Policies & Politics

Published on January 19th, 2009 | by Michael A. Weber

33

Is There a Vegan In the White House? PETA, Rejoice!

January 19th, 2009 by

Soon-to-be-President Barack Obama has appointed animal advocate Cass Sunstein to head the relatively obscure, yet powerful Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The regulatory czar, as the position is generally called, is responsible for every regulatory agency in the country, such as the EPA, and will oversee all administration rules.

Sunstein is best known for his balanced views between government regulations and cost-benefit analysis and for his theory of behavioral economics and he is widely considered to be a great choice for the office. However, a new controversy is arising over his views on animal rights and animal welfare.

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Sunstein, a vegetarian, co-authored the book Animal Right: Current Debates and New Directions, and has advocated for much stricter regulations of almost every industry that uses animals, including entertainment, clothing, science and agriculture. The Center For Consumer Freedom claims that he will even attempt to outlaw meat-eating and hunting.

What some are criticizing the most is Sunstein’s argument that animals should be entitled to legal representation in court- a bold claim that, if enacted, would drastically change the role that animals hold in this country. Sunstein advocates banning hunting unless it is for food and says that animal suffering needs to be a priority of humans.

But before people worry that Sunstein is going to force everyone in our country to go vegan, it should be noted that his views are rooted in pragmatism, and that animal suffering is his primary concern, not necessarily animal liberation:

If we focus on suffering, as I believe that we should, it is not necessarily impermissible to kill animals and use them for food; but it is entirely impermissible to be indifferent to their interests while they are alive. So too for other animals in farms, even or perhaps especially if they are being used for the benefit of human beings.

While I would be more than happy with a leader in Washington who does openly advocate animal liberation, I understand that on a sensitive issue like this, any progress is a big stride. Maybe Proposition 2 was just the beginning of a new wave of animal welfare concerns? I can only hope.

Photo Credit: MVI on Flickr under Creative Commons License

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About the Author

Michael A. Weber is a political activist and recent graduate of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He is the outreach coordinator for Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), located outside of Washington, DC. Environmental and animal advocacy, energy policy, and ecological economics are his areas of professional interest, and his personal concerns extend to all people, animals and the earth.



  • Marc

    As an avid hunter, fisherman, and environmental conservationist that believes in global warming… and global cooling, (the cycle of water vapor and radiation from the sun… you know, that big yellow ball in the sky), I am concerned about yet another crackpot appointment by BO. You people actually think this Government cares about you? They only care about your wallets… and distract you with junk science and pseudo-intellectualism that tugs on the heartstrings of your ideology. They are using your “causes” to steal from you, and not correct the system that you believe oppresses you and the animals. If you don’t have the stones to train and quickly take an animal, field dress it, and cook it for your family… then you should not eat meat. It’s a choice… and most Americans are where they are because of personal choice. This appointment will only complicate the legal system… and funnel more cash to the lawyers… and the politicians that are all lawyers like Scheister Obama. Your “causes” will not be served… and you will be brought to your knees… and be begging for the $20 MILLION in Ham that your taxes bought and paid for. Goodbye liberty… buy a gun, hunt your food, grow your food on the land… and enjoy true liberty until this “Government” takes it from you.

  • Spurwing Plover

    Anyone who has anything to do with PETA is igorant of what their realy doing PETA HAS KILLED 95% OF THE ANIMALS THEY HAVE ADOPTED AND CALL IT COMPASSION

  • Mike

    Some of you guys are really out there. You think animals have the same rights as humans do? Are you serious? The Bible even states that “man was put on this earth to rule over all living things” but yet you want to make animals equal to humans. I suppose since that is in the Bible it most likely wont mean much to some of you. You guys don’t hunt but yet you want to take away one of my favorite past times. What do you like to do? What’s your past time? Let me know so that I can push my own agenda and take away your past time just because I don’t agree with it. What do I care, wont effect me any. Have any of you fished or hunted before? I would guess that most have not. How can you talk like experts about something you have never experienced first hand? Put your lattes down and leave your big cities and come out to the country. You just might learn something. As far as you animal extremists go, I’m glad your around. You guys look like a bunch of wackos to the general public and make defending my god given right to hunt so much easier.

  • Susan

    I am very encouraged by this news but can’t understand Obama’s views and proposed FOCO Freedom OF Choice. This proposed legislation allows a Mother the choice of on demand abortion anytime before birth. Now with late term abortion the child is aborted alive then the “medical” staff inserts a needle into the babies skull that contains poison. If the baby survives it is thrown into the medical waste pile to continue to suffer and die.

