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Social Cause Activist Groups: Demosclerosis and Managing the Mob

January 22, 2008
By Dr. Terry Whiting


Democratic governments have increasingly developed mechanisms for consulting with the public and food processing industry in the development of laws intended to protect the environment, public health, and to assure sustainable livestock production, and animal welfare.

Manager, Animal Health and Welfare Programs
Office of the Chief Veterinarian
Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives



governments have increasingly developed mechanisms for consulting with
the public and food processing industry in the development of laws
intended to protect the environment, public health, and to assure
sustainable livestock production, and animal welfare. “Consultation” in
developing public policy is, in part, a response to a trend for
non-profit or special interest groups to challenge government policies.
Direct challenge of government and government food policies by public
interest groups has been justified by and somewhat encouraged,
subsequent to the valid public criticism of the British governments
handling of the BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) outbreak in the
UK. Science as the preeminent underpinning support of good public
policy has come under challenge from public opinion, which often
contains a component of fear or moral outrage.

Science, in its
intended form, is a directed linear process designed as an objective
search for truth; public opinion on the other hand by nature
vacillates, is subjective and temporary. The media has been
instrumental in feeding, and is a beneficiary of, public concern over
perceived food safety risks, e.g. “unnatural” farming practices, animal
welfare questions and possible environmental dangers of agriculture
practices. The expectation that government will respect “moral and
ethical” concerns of the public, is well established in common law. The
articulation of the moral connotations of food purchase, consumption
and production and the political positioning and lobbying of those
convictions has become a significant growth industry in Europe and to a
increasing extent in North America.

If the function of
democratic government is to protect its citizens from dangers outside
of the control of the individual and as government resources are
limited, good government policy (law and enforcement) would be directed
at controlling real risks to individual welfare and educating the
public against the misuse of resources to control issues that generate
fear but are not actually a real risk. Social Cause Activist Groups
(SCAG’s) in contrast, have identified that fear and moral outrage can
be profit centers for a thriving business model.

This paper will explore current parameters and evolutionary trends in public policy development with an animal welfare focus.

A “Good” Law

decisions in the areas of food safety and farming practices are
increasingly affected by widely divergent views of the general public.
As food consumption and food production practices have taken on moral
importance and are no longer the lone purvey of individual choice,
there is increasing pressure if not justification in democratic
societies for regulatory intervention in livestock production, for
example the emergence of the environmental farm plan. Regulatory
intervention is one expression of the will of the people.

A new
law results when society decides it is appropriate to surrender some
aspects of individual choice and freedom for the benefit of the whole.
In application of the rule of law, the will of the society directed
through some arm of government forces certain behaviour in the
individual by common consent of the majority. Implicit in law is either
the compulsion that “thou shall or thou shall not” do some thing and is
often described either as an outcome (manslaughter) or as a specific
behaviour (speeding).

Describing laws, especially defining what
is a “violation” can be exceedingly difficult. For example The 10
Commandments contain 297 words; The Bill of Rights (USA) is stated in
463 words and the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Minimal-Risk Regions
and Importation of Commodities; Final Rule and Notice Federal Register:
January 4, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 2) contains 107,648 words.

may be defined as that institution or set of institutions in a given
society that adjudicates conflicting claims and secures compliance in a
formal, systematic, and orderly way. Law is one of society’s responses
to communally held values. The core of a law is the desire to, by
proscribing human behaviour, prevent an avoidable human injury whether
it is injury of the person, injury of property, or an injury or offence
against generally held standards of society.

