Do Animal Rights Activists Care More About Animals Than Human Beings?

Animal rights activists come in for a lot of criticism, but the one argument
that seems to really get under their skin is the claim that they care more about
animals than they do about human beings. Animal rights groups and individuals
will go to great lengths to show they value human life. They argue they simply
want humans to value the lives of animals.

Do animal rights activists care more about animals than human beings? Comments
made by prominent activists and groups after the September 11 terrorist attacks
speak volumes:

  • Alex Hershaft runs a group called Farm USA that manages a national animal
    rights convention. On September 23, Farm USA issued a press release quoting
    Hershaft saying, “Worldwide, every day, 125 million innocent, sentient animals
    are dreadfully abused and butchered for food. These tragedies are perpetrated
    by a worldwide animal agricultural terrorist network that is much more threatening
    to planetary survival than the Al Queda network, because it kills more people
    and animals, because it kills them unrelentingly every day, because it is
    pervasive and accepted. For every human being who dies of warfare, crime,
    or terrorism, 10,000 innocent, sentient animals die a violent death.”

  • The next day, Michael W. Fox of the Humane Society of the United States
    blamed the 9/11 attacks on humanity’s crimes against nature. In an essay distributed
    via e-mail, Fox wrote that, “Our collective violence against Nature and against
    human nature, from the plight of endangered cultures, wildlife and the environment,
    to the sufferings of indigenous peoples and of domestic animals, especially
    in factory farms and commercial laboratories around the world, needs to be
    acknowledged. Until we find atonement with Nature and all beings, human and
    non-human, how can human nature find peace and not annihilate all that our
    better natures embrace?”

  • In its October issue, the widely read animal rights magazine “Animal People”
    included an unsigned editorial linking Osama bin Laden’s fanaticism to meat
    eating. More disturbing, however, was the magazine’s comparison of farm animals
    to the victims who died onboard the hijacked planes. According to the magazine,
    “Many and perhaps most of the nine billion animals sent to slaughter in the
    U.S. each year, as well as the billions killed abroad, have at least as long
    to sense doom as did the September 11 victims. Neither are the animals’ last
    cries as unlike the cell phone calls made by some of the September 11 victims
    as the typical meat-eater would like to believe. Equally disturbing to meat-eaters
    might be awareness that doomed animals, too, often put up frantic resistance,
    like the passengers who tried to retake United Airlines flight 93…”

  • Lee Ryan, a member of the British boy band Blue, put the comparison in stark
    and crude language. Ryan, who styles himself an animal rights activist, asked
    the British tabloid The Sun, “What about whales? They are ignoring
    animals that are more important. Animals need saving and that’s more important
    . . . Who gives a f— about New York when elephants are being killed.”

  • To his credit, animal rights philosopher Peter Singer did criticize the
    idea of comparing the victims of the September 11 attacks to animals killed
    for food, but United Poultry Concerns’ Karen Davis vigorously denounced Singer
    for this. According to Davis, “For 35 million chickens in the United States
    alone, every single night is a terrorist attack.” Davis went on to suggest
    that since most of those who died in the terrorist attacks were likely meat
    eaters, the attacks may have actually resulted in a net reduction in suffering.

  • Finally, just a few days ago Farm USA announced the schedule for its upcoming
    Animal Rights 2002 National Conference. Describing the goal of this year’s
    conference, Farm USA’s press release said, “Animal Rights 2002 is our movement’s
    first national conference since the terrible tragedy of September 11 and its
    aftermath. It is dedicated to exposing and challenging the terror perpetrated
    every single day against billions of innocent, sentient nonhuman animals.”

Despite the frequent claims that animal rights activist do not care more about
animals than they do about human beings, in each of these cases human suffering
from the Sept. 11 attacks is minimized, ignored, and even celebrated. At best
human suffering is used simply as a segue to talk about the real issue, which
is always the alleged suffering of animals.

Do animal rights activists care more about animals than they do about human
beings? Of course they do.

United Poultry Concerns Complains About a Chicken Ad

Karen Davis continues to push the envelope on animal rights, insisting that not only is it wrong to hurt chickens, but now arguing that it is also wrong to degrade them in commercials. Wait a few years and she’ll probably be suing for libel and slander on behalf of chickens.

The latest horror identified by Davis and United Poultry Concerns is an advertisement for fast food chain Carl’s Jr. The advertisement pokes fun at competing chains who sell chicken nuggets. The ad features several men inspecting a chicken unsuccessfully trying to find the part of the chicken that contains nuggets. They find wings, breasts, and thighs, but not nuggets. The ad ends with a man removing a rubber glove saying, “It’s not there, either.”

