Archive for January, 2011

Squirrel Impossible!

January 28th, 2011 1 comment
Categories: Living in the UK Tags:

BUAV, 30 Years Ago

January 19th, 2011 1 comment

It was 30 years ago this month that the “young turks” won control of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

I first joined BUAV as an employee in 1978 after two years working at Compassion In World Farming as their campaigns organiser. CIWF was a young, small but important organisation led by Peter Roberts, an ex-dairy farmer who was outraged at factory farming. BUAV, on the other hand, which was founded in 1898, although led by a sincere group of people, quietly campaigned against animal research. This was too much for a young upstart (“young turk”) like me. Consequently, I became increasingly involved with the animal rights movement taking off in the late 1970s. I helped found Coordinating Animal Welfare in 1978 with Fay Funnell and Angela Walder. Our mission was to “bring together the active members of all animal rights societies and work for unity in the movement.”

CAW provided activists with two forums where they could come together to share information and organise. They were an alternating bimonthly cycle of newsletters and public meetings, which were particularly successful as they regularly attracted more than 200 people. These meetings provided us with many opportunities to strengthen our understanding of animal rights and organise successful activities. This included the first public screening of “The Animals’ Film”; the closure of Club Row, a notorious London street market which sold dogs and cats to the public and reportedly to research laboratories; and hearing from such guest speakers as Clive Hollands, Richard Ryder and Peter Singer.

One of CAW’s campaigns was to democratically win control of the BUAV, which was governed by an executive committee elected by its members. From 1978 to 1980 a bitter fight developed between what became known as BUAV’s “old guard” and the emerging animal rights movement’s “young turks.” During this time BUAV fired me because they knew — while I was one of their employees — I was also co-leading CAW and part of the initiative to seize control of what they thought was their organisation. In December 1979 we won a court case which led us to holding the majority on the executive committee. In January 1980 I returned to BUAV’s employment as their campaigns organiser, a position I held until 1986 when I was acting general secretary. In 1987 I left the UK for the US to become the first executive director at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

At the BUAV I played a leading role in revitalising a dormant organisation. My responsibilities included managing the organisation’s programs and activities, including several national demonstrations, public speaking, local group organising and editing a bimonthly membership newspaper. Directed programs which included organizing annual national meetings of local volunteers; speaking to local groups throughout the U.K.; organizing six national demonstrations ranging in size from 6,000 to 9,000 people; organized the country’s first locally elected government (London Borough of Islington) to authorize The Animals’ Charter. I directed the implementation of a corporate image program for the organisation’s public education materials so that they were all recognisable. BUAV was among the first — if not the first — to develop a corporate identity.

Also I was secretary to a coalition of four national anti-vivisection organisations (“Mobilisation for Laboratory Animals”) in a three-year major national campaign which led the opposition to the British government’s Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. This included a lobby of Parliament with 700 people which was accompanied by a public rally, which I chaired, with sympathetic MPs from all political parties, Lords and others. I also organised for the Mobilisation a demonstration in London’s Trafalgar Square with 9,000 people, 600 of whom participated in street theatre.

The Mobilisation argued that the new law would not even ban egregious examples of animal research. We had six minimum demands which we wanted to see included in the new law that was to replace the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876. They were a ban on experiments in the following areas: cosmetics, tobacco and alcohol; the Draize eye test (substances dripped into the eyes of rabbits); the LD50 test (poisoning test where one half of the animals die); warfare experiments; and all behavioural and psychological experiments. The sixth demand called for the government’s advisory committee on the implementation of the new act to exclude those who had a “vested interest” in the continuation of animal experimentation.

