Science vs. conscience
Conflict of interest or not, both sides believe they are working toward what they think is best for animals. But the goal
of animal welfare also is a question of what's best for the mind vs. what's best for the body. The way HSUS and AVMA deliver
their messages are based on which side of that argument they take.
"This is a moral issue of right and wrong, and AVMA is trying to throw science out there," Jamison says. "What if AVMA says
stressor and behavioral tests show that if you provide larger living space and stimulation for slaves, cotton production could
continue? People are listening to language about morality of animal use as much as they were listening about the morality
Still, Gail Golab, head of AVMA's animal-welfare division, says just because the moral debate is the easier side to argue
doesn't mean it's the best.
Controlling the debate: Gail Golab, head of the AVMA's animal-welfare division, says just because the moral question is the
easier side to argue doesn't mean it's best.
"I think it's always easier to take the simple road home. It takes a lot more time to understand the science, and that's part
of the reason you have scientists and veterinarians in the first place," Golab says. "I think our role is complicated. The
challenge that AVMA has is trying to make sure the accurate information gets on the table. And sometimes it's not only harder
to transmit, but the information is not as attractive. When people have problems, they want simple answers. And the answers
in this issue are not simple if you want them to work."
Delivering the message
Science might be the better way to debate the issue, according to Golab, but it doesn't appear to be what's working in the
public arena, as voters and legislators look past the recommendations of the animal-health community.
"You've got about 30 seconds to get people's attention and understand the issues, and you just can't do that with science,"
Croney says. "The HSUS' appeal is brilliantly simple and, in terms of what they're asking, anyone can relate to it because
when they propose legislation, it's always written along these lines — animals just need room to stand up, lie down and stretch
their limbs. No one is going to see anything ridiculous or evil about it. What HSUS has to do is make that work in real life."
But gaining the support of the public has less to do with the sides of the debate than it does with making voters and legislators
feel better about their animal-use habits, Jamison says.
"You have a public that wants animals as a companion and as cuisine. All the humane society has to do is point out the hypocrisy
of that stance and make more or less an emotional appeal to amplify the guilt of the consumer," Jamison explains. "And all
people are looking for is permission to live as hypocrites."
"Who's against the humane society? Who's against treating animals nicely? That's about the extent of what the public thinks
about," he continues. "HSUS speaks the language of modern consumers. The veterinary community does not. You've got every structural
advantage and yet practically are getting your hat handed to you because AVMA does not know how to speak the language of its
consumers. It has something to do with the message, it has something to do with the appeal of the message, and it has something
to do with how people process information."
But in the end, those are human debates that don't get either side closer to better animal welfare, Golab says.
"It's not a debate that really makes a difference to the animals involved. I think at the end of the day, we need to worry
about what kind of impact we're having on these animals. If we're going to use animals, we need to maximize the benefit of
those animals while treating them as well as we can," Golab says. "Do you want to be on the front page of the New York Times,
or do you want the health of the chicken to improve? I know which one we're running for."