Moralization: Step 1 of the Regulatory Process

some social circles the act of eating has progressed from being a
source of nutrition and sensory pleasure to being a social marker, an
aesthetic experience, a source of meaning and a metaphor, and often a
declaration of moral entity. “Moral (Ethical) Vegetarians” claim to be
mindful of both short and long term consequences of individual choice
and although personal health is recognized as a partial motivator for a
vegan choice, there is a much broader commitment to vegetarianism as a
way of life. Moral vegetarians view meat avoidance as a moral
imperative and are upset by others who participate in meat consumption.
This is in stark contrast to health or religious motivated vegetarians
who are generally neutral to the food choices of other people.

study of adolescent vegetarianism identified a largely female
phenomenon characterised by meat avoidance, weight loss behaviours and
a high concern with body appearance. Teenage vegetarians are more
likely to be: Caucasian, from a higher socio-economic stratum, practice
various weight control strategies and also have an increased concern
for the environment, animal welfare, and gender equality compared to
non-vegetarian peers. Vegetarianism among teenage women is different
from traditional western culture vegetarianism, which has primarily a
nutritional or religious basis. The prevalence of vegetarianism (those
who do not consume red meat) in one South Australia study is 8-10% for
teenage women and 1-2% for teenage men. The prevalence of vegetarian
tendencies however was 32-37% for teenage women. Teenage vegetarians
believe that meat production is morally wrong, for animal welfare
reasons, and because it harms the environment.

vegetarianism may be seen as an extreme example of a general trend in
public opinion of farming practices. It is based on a mix of animal
welfare, human health and environmental quality concerns and is in fact
a manifestation of a philosophy of life. This gender related, anti-meat
focus should be of concern to livestock producers as women may have a
disproportionate future influence in food purchasing patterns for
families, as is currently the case.

Moralization is a process
that works at both individual and cultural levels and involves the
acquisition of moral qualities by objects or activities that previously
were morally neutral. Moralization is the process where a preference is
converted into a value. When behaviour becomes moralized the individual
will seek multiple justifications for the relevant conviction. In the
antifactory-farm movement a combination of justification arguments
including the destruction of the family farm, environmental concerns,
animal welfare concerns and revulsion at “un-natural” husbandry
practices are evoked in rationalizing and articulating an
anti-intensive farming world view.

Moralization is a gradual conversion of individual preference into societal values.
critical difference between preferences and values is that values are
much more likely to be transmitted within the family environment and
values are subject to institutional and legal support.

primary problems for the modern food evangelist is that personal
injury, generally, which can not be mitigated by personal preventative
action, is a prerequisite to recruit the machinery of the state to
protect you. Secondly, sometimes the potential convert can not be
testified to because of social or economic separation. An excellent
current example of this is the anti-horsemeat campaign in the United

Essentially SCAG’s are encouraging state and federal
legislatures to ban the sale of horses for slaughter into the export
market. If this initiative becomes law it will result in financial
injury to all horse owners in the United States and result in increased
animal welfare concerns for low value and abandoned horses.

marketed as an animal welfare issue, the American aversion to other
people eating horse meat can only be seen objectively as a fetish at
best or ill conceived cultural imperialism at worst. The rational
question remains; how am I injured by Belgians eating horse meat?

is an important regulatory issue to monitor. If this initiative becomes
law then it will demonstrate that food law and animal use can be based
solely on public opinion.

The Social Cause Activist Group (SCAG) and Demosclerosis

number of interest groups engaging in political lobbying has increased
dramatically since 1970. It is estimated that the number of interest
groups doubled in the United States from 1955 to 1970; doubled again
from 1970 to 1990 and reached 20,000 identified interest groups in
1995. Such groups are often given to expressions of moral outrage over
single often new-value issues. The motivation for membership in such
groups is often not collective material benefit but an individual
expressive reward realized by solidaristic interaction with like-minded
or prestigious people within the group.

Demosclerosis is a term
coined in the United States to describe in increasing inefficiency
within government to clearly identify the public good and protect that
public good in policy development. If, as often suggested, an astute
democratically elected administration identifies which way the mob is
going and then positions itself as the leader; it has become
increasingly difficult to clearly identify the consensus of the
electorate on many issues of social conscience. In the operation of
government, so many conflicting consumer and public interests groups
vie for political consideration that effective decision-making is

In the recent past, social cause activist groups
(SCAG) have emerged which no longer rely on traditional-legislative
means to achieve their political ends (Figure 1). Instead of lobbying
primarily for better laws or better enforcement of laws they have
focused on the marketing chain and affecting consumer choice or
generating fear in the manufacturer that consumer choice may be
affected (Figure 2). The increasing effectiveness of SCAG food directed
campaigns in part result from three converging forces in food
production in North America; congestion in legislative channels, rising
affluence of the consumer allows for preference for products with
specific attributes and the concentration of the consumer food markets
make targeting far easier.