Fast forward 30 years and it is interesting to note what has and has not been accomplished as well as which issues persist in remaining unresolved among the Mobilisation’s demands. Of the proposed five prohibitions, warfare and behavioural and psychological research continue. Whereas there is some progress in the other areas. The British government banned the LD50 test. The Draize is effectively redundant having been replaced by skin irritancy tests on rabbits and non-animal alternatives. Cosmetic tests are illegal. No animals are used to test tobacco or tobacco products. The government’s advisory committee is not free from “vested interests” and while there is some progress it is not as independent and challenging as it could be. In 1980 there were some 4.75 million animal experiments, which is reduced to 3.2 million in 2007.

So, it is a mixed report.

There’s also, I think, a mixed report on the British anti-vivisection movement. On the one hand, BUAV focuses exclusively on direct negotiations with governments and regulatory agencies; however, some other national groups (e.g., National Anti-Vivisection Society and Animal Aid) either work at the same public policy level and also (or primarily) in public education. Depending upon who you talk to, the grassroots direct action groups have helped or hindered the anti-vivisection cause.

Finally, I find it interesting that, as I consider my thirtieth anniversary of working at the BUAV and notwithstanding the progress made, the issue of cosmetic testing persists unresolved. Notwithstanding The Independent reporting that the EU-wide ban from 2013 on the sale of cosmetics tested on animals will happen, according to the European Commission, the BUAV launches a petition to ensure the ban occurs, which was prompted by reports that this would not be the case.

I see a pattern developing here not only with cosmetic tests with animals but also with beak trimming for egg-laying chickens in battery cages in which commercial interests with plenty of time mandated to them by governments still come to the deadline with an unwillingness to comply. I cannot but help conclude that if it were not for the animal welfare or rights movement and individual animal activists there would still be, for example, drunken rats and calves in veal crates.

In 30 years time when I will be 85, I wonder if the animal industrial complex, including animal research laboratories and agribusiness interests, will still be resisting change forced upon them by enlightened public opinion. Or if their existence will be significantly reduced because the political economy of animal exploitation is such that it is unsustainable. And what animal advocates will learn to do is identify and target its weaknesses thereby helping to push it over. It is going to fall anyway because society cannot afford expensive ways to feed people and keep them healthy.

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“Is a big farm a bad farm?,” asks CIWF

January 14th, 2011 No comments

Compassion In World Farming’s CEO Philip Lymbery concludes,

So, it’s not the size that is bad, but the direction of travel that it represents. At a time in history when pigs and poultry are now increasingly being kept in more extensive ways, often outdoors, it is ironic that dairy cows potentially face the opposite direction of travel.

So, the size of a ‘mega-dairy’ of thousands of cows is symptomatic of a system that has become divorced from the land and is pushing the dairy cow to its physical limits. It also plays into the hands of those who see milk as a low quality commodity with little value. Devaluing the dairy industry seems to me to be the road to ruin, not sustainability.

Trying to solve a systemic problem of the marketplace by tweaking the mechanics of production isn’t the way forward. Instead, it is a cul-de-sac that will see many dairy farmers go out of business to the detriment of a sustainable food system. In my view, there is an urgent need for key stakeholders to work together; dairy farmers, retailers, milk processors and government, to work out how to bring about a market environment that supports the sustainable, human-scale dairying that we otherwise face losing. The welfare of our cows, the future of many dairy farmers and the integrity of milk is depending on it. A different direction of travel is now essential.

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USA, Violence and Debate

January 12th, 2011 No comments

Having lived in the USA for 20 years, greatly appreciating the experience, but now living again in the UK  and watching a country I grew to admire and be simultaneously amazed and annoyed by, I am concerned about the recent tragic developments concerning the Arizona shooting. The USA is the upside-down country of the world. How is it possible that the number of hunters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia would exceed the largest army in the world?

No country, of course, is immune from its contradictions. The UK has its fair share of nonsense. For example, our Parliament, apparently, is the mother of all democracies. But our second chamber is unelected. There are even unelected religious leaders in the House of Lords! We have royalty whose privilege is passed on by who’s your daddy. (Technically known as the “divine right.” Time for some divine left, methinks.) Our coalition government is not even elected!

