Gary Francione : an interview

VEGAN REVOLUTION : Gary Francione, can you introduce yourself and tell us how you became one of the main thinkers of animal rights?

GARY FRANCIONE : I am a Professor of Law at Rutgers University School of Law. Rutgers University is the public university of the State of New Jersey.

I have been a lawyer and law professor for more than 20 years, and I began to teach about animal rights and the law starting in 1984.

I have also represented a number of animal organizations and animal advocates in legal cases in the United States.

I am the author of several books on animal rights, including Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? (2000), Animals, Property, and the Law (1995), Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement (1996), and Vivisection and Dissection in the Classroom: A Guide to Conscientious Objection (with Anna E. Charlton) (1992).

In the mid-1990s, I developed a theory that animal welfare would never provide significant protection to nonhuman animals because animals had the legal status of being property.

I argued that "animal rights" meant that we had to give animals at least one right - the right not to be treated as our property. If we recognized this one right, we would seek the abolition, and not the regulation of animal exploitation.

I have argued that an animal rights position requires that we be vegans.

I have also been outspoken in my criticism of the fact that the animal rights movement in the United States employs a very reactionary ideology that often uses sexism and other objectionable means to promote the message of animal rights.

For example, I have criticized PETA's use of sexist imagery and messages as reinforcing the oppression of women and as the wrong means to employ to achieve justice for animals. As long as we continue to objectify women, we will continue to objectify nonhuman animals.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : There is in France a big confusion between the word "veganism" and "vegetalian." Some people say that the word "vegetalian" is the mere translation of the english word "vegan," but it is often a pretext to put aside some principles (like the refusal of leather, the refusal of animals tested products, the refusal of animals breeding, etc.)

The french dictionary explains the word "vegetalism" as a diet, not as an ethic. Can you tell us how you define the word "veganism."?

GARY FRANCIONE : I define "veganism" as not consuming any animal products. That is, it means not eating any meat or dairy or animal-derived byproducts.

And it means not wearing fur, leather, silk, or wool, and not purchasing or using any products that contain animal-derived ingredients or that have been tested on animals.

Veganism is the principle of abolition applied to the life of the individual.

I find that many animal advocates are vegetarians, but few are vegans. Many animal advocates think that it is acceptable to eat dairy.

Animals used for dairy production and egg production are kept alive longer than animals used for meat, are treated as poorly if not worse than "meat animals," and they end up in the same slaughterhouse.

There is probably more suffering in a glass of milk than in a pound of steak. Veganism helps to reduce animal suffering in a significant way. Every person who becomes a vegan means that the demand for animal products decreases.

If you agree that animal rights means abolition, then veganism is the only morally consistent choice that you can make. Just as a person who owns slaves cannot claim consistently to be an abolitionist, a person who continues to consume animal products cannot consistently be an advocate for animal rights.

The most important thing that we can do as individuals is to become abolitionists in our personal lives - to become vegans who do not consume any animal products.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : Animals are considered in our societies as commodities. Can you explain to us your point of view about it and the consideration that it is the main aspect in the question of the struggle of animal liberation?

GARY FRANCIONE : Yes, a main point of my theory is that as long as animals are property, we will never accord them justice. As long as animals are regarded as property, we will sacrifice their interests whenever it results in a benefit for humans. Therefore, we must seek the abolition of their property status.

There is a belief among many animal advocates that if we improve animal welfare, it will lead to the abolition of animal exploitation. There is no historical evidence for that belief.

We have had animal welfare in the west for almost 200 years now and we are using more animals in more terrible ways that at any time in human history.

Animal welfare does little to relieve animal suffering - it only makes humans more comfortable about animal exploitation.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : The animal defense movement has put more and more aside the project of a vegan society, in aid of a more or less active and demanding reformism. Do you think it is correct?

GARY FRANCIONE : No, I do not. I think that the single most important thing that we can do to change things for animals is to become vegans and to encourage veganism.

There will never be any meaningful change for animals until there is a significant political base that supports abolition.

Reform does nothing but further entrench animal exploitation. To the extent that animal defenders do seek to reform the system, they should focus on prohibitions, and not regulations.

For example, in many countries, including France, there are horrible roadside circuses in which caged animals are dragged around from village to village during the hot summer and live terrible lives.

I would favor a law that banned these circuses completely. I think that a law that requires that animals in these circuses be used "humanely" is not a good idea.

Because animals are property, a rule that they be treated "humanely" is meaningless.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : Do you think that an union on principles is possible between vegetarians and vegans, to contribute to animal defense or animal liberation?

GARY FRANCIONE : If you are asking whether I think that animal rights abolitionists have common ground with animal welfare reformists, no, I do not.

I see them as being fundamentally opposed - just as were those who wanted to regulate human slavery to make it more "humane" and those who wanted to abolish human slavery.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : There is in this way in France a "veggie pride" march, which is a march for "vegetarian" and "vegetalian" pride (in english they use the word "vegan" on their website).

Do you think the principle is correct, or that vegetarism and vegetalism should be rejected in aid of veganism as a superior ethic, on the theoretical and practical level?

GARY FRANCIONE : To the extent that "vegetalian" does not mean "vegan," the effort should be directed at veganism.

There is simply no logical way to distinguish meat from dairy. To say that it is "better" to eat dairy than it is to eat meat is nonsense.

The vegans should try to educate the vegetarians to push them toward veganism. But I do not see a difference between eating meat and eating dairy.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : As a matter of efficiency some groups defending animals decided to use some processes corresponding to the hegemonic culture.

The "veggie pride" march uses posters with a pornographic movies actress in a suggestive or better said openly sexual posture, and PETA don't hesitate to put forward women corresponding to male fantasies (oversized breasts, women in bikinis fighting in mud, etc.).

