Q: So you advocate veganism?
GF: Absolutely. A theme that runs throughout my work, including Animals as Persons, is that veganism must be the moral baseline of anyone who claims to take animals seriously. Just as someone opposed to human slavery would not own any slaves, someone opposed to animal exploitation should not consume or wear animals.
Q: What about animal experiments? Is that use of animals justifiable?
GF: The use of animals to find cures for serious human illnesses represents the only use of animals in which we engage that is not transparently trivial. But this use is also not morally justifiable. In the first place, there are serious issues concerning whether the use of animals is “necessary” in that the required data cannot be obtained in any way other than through the use of animals. Secondly, even if there are some uses that are really “necessary” in some empirical sense, we cannot justify those uses morally because we rightly regard it as morally unacceptable to use any humans for experiments in which they are harmed or killed. Our only justification for using nonhuman animals in experiments is our species bias, or speciesism, and that prejudice can no more defended than can racism, sexism, or heterosexism.
Q: How are your views different from those of other animal ethicists, such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan?
GF: My views are very different from those of both Regan and Singer. Singer does not see the use or killing animals per se as the primary moral problem; he sees the problem as suffering. For instance, if we are what Singer calls “conscientious omnivores,” who take care to use animals that have been treated more “humanely” than those who are raised in intensive conditions on factory farms, we may allow ourselves the “luxury” of eating animal products. I strongly disagree with that position. I think that the “happy meat” industry promoted by Singer and others, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is nothing but a deception in that there is little, if any, reduction of suffering on the part of animals whose corpses are labeled or marketed as “humanely” produced. Moreover, “happy meat,” “free-range” or “cage-free” eggs and the like all make people feel better about eating animals and that perpetuates the consumption of animal flesh and animal products. The theory that I explore in Animals as Persons is that we have no business exploiting sentient nonhumans irrespective of how we treat them.
My views differ from those of Regan in that his theory requires that animals have certain cognitive or intellectual characteristics in order to be members of the moral community. I argue that as long as an animal is sentient, or perceptually aware, that is all that is required for that animal to have the right not to be treated as a human resource.
Q: So you don’t support the reform of animal use, what is commonly called “animal welfare”?
GF: No. Remember that animals are now viewed as property. They are economic commodities. They have no inherent or intrinsic value. A central theme of Animals as Persons is that putting aside the theoretical issues about whether animal use can be morally justified, animal welfare regulations are simply ineffective from a purely practical perspective. These regulations generally make animal exploitation more economically efficient by increasing the production efficiency of animal use. That is, animal welfare regulations are not based on, and do not promote the idea that animals are not property; they are based on the idea that animals are property and that we ought to exploit that property in a way that maximizes the financial benefits we receive. The result is that animal welfare laws and industry standards—even the standards praised by some animal advocates—provide very little protection for animals.
Q: If we accepted your views, would animals have the same rights as humans?
GF: No, of course not. There are many human rights that have absolutely no meaning for or meaningful application to nonhuman animals. In my work, including Animals as Persons, I focus on one right — the pre-legal, basic right not to be treated exclusively as resources or economic commodities. We should stop treating nonhuman animals as our property.
Q: And if we recognized that right, would we be required to release all domestic animals that we currently hold? Wouldn’t that cause chaos?
GF: Yes, of course it would and we should not do it. We should take good care of the domestic animals we have brought into existence until they die. We should stop bringing more domestic animals into existence.
Visit your local library for these resources:
Adams, Douglas and Carwarine, Mark (1993). "Meeting a Gorilla", in Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer (eds.). The Great Ape Project. St. Martin's Griffin.