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Archive for June, 2011

Institute for Animals and Social Justice

June 29th, 2011 2 comments

After more than one year of meetings between academics and animal advocates which was prompted, in part, by my call for an animal rights think tank at the Minding Animals seminar in London in 2008, this week sees the launch of the Institute for Animals and Social Justice at an inaugural ‘Animals and Public Policy’ seminar at the London School of Economics on 30 June.

The IASJ’s mission is to open the realm of social justice to animals and hence advance animal protection. Therefore, the IASJ’s core strategic aim is:

To embed animal protection as a core policy goal of the UK Government, international governments and intergovernmental organisations, utilising and developing applied research as a primary tool to achieve this.

The IASJ’s priority programmes will involve research and advocacy in three crucial areas:

  1. Animals’ legal/political status
  2. Institutional representation for animals
  3. Policy Strategies for Animal Protection

As one of the founding group, I look forward to establishing the IASJ to further the mission of advancing animal protection through policy research.

 

 

Institute for Animals and Social Justice from Kim Stallwood on Vimeo.

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Wild Animals in British Circuses

June 27th, 2011 No comments

Martin Lacey from the Great British Circus spoke out in support of animals performing in circuses but refused access to the BBC to film the animals in his care. A move which could be seen to be audacious or naive (or both) given that the House of Commons was about to debate a motion calling for a ban on wild animals in circuses.

At the time of writing there isn’t a comment on the Commons debate on the Web site of Amazing Animals, a company which it states “trains and supplies animals to the film, TV, still photography and live event industry.” You would think that this would be something of interest to them. You would think that they would want to speak out. But they didn’t. Perhaps they believed they didn’t have to.

How the Great British Circus spoke out but Amazing Animals didn’t are just two developments in an extraordinary narrative which formed the backdrop to the successful June 23 Commons debate which adopted unanimously a motion calling for a ban on wild animals in circuses.

The cross-party motion was proposed by Mark Pritchard, Conservative MP for The Wrekin, with the support of Bob Russell (Liberal Democrat) and Jim Fitzpatrick (Labour). It directed the Government to “use its powers under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to introduce a regulation banning the use of all wild animals in circuses to take effect by 1 July 2012.” The motion was passed unanimously; however, from the first minutes of the debate no one could have predicted that this would be the outcome. (Read the debate here.)

Shortly after opening the debate, Mark Pritchard stated,

I want to focus on the interesting past few days. On Monday, in return for amending my motion, dropping it or not calling a vote on it—and we are not talking about a major defence issue, an economic issue or public sector reform; we are talking about the ban on wild animals in circuses—I was offered a reward, an incentive. If I had amended my motion and not called for a ban, I would have been offered a job. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] Not as a Minister, so those who are competing should not panic. It was a pretty trivial job, like most of the ones I have had—at least, probably, until 30 minutes from now. I was offered incentive and reward on Monday, and then it was ratcheted, until last night, when I was threatened. I had a call from the Prime Minister’s office directly. I was told that the Prime Minister himself had said that unless I withdrew this motion, he would look upon it very dimly indeed. Well, I have a message for the Whips and for the Prime Minister of our country—I did not pick a fight with the Prime Minister of our country, but I have a message. I might be just a little council house lad from a very poor background, but that background gives me a backbone, it gives me a thick skin, and I am not going to kowtow to the Whips or even the Prime Minister of my country on an issue that I feel passionately about and on which I have conviction. There might be some people with other backbones in this place, on our side and the other side, who will speak later, but we need a generation of politicians with a bit of spine, not jelly. I will not be bullied by any of the Whips. This is an issue on which I have campaigned for many years. In the previous Parliament I had an Adjournment debate and I spoke in the passage of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. I have consistently campaigned on this issue, and I will not kowtow to unnecessary, disproportionate pressure.”