I am not in a position to make any judgement on Jared Lee Loughner who committed the crime. His actions are beyond my comprehension.

It brings into focus for me, however, the reason why I can no longer be optimistic about America’s future. I fear greatly its political discourse has gone beyond the point of no return. This is a country in which to debate issues is damn near impossible. I found this to be true when I lived there. This shooting, however, pushes it into an altogether different place because it is politically motivated. Surely not the first nor the last. Tragically.

It just so happened that I spent this Saturday in London attending the Netroots UK conference. Among the speakers was a representative from Media Matters, the US-based group which monitors the country’s right-wing media. The guy from Media Matters documented the increasingly violence-laden rhetoric of such people as Glen Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. He showed video to back his claim from — where else? — Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. I had not seen any Fox footage in a while and forgotten how Beck et al foment civil unrest and paranoia. Little did we know those of us in London who watched the Media Matters presentation that in a matter of hours Loughner would act. However much right-wing pundits may deny it, there is in my mind a causal link between them and Loughner. To deny otherwise is to be delusional, duplicitous or both. By the way, Media Matters came to London to speak to bolster progressive’s opposition to stop Murdoch’s News Corp from buying out BSkyB TV.

I am all for the rumble and tumble of politics. But America’s right wing take it to an altogether different level. Knowingly whipping up frenzy in others to make them think and act in ways that they would never do themselves but want others to do for them. What cowards the right wing punditry are.

Further, America has a problem with guns, which it must deal with one day. Otherwise it will destroy itself in its second civil war. One New York Times columnist wrote,

According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, more than a million people have been killed with guns in the United States since 1968, when Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were killed. That figure includes suicides and accidental deaths. But homicides, deliberate killings, are a perennial scourge, and not just with guns.

Excluding the people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 150,000 Americans have been murdered since the beginning of the 21st century. This endlessly proliferating parade of death, which does not spare women or children, ought to make our knees go weak. But we never even notice most of the killings. Homicide is white noise in this society.

Another columnist spoke for me when he wrote,

You false patriots who bring assault rifles to political rallies, you hack politicians and media personalities who lied through your stinking teeth about “death panels” and “Obama is coming for your guns” and “He isn’t a citizen” and “He’s a secret Muslim” and “Sharia Law is coming to America,” you who spread this bastard gospel and you who swallowed it whole, I am talking to you, because this was your doing just as surely as it was the doing of the deranged damned soul who pulled the trigger.  The poison you injected into our culture is deeply culpable for this carnage.

You who worship Jesus at the top of your lungs (in defiance of Christ’s own teachings on the matter of worship, by the way) helped put several churchgoers into their graves and into the hospital. You who shriek about the sanctity of marriage helped cut down a man who was about to be married. You who crow with ceaseless abandon about military service and the nobility of our fighting forces helped to critically wound the wife of a Naval aviator who fought for you in a war. You who hold September 11 as your sword and shield helped put a little girl born on that day into the ground.

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Police, Agent Provocateurs and Animal Rights

January 11th, 2011 1 comment

The discovery of an undercover policeman embedded in a group of environmentalist activists is, of course, news; however, it should not be treated as such as it’s standard practice that all social justice movements, including the animal rights movement, be infiltrated by the police to gather information and operate as agents provacteurs. What is news is that the undercover agent was found out. Or, rather, confessed when confronted. As The Guardian reports,

The six friends present when [police constable Mark] Kennedy broke down and admitted he was a spy then asked him directly if the woman was also a police officer. “The six friends present when Kennedy broke down and admitted he was a spy then asked him directly if the woman was also a police officer. “He [Kennedy] nodded and said: ‘Yeah, but you know about that already,” said Craig Logan, 37, who was present. Kennedy is then said to have indicated that there were several other police officers living undercover in the protest movement. Logan said that while there was circumstantial evidence suggesting the woman was operating undercover, Kennedy’s former friends were highly suspicious of all the information he revealed that night. “This man was an extraordinary liar,” he said. “We cannot take anything he told us at face value.”