If veganism is a new ethic, do you think it is correct, for pragmatism, to use some processes like putting forward stars, or the sexist use of woman?

GARY FRANCIONE : Absolutely not. I do not think that it is either morally appropriate or practically effective.

The problem is that we have a hierarchical culture in which rich, white males are at the top, and everyone else is further down, with nonhuman animals being at the bottom.

The problem is patriarchy and hierarchy. To the extent that we engage in exploitation of women or anyone else, we are using the very mechanism that is responsible for the problem in the first place. This strengthens, not weakens, the hierarchy.

Groups like PETA have been engaging in these antics for over a decade now. What has it done?

They have used naked women in anti-fur campaigns, for example. Has it reduced fur consumption? No.

The fur industry is bigger than ever. If we ever going to create the conditions for meaningful change for nonhumans, we are going to have to move away from the patriarchal, hierarchical framework that currently shapes our culture.

I should add that I also think it is important to reject violence as a general matter. Some animal advocates favor violent actions to defend animals.

I disagree. In my view, the animal rights position is the ultimate rejection of violence.

It is the ultimate affirmation of life. I see the animal rights movement as the logical progression of the peace movement, which seeks to end conflict between humans.

The animal rights movement ideally seeks to take that a step further and to end conflict between humans and nonhumans.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : In France we have a tradition of intellectuals making often intervention in social life. Camus and Sartre are the most famous examples, but this goes until today.

What is for you the function of intellectuals favourable to veganism? Do you think vegan people need those intellectuals having sometimes a godlike status?

GARY FRANCIONE : Well, you see what "godlike status" did for Sartre. He died one of the most despised men in France!

It is best never to give anyone "godlike status." If intellectuals have interesting ideas, we ought to listen to them.

But we should listen to anyone with interesting ideas, whether they are in universities or not, whether they are authors or not.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : What do you think of " pets"?

GARY FRANCIONE : We live with five dogs. We adopted four from a shelter at which they would have been killed and one came off from the street.

I love our canine companions, but if there were only two dogs left in the world and it were up to me whether we should breed them to make more "pets," my answer would be "NO"!

We should not be bringing domesticated animals into the world. And this includes dogs, cats, etc.

We should take care of those that are here as they cannot take care of themselves - that is what it means to be a "domestic" animal.

But we should not cause more domestic animals to come into existence.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : Do you think that each vegan should practice adoptions at shelters, or that it is a matter of personal choice?

Do you think that vegans practicing adoptions should totally refuse the internet forums dealing with "pets" or on the contrary make systematical intervention to promote animal rights, notably and in particular the right for them to live in their own environment, independent of human beings?

GARY FRANCIONE : Domestic animals cannot live independent of humans. That is the problem. They are dependent on us.

If I let my dogs go to live off on their own, they would not be able to do so.

I do not think that "veganism" necessarily means adopting nonhumans in need, but I think that any animal rights advocate should try to care for at least some nonhumans who need homes. We should encourage spaying and neutering to ensure that we do not bring more domestic animals into existence.

I have found that many people believe that it is wrong to spay or neuter because it is "natural" for domestic animals to have babies.

But domestic animals are themselves not "natural."

They are creatures that we have created through manipulation to be dependent on us.

We should not encourage making any more.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : you advocates a society that rejects hierarchy and patriarcat. what do you think that at the beginning of human history, the period called "matriarchat" was characterized by veganism?

Do you think it is interesting to study for example jainism, who rejects boths casts and lifes killing, as a product of old societys before patriarcat and division of labour?

GARY FRANCIONE : We do not know much about matriarchal societies because history has been written by men who have systematically devalued anything about women.

I have heard feminist scholars say that matriarchal societies are less violent, but I am not sure what historical evidence actually exists that these societies were vegan. My point is more theoretical. The problem is violence and hierarchy. And I think that those are closely connected with the patriarchal tendency to commodify.

If we move away from patriarchy and reject violence as a way of resolving conflicts, and hierarchy and commodification, it can only increase the acceptance of veganism. I am very interested in Jainism, but it is important to understand that Jainism as I understand it does not embrace veganism and accepts the eating of dairy.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : Do you think veganism could only appear in that way on earth because of the >development of production, or dou think it is an ethical idea that could >develop itself at any historical time?

GARY FRANCIONE : It is clear that animal agriculture is an environmental disaster, and I expect that simple issues involving resources (inefficient land use, water pollution, soil erosion, etc.) will cause an eventual decrease in the consumption of animal products.

On the other hand, the whole matter of genetic engineering portends attempts to develop new types of animals that will consume fewer resources.

So the matter is not clear in this regard.

I do believe that if animal advocates who embraced veganism joined forces and launched a massive and sustained international education campaign about the moral issues involved in veganism (as well as health and environmental issues), we would begin to build a political base that could result in making significant changes in the direction of abolition.

Many animal defenders believe that we must pursue reform or do nothing.

But that is not the choice.

The choice is between pursuing reform and pursuing abolition.

If we want to pursue the latter, the best way to do that at the present time is to become a vegan and educate everyone with whom we come into contact about veganism.

Many people live with companion animals, such as dogs and cats. They love these nonhumans, and they recognize that they are sentient, emotional, and intelligent creatures.

I talk to as many of these people as possible and I try to point out the "moral schizophrenia" that they love their dogs and cats but they stick forks into cows and pigs and chickens--and there are absolutely no relevant differences among these animals.

I have found "pet" owners to be a very fertile group for discussion about veganism.

And then, when I have brought them along to become vegans as far as diet is concerned, they see the other issues, such as using products that contain animal derivatives, or wearing wool, and, that as much as they love their dogs and cats, we ought not to bring more domesticated animals into existence.

VEGAN REVOLUTION : Thank you for the interview.