Thus, the scene was set for an extraordinary debate in which the plight of wild animals in circuses became also a challenge from Conservative backbench MPs, like Mark Pritchard, to speak out and vote for what they believed in. With the exception of Andrew Rosindell, Conservative MP for Romford, who failed to declare in his speech an association with the Great British Circus, MPs from all parties spoke in support of a ban on wild animals in circuses.

The situation now is that the British Conservative led coalition government is under increasing pressure to ban wild animals in circuses with a regulation written with the authority of the Animal Welfare Act (2006). Time will tell how quickly this will be done. It is estimated that there are less than 50 wild animals in five circuses in the UK.

But the wild animals in circuses debate has far greater consequences. They are all positive, given the cross-party strength of feeling for animal welfare expressed; however, there is still a tremendous amount of work to do to embed animal welfare as key value in public policy. It will now be more difficult for the present government to push ahead with other topical animal welfare issues, including the proposed badger cull and repeal of the Hunting Act. The debate signals a coming-of-age for animal welfare in Parliament. MPs repeatedly made reference to the overwhelming public support for animal welfare. The challenge for the animal welfare movement is to continue to build and transform this public sentiment so that it is focused on the political arena, including at all local, regional, general and European elections.

As I have repeatedly stated here and elsewhere, moral and legal progress for animals will not significantly advance until the animal welfare movement learns to balance the pragmatic politics of animal welfare with the utopian vision of animal rights thereby embedding the values of animal protection into public policy and mainstream politics. The Commons debate on wild animals in circuses signalled a shift in the right direction.

Meanwhile, questions go unanswered. Why did the Prime Minister’s Whips Office institute a 3-line whip on Conservative MPs forcing them to vote against Mark Pritchard’s motion? Further, why, in the course of the debate, did the Whips office abandon the 3-line whip and instruct their MPs that it was now a free vote? The second question may be easier to answer. The Whips office learnt in the course of the debate that Conservative MPs stated their intention of defying their authority. Its withdrawal then prompts a further question: Why was the 3-line whip imposed in the first place? A question that was repeatedly asked during the debate. Later, news reports pointed out that Amazing Animals was based is David Cameron’s Witney constituency. The day after the vote Cameron played down the vote by saying the “government’s position was ‘not a million miles away’ from that taken by Mark Pritchard.” Then, why the 3-line whip? And why such strong-arm tactics against Mark Pritchard? Amazing Animals denies any contact with their MP David Cameron.

One other reason maybe that the Conservatives in the Coalition government with the LibDems wanted the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to establish a licensing scheme for wild animals in circuses so that it set a precedent for a similar licensing regime for hunting wild animals. David Cameron and many but by no means all Conservative MPs and Lords are pledged to repeal the Hunting Act. If this is true, their misreading of Conservative MPs on wild animals in circuses may will be the precedent which unwittingly ensures bloodsports stays illegal and kill badgers allegedly to tackle TB in dairy cows.

What cannot be denied, however, is that animal welfare is increasingly recognised as a legitimate public policy. Further, it’s now up to the animal welfare movement in the UK and Europe to push further at the boundary of the political mainstream.

PS Congratulations to the various animal welfare groups and individuals involved as well as The Independent who was in the forefront of this initiative.

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Independent on Factory Farming

June 17th, 2011 No comments

Regular readers to this blog and its evil twin, the Grumpy Vegan, know that there exists a love-hate relationship with The Guardian whose coverage of animal rights and related issues, including vegan/veg, cruelty-free living is bizarre, to put it generously. Contempt, more like. Anyway, The Independent is fast becoming the newspaper of choice for consistent, intelligent coverage of animal-related issues as well as other important topics of concern to anyone who cares passionately about this world.

For example, today’s Indie‘s cover feature, Death Wish, reports on the link between farmers feeding antibiotic-laced feed to obese factory farmed animals and the impact that this has on human health and our ability to fight lethal strains of new infections (e.g., E.coli, MSRA). This article is accompanied by an excellent graphic charting the significant increase in antibiotics on British farms. There’s also two op eds, including one by Johann Hari, which concludes “Our demand for cheap meat turned us, in turn, into cheap meat.”

