Posted on January 10, 2023
Ethical consumerism in favor of animal welfare is slowly progressing in French society, but this trend is still too small to see real changes in the fight against the abusive exploitation of animals. So we ask ourselves: how do we go further, how do we do our part?
1,380 billion organisms were killed in 2018 worldwide by human food according to data compiled by Animal Defense Association L214. At least 3.8 billion animals are killed every day for the few billion people who consume meat or fish. In France, the proportions are impressive: 1.2 billion animals were slaughtered from French farms in 2018.
But animal husbandry is not the only form of exploitation, although it is the main form of exploitation in terms of the number of individuals involved and on the symbolic level. On the farm, in the laboratory, in the yard or in the garden, the animal takes on different forms before our eyes, and our relationship to it changes at the same time. But what essentially differentiates a pet from a farm animal or wild animal? It is his well-being and our efforts that we are prepared to provide for his protection above all else.
According to an Ifop survey, in partnership with the 30 Million Friends Foundation, on animal welfare, “ The French still overwhelmingly support banning all animal testing (90%, +1 point in one year), intensive farming (85%), hounding (77%) and bullfighting in France (77%, +2) “.
With the development of global warming and the pressure exerted by human activities on the ecosystems, an increasing number of citizens are now deciding to limit or even stop the consumption of animal meat in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the proportion of vegetarians (no meat) and vegans (no products from animal exploitation) is still very low, not exceeding 3% of the French population according to the 2020 survey by France Agrimer.
So the French continue to defend contradictory mores. Even if they are aware of the negative repercussions of exploitation on animal welfare and on the environment, they do not seem ready to initiate a profound transformation of their way of life, as evidenced by recent and numerous discussions about hunting and vegetarian diets. Or intensive farming or bullfighting.
But then, what’s wrong?
The end of animal exploitation, obstacles remain?
Roman Espinosa, an economics researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research who specializes in animal welfare and plant-based foods, is interested in the subtleties surrounding this “paradox of animal exploitation.” Notes in the third chapter of his work How do you save animals? (2021) Animal State Economics, published by Presses Universitaires de France, discusses various reasons for inaction in combating animal suffering, despite the fact that individuals are genuinely interested in these issues.
The first reason the researcher points to is honest ignorance. The complexity of operating systems, the number of actors in the production chain and the lack of transparency are all factors that can explain consumer inaction. Without knowing the number of animals killed or the conditions in which the animals are held, nothing really drives an individual to take these issues into consideration and change their way of life.
And who knows?
The most explored explanation is cognitive dissonance, a theory in social psychology in which an individual is torn in his convictions between the activity he is going to perform and his personal values. The stress that everyone has to manage, and “ To do this, two strategies are available to them: changing their actions to align them with their moral commands or adjusting their moral values so that they align with their actions. Roman Espinosa explains in his book.
These moral values that the economist talks about come directly from the social environment of the individuals. Some environments are deeply rooted in the exploitation of animals, through their standards and values. In accordance with cultural and political principles, these groups consider orders to eat less meat, bans on hunting or animal shows, as direct attacks on their way of life, and respond accordingly by completely rejecting political movements, radical actions or new laws in favor of reducing animal suffering.
This also poses difficulties when the individual wishes to escape from the behavior and social norms in force in a group (family, friends, etc.). So these people decided to contain themselves in their presence, preferring not to expose their vegetarianism/veganism in order to avoid conflicts.
The individual may also consider exploitation and animal welfare to be common issues. He may consider himself deluded when he tries too hard and others continue to consume unethically. He then considers that his personal consumption will only have a satirical effect on the farm, and so he continues to consume animal flesh because the responsibility is not shared.
It could also be a matter of habit. Whether it’s buying chicken on Sunday or a charcuterie board with friends at the bar, one can learn about the problem of animal suffering, without considering it for the moment. You are during the purchase. Consumption habits are also the result of mechanisms that are sometimes difficult to suppress.
The individual may also consider the exploitation of animals to be a problem too far for him. In fact, empathy varies from one organism to another. The domestic animal, being in the house, is elevated to a different rank than the rank of rearing. Without emotional bonds with animals, empathy is weaker and individuals are less likely to make efforts to reduce their suffering.
The last explanation put forward by Roman Espinosa concerns “ Impure altruism.” Giving money, being a volunteer for a conservation society, or taking good care of one’s animals, any action in favor of the protection and welfare of living beings will provide an excuse for an individual to consume products of animal exploitation.
All of these above causes can overlap and build up from one person to another depending on their relationships, social background, environment and impact on the animal’s condition.
Reducing the exploitation of animals at the individual level
But on the contrary, nothing prevents the establishment of new habits in order to reduce their impact on the exploitation and suffering of animals, even for people who are most resistant to change.
1 – Get informed…
As we saw above, one possible theory for inaction relates to a lack of information about the exploitation and suffering of animals. So the first step is active learning about exploitation and antispeciesism (the philosophical and political movement against animal exploitation). State, regional authorities and the numerous animal protection associations (LPO, L214, Peta) communicate in order to make citizens aware of the impact of exploitation, on the suffering of living organisms and on ecosystems. Media such as L’Amorce also offer anti-species journalistic content that allows us to deepen issues of exploitation philosophically and politically.
2 – …to consume less,
In terms of food, a gradual decrease in the consumption of meat and fish is possible, and it is in no way a problem for human health. A vegetarian diet can even be beneficial against certain health problems (diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and cancer risk).
In addition to individually reducing its impact on animal suffering, it is also good for the planet. Livestock (pig, sheep, cattle, beef and fish) has a significant environmental impact. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions (CO2number2CH4), the whole chain of production and supply of food products of animal origin is currently seriously altering ecosystems through deforestation, soil erosion and water pollution.
3 – …to choose the best
Reducing animal exploitation also means considering all activities and mechanisms that contribute to animal suffering when purchasing a good or service. Priority should be given to consuming products that brands promise not to exploit anymore, or to suffer as little as possible. Food, clothing purchases, cosmetics, or a ticket to an amusement park that doesn’t strictly deal with animal welfare are all things to think about in advance.
Union and political commitment is also a possible lever at the individual level. For example, the Animalist party has politically supported the defense of animals (wild, farmed, domesticated, etc.) in France since 2016.
3 – … and educate those close to you.
Raising awareness among loved ones (family, friends, colleagues) is beneficial. The goal is to make the often arduous and time-consuming research work easier for our loved ones (family, friends, colleagues), but also to show ethical alternatives (new vegan/vegan recipes, imitation meat consumption, responsible branding), easy to adopt so as not to make a change too abrupt. Thus maintaining small habits that are hard to give up.
Spinoza, R.; (2021). Chapter 3 – Why do we continue to exploit animals in such circumstances? How do you save animals? (pp. 71-158). French University Press.
Oussalah, A., et al. (2020). Health outcomes associated with a vegetarian diet: A comprehensive review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Clinical nutritionAnd 39(11), 3283-3307.
French Wave and Animal Welfare – Wave 5 (2022) – 30 Million Friends Foundation. fifg.
Mauriciomo. (2020, December 10). Meat, milk, eggs and fish: how many animals have been killed in France? L214.
Image via Scott Payne from Pixabay
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