United Poultry Concerns put out a press release saying that,

The ad implies an anal search of the chicken’s body and is completely offensive. It models itself on scenes of gang rape and on a medical examination of one’s body that no one would consent to have publicly aired. It exemplifies the connection that has recently been suggested by UPC President Karen Davis, philosopher Peter Singer, and others between industrial animal agriculture and “bestiality”-human sexual assaults upon other animal species that comport with manipulating them for reproduction and ‘meat’ …

Is the ad offensive? Certainly nowhere near as offensive as Davis’ comments that the 9/11 terrorist attacks may have resulted in a net reduction in suffering in the world. It is also a little odd to see UPC citing Singer, given that just this month she was complaining about Singer’s comments that chickens are so primitive they might not be subjects of a life and hence owed no moral duties.

The bizarre thing, though, is that Davis believes that even though no animal was harmed during the filming of this commercial, putting in a chicken in a degrading situation violates its rights. Davids told Los Angeles Times reporter Dana Parson,

When someone’s poking around your body and sniffing around, looking under your tail, wing and treating this bird’s body derisively . . . that’s our objection. There’s more to abuse and harm than sticking a knife in somebody.

I’m surprised she did not add that the chicken might have felt embarrassed being naked! I hope Davis and UPC come forward soon with clear guidelines for protecting the privacy of animals.


What if someone went looking for your nuggets? Dana Parsons, The Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2002.

United Poultry Concerns, California residents urge Carl’s Jr. to Drop Chicken “Nuggets” Commercial. United Poultry Concerns, Press Release, January 17, 2002.

Karen Davis: 9/11 Attacks May Have Reduced Pain and Suffering of Chickens

United Poultry Concerns’ Karen Davis recently posted an open letter to Vegan Voice, an Australian vegan magazine, denouncing Peter Singer for allegedly disparaging chickens in a recent book review that touched on the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Singer, you may remember, argues that morality consist of reducing suffering in sentient persons. Singer has long hedged about where exactly the line between persons and non-persons should be drawn, but has speculated that a chicken might be an example of a creature that is not a person because it may not have a sense of its own existence over time.

That in itself was enough to enrage Davis, who insists that when chickens at her sanctuary “yell and otherwise beg and demand to be let out of their enclosures,” this is all the evidence anyone needs that chickens have a sense of their own existence over time.

But where Singer really crossed the line in Davis’ eyes was when Singer recently argued that it was wrong to draw a moral equivalency between the deaths of thousands of people in the 9/11 terrorist attack and the deaths of millions of chickens. Reviewing Joan Dunayer’s book Animal Equality: Language and Liberty, Singer rejected Dunayer’s claims that people should use the same terminology for the suffering of animals as they use to describe the suffering of human beings. Singer wrote,

Reading this suggestion just a few days after the killing of several thousand people at the World Trade Center, I have to demur. It is not speciesist to think that this event was a greater tragedy than the killing of several million chickens, which no doubt also occurred on September 11, as it occurs on every working day in the United States. There are reasons for thinking that the deaths of begins with family ties as close as those between the people killed at the World Trade Center and their loved ones are more tragic than the deaths of beings without those ties; and there is more that could be said about the kind of loss that death is to begins who have a high degree of self-awareness, and a vivid sense of their own existence over time.

Davis will have none of this, offering two closely related arguments — (a) that, if anything, the suffering experienced by chickens is worse than that experienced by humans in the 9/11 attacks, and (b) that the 9/11 attacks may have produced a net reduction in pain and suffering, since it likely killed several thousand meat eaters.

Davis writes,

For 35 million chickens in the United States alone, every single night is a terrorist attack, if the victim’s experience counts and human agency is acknowledged. That is what “chicken catching” amount to in essence. And it isn’t just something that is “happening” to these birds but a deliberate act of human violence perpetrated against innocent (they have done us no harm), defenseless, sentient individuals.

While I would not dream of using arguments to diminish the horror of the September 11 attack for thousands of people, I would also suggest that the people who died in the attack did not suffer more terrible deaths than animals in slaughterhouses suffer every day. Moreover, the survivors of the September 11 attack and their loved ones have an array of consolations-patriotism, the satisfaction of U.S. retaliation, religious faith, TV ads calling them heroes, etc–that the chickens, whose lives are continuously painful and miserable, including being condemned to live in human-imposed circumstances that are inimical and alien to them as chickens, do not have available. They suffer raw, without the palliatives.

As Davis sums up near the end of her letter, she in fact does think “it is speciesist to think that the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center was a greater tragedy than what millions of chickens endured that day and what they endure every day.”

