Last week, I received an “Action Alert” from PETA, in which “Victory!” was declared.

Specifically, “we” — the animal rights movement, I suppose — were victorious in that we had persuaded fast-food monolith and Home of the Whopper (TM) Burger King to adopt “New Industry-Leading Animal Welfare Policies”! BK will:

- “Immediately begin purchasing 10 percent of its pig flesh from suppliers that do not use cruel gestation crates … and double that amount by the end of 2007.

- Immediately begin purchasing 2 percent of its eggs from hens who are not confined to tiny wire battery cages and more than double that amount by the end of 2007.

- Issue a statement to its egg suppliers that it will give purchasing preference to those that do not use battery cages.

- Issue a statement to its chicken-flesh suppliers that it will give purchasing preference to those that use or switch to “controlled-atmosphere killing” (CAK), the least cruel method of poultry slaughter in existence.”

10% reduction in gestation-crate-bred “pig flesh”! 2% reduction in battery-cage eggs, and preference for other marginally less cruel methods of egg production! A strong statement to “chicken-flesh suppliers” that purchases might dwindle, someday, if they don’t think about maybe implementing the charmingly named “‘controlled-atmosphere killing’ (CAK)”!

Clearly, animal liberation is right around the corner.

As perverse as all this is, it’s nothing compared to the economic arguments laid out in another PETA document, available on their Web site.

Some animal rights theorists — notably Gary L. Francione, who I’ve only just come across, and similarly-minded critics — have labeled PETA, Compassion Over Killing, and others “new welfarists”, meaning these groups may espouse the ultimate goal of animal liberation but pursue practical activity in the present to minimize the suffering of nonhumans, or, if you like, curb the worst abuses in favor of those abuses they find preferable (for instance, Burger King reducing its reliance on battery-cage egg production, or Whole Foods and others recommending “free-range” animal carcasses over other animal carcasses).

Critics like Francione maintain, however, that this approach is not only ethically dubious, but fundamentally flawed: By validating the notion of the “conscientious omnivore” and providing a press-worthy “Meat Even A Vegan Can Get Behind” sound-bite for the public relations departments of the purveyors of pig and chicken flesh, it ends up only increasing market share. No compromise, then, according to this line of thought — to capitulate is to abandon the moral baseline, the foundation of a whole species of thought.

I’ve been sympathetic to this — especially the critiques of “free-range” meat and “cage-free” eggs, which have always stunk of capitulation and dubious, feel-good, label-trickery to me — but didn’t pay that much attention. Less cruelty is generally a good thing, I thought — there’s worse things they could be abandoning basic principles for. (For instance, “angel of mercy” killings. But that’s another absurdly long post.)

But a quick look at the PETA document mentioned above is surprising. A closer look is jarring, and demonstrates just how right Francione’s side is — when you lie down with millions of slaughtered birds, you end up covered in blood. Or something. Among the reasons PETA feels chicken flesh producers should adopt CAK:

- “Because birds are dead by the time they are shackled (and because there is no dumping at all), product quality and yield are improved by eliminating broken bones, brusing, and hemorrhaging.”

- “Using inert gases [to kill chickens] induces anoxia on the cellular level in carcass muscles, which can change the oxidation/reduction potentials and, thus, lead to increased shelf-life of meat due to a slowing the [sic] development of odors and discoloration.”

- “The Canadian Food Inspection Agency states that controlled-atmosphere killing ‘is also reported to produce more tender breast meat than when electrial [immobilization] is used.”

PETA then details how a change in killing method would lower labor costs — actually, another full document is available detailing this — and even more grisly economic benefits.

It is one thing to advocate for the least evil of two evils. It is another thing to run a cost-benefit analysis for those you oppose, and urge them, on the basis of increased profits, to streamline their cruelty.

At the end of the day, I think, there are two camps: those who believe that nonhuman animals are property and thus viable commodities, and those who do not. I’m throwing my hat in with the latter. I don’t know where PETA falls, but I have an idea.