    Don’t get me wrong me and my family are vegan’s and consider ourselves pro life with civil rights for all so when Obama talks civil rights it should be for all beings.

  • Mike

    Center for Consumer Freedom is run by a well-known lobbyest named Richard Berman. Check out all of the front-groups he runs at http://bermanexposed.org/

  • Chris Pearson

    This is certainly a step in the right direction. We desperately need to work on changing the way we think and feel about the rest of the animal kingdom before we take ourselves out in the process. It’s truly a shame how some people can rely so much on a simple opinion, belief, habit, or out dated tradition and very little on thought, insight, and compassion. All beings suffer. That’s reality! Nevertheless, we’ve become so hardened and conditioned by the horrific way we treat animals (either directly or indirectly) that we don’t even think twice about the savageness of this behavior and the pain and suffering we cause to all those beneath us. For purely selfish reasons (and just because we have the ruthless power to do whatever we want to them) we’ve enslaved the whole animal kingdom so poorly, beneath all compassion for far too long. Any act of cruelty against a helpless creature viewed as “an inconvenient truth” is an unpardonable crime and a step back for humanity. Animals are at our mercy and this “attitude” that they are simply here for our pleasure is an extremely weak and pathetic reflection of who we are and it’s certainly a very narrow way of looking at the world around us.

    I’d like to share the following quotes. Perhaps it’s a little too much but sometimes you have no choice.

    “None so blind as those who will not see.” – Matthew Henry

    “The highest realms of thought are impossible to reach without first attaining an understanding of compassion.” – Socrates (469-399 B.C.)

    “The lower animals, like man, MANIFESTLY feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery.” – C. Darwin (It has nothing to do with intelligence!)

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself…” – George Bernard Shaw, Writer, Nobel laureate

    “How can I teach your children gentleness and mercy to the weak, and reverence for life, which in its nakedness and excess, is still a gleam of God’s omnipotence, when by your laws, your actions and your speech, you contradict the very things I teach?” – Henry W. Longfellow

    “Hunting is not a sport. In a sport, both sides should know they’re in the game.” – Paul Rodriguez

    “There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is.” – Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel laureate

    “When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man we call him a vandal. When he destroys one of the works of God we call him a sportsman.” – Joseph Wood Krutch
    “The world, we are told, was made especially for man-a presumption not supported by all the facts… Why should MAN value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation”? – John Muir, Naturalist and explorer (1838-1914)
    “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” – Thomas Edison

    “Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.” – Milan Kundera
    “The basis of all animal rights should be the Golden Rule: we should treat them as we would wish them to treat us, were any other species in our dominant position.” – Christine Stevens
    “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.” – Alice Walker

    “There will come a day when such men as myself will view the slaughter of innocent creatures as horrible a crime as the murder of his fellow man…a human being is a part of the whole, called by us the ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures…” – A. Einstein, Nobel Prize

    “Because one species is more clever than another, does it give it the right to imprison or torture the less clever species? Does one exceptionally clever individual have a right to exploit the less clever individuals of his own species?…it is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.” – M. Twain

    “All beings tremble before violence. All fear death. All love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?” – Buddha

    “The thinking man must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another, even the lowliest creature; to do so is to renounce our manhood and shoulder a guilt which nothing justifies…very little of the great cruelty shown by men can really be attributed to cruel instinct. Most of it comes from thoughtlessness or inherited habit…the time must come when inhumanity protected by custom and thoughtlessness will succumb before humanity championed by thought…” – Albert Schweitzer

    “…a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom…” – Thomas Paine, Common Sense

    “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more often likely to be foolish than sensible.” – Bertrand Russell

    “I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other.” – Henry D. Thoreau

    “Why should man expect his prayer for mercy to be heard by what is above him when he shows no mercy to what is under him?” – Pierre Troubetzkoy

  • Patricia Randolph

    I think we should lobby this public servant with information from the 2006 United Nations report that states that animal agriculture is urgent to address because it contributes MORE to global warming THAN ALL TRANSPORTATION. According to their statistics, it causes about 18% of global warming and I think it is higher. The loss of wetlands, prairies, biodiversity, water usage and water pollution, deforestation and cruelty are all staggering. And to top that, we import millions of tons of carcasses from rainforest lands razed to grow cattle for this market – thus destroying old growth that sustains most of the remnants of diversity left on our planet. The oceans are dying from carbon sink and overfishing, overtrashing – human arrogance (the species made in God’s image?) is making havoc on earth – and I do not think we will survive alone on this planet for long.