If a chicken killed for food is morally equivalent to a human killed by a terrorist, then the obvious question is whether or not the victims of the 9/11 attack were truly innocent, and Davis has no problem at all leaping to the logical conclusion of that line of thinking. She writes,

Doubtless the majority, if not every single one, of the people who suffered and/or died as a result of the September 11 attack ate, and if they are now a life continue to eat, chickens. It is possible to argue, using (Peter Singer’s) utilitarian calculations, that the deaths of thousands of people whose trivial consumer satisfactions included the imposition of fundamental misery and death on hundreds of thousands of chickens reduced the amount of pain and suffering in the world.

Some animal rights activists care more about the suffering of animals than people.


An Open Letter to Vegan Voice Re: Singer’s Disparagement of Chickens. Karen Davis, December 26, 2001.

Review of Joan Dunayer’s Animal Equality: Language and Liberty. Vegan Voice, Dec. 2001 – Feb. 2002, Peter Singer.

UPC's Anti-KFC Protest

Recently I wrote about a United Poultry Concerns planning to protest at a KFC. Apparently they went ahead and protested at a Washington DC-area KFC. An account from the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that while the rain soaked the activists, they carried signs in front of the restaurant with slogans such as “Chickens Have Feelings” and “Imagine How They Feel” (I’d think “Imagine How Good They Taste” would be more accurate, but that’s just me).

Anyway, there were some interesting details in the report. Like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups, UPC apparently does some serious padding with its membership numbers. UPC claims it has 10,000 members nationwide and last year raised $122,000. Unless I’m mistaken that’s just $12.20 per member. Since UPC lists its membership dues as $30 for new members, $25 for renewing members, and $10 for students, its hard to see how they have 10,000 new members unless all but a handful are students.

The Herald-Leader quoted protester Jean Colison, 57, of Bethesda, Maryland, as complaining that “Nine billion animals are killed in the United States for food, and eight billion of them are chickens. I think it’s unjust. I think it’s unfair.” (She might be right, maybe we should eat more turkeys and beef so the chickens don’t feel like they’re the only ones being picked on).

Karen Davis showed up to add that, “They [chickens] are very zesty, cheerful beings when they’re not being abused. We speak about loving the earth. Well, if anybody loves the earth, it’s a chicken.”

The best line, though, had to be from KFC customer Loria Suggs who happened to be ordering some chicken strips in the drive-through. Asked whether the protesters had convinced her to give up chicken, she indicated they had not and added, “There are much greater causes they could stand out in the rain for than, ‘Don’t eat chicken.'”


Animal activists protest restaurant chain’s fare. Frank E. Lockwood, Lexington Herald-Leader, July 30, 2001.

Karen Davis, Songwriter

Back in April, as it has for the last four years, United Poultry Concerns promised to protest at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The event was marred by rain, but that wasn’t about deter UPC. In a report for their Summer 2001 Poultry Press, UPC claimed that the “Big Chicken in the Sky Rains out Egg Roll, Not UPC.”

Apparently UPC handed out a pamphlet to kids and parents containing song lyrics written by Karen Davis meant to be sung to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Somehow I don’t think this is destined to become a children’s classic, but you can judge from the lyrics,

Chicken, chicken, why aren't you
With your mother hen so true?
Pecking, playing, running around
Taking sunbaths on the ground.
Chicken, chicken, why aren't you
With your mother hen so true?

Chicken, chicken, why aren't you? With your sisters and brothers, too? Scratching, running, having fun, Taking dustbaths in the sun. Chicken, chicken, why aren't you With your sisters and brothers, too?

Chicken, chicken, baby bird May your cheeping cries be heard, Hushed and soothed by those who see We are all one family. Chicken, chicken, why aren't you With your mother hen so true?

I suspect those lyrics made even the “Big Chicken in the Sky” cringe.


Big Chicken in the Sky Rains out Egg Roll, Not UPC. United Poultry Concerns, Summer 2001.

United Poultry Concerns Plans Anti-KFC Protests

United Poultry Concerns recently announced a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals-style protest against KFC on July 29, 2001.

These folks need a lot of work to match the sophistication of PETA’s media grabbing, but there was this hilarious nugget in their press release,

Much sweeter [than eating chickens] is the sight of happy chickens at UPC’s sanctuary in Virginia. “When people meet the chickens and see how nice they are, they stop thinking them of food,” says UPC protest co-organizer Franklin Wade. “At our KFC protest, each person who sees our signs or takes a leaflet must think about these birds and consider the truth.”

Yeah, if we could only sit down and have a long conversation with a chicken, we’d understand our shared humanity… er, scratch that. I suspect what most people will consider after taking a UPC leaflet is, “Why couldn’t they have given me a coupon off a bucket of wings instead?”


Chicken rights activists target KFC for Protest; “Stop Slaughter of the Innocent, Go Veggie,” They Urge. United Poultry Concerns, Press Release, July 26, 2001.