The Paradox of “Humane Slaughter”- An Assessment of the Welfarist Approach to Animal Rights  



“‘Compassionate’ consumption is like ‘compassionate’ slavery—it ignores that the issue is not ‘humane’ injustice; the issue is justice.”
-Professor Gary Francione, Founder of the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights

Is it inherently contradictory to call oneself an animal rights campaigner if one endorses so-called “humane slaughter” and promotes welfare reforms which in essence act to ease the public conscience,  in turn alleviating any moral qualms surrounding the idea of consuming another animal’s flesh, rather than addressing the question of whether it is morally justifiable to exploit and kill animals in the first place? Have campaigners such as PETA and Mercy For Animals to name a few, in seeking welfare reform, fooled themselves into believing that they are fighting for a righteous cause, namely the cause of animal justice when in reality they are merely placing the animal in a slightly bigger prison cell?

The welfarist approach* to animal rights, promoted by those such as renowned animal “rights” (note the quotation marks) activist Peter Singer is aligned with what may appear at the outset a seemingly reasonable conviction; namely that society’s rigid definition of animals as economic commodities will not change overnight and that rather than tirelessly attempting to argue for the vegan cause (one too often perceived as “extreme” or “radical” by welfarists),  that we should instead be investing in our efforts to improve the treatment of farm animals within the bounds of their legal definition as commodities; that we should invest our resources into seeking legislation for the installment of CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses for instance. Another such example is the phenomenon of cage-free eggs or “enriched” battery cage hens. The aim of such measures is framed as maximizing the comfort and safety of the animals prior to their slaughter. Further, welfarists push for the implementation of more “humane” methods of slaughtering animals to ensure they suffer as little as possible in the run-up to their killing.

For many, such initiatives may seem reasonable, perhaps justifiable in a world where the voice of the animal activist is so often drowned out, ostracized by a society hell-bent on continuing their animal product consumption in spite of the ethical, dietary and environmental implications of such an activity; a world where gauging someone’s interest in the suffering of their fellow non-human beings is an achievement in itself.

The issue with such an approach lies in its moral underpinnings. By promoting the message that it is morally justifiable to slaughter an animal so long as it is done so “humanely” or “nicely” solidifies the image of animals as economic commodities, perpetuating speciesist ideologies by constructing a separate moral criterion to be followed in the case of non-human animals compared with their human counterparts. Further, if applied to humans the notion of “humane slaughter” becomes highly contradictory and morally problematic; take the notion of humane torture, or humane slavery; Yes, putting protective measures in place to protect an owner’s property will reduce the net levels of suffering inflicted upon the victim but that is irrelevant because the act of treating someone as something is morally wrong in its own right. Rather than being nicer to one’s captive, we should be investing all our energies and resources into freeing that captive, while also striving to dismantle the deeply entrenched view of animals as morally inferior to humans, because we have no legitimate reason to believe so, our best argument being that they are simply not human.  What defines animals as different is their species status; the socially constructed categorization of the non-human animal as subordinate or morally inferior to their human-animal counterparts. Moreover, the promotion of happy exploitation would never stand if such a reasoning was applied in the context of human injustice.

Industries that promote so-called “humane” practices also seek to ease the social conscience, to dissipate any deeply harbored moral qualms regarding the suffering of non-human animals; moreover, exploiters can win over those conflicted individuals by promoting so-called humane exploitation, thus increasing their profits, while further solidifying the view of animals as economic commodities.




Moreover, agricultural companies and exploiters actually profit from bettering their welfare standards, as these measures are used as marketing techniques, a vehicle with which to reassure consumers who are uneasy or unsure about the morality of animal product consumption; it thus positively reinforces the consumer, subduing any sense of discomfort or guilt, and in turn solidifies the conviction that animal exploitation is fine so long as it is done so “humanely”, what Gary Francione has termed “happy exploitation”. Industries can, therefore, capitalize on the illusion of “humane” treatment.  The irony of such a conviction is borne out of the incompatibility of the property status of animals with the allusive notion of ethical treatment. So long as animals are defined in the eyes of the law as economic commodities they will never cease to be treated as such.

