What's Wrong with the Current Animal Rights Movement

A few months ago, an animal rights organization sent me a letter advertising a fund-raising Farm Walk. The idea was to gather pledges from your family and friends and then march around San Francisco in a big group. The walk would raise public awareness of vegetarian issues, and the money collected would help provide care for abused farm animals. This sounded good to me, so the morning of the walk I went to the ATM, raised the suggested twenty dollars, and took a bus downtown to join the other marchers. And after ten minutes of their company, I turned around and walked back home.

In order to maximize visibility, the organizers of the walk had picked the city's busiest tourist district as a starting point. That morning some fifty animal rights activists mingled among the cable cars and tourists and passed out pamphlets. Some marchers chanted and carried signs inked in blood red paint, and a few even dressed like pigs. Mostly these people just looked stupid. The tourists gawked, and I saw one man elbow his wife and smirk, no doubt happy he could return to Florida or Ohio or Maryland with a story about crazy Californians. And here lies the problem. By drawing attention to themselves, the activists asked that attention not be paid to their message.

Too often, animal rights events are simply competitions over which activist loves animals best. And because these competitions are "won" by the individual carrying the most graphic sign or behaving the most obnoxiously, the public is often left both unimpressed and unconvinced. If any good is to come of the movement, animal rights activists must abandon these self-righteous pissing contests and begin acting with more dignity. And this means not only cooperating with each other, but also with other progressive activists. The need for this alliance can't be understated. Only a broad, progressive coalition can address the most important and pressing of all animal rights issues: cutting worldwide beef consumption by 50%.

Given its importance, the goal of reducing beef consumption is surprisingly attainable. And there's a good reason for this. It's the one animal rights issue that depends least on animal welfare rhetoric. Cattle may indeed enjoy miserable lives, but the ill effects of beef consumption extend far beyond the well being of individual cows. Beef consumption also devastates the environment, ruins public health, and even steals grain from the mouths of starving children. But you wouldn't know this from listening to animal rights activists. In their eagerness to promote animal welfare, they've apparently forgotten that equally compelling environmental, health, and moral reasons exist for not eating beef. And, as a result, they've ignored a potential alliance with anyone already socially conscious enough to recycle, watch his diet, or donate to hunger charities. Or, in other words, almost every American.

The animal rights movement may have real and important goals, but as long as human beings continue to suffer, the public will rightly consider the living conditions of cattle a secondary concern. This means the most effective way to save cows from the slaughterhouse is not through loud protests about farm living conditions, but by demonstrating the undeniable link between human welfare and animal welfare. And really, this is not just empty rhetoric. If less people ate meat, the world actually would be a better place, and most importantly, not just for animals.