour was harsh on dogs, and did nothing to help implement the Animal Welfare Act. Not that National has been much better, mind you, but still early days….

    Ed’s larger point is worth exploring. I’ve certainly read some articles about how the free market might assist in resolving certain animal issues (especially with companion animals), and to be sure, it has a role to play. Without question, the promotion of better vegan food – which I believe to be a core part of increasing the vegan population – is controlled entirely by the free market. I certainly speak about these ideas in class frequently, and don’t think that “banning” food people want to eat will ever do much to advance the cause.

    Posted by Peter Sankoff | 17 January 2010, 4:22 pm
  6. I think the problem with dealing with an issue like the consumption of animals is that it is so deeply ingrained within our collective cultural consciousness that breaking that addiction is a fundamentally different process to any other political narrative we ever inhabit, and really needs to be dealt with on its own terms. As I say, at the end of the day, justify a good practice however you like, as long as you maintain that good practice. Determining what constitutes “a good practice” can be the difficult part, and this is where I guess reconciling political ideology seems like an appropriate process of reasoning. Goodness and happiness, an ecologically sound ethos, the development of the self through compassion for others – these things cannot be quantified in a spectrum of left and right, and these categories often prove divisive. A healthy ethos needn’t be encoded within a complex political interpretation of a social and material arrangement, and indeed as vegans and vegetarians we can manifest this ethos in our everyday life.

    The challenge of groups of animal lawyers is, of course, to explore which mechanisms can most effectively “legitimise” such an ethos, that is, instil it as a baseline of justice. Whatever mechanism this is, it must be rational, equitable, and at the same time largely impermeable. To spread veganism and vegetarianism widely is necessarily in this case a movement of individuals, and, while the private sector is often thought of as a domain dominated by corporate actors and the power of capital legal, any mechanism that engage the private sector as private individuals ought to be investigated (be this a publicly administered system or otherwise). Like Stephanie I don’t think this mechanism is the market, but I again I assert that the engagement of private individuals is necessary for the legitimization of such a necessary layer of protection.

    Posted by Edward Miller | 18 January 2010, 12:58 am
  7. Meat production is heavily subsidized by the government, with our tax dollars. In a free market, the price of meat would be at least double what it is now – people would eat less of it. We can also stop animal suffering by enforcing laws against cruelty.

    In other words, Free Market + Criminal Law = less animal suffering. Right-wing veg’n is the way to go.

    Posted by Roberto | 27 May 2010, 7:25 am
  8. I agree with you, i am a right winger and vegan at the same time, people who says this don´t know that adolf hitler was a vegetarian, and HE wasn´t a left winger at all, quite the opposite you all know this, so I think that left wingers and right wingers can be vegetarians and vegans

    Posted by mike | 18 October 2010, 8:24 am
  9. Stephanie I actually agree with pretty much all you say. The worrying thing is that I consider myself very much on the “left” because, like you, I think markets cannot decide everything, especially when the weak and vulnerable are concerned.

    It appears as if I have been deluding myself about my political affiliations and I now have no choice but to resign from the Green Party and join ACT 🙂

    Posted by Michael Morris | 19 May 2011, 3:10 pm
  10. You could not be more on the money!!

    Posted by cars picture | 30 October 2011, 11:36 pm
%d bloggers like this: