May 17, 2012

Abolition as the most realistic solution

Many animal activists, and I among them, view the abolition of meat as a step towards a progressively less speciesist society (others would rather say «towards the end of all animal exploitation»).

Without renouncing this perspective, there is another (complementary) one that we must develop in order to garner support for the idea of abolition. We must show that abolishing meat is the most realistic solution to what our society already views as serious problems concerning the production of meat.

Indeed, besides ecological issues (pollution...), sanitary ones (zoonosis...) and economic ones (public subsidies...) with meat production, the way animals live - and die - in animal agriculture is itself seen as an important(1), and problematic, issue by many people. Thus, husbandry practices - such as encagement, mass rearing in closed buildings, mutilations without pain killers - are already strongly condemned by the public opinion(2).

But if refusing to use animal products out of personal conviction is rather well accepted, whenever collective solutions to the above problems are discussed the only approach viewed as pragmatic is the improvement of the conditions in which animals are raised. The implicit theory is that by progressive improvement of these conditions we will eventually come to an acceptable situation for the animals. And that instead, abolishing meat is unrealistic, is simply an utopy.

A challenge for our movement is to prove that what is an utopy is not imagining a meatless society, but to believe that one day we could offer a decent life and a painless death to the over one billion animals killed each year for meat in France.

As the debate about abolition heats up, we will be asked with increasing insistence: «Why should we abolish meat if there are other ways to solve the problems?»

Besides reminding in our answer that the slaughter of animals is itself already a problem, it is our task to question how in practice would it be possible to obtain the hundreds of thousands of tons of meat and the billions of eggs that are produced each year in France, without inflicting on the animals the harm we do to them today? We are to ask how, realistically, a farmer who produces chicken meat from tens of thousands of birds could, whatever good will he or she may have, offer them decent life conditions? How, for example, could this farmer care for the sick animals when time is not enough each day even to set eyes on each of them separately?

To those who explain that abolition is not a realistic solution, but who recognize the problems caused today by meat production, let us ask: how many additional acres will have to be dedicated to animal agriculture? How many thousands of people (or millions?) will have to be paid to care properly for the animals? By how much will, consequently, the price of meat have to be multiplied? And what other costly solutions will have to be implemented? Is our society truly ready to go to such levels of fantasy for a product that is increasingly recognized as unnecessary for a healthy life?

The issue of how realistic the current approach is (solving the problems posed by the production of meat in incremental steps) is hardly ever debated. Indeed:

  • Those who produce or eat meat, just as those who work towards improving the way meat is produced, have a strong interest in believing in this solution, for it justifies their activity(3).
  • On the other hand, among those activists who advocate the abolition of meat, many don't discuss this issue, arguing that there's no legitimacy anyway in killing animals for food (or that any exploitation, even that does not cause suffering, would be unacceptable).

Arguing that, ethically, the meat industry isn't legitimate should not prevent us from showing that that the approach that is proposed today to solve the problems caused by the production of meat are far less realistic than abolition.

Antoine Comiti

(1) In a January 2004 survey for the Permanent Assembly of Agricultural Chambers and for the magazine 60 Millions de consommateurs, to the question «Concerning the operating conditions of agriculture, how much importance do you give the issue of animal welfare?», 78% answered «very much». The full results of this survey on a sample of 1002 is available at

(2) Thus, according to an October 1999 survey, 95.2% felt that «In intensive husbandry, animals don't have enough space», and 80.5% that «mutilations are unacceptable». The survey was on a sample of 874 and was ordered by the French association Consommation, Logement et Cadre de Vie (CLCV) with a grant from the French food administration (DGAL). Quoted in Florence Burgat, «La demande concernant le bien-être animal», Le Courrier de l'environnement de l'INRA, #44, October 2001,

(3) My point here is not to criticise the generally positive (in my opinion) role played by (non speciesist) campaigns for the improvement of conditions in animal husbandry, campaigns that, in addition to their direct effects on the animals themselves help bringing into the general public's eye the realities of meat production and reminding it that husbandry animals are, just as we are, sentient beings.

(translated from French by Mai-wen Wauthy)

September 21, 2007

Meat boycott and the political movement

According to a study(1) co-financed by the French ministry of agriculture, a significant part of the French public already questions the legitimacy of killing animals in various contexts related to the use of animals for food:
-59% of those polled said they disagreed(2) with this statement: "That one can kill an animal during a hunt sounds normal to you"
-40% disagreed with: "That one can buy a (poultry) bird and kill it oneself sounds normal to you"
-39% disagreed with: "That one can kill an animal while fishing sounds normal to you"

-14% disagreed with: "It is normal that man breeds animals for their meat"
-65% said that "it would upset (them) to attend the slaughter of animals"

Almost all who said that it is not normal that man breeds animals for their meat, do themselves eat meat.

Are they inconsistent? or even hypocritical? This is not the point.

The point is that the legitimacy of meat is questioned beyond those who already refuse meat.

Obviously, those who already question meat should be strongly encouraged to boycott it and other animal products. Buying these products harms and kills animals.

But the movement for the abolition of meat, as a political movement, is not reduced to the circle of those who already strictly boycott animal products. By definition, it includes anyone who think that meat should be abolished.

Human slavery was not outlawed because society one day reached a point where everybody boycotted all slave-produced products. It was outlawed because public support for the abolition reached a point when it was politically stronger than the opposition.

Boycotts are certainly a powerful way of expressing disapproval. In the late 18th century, the 300,000 British people who were refusing to eat sugar produced by slaves were making a strong statement of support for the abolition of slavery. Boycotts also economically (and thus politically) weaken the opposing party. In addition, those at the forefront of any movement are not credible if they do not practiced what they preach. These are strong reasons to encourage people to boycott meat and other animal products.

But meat is (and will always be) questioned beyond the circle of those who already strictly refuse to eat it. It is thus also in the interest of our movement to seek ways to better involve this already sympathetic part of the public in the political struggle.

Antoine Comiti

(1) « Le rapport à la viande chez le mangeur français contemporain », Geneviève Cazes-Valette, November 2004, page 83,
(2) People saying they "mostly disagree" or "strongly disagree" among the 1000 people polled.

June 14, 2007

When the abolition of slavery seemed quixotic

The text below is a compilation of extracts from the book « Bury the Chains – Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves », written by Adam Hochschild(1) and published in 2005 by Houghton Mifflin. This book tells the history of the campaign for the abolition of slavery in Great-Britain in the 18 and 19th century. I recommend this book to anybody who wishes to understand how a minority of abolitionists won to their cause the majority of public opinion – initially indifferent, sometimes even hostile – to this aim which seemed absolutely quixotic to their contemporaries.
Antoine Comiti

If, early that year [1787], you had stood on a London street corner and insisted that slavery was morally wrong and should be stopped, nine out of ten listeners would have laughed at you off as a crackpot. The tenth might have agreed with you in principle, but assured you that ending slavery was wildly impractical.

It was a country where the great majority of people, from farmhands to bishops, accepted slavery as completely normal. It was also a country where profits from West Indian plantations gave a large boost to the economy, where customs duties on slave-grown sugar were an important source of government revenue, and where the livelihoods of tens of thousands of seamen, merchants, and ship-builders depended on the slave trade. The trade itself had increased to almost unparalleled levels, bringing prosperity to key ports, including London itself. Furthermore, nineteen out of twenty Englishmen, and all Englishwomen, were not even allowed to vote. Without this most basic of rights themselves, could they be roused to care about the rights of other people, of a different skin color, an ocean away?

This world of bondage seemed all the more normal then, because anyone looking back in time would have seen little but other slave systems. The ancient Greeks had slaves; the Incas and Aztecs had slaves; the sacred texts of most majors religions took slavery for granted. Slavery had existed before money or written law. This was the world -our world- just two centuries ago, and to most people then, it was unthinkable that it could be otherwise.

If pressed, some Britons might have conceded that the institution was unpleasant -but where else would sugar for your tea come from? Where would Royal Navy sailors get their rum? The slave trade "was not an amiable trade," as a member of Parliament once commented, "but neither was the trade of a butcher an amiable trade, and yet a mutton chop was, nevertheless, a very good thing."

There were voices advocating an end to slavery, but they were scattered and few.