  • Patricia

    QUOTE: ” The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Gandhi

    ” Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” Albert Einstein

  • Charlotte

    Peace and love to all. May all beings be happy.

  • Michael A. Weber

    Thanks for your comments, all. I’m not used to comments on an animal rights story being so positive. Usually 2/3 of them are like those from Yellowjacket. Glad to see the support for such a controversial move. 🙂

    -Michael

  • E Rose

    First of all, Jim and Yellowjacket: your time will eventually come for compassionate understanding. Until then, we unfortunately have to put up with your ignorance. It is a shame that animals don’t have the entire human population on their side. They depend on us to protect them as they are unable to protect themselves from those who choose violence over peace.

    Secondly, anyone with an ounce of understanding knows that anything that comes out of the Center for Consumer “Freedom” is based on outrageous lies designed to protect the evil interests of the monsters who control factory farming and every other form of animal torture and murder. Everyone, by now, knows how to read between the lines when reading their deceptive and juvenile comments. Their motives are so transparent, so nobody trusts them for information.

    Hearing about elected officials with any amount of power to make change is encouraging, but only time will tell if these people have the moral and ethical courage to change and remove these serious problems.

  • VeggieTart

    It sounds as if Mr. Sunstein is a welfarist. The Center for Corporate–I’m sorry “Consumer”–Freedom is a lobbying group against the interests of the consumers. It was started by a tobacco lobbyist.

    I don’t think asking people to be conscious of what happens to the animals they eat is too much. This hopefully will lead to a reduction in animal products consumed, which is but a step.

  • Dan G

    This is huge! I couldnt be happier right now. Obama could do very little at this point to make me not support him through any circumstances! Finally a progressive and pragmatic approach in the white house.

  • Reb

    This is a sign of progress! The animal farming industry is an environmental nightmare as well as inhumane and unhealthy. Personally, I don’t agree with any consumption of animals, but for those who do, scientific evidence has shown that organic, free-range animals have up to 89% less pathogens due to the lack of stress, chemicals and drugs. Factory farms for chicken slaughter in the US kill more animals in a year than there are the number of people living on Planet Earth. Scientific evidence has also shown that poaching and hunting has elimiated and nearly eliminated many species of fish and mammals. At least if people were forced to kill an animal they wanted to eat themselves, they would be more concsious of any waste, etc., instead of being completely detached from what that pile of “pork” or “beef” that is in that grocery store package and what negative impact on lives and the environment it had to become that slab of rotting flesh. Hopefully this appointment will bring education and debate publicly and into the school systems if nothing else!

  • Claudine Erlandson

    This is great news! I believe the animals are in good hands with our new president. There is HOPE against the suffering of factory farm animals and the appointment of Mr. Sunstein is definitely a step in the right direction. Yes we can, yes we must help animals against suffering and abuse. Today it’s against torture of humans and tomorrow against torture of animals. The time has come. Long live Obama and his compassionate staff!

  • Anna Hornick

    I see Cass Susteins’ appointment as hope to raise awareness of the suffering of animals. Yes, animals should be entitled to legal representation and protection especially in factory farms. What has not been mentioned enough is the unspeakable cruelty and the dreadful damage to the environment, due to factory farming. I can only hope that compassion for the animals will be a high priority. Mr. Sustein please do the right thing.

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  • Anne

    Aside from our own views and often misconceptions on why we need to slaughter there is another issue. Many persons including my own step sister cannot afford store bought meat yet she has been brain washed and almost misinformed that this is the place to get protein and nutrition. We’ve been misled by certain industries who profit more from chicken than they do from chick peas. Sadly this is only the tip of the iceberg. I would hope that any politician would put their priority as a civil servant before their personal objectivs, otherwise I’d also want them out of office. I don’t want victory from a biased situation but I would be happy to see people given correct information so that they may decide themselves.

  • TomOfMaine

    “consumer freedom”, what a joke. That is the most spinningly misnamed organization in history. The center for “corporate” freedom is much, much more accurate and appropriate. They don’t give a damn about the consumer, or our well being, only the bottom lines of the corporate interests that fund them and their propaganda.

  • julieann

    I hope this new cabient member does bring many reforms to how amiericans view and treat animals. we have for too long abused and exploited animals for our own selfish desires and pleasures. It is time for animals to be set free just as finally the slaves were set free from the horrible oppression and cruelty of being owned with no rights or say in thier welfare.

  • julieann

    I hope this new cabient member does bring many reformd to how amiericans view and treat animals. we have for too long abused and exploited animals for our own selfish desires and pleasures. It is time for animals to be set free just as finally the slaves were set free from the horrible oppression and cruelty of being owned with no rights or say in thier welfare.