Although The Guardian publishes excellent investigative reports on the food industry by Felicity Lawrence, for example, it frequently fails to make the link between animal cruelty and the human condition and, when it does, often trivialises it at the expense of the animal. So, well done The Indie!

 

 

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Rethinking. Reorganising. Leadership

June 13th, 2011 1 comment

Worryingly, in every major green group, managers, administrators, communicators and fundraisers outnumber campaigners and researchers. Too many staff have become obsessed with the process of running an organisation. Interminable meetings, not action, are the order of most days. All too often, fundraisers and PR teams, not campaigners, call the shots. Today’s activists regard once radical organisations as part of the NGO establishment: out-of-touch, ineffective and bureaucratic. The wheel has turned full circle. It is time to rethink and reorganise again.

This is Charles Secrett‘s conclusion to an article published on The Guardian Web site called “Environmental activism needs its own revolution to regain its teeth: Today’s protest tactics are not sufficient to alter the destructive path travelled by virtually all governments and most corporations.” Charles Secrett was executive director of Friends of the Earth (1993 – 2003).

Now, repeat the same paragraph but this time apply it to animal welfare/rights organisations.

Worryingly, in every major animal welfare/rights group, managers, administrators, communicators and fundraisers outnumber campaigners and researchers. Too many staff have become obsessed with the process of running an organisation. Interminable meetings, not action, are the order of most days. All too often, fundraisers and PR teams, not campaigners, call the shots. Today’s activists regard once radical organisations as part of the NGO establishment: out-of-touch, ineffective and bureaucratic. The wheel has turned full circle. It is time to rethink and reorganise again.”

Is it true? Methinks it is certainly true of some animal welfare/rights groups in the UK and US. Clearly, organisations have their own life-cycles where they climb and descend in productivity and effectiveness. Size and purpose don’t seem to influence an organisation’s ability either. I’ve seen both very effective and hopelessly ineffective small and large as well as local and national organisations. I’ve also witnessed diverse groups with charismatic, dominant leaders who are equally brilliant and awful and sometimes both at the same time.

In any event, rethinking and reorganising is smart advice; however, it’s how you do it and who’s involved that makes all the difference. Leadership is more about vision and empowerment than direction and enforcement. In short, hire the people who can do the job better than you. Trust them to get on with the job while you maintain a firm but relaxed hand on their shoulder so that they know you’re with them as they make their way. And let them make some mistakes so that they learn. And you, too.

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Considering Zoos

June 10th, 2011 No comments

Bee Friedlander, my colleague at the Animals and Society Institute, chronicles the growing awareness of animal welfare at her local zoo in Detroit. She writes,

Today the Detroit Zoo has no animal acts. The animals are not given names. Habitats are designed with care. In 2004, as an example of walking the walk as well as talking the talk, current director Ron Kagan announced that Wanda and Winky, the two Asian elephants who were among the most popular animals, would be transferred to the Performing Animal Welfare Society near Sacramento, CA. The reason was simple: elephants should not be made to live in a northern climate such as Detroit’s. Several years ago, the zoo established the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare which focuses not on the “conservation” of animals or the “education” of humans who come to see them, but rather on the welfare of individual animals. Ken Shapiro, our Executive Director, serves on its advisory committee.

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Use of Wild Animals in Circuses

June 8th, 2011 4 comments

Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, Robert Flello, is promoting a Private Members Bill, Use of Wild Animals in Circuses, in the House of Commons in the British Parliament. The chances of this bill becoming law are not good. Generally, Private Members Bill do not become law unless they have the Government’s support.

