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Compassion in Action


Animal rights author Norm Phelps argues that such reformist campaigns accustom people to thinking of farmed animals as sentient beings rather than “things,” and thus makes it harder to ignore the suffering behind the plastic-wrapped meat in our supermarkets—the campaigns have the practical effect of challenging “the concept of animals as mere food-producing commodities.” Paul Shapiro, who, as the senior director of HSUS’s Factory Farming Campaign spearheaded Proposition 2, says that this act will reduce the real suffering of nearly 20 million animals in the immediate future—a worthy goal of any animal advocate.

In fact, continues Shapiro, the claim that there is discord between rights and welfare groups is mostly being made by forces hostile to the humane movement altogether. “There just isn’t a real conflict here for a lot of folks in the animal movement. Our opponents in the animal-exploiting industries would like to portray the movement as divided into two camps, but I think they make a mountain out of a molehill in this case. To the general public, these are distinctions without difference.”

In practice, the alleviation of animals’ suffering in our factory farms is a goal that largely unites the humane movement, which is growing in size and political influence. (HSUS alone has 10.5 million members, far outnumbering the NRA’s membership of “nearly three million.”) As Shapiro remarks, though farmed animals “were largely ignored by the national U.S. animal movement for decades, now they are in the front seat.” Today’s humane movement is returning to its origins, when the suffering of horses and cows in the streets and slaughterhouses sparked the activism of people like Richard Martin and Henry Bergh.



Kathryn Shevelow, PhD, teaches in the Literature Department at the University of California, San Diego; her most recent book is For the Love of Animals: The Rise of the Animal Protection Movement.

Horse-Drawn Cart Photo
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Dog and Cart Photo
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division/Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection

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