A latent feeling was in the air, but an intellectual undercurrent disapproving of slavery was something very different from the belief that anything could ever be done about it. The parliamentarian Edmund Burke, for example, opposed slavery but thought that the prospect of ending even just the Atlantic slave trade was "chimerical". Despite the uneasiness some people in late-eighteenth century England clearly had about slavery, to actually abandon it seemed a laughable dream.

When the twelve-man abolition committee first gathered in May 1787, the handful of people in Britain who openly called for an end to slavery or the slave trade were regarded as oddballs, or at best as hopelessly idealistic. The task they had taken on was so monumental as to have seemed to anyone else impossible. How even to begin the massive job of changing public opinion?

The twelve men saw slavery as both outrageous and solvable, and believed that because human beings had a capacity to care about the sufferings of others, exposing the truth would move people to action.

Within a few short years, the issue of slavery had moved to center stage in British political life. There was an abolition committee in every major city or town. More than 300,000 Britons were refusing to eat slave-grown sugar. Parliament was flooded with far more signatures on abolition petitions that it had ever received on any other subject.

There is always something mysterious about human empathy, and when we feel it and when we don't. Its sudden upwelling at this particular moment caught everyone by surprise. Slaves and other subjugated people have rebelled throughout history, but the campaign in England was something never seen before: it was the first time a large number of people became outraged, and stayed outraged for many years, over someone else's rights. And most startling of all, the rights of people of another color, on another continent. No one was more taken aback by this than Stephen Fuller, the London agent for Jamaica's planters, an absentee plantation owner himself and a central figure in the proslavery lobby. As tens of thousands of protesters signed petitions to Parliament, Fuller was amazed that these were « stating no grievance or injury of any kind or sort, affecting the Petitioners themselves. ».

The abolitionists succeeded because they mastered one challenge that sill faces anyone who cares about social and economic justice: drawing connections between the near and the distant. Often we do not know where the things we use come from, or the working conditions of those who made them. The abolitionists' first job was to make Britons understand what lay behind the sugar they ate, the tobacco they smoked, the coffee they drank.

(1) An interview with Adam Hochschild about his book :

The Resolution for the abolition of meat

A resolution for the abolition of meat was written collectively on the internet(1). Here it is(2):
Because meat production involves killing the animals that are eaten,

because their living conditions and slaughter cause many of them to suffer,

because eating meat isn't necessary,

because sentient beings shouldn't be mistreated or killed unnecessarily,


farming, fishing and hunting animals for their flesh, as well as selling and eating animal flesh, should be abolished.

(1) On, a discussion group (in French) aimed at promoting the abolition of meat. A similar group in English is:
(2) Translated into English by Jane Hendy ; Elizabeth Cherry contributed too.

October 12, 2005

A movement for the abolition of meat

Most people think that you shouldn’t kill an animal without good reason. In France, the law forbids the unnecessary killing of a cow, a pig or a chicken.

People are becoming increasingly aware that it is not necessary to eat meat to enjoy good health.

Hasn’t the time come to demand the abolition of meat ?

Why not make this very simple demand a rallying point for the world animal movement?

Of course we should continue to reveal and denounce the sufferings endured by animals. We should continue to demand an end to the worst practices, such as battery cages, mutilations, force-feeding, and bull fighting. We should continue to show that they are as sensitive as we are. We should continue to criticize speciesism, and to promote vegetarianism and veganism.

However, this is not enough.

Now we must begin to clearly demand the abolition of meat.

We are afraid to put this idea into words, it seems too unrealistic. We don’t want to appear fanatical.

We are wrong. Wrong in thinking that all meat-eaters approve of slaughterhouses. Wrong to suppose that people are not ready to listen to this demand, let alone debate the issue.

In the eighteenth century human slavery was legal and an essential part of the colonial economy. To even contemplate abolishing this historic custom seemed at the time a fanciful notion.

We should be inspired by the activists who got organized to make slavery illegal.

Let’s work together, each person in their own way, in a world-wide campaign for the abolition of meat.

In future messages on this blog, I will explain why I am convinced that such a goal can be achieved before the end of the century.

Antoine Comiti

(translated into English by Jane Hendy)