Not only was Kennedy pretending to be an environmentalist for seven years among this group of environmental activists but there were also several other undercover operatives.

All of this is reminiscent of the actions of the police and McDonald’s collusion in the events that lead up to the infamous McLibel trial. John Vidal wrote, “It led to inevitable farce at London Greenpeace meetings with spies spying on spies and being observed in turn by suspicious anarchists. Sometimes there would have been as many — or more — spies at a meeting as anarchists.” (McLibel, Macmillian, 1997, 194-195)

One notorious case of entrapment by animal researchers was in the US with the animal research laboratory, U.S. Surgical. It engaged the private investigation firm, Perceptions International, which, in turn, hired operative Mary Lou Sapone to help to persuade animal activist Fran Trutt to plant a small bomb by the car of U.S. Surgical’s chair, Leon Hirsch. (The Animal Rights Movement in America, Finsen and Finsen, Twayne, 1994, 173-174)

I recall in the 1980s, when I was responsible for organising a series of national anti-vivisection demonstrations for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, going to a police station after one of these protests. I saw one demonstrator walk past me, cross the public counter and stand among other policemen in uniform and unclip animal rights badges (Americans read: buttons) from his jacket. He was not a protestor at all but an undercover policeman.

So, what to do about it?

The lesson I learned is to trust only those whose values match my own. When anyone starts talking about animal rights and speaks in support of the necessity to lie (or even fudge) the truth. Or they speak with hate toward others regardless of who they are, including animal abusers. Or they advocate violence. Or they say they only care about animals. These are people who I watch with a sceptical eye. They may not be undercover police masquerading as animal advocates. But they sure behave like them. What’s more to the point is that they don’t embody what I believe are the four key values in animal rights: truth, compassion, nonviolence and interbeing, the interrelatedness of all.

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The Way of Vegan Part Four of Four

January 7th, 2011 No comments

The Buddha taught the Noble Eightfold Path as the way to extinguish suffering. It describes how to live ethically, thereby redressing the in-balance we experience in the world. I have adapted the traditional descriptions of the Noble Eightfold Path to include specific references to the practice of animal advocacy.

  1. Right Understanding. Study the Four Noble Truths to deepen your understanding of the nature of suffering. Apply this insight to address our complex relationship with animals. Recognise the existence of suffering, comprehend its origin and understand how to end it. Make the magical connection. Learn and understand. Think and solve. Imagine an honest, compassionate, peaceful society and your place within it.
  2. Right Thought. Recognise selfish and violent thinking. Reject these negative thoughts as they lack truth, compassion and prevent interbeing. Nurture positive and altruistic thinking. Discard selfish, negative and violent thoughts, including hatred, misanthropy, martyrdom, violence. Cultivate selfless, positive and nonviolent thoughts toward extending the magical connection and compassion to all beings. Think your vision.
  3. Right Speech. Do not lie, foster hatred, foment violence and feed alienation. Speak the truth to inspire compassion, nonviolence and interbeing. Do not speak selfishly, negatively or encourage violence. Do not speak maliciously about animal advocates, organisations and the movement. Speak positively and constructively. Be a leader in your thoughts and words as they will foster compassion for everyone. Speak your vision.
  4. Right Action. Do not destroy life. Cease other negative behaviours. Live by positive example. Inspire others to lead honest, compassionate and peaceful lives. Be a vegan but understand that thoughts and feelings also destroy life. Be a leader in your actions as they will foster universal love and compassion for all beings. Act your vision.
  5. Right Livelihood. Develop a lifestyle that is ethically right for you which not only makes a positive contribution to society but also makes the least impact on animals and the planet. Live by a profession that is honourable, blameless and innocent of harm to others. It is vital that volunteers and employees of organisations act professionally, responsibly and honourably. Encourage compassionately those who profit from animal cruelty and exploitation to understand their actions. Inspire them to change. Let your vision be your work wherever you are employed.
  6. Right Effort. Be positive, creative and altruistic. Be steadfast in your altruistic commitment to animal rights to not only free them from our subjugation but also to bring about benefits for our selves and the planet. Learn how to develop your practice of vegan, cruelty-free living to include the cultivation of a loving and compassionate mind. Let your vision be your motivator.
  7. Right Mindfulness. Work diligently. Be mindful of your relationships with others. Lead by example with your practice of animal advocacy. Be mindful of the body and to not abuse it. Be ever conscious of one’s thoughts and feelings so that they are loving and compassionate. Be ever vigilant in cultivating a loving and compassionate heart and mind. Be mindful of keeping your vision.
  8. Right Concentration. Be disciplined but not self-reproaching. Be honest, compassionate, nonviolent and embrace interbeing. Imagine those animals who we cruelly treat and place them in your thoughts and give them refuge in your heart. Always concentrate on your vision.