People for the Ethical treatment of
Animals (PETA) is a non-profit SCAG that has an excellent template for
success (Table 1) with 2005 annual contributions of $25 million USD. A
non-profit organization that collects $25 million a year must spend $25
million a year and this organization has a proven track record for
achieving visibility.

An example of a successful SCAG
environmental campaign is the “Ronald McToxic Campaign” originating
with the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste (CCHW) in the early
1980’s. The campaign targeted a single goal, that of forcing McDonalds
to eliminate the use of polystyrene packaging within the fast food
chain. By 1989 school children, the backbone of McDonald’s customer
base had been recruited as part of the “Kids Against Polystyrene”
movement and Burger King had switched to paperboard containers. A more
holistic goal or campaign target such as decreasing the overall
disposable packaging is not in the best interest of the SCAG. A topic
such as “minimizing packaging waste” does not meet the standard of an
unambiguous and achievable objective in the business model for a
successful SCAG campaign.

The outcome of the McToxic campaign
can be viewed as a success. McDonald’s Corporation completely reviewed
its environmental strategy and was able to initiate remarkable decrease
in packaging used, primarily by source reduction. In the 1970’s an
average meal of Big Mac, fries and a shake required 46 grams of
packaging, in 1995 it required 25 grams, a 46% reduction. The CCHW went
on to become a very solvent SCAG with a 1990 budget of $689,908.00 and
changing its name to Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ)
reflecting a new mandate to deliver a broader line of products (

current active campaign in livestock production is one to eliminate the
use of sow gestation stalls by regulatory prohibition in Australia (, and Manitoba (Quit Stalling,

is possible that this unambiguous and achievable objective could be
reached and the actual overall welfare of sows in pork production not
be improved. Assessing the welfare of gestating sows is a multifactor
issue plagued by considerable uncertainty as the scientific assessment
of many potential alternate systems is lacking. Regulatory actions
affecting structural standards with high capital investment such as
housing can be predicted to have severe financial implications for the

International Trade Law

The World Trade
Organization ("WTO") was established on January 1, 1995 by the
Marrakesh Agreement creating an international organization to supervise
international trade policy. As of December 2000, the WTO had 141 member
governments. The WTO is located in Geneva and led by a Director-General.

some other international agencies (such as the International Monetary
Fund), the WTO is a consensus-based institution driven by the member
governments themselves, rather than by the Director-General or the
staff of the Secretariat. Thus, in some ways, the WTO is directed not
only in Geneva, but also in each of the national capitals from Tirana
to Harare.

The economic model (dogma) behind the WTO Agreement
on Agriculture is that open markets in food will allow the low cost
producer access to all markets and the citizen consumer will benefit.
As part of this free flow of goods the poor in wealthy countries
benefit and the increase world agricultural productivity assists the
poor of developing countries.

This assertion is very difficult
to test using scientific principals. Rigorous scientific or
experimental testing of most economic theories is problematic.

the second special session of the WTO Committee on Agriculture in June
2000, the European Union (EU) submitted a proposal on Animal Welfare
and Trade in Agriculture calling for the issue of animal welfare
standards to be addressed. The EU Commission is pursuing this
controversial proposal from a two-fold motivation; concerns expressed
by EU consumers pertaining to the production methods used to rear their
food and EU producers regarding the effect on their international
competitiveness of regulations enforcing costly animal welfare
standards within member countries. The proposal, to consider animal
welfare in method of production, as a viable international trade issue
has not received widespread support among WTO members.

Committee on Agriculture has delegated all decisions on standards for
food safety to the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Principles of
justified trade restriction inherent in the activities of the Codex
Alimentarius include the existence of at least an imaginary risk to
human health of some food or food process. When considering human
health risk in relation to animal welfare and methods of production, it
is difficult or impossible to establish the link between the product
(food) and the injured persons. In fact, many of the most vocal farm
animal welfare lobby groups are largely made up of non-consumers of
meat (vegetarian/vegan), and are protected from direct product source

Satisfying European consumers’ desire to know about
foreign animal welfare standards will require the labeling of imports.
Labeling of imports for animal welfare purposes is not consistent with
World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations, which are currently limited
to issues intrinsic to the safety of the commodity traded.

