Skip to main content

Humane Society Wrong to Say Seals More Valuable than Other Animals

Dear Colleagues:

In his Report from the Seal Slaughter: Special Chance to Help, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle writes:

It’s a day I dread each year: the first blow or bullet landed against a baby seal off Canada’s East Coast. It marks the beginning of the world’s largest, intentional slaughter of marine mammals.”

The HSUS solution? It has two parts.

First, HSUS has launched a “Save a Seal Today” campaign that asks people to sign a pledge “not to buy seafood products produced in Canada—such as snow crabs, cod, scallops, and shrimp—until Canada ends its commercial seal hunt for good.”

So, according to HSUS, we should boycott seafood produced in Canada and instead eat seafood produced in America, France, Norway, Japan, etc. But have no fear. We do not have to give up those yummy Canadian seafood products forever. Once the Canadians stop the commercial seal killing, then we can resume eating them.

The first part of the HSUS solution not only does what just about every single-issue campaign does—sends the message that some animals, whether seals, wolves, or nonhuman primates, have greater moral value than others—but it explicitly reinforces that speciesist valuation by encouraging the consumption of other non-Canadian sea animals until Canada stops killing the seals (as a commercial enterprise).

Now, I understand that humans find seals to be more cute than codfish, shrimp, scallops, etc. but human perceptions of cuteness really ought not to be the criterion for membership in the moral community.

HSUS notes:

Why boycott Canadian seafood? Because it’s working.

A small group of commercial fishermen in Eastern Canada kill seal pups for their fur, earning a tiny fraction of their annual income. Their industry has seen its revenue plummet since we started the boycott a few years ago.

So if we continue the boycott and the seal kill stops, then the Canadian seafood industry can reemerge and continue its previous higher level of slaughtering fish and other aquatic nonhumans.

The difference is that codfish, shrimp, scallops, etc., although presumably appealing to other codfish, shrimp, scallops, etc. simply don’t have those little faces that just make us humans melt.

But sentient sea animals value their lives just as the seals value theirs.

So the first part of the HSUS solution to the seal kill is explicitly speciesist and deliberately reinforces the notion that some animals matter more an others. This is very typical with these single-issue campaigns. And HSUS takes the further step of encouraging the public to consume the less-favored animals in order to benefit the more-favored ones.

Animal protection organizations are increasingly using boycotts that explicitly promote animal exploitation. For example, PETA announced a boycott of Kentucky Fried Chicken until KFC agrees to buy its chickens from producers who gas the birds, which PETA promotes as a more “humane” way of killing the birds and as economically more profitable for chicken producers. When KFC in Canada agreed to gassing chickens, PETA called off its boycott (in Canada). The message sent is crystal clear: it is morally acceptable to consume birds who have been gassed.

Second, Pacelle states:

This fight can be demoralizing. But we must keep our gaze fixed on our goal. Today, I’m asking for your support to help us stop it once and for all. If you give now to our efforts to save seals, your donation will be tripled by the Giant Steps Foundation and other generous donors. With every dollar you give, until we hit a total of $400,000, these other donors will give two dollars. Please consider a special gift—with this chance to turn every dollar you donate into three—to help us finally win the battle.

So, according to HSUS, your contribution of money can help HSUS “finally win the battle” because a total contribution of $400,000 will be worth $1.2 million to HSUS.

I do not understand this.

How can anyone say with a straight face that another $1.2 million is going to make a meaningful difference? Pacelle acknowledges that HSUS has an annual budget of $150 million and financial records indicate that HSUS has assets of almost $225 million.

But another $1.2 million is what we need “to help us finally win the battle”?

It is, of course, terrible that the seals are being killed. But it is also terrible that some use this tragedy to rake in a few more dollars.

I should add that the HSUS seal campaign is being directed by Humane Society International (HSI). HSI has launched a “Humane Choice” label in Australia that it claims “will guarantee the consumer that the animal has been treated with respect and care, from birth through to death.” A product bearing the HSI “Humane Choice” label assures the consumer of the following:

[T]he animal has had the best life and death offered to any farm animal. They basically live their lives as they would have done on Old McDonald’s farm, being allowed to satisfy their behavioural needs, to forage and move untethered and uncaged, with free access to outside areas, shade when it’s hot, shelter when it’s cold, with a good diet and a humane death.

So let’s “dread” the day the seal kill begins but reassure the public that the daily slaughter of millions of farm animals is just fine.

And Pacelle, at a recent news conference about animals used for food, stated:

We’re not asking for an end to the confinements of animals in buildings. We’re asking they not be crammed into cages and crates barely larger than their bodies.

So let’s “win the battle” against the seal kill but provide a bit more space to the animals tortured on factory farms.

It should be apparent to you that the mainstream groups (and they’re all pretty much the same) are exploiting animals as a business venture and none of this has anything to with shifting the paradigm from animals as property to animals as moral persons.

The campaign against the seal kill has been going on for decades. It has not ended yet. But many of the mainstream groups have made millions and millions of dollars from the campaign over those decades.

There is one way to change the status quo: to dislodge people from the default position that animals are things. There is one means to that end: creative, nonviolent vegan education.

The alternative is telling people that they should eat American codfish rather than Canadian codfish until Canada stops killing certain animals who have the good fortune to appeal to us. The alternative is pretending that there is some difference between seal fur or the skin of any other anmal. The alternative is to maintain that we should stop killing cute seal pups but that we can continue to consume cows, pigs, and chickens who have a “Humane Choice” label slapped on their corpses.

The alternatives make no sense. Indeed, they are counterproductive in that they mislead the public into thinking that we can make meaningful moral distinctions among different sorts of animal exploitation.

So I say to Wayne Pacelle, whom I have known for many years: Wayne, do you really want to “finally win the battle”? Then put your talent and the talents of your HSUS colleagues, and the considerable resources of HSUS, behind a single clear message:

Go Vegan. Stop eating, wearing, consuming, or otherwise using nonhuman animals.

Wayne, if you really want things to change, stop promoting the notion that some animals count more as a moral matter than do others. Stop promoting “happy” meat and animal products. Stop promoting the notion of “responsible breeding.” Stop promoting the fantasy that some slaughterhouses are “abusive” and others are not. Educate your 11 million members that the issue is animal use, not fetishizing certain animals over others or reforming animal torture, which, given the status of animals as chattel property, will never result in improved protection for animals anyway and will only make the public feel more comfortable about exploiting and consuming animals. Yes, your more conservative donors will object but so what? Imagine the impact you could have if you made clear that a “humane” society was one that rejected all animal use.

To all of you: If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is incredibly easy to do; it is better for your physical health and for the planet. But, most importantly, it is the morally right thing to do.

And then, go educate others about veganism in creative, nonviolent ways. An idea shared with others is worth so very much more than a dollar given to already fantastically wealthy corporations—even if the dollar you donate is tripled.

Finally, amidst all of the focus on seals and other “special” animals, please do not forget the fact that there are millions of dogs, cats, rats, fish, birds, mice, and other nonhumans who need homes today. Right now. Please adopt a homeless nonhuman. There are more animals now than ever who need homes. The housing crisis is depriving nonhumans as well as humans of their homes. Please adopt. We are responsible for domesticated animals being in a world in which they do not fit. The least that we can do is to give them a place of refuge. Adoption is an important form of animal rights activism.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione


Popular Video