Book Review: The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation

By Yolanda Eisenstein
Eisenstein Law Office

The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation
Gary Francione and Robert Garner
Columbia University Press; New York 2010

Gary Francione, who you may remember from his groundbreaking book, Animals, Property, and the Law, and Robert Garner, a professor at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, engage in a debate between the goals of the “abolitionist” movement, which advocates vegan education, and those of the animal welfare movement, which supports the end of animal suffering through regulation.

The crux of the argument is whether a total focus on ethical vegan education would have been more successful than what has been achieved through legislation. Francione argues that virtually no progress has been made in animal protection and that time and money would have been better spent over the past twenty years on vegan education.  Furthermore, he argues that the animal protection laws that have been passed and the promotion of “free-range” and “grass fed” has merely served to assure the public that animals are being treated humanely and that there is no moral problem with eating them.

Garner of course, takes issue with Francione’s position and believes it wrong to take an all or nothing attitude while animals suffer.  He sees the vegan route as a “long-term” ambition at best and argues that we should do all we can, even if it means small victories, to reduce animal suffering through legislative means.

For those not familiar with the abolitionist approach, Francione is one of its leading proponents, making it a good primer on the subject. He makes the classic moral arguments against animal exploitation and the inherent problems with their status as property. The only answer for the abolitionist is the complete cessation of the use of animals, including phasing out of pet ownership.

Garner is British and not as well known in the United States, which led me to wonder why he was chosen. Was there no one in the U.S. willing to debate Francione on the issue?  Citizens of the United Kingdom and other Western European countries have a different attitude about animal protection, which made some of Garner’s arguments seem irrelevant to me. I also thought Garner missed some opportunities to make effective arguments.  It is not clear whether that was through a lack of familiarity with American attitudes or his reluctance to be more aggressive in his argument.

While I enjoyed the book at first, it quickly became repetitive and redundant, and I found the dialogue between the two at the end of the book to be particularly so. However, I considered it a “must-read” given Francione’s prominence in animal law and my interest in staying current on the literature.

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