Thursday, May 7, 2020

From the start, the Humane Society Legislative Fund has pursued its animal protection agenda on a strictly nonpartisan footing, for a simple reason. We are determined to bring both major political parties along for the journey of making our nation a kinder one. The situation demands no less, because as things stand, it’s hard enough for animals, who are distinctively without voice, without votes, and without political resources to defend themselves. A partisan strategy that engaged just one party would only make things more difficult without producing the natural benefits that come from working with those of every political persuasion and exploring all reasonable positions aimed at advancing animal protection within our legislatures and within the real world. At the same time, an arms wide open race to become the party that does the most to strengthen protections for animals across the board would be the best possible thing that could happen for our work.

In some areas, and at some times, one or the other party is in need of a stronger push, and this week, in an article for The American Conservative, Irish columnist Eamonn Fingleton reminded Republicans that when it comes to farm animal welfare, they need to hoist the banner higher—much higher. In “A Rosa Parks Moment for Animals,” Fingleton makes the case that America lags far behind other nations—both the poorer and the affluent ones—in ensuring basic standards of decent and humane care for animals raised for food, and that Republicans cannot afford to overlook the issue. At the same time, Fingleton argues that Republicans and Democrats need to work together and in earnest to achieve reforms, because popular disapproval of factory farming and its cruelties has  demonstrably risen over the last decade, and elected bodies at all  levels are likely to face even more demands for political reform in this arena.  

Fingleton appeals to Republicans running for office to look carefully at the sources of donated funds from Big Ag and to take stock of what those interests actually want from the candidates they support. It’s good to be business-friendly, Fingleton cautions, but there’s such a thing as bad business, and intensive confinement of animals has become its virtual poster child in the United States. Main Street Americans aren’t comfortable with it (witness the success of ballot measures targeting factory farming’s worst excesses), and it substantially defies the genuine free-market principles that many Republicans espouse and defend (look at its manifold  subsidies, handouts and market corruptions). In the end, Fingleton suggests, conservatives who acquiesce to the view that market interventions are anathema, while maximum individual freedom and consumer choice are inviolate, are being badly played by Big Ag, and they should do something about it. Fingleton challenges the party to hearken back to the likes of John Sherman, Benjamin Harrison, Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Republicans who showed toughness and resolve in facing down “bad elements” in America’s business community.

Fingleton’s message could not be more relevant than it is right now, with Big Ag and Big Meat involved in a nationwide display of dog-whistle politics, sounding the alarm about threats to our general food supply even as exploited slaughter plant workers are asked to assume life-threatening risks in COVID-19 laced environments to keep one of America’s most sordid industries afloat. It’s meat, not food, that is at risk in the pandemic moment, and it’s as good as time as any for Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike to call out the lies. Fingleton’s instinct is that we are on the cusp of a moment, a “Rosa Parks moment,” when it comes to intensive confinement agriculture (and implicitly to industrial  slaughter), and his article is an urgent call for an end to the race to the moral bottom when it comes to animals raised  and killed for  food. It deserves the attention of caring and decent Americans of every political persuasion.