Office International des Epiozities (the OIE) has been recognized by
the World Trade Organization since 1994 as the international
organization for animal health and serves the parallel function of the
Codex Alimentarius Commission only in relation to zoo-sanitary
standards for trade in live animals and animal products.

Due to
the essential relationship between animal health and animal welfare,
the representatives of its 164 Member Countries asked the OIE to take
the lead role in developing international animal welfare standards.

Director General of the OIE convened an Ad hoc Group in April 2002,
bringing together the best experts in the field from a diverse range of
backgrounds and cultures.

The International Committee of the
OIE unanimously adopted the recommendations of the Ad hoc Group on
animal welfare during its 70th General Session (May 2002). A permanent
Working Group on Animal Welfare with the same membership was then
established which held its first meeting in October 2002. The initial
international OIE “Global Conference on Animal Welfare” held in Paris,
23-25 February 2004, invitation only, attracted more than 450
participants from 70 countries.

The WTO, through the OIE working
group on animal welfare, is positioning itself to facilitate animal
welfare as a potential trade issue.

Future of Intensive Livestock Production

discussions on animal welfare regulation have focused on the lack of
objective science to clearly demonstrate that one method of production
is superior to another method. The focus on the science basis for
animal welfare standards may in fact be missing the yet unresolved
point. Regulation is not based on science but on a need to protect
human welfare. Science is one of the major tools used to measure the
potential for human injury if free enterprise or other forces were to
run amok. The major question to be answered in the next few years is;
are people significantly injured by the way animals are raised to
provide food for human consumption?

If the answer to that
question is “yes”, people are injured by the presence of production
systems that they consider inhumane, and the magnitude of that injury
due to the presence of those systems is a non-trivial injury, then
governments will be compelled to draft regulatory frameworks that
protect the public from that harm.

Perhaps Joe living in Idaho is injured when Vito in Italy enjoys a horsemeat sausage.

and well organized SCAGs can produce effective and convincing rhetoric.
There is evidence that the general public will believe a
“negative-spin” story originating with a special interest group over an
accurate and balanced story from an unbiased source. As in all social
movements, there is a range of proponents within the animal welfare
community from the law abiding to those committed to violent direct
action. In the near future those who strongly believe that there are
serious moral concerns related to animal welfare will be frustrated
working through the legislative channels. Anti-intensive livestock
farming has had some success with initiating regulatory intervention in
the area of environmental protection, where there is some possible link
to human injury. This success is unlikely to be repeated in the area of
pure animal welfare. One has only to look at the recent extremely slow
movement of Bill C-22 the proposed amendment to Criminal Code cruelty
of animals’ provisions, for an example of how the legislative process
is inadequate or at best extremely slow to address rational concerned
debate on the issue of animal welfare.


an individual (or SCAG) truly believes for example that sows are better
dead than in gestation stalls and chickens are better dead than in
cage-layer confinement then the logical course of direct action is
clear. Any social cause activist group that claims in it’s literature,
a desire to “To inflict economic damage to those who profit from the
misery and exploitation of animals” (ALF 2004) should not be treated as
trivial considering the previous range of targets (ALF 2002).
Bio-terrorism and the threat of purposeful introduction of foreign
animal disease is a real risk for our livestock industries.


are a variety of possible policy options that could be pursued to deal
with the farm animal welfare issue. All policy decisions are derived
from moralization of the issue at hand; that is the electorate that has
come to believe that the public good is served by government

Bennett outlined three policy options to achieve a
balance between the production of livestock products and farm animal
welfare that would represent the wants of society:

1. Use market
mechanisms along with government intervention to supply information
primarily via a registered method of production label program, to
verify animal welfare and alternatives to standard production products
that would allow people to make informed choices about what they
consume. The CFIA has recently initiated a consultative process
intended to develop a verifiable system for method of production
labeling in Canada. Others have argued that the Consumer is in fact
unable to make a free choice at the checkout counter when the decision
in individual purchase is confounded by simultaneous competing
concerns. If animal welfare is a public good, vegans are
disenfranchised as they are prohibited from democratic participation in
policies that are limited to the marketplace. The WTO has clearly
indicated that this sort of labeling is not supported in international
trade negotiations.