  • I think Sunstein is an open thinker – that’s at least a start to the closed mindedness that many have regarding animal issues – especially if it affects their *meat* consumption.

    I like him because he is a proponent of free speech. And believes that communities ought to be provided facilities for “open debate”. Certainly this can only help any cause for activists… especially concerning animal welfare or “rights”. We need to inform and educate people that there is indeed a problem with animal agriculture – right now, 90% of the people are in the dark about where their meat “food” comes from.
    http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/SUNWHY.html

  • goldenlight

    I am so happy and proud of Obama’s choice! He is a truly noble soul and I think that America finally has the chance to become a leader once again..a compassionate one.

    As Obama said, “Our planet is changing and we must change with it!” So for him to choose Sunstein is no surprise. Finally animals voices can be heard. No more torture, no more inhumane killings, horrid and disgusting living environments- it can only get better. There is a golden light at the end of the tunnel and we will see great things in our lives!

    Hooraaay!!!!!

  • Eve

    I see this as a sign of hope for all peace loving persons and our animal co-inhabitants!

  • GailD

    This could be great news for animals, and for humans, who may begin moving towards a more peaceful, compassionate, empathy-based world.

  • Matt

    If there was any doubt in my mind what side of the animal rights issue to be one, the unintelligent comments from yellowjacket and Jim have definitely convinced me not to be on their side.

  • yellowjacket

    Yes SIR,I’ll be glad when sunstien get in and get’s the laws passed where the animals can sue! I got a Asil cock who’s goeing to sue the HUSA,Sunstein, PETA,coalation’s that banned cock fighting, States and Governments for over a trillion dollars,yes sir ,he told me so,said he could have been a world champion by now and they took it all away from him!yes sir, he also told me he had a birth certificate showing he was born right here in the United States as was his mommy and daddy and he ain’t ashamed to show it to the world,said he don’t like communist people puttin down our CONSTITUTION or takin away our FREEDOM’s, Yes Sir,he’s mad,yes sir he sure is.

  • Michael A. Weber

    Jim- Very original joke. Never heard that one before.

    There was no mention of hunting in this post at all. Though since you brought it up, Sunstein is not in favor of banning hunting if it is for food- he is in favor of banning hunting for sport and for pleasure, which I completely agree with him on.

    While I am a vegan and don’t eat any meat, I am MUCH more in favor of someone hunting their meat than having it come from a cruel factory farm. I think most vegetarians and vegans are with you on that issue.

    About your assertion that hunting is good for wildlife and habitat- I think you should do more research into the impact that hunting has on animals. There is little, if any, evidence to suggest that hunting has a positive effect on wildlife.

    The people who write on these blogs are in no way in favor of building homes that further encroach into habitats. We are also conservationists. Hope this clears some things up.

    -Michael

  • Jim Belliveau

    PETA= People Eating Tasty Animals.I am a proud hunter and MEAT EATER.Without hunters ,just what do you think would happen as you build your big faNCY HOMES AND ENCROOCE even further into wildlife’s habitat???? And if hunting is so unethical and unnessesary,next time before going to the grocery store to buy your steaks and pork chops or chicken,Go to the slaughterhouse that supplied those meats that”you didnt have to hunt or kill for” and then think to yourself which is more humane.A quick killing bullet from a hunters gun or how they kill animals in a slaughterhouse.You might just find yourself asking for hunting advice or sitting next to me in a treesatnd watching for Bambi.

  • Pam

    Three more cheers for Obama! If Obama can appoint good people to offset the damage done by the Bush Administration catering to industry and lobbyists, and encourage business –for whatever reason — to change its abusive ways, then more power to him — maybe there’s hope for us all yet!

  • Alex Felsinger

    Elaine,

    It’s phrased in a question, not a fact. Frankly, someone with high political career ambitions probably couldn’t openly admit to being a vegan, so who knows if he is or not.

    But judging by his writings, he sure ought to be.

    -Alex

  • Uh, it says he’s a vegetarian, not a vegan.

  • ardeth

    Sunstein’s appointment gives me hope (and anything that riles the Center for Consumer Freedom–which I call the Center for Animal Slavery–does too!)

    But on the other hand, one of Bush’s speechwriters and the guy who wrote Sarah Palin’s speech to the RNC, Matthew Scully, is an ethical vegan, and he didn’t do a darn thing to advance the cause of animal rights while he had the chance to influence the president and the Republican Party.

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