Hey, What if Factory Farming Were THE ONLY THING Anyone Worked to End?

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7 min read

Our movement is seeing victories for animals every week: Ringling is taking elephants out of the circus, SeaWorld is ending orca breeding, the angora rabbit fur market is collapsing, and laws are coming onto the books that make cruelty to animals a felony, that ban the possession of tigers, and that even ban some of the worst chemical tests on animals! Roadside zoos are closing down, and chimps and bears are going to sanctuaries after decades of loneliness and deprivation. Synthetic wool, leather, and down are everywhere, saving MILLIONS of gentle sheep, cows, ducks, and geese—even Ferrari now offers synthetic leather as an upgrade for its new convertible. We are changing the marketplace!

If you are happy about all these victories, consider this chilling thought: Some people say that the only thing we should spend our time and money on is fighting factory farming—to the exclusion of all else. But, if we had listened to that, none of these victories would have occurred. Not one!

Great apes wouldn’t be coming out of the labs if we had only worked on factory farming. Jane Goodall spent years proving that chimpanzees are basically just another type of human being, and the result was an end to painful experiments on them. If she had worked on factory farming instead, NIH would not have been forced to retire every chimpanzee in its laboratories.

If we had only worked on factory farming, they would still be slamming baboons and pigs into walls in car crash tests, and there’d be no faux fur or fake snake and no alternatives to killing a mouse to see if you are pregnant. But there are—because our movement fought for and funded them!

We are a vegan food movement, of course. But we’re much more than that. We are an animal rights movement: a movement that opposes speciesism in all its forms, which means being against cruelty to chickens and cows, yes, but also to dogs, cats, rabbits, elephants, dolphins, bears, mice, and monkeys.  

We can’t wait until everyone eats veggie burgers before we help other animals. That would be like, in the ’60s, if white people who helped register black people to vote were told that they had no business doing that until all white people were taken care of. Or like being told that we shouldn’t work for animal rights until all human rights issues are resolved.

Our movement’s goal is to get people to recognize that, just as animals are not hamburgers, they also are not handbags, test tubes with whiskers, cheap burglar alarms, props for photo ops, or “pests.” They are individuals like us, and we must protect all of them.

Some people who work on factory-farming issues—good people—are using “evaluation” groups to promote the idea that it’s only effective to do factory-farming work. But these “evaluation” groups need evaluating, as they do a poor job, and their rationale is unsound.

They say suffering is a question of math, but their numbers don’t add up. They say that since a chicken lives for about 42 days, instead of saving one dog who suffers for a year, you should save nine chickens, and just forget the dog. Well, imagine one dog, chained alone in a patch of dirt surrounded by her own waste for an entire year. She shivers every winter night and the sun scorches her in the summer without shade. She is thirsty, her ears are bitten raw by flies, mange torments her and doesn’t allow her a moment’s rest, and she’s fed so little that she’s always hungry. What if she is beaten and her collar has become embedded in her neck? Is it the same as nine chickens on a factory farm for 42 days?

Animals aren’t numbers; they are individuals. People who use and abuse animals reduce them to numbers—but we should not! 

One issue does not a movement make. Our strong movement reaches into all the dark corners of animal abuse and pulls the victims out. It’s changing the world not just so that children will become vegan but also so they won’t grow up thinking that since their parents take them to the circus, it must be acceptable to dominate animals. That’s why we’re closing down roadside zoos and circuses—five in just the last year.

Covering other issues creates vegans, too. For instance, people appalled that Cecil the lion was shot by a tourist, and who only care about that, visit our website to see what’s going on with that, and there, they learn about other issues that they would never have sought out before because they weren’t interested. Others heard about an abandoned dog who suffocated in a crate sealed in plastic. They were outraged, so when a PETA reward caught the perpetrator, they came to a courthouse demonstration. There, they learned all about other animal rights issues.

Take Tyrann Mathieu’s wonderful public service announcement (PSA) about dogs left to die in hot cars. People who visited the PETA website to watch that video also watched other videos they had never intended to see. And, Tyrann, who did that PSA because of his love for dogs, went vegan after the shoot!

We opened a pop-up shop in Asia, where customers who opened exotic bags saw the horrors of alligator and snake slaughter. A video about that went viral, and over 50 million people watched it online. If we had only worked on factory farming, it would’ve been tough luck for reptiles killed by having water pumped into their bodies through a hose down their throats.

Shall we stop working to help Nosey the elephant or let Lolita the orca rot in her cement tank? No, because helping them has massive implications both for them and for all animals.

Here’s a true story: A lab assistant knew a monkey named Clayton. The assistant left the lab, but eight years later, he returned, and there was Clayton, still in the exact same spot. The man said, “Clayton had a pink face. He had dark eyes, sandy fur, and a 2-inch titanium rod screwed into the top of his skull. Clayton was born in a breeding center. He grew up in a metal box, and he spent his adolescence with a hole in his head and a coil through his eye. In 10 or 15 years of life, Clayton suffered multiple surgeries and infections and endless hours of restraint in a plastic chair. I moved across the country, I became a journalist, I married, I went on vacations, but for Clayton, nothing ever changed. Every day or two, he was carted off to a room. His head was fixed in place by the post that still protrudes from his skull.”

Our movement exists to remember people like Clayton (for they ARE people) and they need us to liberate them.

Someone who believes we should only campaign against factory farming said, “People may go to the circus maybe once a year or to the zoo maybe three or four times in their life, but every time a person chooses to eat vegan, they’re saving 200 animals a year.” But it isn’t about how often a human goes to the circus or the zoo. It’s about the animals who are stuck there, year after year, going insane, turning in circles, biting the bars, trying to cope, whether we go there or not.

And as for the argument that it’s more effective to spend every dollar on fighting factory farming, that, too, is arguable. For example, PETA has sterilized 130,000 animals. If only half of those animals had had just one litter and only half of those offspring had gone on to have just one litter—that’s over 13 million lives that we’ve prevented from being born with nowhere to go! And that’s a real statistic.

And if you think the most vital thing is to save the lives of animals used for food, you also have to support campaigns to end the use of animals for clothing, because all those animals’ bodies become food. The food industries depend on down pillow sales and woolly sweater sales and leather shoe sales to bolster their profits. So, every time we strike a blow against the animal-derived clothing industries, the meat and dairy industries take a hit, too.

We didn’t get to this point by only talking about factory farming. It’s been a long, hard road. In 1980, unless you took your own bottle to the co-op in Berkeley, you could buy only one shampoo that wasn’t tested on animals. It was Nature de France: imported, expensive, and hard to find. Fur wasn’t an issue; it was a status symbol. There was no CGI to replace wild animals in movies, and no one questioned “scientists.” Now we have replacements for everything—from vegan ballet slippers to medical training models that bleed. We’ve saved millions of animals from experiments, closed labs, and gotten all the animals out, and over 2,000 companies no longer force their products into animals’ eyes and stomachs.

So, let’s do everything we can think of, all the time, to help all animals, in every way they are being abused. Let’s have a vegan world, not just in what we eat but also in what we wear and buy, how we entertain ourselves, and how we treat every single living being.

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