The Conservative-led British Government opposes a ban on wild animals in circuses. It prefers and is preparing to introduce a licensing scheme to regulate wild animals in circuses. The licensing scheme will be the responsible of local authorities in England, which is the only part of the country in the UK this issue has jurisdiction over. Of course, the ConDem Coalition Government is taking many steps to make the ability of local authorities to fulfil their legal responsibilities very difficult, including cutting their funding. So, it is unlikely that local authorities will give the issue much of a priority. I read in reports that there are 39 wild animals in 3-4 circuses in operation in the UK at present. It is difficult to understand why a ban cannot be implemented with such a small number of animals involved.

The Bill was discussed this morning. Please find the time to watch the debate.

It is a fascinating insight into how animal welfare is discussed in British Parliamentary discourse. All the indications show that the British public overwhelmingly want to see a ban; however, the British Government won’t comply with public opinion. Sadly, the previous Labour Government could have done more on this issue. Nevertheless, the present Government is also failing to act and needs to be hold to account.

After listening to the debate, it seems to me that the reasons why the Government won’t ban wild animals in circuses lack any substance. So, given the public’s wish for a ban, why won’t the Government implement a ban?

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Australian Live Exports Stayed

June 8th, 2011 1 comment

Animals Australia reports that after eight days of intense public pressure following the exposure of horrendous cruelty documented by their investigators, the Australian Federal Government announces a suspension on the live cattle trade to Indonesia. More here.

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Ban Live Exports from Australia

June 6th, 2011 1 comment

Badgers

June 5th, 2011 No comments

A you're Adorable. B you're a Badger.

I admit to not always joining every Cause on Facebook I get invited to if for no other reason than I’m overwhelmed with email, tweets, etc. and it’s one way to help keep the in-tray under control.

Nevertheless, I, of course, have my favourites.

And one is the cause of Badgers, who are animals I have come to love greatly since moving to Hastings Old Town to live. They are literally our neighbours. It’s a great privilege that we live so close together. In fact, even though Old Townians are, by large, lovely people, I much prefer my badger neighbours over some of the human ones. Badgers are adorable, grumpy, handsome animals who come out at dusk and cause mischief as they forage for food. No, I don’t identify with them.

Of course, with any animal, there’s some loser who wants them killed for [fill-in-the-blank] reason. With Britain’s badgers its dairy farmers who make money from exploiting cows. So, I’m making an exception to my rule on Causes and asking all my friends to support Badgers because, like all other animals, they need all the friends they can get. And if we can’t be friends with animals, well, who can we be friends with?

So, if you’re on Facebook please sign up for the Back off Badgers Cause today! And while you’re at it, please support all other pro-badger initiatives you see anywhere else on your travels.

Thanks!

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Friday Afternoon

June 3rd, 2011 1 comment

I’m embarrassed to admit that my last post was nearly two weeks ago. Between then and now I’ve looked at this Web site every day (sometimes several times a day) and thought, I must post something. And I haven’t. And once you’ve stopped, it’s really difficult to pick up on the momentum again.

So, why the gap?

Been busy.

That’s all there is to it.

But if I have to blame any single one thing, well, it will be writing. And when I say, writing, I mean writing, thinking, re-writing, deleting, staring into space, eating, laundry, the allotment, cooking dinner, sleeping and every other activity I do, some of which I’m not willing to share here.

Writing is all I’m ever thinking about. Well, that’s not true. As I left one thing off the list of things I do. Reading. I read an awful lot. But, then, there’s different types of reading. Scanning. Reading selective bits. Looking through reading. And so on. But I don’t get enough time to read what I want to read. Or need to read.

And whoever invented the Internet should be shot.

So, this is why there’s been a silence. Or the appearance of a silence from yours truly.

Because yours truly has been busy. But not here.

And what’s prompted this public apology and vain attempt to get back onto the blogging schedule?

Something I just read.

Here’s the link. If you’re a writer, you’ll love it. If you’re a reader, you will find it interesting. If you’re neither, fix a drink because you need it.

Even if you don’t think so.

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