Commentary: The abolition of debate

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Guess what takes place next week?

Mark your calendars for the World Week for the Abolition of Meat (May 21 through 27). Although it’s centered in Paris, the organizers claim there will be companion events taking place elsewhere in France and in Switzerland.Not exactly worldwide participation, but one supposes that abolition of livestock and an end to all consumption of animal foods has to start somewhere.

“A large demonstration for the closing down of slaughterhouses will be an occasion to address the public and proclaim that the production and consumption of meat (and fish as well as other animal products) cause immense harm to animals, are not morally defendable, and must therefore be abolished as soon as possible,” a proclamation from the organizers announced.

Actually, that statement sounds rather tame compared with some of the incendiary missives from more radical groups here in The States.

“We hope that demonstrations such as these will soon be organized around the world and will foster a rapid increase in awareness: the animal question is a crucial moral and political question must be taken into account on all levels of society,” the proclamation stated.

The naiveté evident in such rose-tinted optimism is stunning. But it’s also evidence of the canyon-size gulf between theory and reality that infects the anti-animal agriculture community.

To be concerned about the humane treatment and well-being of both wild and farm animals is commendable. To be convinced that anything having to do with raising livestock or managing wildlife is immoral is certifiable.

In conjunction with the Abolition of Meat Week, a Veggie pride March is also on tap for Marseille, France. Its publicity pitch is equally revealing for the way it characterizes the rationale for vegetarianism. Here is how its organizers describe it:

  • The demonstration must be centered on the refusal to eat animals out of regard for the animals. Other motives to be a vegetarian—the environment, health, the Third World—must be either left out altogether or be given a clearly subordinate status.
  • The participation in the demonstration is open to any person who refrains from eating animals out of regard for the animals (whether or not that person has additional motives to be vegetarian).
  • Veggie Pride must be a demonstration of individuals, who come to demonstrate as individuals. Associations and other groups may be present, but in a subordinate manner, for instance by participating in activities organized outside of the main demonstration.
  • The demonstration asks society to accept an open debate on the issue of the consumption of meat in relation to the violence that it implies against the animals.

Here’s the best part of the statement, though: “The demonstration is nonviolent, and if possible, legal.”

In other words, anything goes, as long as the participants can assure themselves it’s for a “good” cause.

Rather than “open debate,” unfortunately, most committed veggie activists lean toward the “if legal” phrase. Which is the crux of the dilemma in attempting to animate any discourse on the subject of livestock production and meat-eating” Facts don’t count when emotions drive the issues. Science doesn’t matter if people’s convictions are based on principles, not hypotheses.

It’s tempting to simply agree that a percentage of the population believes passionately that animal husbandry—no matter how humanely practiced—is an abomination, while another percentage eats meat, loves meat and doesn’t care how it’s produced. Which is true, of course; the percentages to assign to each cohort are debatable, but the existence of large numbers of polarized opposites among consumers isn’t.

The answer, then, lies in working toward a semblance of détente with the activists and moving as many of meat lovers as possible from “I don’t care about the controversies” to a “I support for animal agriculture,” not because it’s a necessary evil but because it’s a positive contributor to ours and the planet’s well-being.

Good luck finding an Abolition Week marcher to share that conversation with, however.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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David Olivier    
Lyon, France  |  May, 15, 2012 at 04:22 AM

I'm happy that you mention these events on this site. I confirm that their aim is to open the debate about the legitimacy (ethical, political) raising and killing animals for food. I don't see why you doubt that. The phrase about the Veggie Pride demonstrations being "if possible, legal" is take from the international definition of the Veggie Pride demonstration concept. Yes, there are places in the world where the right to demonstrate peacefully is not guaranteed, and in such circumstances we would support the organizers of a VP demo if they decided to go ahead and demonstrate peacefully, but illegally. Is that outrageous? You seem to advocate some form of quality animal husbandry, that might be seen as ethically acceptable for someone who opposes inflicting suffering on animals, but not using them and killing them. You might be interested by the piece by Antoine Comiti, "Abolition as the Most Realistic Solution", unfortunately currently only in French: (The site does have, though, several articles in English explaining the basic ideas behind the movement.) The argument in that article, which I think is sound, is that: "What is utopic is not so much imagining a meatless society as believing that some day it may be possible to offer a decent life and a painless death to the over one billion animals that are killed each year for meat in France." David

kansas  |  May, 15, 2012 at 08:53 AM

David proves the point of this commentary. These radical eliminationists have no desire to debate and view all carnivores and omnivores in the human population as "evil", as a matter of Faith - not Reason. Ends Justify Means in their fevered minds, and they are more than happy to deceive the world with talk of "debate" when they are merely seeking opportunites to demonize and denigrate in a public forum. The goal, revealed in their own words, is to shout down, assault and impose their Beliefs on others with whatever means they find... "if possible, legal". Animal Agriculture must stand up and fight back, not placate and appease these lying fascists.

David Olivier    
Lyon, France  |  May, 16, 2012 at 05:58 PM

The text by Antoine Comiti I referred to has now been translated to English. It is now online on my site: Abolition as the most realistic solution The article has references showing that public opinion (in France, but the same goes for many countries, including in large part in the US) does care quite a bit about the welfare of animals. To refuse to accept public debate concerning these issues is, obviously, a denial of democracy. David

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