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The Naysayers

It’s not only animal exploiters who have a problem with this incremental legal strategy. There are also detractors from the left, such as Animal Equality author Joan Dunayer, who criticizes Wise for not extending his rights concept to, among other things, honeybees. "We don’t want a few nonhuman animals to be regarded as honorary humans. We want to get rid of humanness as the basis for rights," she says. And then there’s Rutgers law professor Gary Francione, author of such books as Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. Until 1999, Francione directed the Rutgers-based Animal Rights Law Clinic, but he closed it down, claiming that "the American animal rights movement has collapsed" and become reformist, rather than radical.

Francione takes on nearly everyone. Though he once served as attorney for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (the most influential rights group today), he is now openly critical of the group for not being radical enough. He also has issues with ALDF, Steven Wise, Peter Singer, Wayne Pacelle, Tom Regan and most of the other animal activists cited in this story.

Francione compares the laws governing animal ownership to those regulating slavery. "They’re structurally similar in that they favor the owner’s interests, as the slave laws did," he says. "If you examine anti-cruelty laws carefully, what you see is that the laws don’t provide any more protection than is necessary for efficient exploitation of the animal. It’s crazy to argue that we’re ever going to get significant legal change from common law courts. If Congress passed a law making factory farming illegal, for instance, it would drive up the price of meat and people would be in the streets." The result, he says, is very small gains. He cites PETA’s celebration of the Burger King veggie burger, and Peter Singer’s favorable comments about McDonald’s decision to give battery hens more cage space. "Maybe Peter finds that thrilling; I do not," Francione says. "It is a clear indication that welfarist reform is useless."

One of Francione’s more interesting complaints is against the legal reformers’ willingness to work with Republicans who are otherwise terrible on progressive issues. "The only way we make sense is as a movement of the left," he says, "and that can’t mean making alliances with anti-choice, pro-military politicians like Elizabeth Dole and Bob Smith." He also deplores PETA’s "I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign as sexist, a view many other animal activists share.

Steve Ann Chambers has heard from Francione and other critics many times before and she thinks they offer no realistic solutions, since the American people are not likely to embrace the strict no-meat, no-dairy diet called veganism (Francione’s choice and his basis for change) any time soon. "I find it more productive to work positively with what we have within the existing legal system, and build upon it," she says. "If we refuse to do anything about the problems that exist for animals until society has decided it is no longer proper to eat meat, we’ll be waiting a long time."

OK, so fast food veggie burgers, larger confinement crates and standing for animals in court are not going to dramatically change the world or save the environment. But it can help us regain our empathy and alleviate some measure of suffering. Perhaps that’s all we can hope for right now.

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