2. Government could regulate the production
of livestock products through legislation or codes of practice to
ensure that the wants of all citizens who are concerned with animal
well-being are considered. Regulation has at least two regressive costs
for society. Firstly, the cost of licensing a large farm is the same as
a small farm and cost of new programs works against survival of small
operations. Secondly; if food costs increase incrementally, due to new
regulations, the future cost of food represents a greater proportion of
income for poor people than for the wealthy representing an unfair
burden of public policy.

3. Government could tax producers who
cause the poor welfare and/or subsidize those producing goods that are
thought to result in good animal welfare. For example, if a tax or
subsidy were applied to egg production so that free-range eggs were of
equal or lower price than standard production eggs, fewer “cage eggs”
might be sold or produced.

Ultimately, Bennett argued that
legislation combined with subsidy payments as incentives would be the
best policy approach. This author is working from the European model,
which has a long history of government support to animal agriculture.

predict future market forces may play an increasing role as
demonstrated by the Freedom Food success in the UK. Supermarkets and
large single desk buyers such as McDonalds can influence how farm
animals are treated. One UK chain has adopted the RSPCA’s “Freedom
Food” label and markets standard production and free-range eggs at the
same price despite the decreased profit to the store and producer. In
Canada the development and market share of cost-focused retailers such
as Wal-Mart, in the past five years, would argue against the potential
impact of method of production labeling programs on the majority of
consumer choice decisions.

In a democratic society, the public
expects to have its opinion count. The public in considering the
complex processes in agriculture and food processing are likely to
approach political questions posed, using significantly different
parameters that current regulatory structures are prepared to include.

societal trends; it may be prudent if decision makers in livestock
production methods were to take into consideration or at minimum
acknowledge factors other than science in a long term vision of
sustainable and ethically supportable agricultural production systems.
Over time, consumers will probably accept genetically modified products
and food irradiation as critical scientific assessment has been made
and is possible in these areas. The same consumers likely will conclude
that some forms of livestock production are unnecessary or not
reflective of societal values and will support regulatory intervention
to address those concerns. As regulatory bodies currently claim a sound
science base for decision making, more discussion is needed on how
society will make decisions in the face of scientific uncertainty in
food production or in the case of animal welfare, in the face of moral
conviction. In highly contentious issues there will be some science on
both sides of the argument and the final policy decision will be based
on ethics.

If the statement made by the late Harrison McCain in
relation to GM potatoes “We are in the business of giving our customers
what they want…..” is representative of food processing industries, it
is unlikely that significant science or ethically based leadership in
animal welfare or similar issues in food production will originate in
that quadrant.

Table 1: Five Components of a “Good” Law

1. Prohibited behavior is casually related to a negative outcome (intuitive)

2. The violation is easily & objectively measured

3. The violation is related to a modifiable human behaviour

4. The violation is a concept easily understood by all languages and cultures.

5. The violation may be adapted to local circumstances without a change in law.
Example: “it is an offense to exceed the posted speed limit”

Table 2: The lessons for corporations to be taken from examining PETA's career to date include the following five-step process:

1. Campaign must have unambiguous and achievable objectives

2. Utilize a range of tactics, and never underestimate the Internet

3. Segment your target audience into defined targets

a. “Cruelty to Go” (Target: house-spouse, weakness guilt for purchase of fast food)
b. “Meat Stinks” (Target: Vegan leaning Teens)
c. “Don’t be a Milk Sucker” (Target: Young Teens message milk causes acne)
d. “McUnhappy Meals” (Target: Direct to children <10 years old)

Organize campaigning to maximize the domino effect (minimum cage size
for laying hens in the McDonalds supply chain triggered slightly larger
minimum cage size in the Burger King supply chain)

5. Keep the pressure constant