Below is a list of reasons why I believe we should reject the Welfarist Approach to Animal Rights

  1. The welfarist approach yields little if any improvement for the overall welfare of animals; the measures it seeks merely make us
    “feel” better about exploiting animals-> the number of animals consumed increases
    ->the number of animals slaughtered increases (greater demand!!) ->more animal suffering and more profits for industry
  2. Exploiters will only consider welfare reforms if they serve to increase the productivity and economic wealth of the company
  3. Companies can often find loopholes around welfare laws.
  4. Welfare campaigns divert attention from the issue of “use”, namely the question of whether it is morally justifiable to kill animals for the sake of palate pleasure when there are kinder, healthier, and more environmentally friendly alternatives at hand (i.e., veganism).
  5. The welfarist stance perpetuates speciesist ideologies, solidifying the view of animals as economic commodities; this makes it all the more difficult to change the public mindset surrounding animals as things, charging the continuation of industries such as fur, hunting, circuses, trophy hunting, leather, animal testing, vivisection and issues such as animal abuse etc. So long as we continue to define and treat animals as commodities by consuming and using them, we will never cease to bring down such industries. This is why veganism must be the starting point or the moral baseline for any kind of reform. 
  6. All animals, however well they are treated will share the common fate of being slaughtered. Their lives will be cut short for the sake of human palate pleasure. They will conclude their lives in a kill line; in the deathly stench and howling of the abattoir
  7. The ideas of humane slaughter or humane exploitation would never be regarded as morally acceptable in a human context.
    Gary Francione summarizes this line of thought so much better than I ever could below:
    “although it’s always better to impose less suffering than more suffering, and so it’s better to torture less than more, having a campaign for more “humane” torture–even if it could reduce the torture slightly–would be wrong because it would miss the point: it is wrong to torture humans at all. It is imperative that we be clear that our opposition to torture is not about reducing suffering; it is about affirming a basic human right But those who promote animal welfare campaigns and who express their “appreciation and support” of “pioneering” programs of “happy exploitation” in situations in which they would not support similar campaigns if humans were involved are doing just that: they are denying the fundamental moral right of nonhuman animals not to be treated as replaceable resources. In my view, this involves speciesism: we are treating human exploitation and nonhuman exploitation in different ways and we don’t have a good reason to do so (Francione, Happy Exploitation)”. 


The welfarist movement thus threatens to undermine any advances made by those promoting an end to animal exploitation, namely those committed to the abolitionist approach to animal rights; those who strive to deconstruct and shake up those deep-seated ideological stances imprinted upon the public mindset regarding the animal other; a society hooked on meat consumption and perpetually seeking an easy way out, gravitating towards the path of denial, and thus averting that all-so-important confrontation with their own basic sense of morality.

The abolitionist approach is thus born out of the conviction that all forms of animal exploitation are morally unjustifiable in the same way that all forms of human exploitation are morally unjustifiable. Veganism forms the moral baseline of this standpoint; thus in order to apply our convictions that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals, we must refrain from any direct involvement in animal exploitation. The welfarist view of “less suffering”, or reducitarianism merely acts to solidify the view of animals as “things” or a means to an end,  hence undermining the possibility of the dawning of a new age in which  animals are not judged by their extrinsic value but rather their value as living feeling individuals with the right to carve their own path to freedom.

Some Definitions:

  • Classic Welfarism: A movement which aims to improve the conditions of animals by campaigning for welfare reforms but does not believe we should end animal exploitation
            Examples: RSPCA, ISPCA



  • New Welfarism*: Would like to see an end to animal exploitation but wishes to improve the conditions of animals and to deal with the “worst” cases of animal exploitation in the meantime.  (Francione, The Meaning of New Welfare).
           Examples: HSUS, PeTA, Farm Sanctuary, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, Vegan Outreach, Animals Australia, Viva!


  1. All sentient beings have the right not to be treated as property.
  2. The recognition of this one right means that we must abolish and not merely regulate institutionalized animal exploitation.
  3. Veganism as a moral baseline and our duty is to educate others.
  4. Links the moral status of animals with sentience alone as it is the only moral justification necessary to reject the use of animals.
  5. Rejects ALL forms of human discrimination, just as they reject speciesism.
  6. Non violence or ahimsa as a core principle
  • Speciesism:  the assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership.


Additional resources:



Why Animal Welfarism Continues to Fail-Lori Marino

Animal Welfare Regulation, “Happy Exploitation”, and Speciesism-An essay by Gary Francione

The Role of Welfarism and New Welfarism in Manufacturing Consent for Animal Use.

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