Learn more about my forthcoming book, Animal Dharma, here.

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The Way of Vegan Part Three of Four

January 6th, 2011 No comments

Issues surrounding suffering, not only experienced by humans and animals but also by myself as someone who spends a lot of time in melancholic thought, are something that I think about most of the time. I was impressed with how the Buddha answered these fundamentally important questions about the nature of suffering.

Buddhism and Engaged Buddhism offered me new insight into why we treat animals the way we do. And what can be done about it. I discovered it is possible to combine together what I learnt as an animal advocate with what I read in Buddhist ethics to form a new enlightened strategy to achieving moral and legal rights for animals. This influenced how my Animal Dharma came into being. This is why I chose truth, compassion, nonviolence and interbeing as my four key values. The foundations for my Animal Dharma are my social justice political advocacy combined with Buddhist ethics.

The Buddha taught about suffering in the Four Noble Truths.

The First Noble Truth is to acknowledge suffering as an integral part of the nature of life. The sorrows and joys we experience; life’s imperfections, frustrations and dissatisfactions; and the seeming impermanence of life, which is often in conflict with our attachment to things — they all contribute toward producing the suffering we experience.

The Second Noble Truth is to understand suffering as desires which occur like a “thirst” that accompanies all our emotions and thoughts. First, we acknowledge suffering’s existence and then we recognise our actions result in suffering for our selves and others.

The Third Noble Truth is to understand that suffering can be only stopped when we quench the thirst for desires, things and attachments. Buddhists call this perfected state Nirvana. Suffering can be prevented and stopped if we become more aware of ourselves and our actions.

The Fourth Noble Truth is the Middle Path which leads to realisation of Nirvana. It is insufficient to simply understand the Four Noble Truths. Nirvana can be attained only with effort. True selflessness and altruistic behaviour will help to prevent suffering and promote justice.

So, we can acknowledge suffering as something which is real in our lives; that suffering comes from our desires; that it is possible to end suffering; and there is a right way to extinguish suffering. These are the Four Noble Truths as taught by the Buddha, who also taught that the way to extinguish suffering is by following the Noble Eightfold Path, which describes how to live ethically, thereby redressing the in-balance we experience in the world.

Learn more about my forthcoming book, Animal Dharma, here.

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The Way of Vegan Part Two of Four

January 5th, 2011 6 comments

My spiritual connection with veganism is with Buddhism and Engaged Buddhism. So, my spiritual approach to being vegan is material or, rather, my material vegan lifestyle is influenced by the spiritual message of Buddhism. Can I please be a secular-non-practicing-Buddhist-spiritual-grumpy-vegan?

This is why I find myself writing about the Way of Vegan, which is inspired by my learning about the Way of the Buddha. So, being vegan today is more than the material veganism of my past. But it has not become a spiritual practice either. My material cruelty-free vegan lifestyle is now influenced by my understanding and interpretation of the practical ethics within the practice of Buddhism. I want to keep one foot in the material vegan world and reach over with my other foot to touch with my toe a new world, the secular, ethical Buddhist vegan world. This is important to me today because I wish to infuse my life with my key values of truth, compassion, nonviolence and interbeing. It is not because I want an enlightened spirituality tomorrow.

