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Attacks Against Republicans on Animal Welfare Are Misleading

Republican voters object to agricultural practices that harm animals, but prefer technological solutions to state mandates.

Animal Farm
Credit: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In recent months, the Republican Party has faced widespread criticism for its alleged indifference to animal welfare. 

Two recent decisions by high-profile Republican governors, in particular, have prompted attacks against the GOP on this front.


The first is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s push to prohibit the sale of lab-grown meat. At a press conference earlier this year, DeSantis lambasted “fake meat” as being part of a “whole ideological agenda that’s coming after…important parts of our society.”

Critics seized on the press conference as evidence that the Republican Party is antagonistic to animal welfare, and intent on fomenting a culture war over the issue. As right-leaning writer Richard Hanania put it, Desantis’s argument embodies the Republican Party’s “cruelty to animals” and an attitude that reflects the party’s “anti-technological” disposition.

Even more inflammatory was South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem’s newly-published memoir. In the book, Noem relays a story of how she shot both her young hunting dog and a billy goat on her ranch in a gravel pit. Noem’s actions were condemned by a wide array of Republicans, including Trump insiders Steve Bannon and Donald Trump Jr. Nevertheless, critics used it to illustrate a callousness specific to the Republican Party. As the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough put it, the episode speaks to the “grotesqueness of the conservative movement’s violent wing” in “Donald Trump’s Republican Party.” 

Recent polling, however, suggests that these perceptions of Republican voters are both simplistic and misleading, minimizing Republican interest in animal well-being.

Surveys run by the public opinion research firm Positive Sum Strategies provide the most comprehensive data available to date on how Republican voters perceive animal welfare in the context of modern agricultural practices.


It is true that Republicans, relative to Democrats and independents, are more likely to reject the framing that the government, consumers, and private companies are “responsible” for ensuring animal welfare standards. Polling confirms that Republicans generally oppose government regulations that increase costs for businesses and consumers for the sake of improving animal well-being.

These divisions, however, nearly disappear when voters are asked about common agricultural practices. Around 90 percent of Republicans, like most Democrats, consider it “unacceptable” to keep pigs in tight cages, kill newborn male chicks with meat grinders because they cannot lay eggs, or break the legs of chickens by fattening them with aggressive breeding practices.

More significant are the disagreements between the parties on how to address harms to animals from modern farming.

Democratic views on the issue are more closely aligned with the outlook of traditional animal liberation movements, which began to coalesce on the left in the 1970s. These movements tend to draw parallels between the cause of animal rights and leftist agendas related to the environment, social justice, and women’s rights. They are inclined to push for government mandates and consumer sacrifices to reduce the consumption of animal products.

Part of the reason why Republican leaders resist these approaches is the tendency of animal welfare issues to become vessels for leftist agendas. These fears have been amplified in recent years by the fact that companies promoting animal wellbeing are sometimes at the forefront of spearheading “woke capitalism.”

But there is more to the story. Republicans are inclined to see markets and technology, rather than government mandates or consumer sacrifices, as more viable solutions to improve animal well-being. A majority of Republican respondents support private innovation to improve animal welfare. Fifty-two percent of Republicans believe it is “important for food companies to find new ways to guarantee the human treatment” of farm animals. Fifty-eight percent believe companies should use technology to ensure humane treatment of animals even if it increases prices.

Republican support is even higher in this vein when provided with specific examples. More than two-thirds of Republicans believe it is a good use of technology to provide chickens with fresh grazing pastures, prevent live chicks from being transported long distances, and use AI to detect disease in farm animals.

These findings suggest that market-oriented approaches to animal welfare are relatively likely to sustain broad political support. Traditional demands from the animal rights lobby tend not only to be costly, but also to be accompanied by the most polarizing and unpopular types of activism, from vegan lifestyle brands to protests against farming animals.

Animal rights activists have tended to be skeptical of technology-based solutions. Like climate-change activists calling for de-growth, they argue that markets create, in the first place, the incentives that drive the industrialization of animal agriculture. Optimizing for economic efficiency, they remind, often comes at the expense of animals. 

While there is merit to this critique, the economics of farmed animals are changing. As consumer interest in animal welfare grows, companies are increasingly drawn to evolving commercial technologies that can preserve the efficiency of modern agriculture while mitigating the most objectionable harms to animals. 

For example, ethics-based arguments from animal welfare activists have historically seen limited success in persuading companies to avoid the culling of day-old male chicks via live maceration. But the cost-benefit calculus for companies is changing with the introduction of in-ovo sexing, an emerging technology that can identify the sex of a chicken egg during development. Now that in-ovo sexing has become more commercially viable, two prominent U.S.-based egg producers have pledged to use the technology as early as this year.

As innovation increasingly breaks in favor of animal welfare, recent polling provides a call for restraint from activists in the space. Animal wellbeing can retain bipartisan support as long as the issue does not become enmeshed with other left-coded agendas such as lab-grown meat, ESG, and vegan evangelism.

Animal welfare activists would serve their cause by avoiding partisan broad-brushes and making patient bets on technological progress.