February 5, 2024

Big Government Won’t Protect Animals

By: Kelvey Vander Hart

I am an animal welfare activist through-and-through. I’m firmly committed to the “adopt, don’t shop” mentality (which my rescue dachshund confirms). I’ve been a vegetarian for years and restrict my dairy consumption. My donations of both time and money are heavily weighted toward animal welfare organizations. I take part in legislative advocacy. And I despise big government. 

Why did that last detail make the list? Because, at best, big government fails to protect animals. At worst, it actively participates in promoting animal cruelty.

Take agriculture subsidies, for example. According to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group, the United States Department of Agriculture has spent billions subsidizing livestock production. Roughly $59 billion has been allocated for livestock and seafood production subsidies since 1995. While that is a fraction of what is spent on total agriculture subsidies (the federal government spends more than $30 billion on agriculture subsidies every year), it still has major consequences for animal welfare. 

A significant part of non-livestock subsidies still fund our livestock system. Corn, for example, is one of the four crops that receive the vast majority of crop insurance subsidies; the Cato Institute estimates that 44 percent of subsidized corn is used for animal feed. Taxpayers are on the hook for subsidizing food for animals raised in conditions many of us would never condone in the first place. 

Looking at where direct livestock subsidies go brings even more clarity to the problems agriculture subsidies cause for animal welfare. In a recent article, Sentient Media explained

“Factory farm owners benefit the most from farm subsidies. By one estimate, two-thirds of farm subsidies went not to mom-and-pop farms, but to the top 10 percent of mega-farming corporations. For example, Tyson has received at least a quarter billion in direct subsidies (that we know of) and more than three billion in supply-chain subsidies. These subsidies don’t reflect the reality of the U.S. farming landscape — according to USDA data, over 80 percent of farms are worth less than $100,000 total.”

The problems with farm subsidies have been out in the open for decades. Animal welfare activists hate what the subsidies fund, fiscal hawks hate the waste of taxpayer dollars, and free-marketeers hate the removal of consumer influence. Hatred toward agriculture subsidies has created a big tent coalition that, thankfully, is creating the kind of pressure that could lead to real change. But subsidized factory farming is not the only place where the federal government funds cruelty toward animals. 

White Coat Waste is a group working to end taxpayer funding of animal experimentation. Until stumbling across their work, I was blissfully ignorant of a horrifying statistic: Taxpayers fund more than $20 billion in animal testing…every year. In fact, the majority of animal experimentation happens in federally funded labs. 

“Uncle Sam outspends the private sector more than two-to-one on animal experimentation, so cutting this reckless government spending addresses the main source of the U.S.’s animal testing problem,” explains the organization. “Right now, there are animal experimentation projects that taxpayers have funded for decades without any benefit to public health. They continue to rake in millions of dollars each year because there is currently little accountability and transparency and no incentives to innovate.”

While White Coat Waste has seen great success in creating pressure to end federally funded animal testing, experimentation still happens. Dogs, cats, monkeys, and other animals are brutalized in ways that do little good for public health (as private sector innovation away from animal testing has proven), all on the taxpayer’s dime. 

There is little beauty or good to be seen in factory farming or animal testing, and it is easy to draw a straight line between big government spending and a disregard for animal welfare. But what about when the government tries to help animals? Surely good intentions lead to good results…right? 

If only that were the case. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the best possible example of when government helping actually causes more hurt. As I explained for C3 News:

“Created with the best of intentions, the law has become a lightning rod for litigation among landowners, environmental activists, and the federal government. While the bill has done well in avoiding extinctions, it has not been very effective in helping species recover. Since its enactment, only three percent of all species ever listed as endangered or threatened have been fully recovered. And, data shows that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has fallen far behind in key objectives designed to recover currently listed species.” 

Instead of achieving robust species recovery, the ESA has kept many species on life support while creating perverse incentives that actually work against meeting conservation goals. 

If you are sufficiently bummed out right now, cheer up: The worst is over. I share all of this not to make you sad for the rest of the day or to motivate you to go cuddle your pets for a while (although, that’s not a bad outcome). 

Instead, these three examples illustrate one thing that we need to remember: Big government won’t protect animals. It’s up to us to do that. Legislation is certainly part of the puzzle, and those of us that care about animal welfare want to see carefully crafted bills be turned into law, but it is not the entire end goal. 

We can put pressure on the government to stop misusing taxpayer dollars to directly or indirectly fund animal cruelty. 

We can petition and advocate for conservation incentives and partnerships with the private sector, not just more regulations. 

We can support animal welfare organizations in our communities. 

We can work to create a culture of change that values the lives of animals. 

And we can love and treat animals well whether that means adopting a plant-based lifestyle, rescuing a shelter pet, shopping using animal welfare certifications, or donating to an animal sanctuary. 

Meaningful change doesn’t come from the government. It comes from individuals. It comes from the power of the market wielded for good. Big government won’t protect animals, but we can.