The Way of the Buddha is the Middle Path taught by the Buddha to develop equally compassion (karuna) and wisdom (panna). The Middle Path inspires, in part, my commitment to achieving the moral and legal rights for animals by balancing the utopian vision of animal rights with the pragmatic politics of animal welfare. Buddhism inspires my animal advocacy practice because it offers important insight into understanding suffering. All suffering is my concern but it is how we treat animals that I particularly care about. We have already seen how the animal industrial complex is responsible for the exploitation of billions of animals annually. We are, of course, complicit with this exploitation because it is our consumerism which drives the consumption of animals that the animal industrial complex provides. Ourselves and the animal industrial complex are to blame for animal exploitation. But there is more to understand about animal exploitation than this view of it as a market place phenomena, with all its attendant issues of the alternative vegan lifestyle and animal advocacy.

The deeper understanding I sought about why we treat animals the way we do inspired me to read books about Buddhism, which lead me to also discover Engaged Buddhism, the application of Buddhism to the advancement of social justice. It was intriguing to learn, for example, the Buddha asked, What is suffering? What causes it? Is it possible to stop suffering? And, if so, how do we prevent suffering from occurring?

Learn more about my forthcoming book, Animal Dharma, here.

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Topsy, the Electrocuted Elephant

January 4th, 2011 No comments

Today is the anniversary of the day when the elephant, Topsy, was electrocuted by Thomas Edison in New York in 1903 before a crowd of 1,500 spectators, who each paid 10 cents to watch. Topsy was an Asian elephant who became a dangerous embarrassment to one of America’s first amusement parks on Coney Island. Tormented and abused, she killed people through no fault of her own. Edison also wanted to prove that direct current was safer than alternating current (the alternative promoted by his rival, George Westinghouse) and thereby win the battle to electrify America. Topsy was murdered because expediency and spectacle conspired with power and profit.

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The Way of Vegan Part One of Four

January 3rd, 2011 2 comments

Being vegan is more than just adopting an optional, non-animal dependent, cruelty-free, material lifestyle. It is more than just the food we chose to eat, the clothes we wear and the things we fill our homes and lives with. Yes, as vegans, we should be proud that our cruelty-free lifestyle is not dependent upon animal exploitation. Estimate the number of animals you have not consumed since you stopped eating meat, eggs and dairy. Be proud of the number of animal lives you saved and your contribution toward creating a peaceful and compassionate world. For many years this was — and still is — my approach to being a vegan. I am a cruelty-free consumer. I am a vegelical. I promote veganism and animal rights whenever I can for the animals, the planet and our own well-being. But my thoughts and feelings about being vegan evolve, as I know they do for many. My challenge is to understand how my veganism changes and the impact it makes on my animal advocacy practice.

I am not saying you have to be religious to be vegan. Nor am I saying being vegan is belonging to a religion, although vegelicals often come across with a missionary zeal. Thankfully, Donald Watson, the founder of the Vegan Society of the UK in 1944, is not being acclaimed as a god of a new church espousing vegan spirituality. My inner grumpy vegan being ensures that anything which boils with the fervour of born again sentiment, including animal advocacy, is met with scepticism and disdain. Zealous vegelicalism of my past has evolved into sniffy vegelicalism of my present.

What I am trying to say is that my relationship to being vegan is different from when I first gave up all animal products. I feel there is something more about being vegan which is a progression from its material lifestyle aspects. Age and experience, and their attendant rewards of insight and wisdom, are making an impact on my understanding of what being vegan means. I am no longer willing to describe myself simply as a material vegan. But I do not consider myself to be a spiritual vegan either. So, what type of vegan am I?

Is there room in the house for a more-than-material-but-not-quite-spiritual-grumpy-vegan?

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