Posted on September 20, 2015
When producing websites, videos, flyers, and other materials, most vegan advocacy organizations focus on the cruelties done toward animals on factory farms. The environmental or health benefits of moving toward vegan eating may also be discussed.
However, a small segment of activists believes that focusing on the suffering of farmed animals is counter-productive. These activists, who often refer to their approach as “abolitionist,” believe that advocacy materials should focus on the inherent rights of animals and the need to live a vegan lifestyle in order to morally consistent.
In this study, online participants were presented with one of three flyers. The first flyer focused on the cruelty done toward animals, and was based on text from brochures by the animal protection organizations Mercy For Animals and Vegan Outreach. The second flyer focused on the rights of animals and moral consistency, and was based on text from the “abolitionist” organization Boston Vegan Society. The third flyer focused on the environmental impact of meat consumption, and was based on a webpage from Mercy For Animals. Each flyer encouraged readers to cut out or cut back on meat consumption, or to go vegan.
After viewing the flyer, participants were asked if and how they intended to change their diet. Each participant was also offered a free vegetarian recipe book. Our goal was to see which flyer led to the most animal-friendly diet change and (as an indirect measure of diet change) greatest interest in the recipe book.
A total of 638 participants aged 18 and up took part in the study.
When it came to people’s stated intention to change their diet, animal cruelty messaging was more effective than purity (“abolitionist”) messaging. Environmental messaging was also more effective than purity (“abolitionist”) messaging.
These differences were statistically significant. In fact, the flyer with cruelty messaging led twice as many people to want to change their diet as the flyer with purity (“abolitionist”) messaging (51% versus 27%).
Here was each flyer’s impact when translated into the number of days of farm animal suffering that would be spared by the average viewer:
|Flyer||Days of suffering spared|
|Animal cruelty flyer||350|
|Purity (“abolitionist”) flyer||241|
Among younger respondents — those aged 18–24 — the differences in impact between the animal cruelty and environmental flyers and the purity (“abolitionist”) flyer were even larger.
Keep in mind that the numbers in the chart are inflated by response bias. People are much more likely to say they will change their diet than they are to actually do so. The total number of days of suffering spared by each flyer are surely much lower than suggested above. However, the differences between each flyer should remain as large as they are above. (For example, the actual numbers may be 150 days, 110 days, and 41 days.) As a result, the percentage difference in impact between each flyer is likely larger than reflected above.
When it came to interest in receiving a vegetarian recipe book, there was no difference found between the three flyers – possibly because vegetarian recipes are of interest to many people, regardless of overall diet.
The study suggests that mainstream vegan advocacy materials focused on the suffering of farmed animals are significantly more effective than “abolitionist” materials that focus on the rights of animals and moral consistency, when it comes to saving animals by inspiring people to remove animal products from their diet. Environment-focused materials are also more effective than “abolitionist” materials.
Animal advocates who wish to create the most diet change and thereby spare the most animals should focus on the suffering of farm animals (and possibly the environmental and health impacts of meat consumption). They should avoid focusing on the rights of animals, or how one needs to be vegan to have moral consistency.
Full Report and Data Set
|Document (with link)||Description|
|Full report||pdf file|
|Full data set||SPSS file|
[May 2, 2018] A synthesis of our knowledge of the survey methods used for the five studies mentioned above is reported in Humane League Labs Report E005R08.