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Archive for February, 2012

In Praise of Undercover Investigations

February 14th, 2012 1 comment

In praise of undercover investigations by animal rights advocates, including the latest by Animal Equality in a pig farm in England this weekend.

One of the strongest characteristics of the animal rights movement is our relentless commitment to expose animal cruelty hidden by the animal industrial complex which profits mightily by its exploitation of animals.

If there’s money to be made, there’s cruelty to be had. As novelist and essayist Brigid Brophy wrote in her article, ‘Unlived Life – a manifesto against factory farming,’

Whenever people say ‘we mustn’t be sentimental,’ you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add, ‘we must be realistic,’ they mean they are going to make money out of it.

The more the animal rights movement demonstrates itself as a credible actor witnessing and documenting what happens to animals in circuses, zoos, factory farms, research laboratories and wherever else they are used, the more the animal industrial complex is put on the defensive and held to account.

Further, the more the public, who I believe respond favourably to these exposes and see them as evidence of indefensible actions, brings pressure to bear on the animal industrial complex to change their ways. Consequently, the animal rights movement will earn increasingly support from those who we seek to influence, including persuading them to go vegan.

Over at the Grumpy Vegan I recognise 30 years ago today the British tabloid, the Daily Mirror, and its front page report on a direct action raid on an animal research laboratory. Taking the long-term view, these actions by the Animal Liberation Front and others are being replaced with undercover exposes and what are known as ‘open rescues’ by increasing numbers of organisations throughout the world.

This must be surely a most welcome trend where our witnessing and documenting are recognised for the value they provide to society in what is done in our name. Further, these actions put the animal industrial complex on the defensive. They provide evidence to demonstrate the need for society to become aware of our animal use. Consequently, the need for the implementation and enforcement of effective regulations and legislation making visible our treatment of animals and eventually replacing it with non-animal methods.

Further, if the animal rights movement can frame the case we make for animals as part of a progressive agenda of social change and not as a competition in human interests, the greater the chances in us succeeding in our mission.

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Which Needs? Whose Interests?

February 12th, 2012 No comments

The animal rights movement is a social movement.

Sociologists define social movements as a ‘collective, organized, sustained, and noninstitutional challenge to authorities, powerholders, or cultural beliefs and practices.’⁠ (Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper. 2002. The Social Movement Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell. 3.)

From my research I discovered there were many similarities between social movements, including the animal rights movement, but there are two significant differences which makes our movement truly unique.

As political scientist Robert Garner explains

Moreover, for humans to campaign on behalf of them requires an altruism that is much more profound than for other social movements. Not only does it involve action to seek the advancement of the interests of another species, there is also a potential conflict between the interests of animals and those of humans. (Robert Garner. 2005. The Political Theory of Animal Rights. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 164.)

Animals can not organise themselves into their own social movement. Unlike humans, animals cannot be the agency of their own liberation. We have to do it for them on their behalf. This onerous responsibility makes it even more important for us to understand how to achieve animal rights.

Further, we have to tackle the complex issues of the benefits we accrue from our exploitation of animals if we are serious about establishing animal rights.

I tend to think these benefits are over stated by the animal industrial complex, which manipulates public opinion to fear any change in their use of animals. When the public think about their relations with animals they are reluctant generally to give up any pleasure (e.g., eating meat) or benefit (e.g., curing disease) they may feel is their entitlement.

But as anthropologist Barbara Noske asks ‘which human needs are being fulfilled and whose interests are promoted by the existing animal industrial complex?’ (Barbara Noske. 1989. Humans and Other Animals. London: Pluto Press. 23. Emphasis in original.)

Whatever may or may not be at risk, the benefits we do accrue from not relying upon animals to produce food and manage disease are considerable. History shows that social movements are accused routinely of seeking change which will adversely impact society if they achieve their objective. But it rarely, if ever, turns out to be true. Indeed, it is any wonder that we have made the social and economic progress that we have, given these outrageous claims.

Any sense of conflict between human and animal interests is questionable depending upon your point of view. Those who maintain that we must, for example, use animals to produce food and fight disease will say any rights animals may have must be subordinate to dominant human interests. This is to succumb to framing human and animal interests as a competition. A strategic dichotomy all too prevalent in human history: men superior to women; whites to blacks; natives to immigrants; heterosexuals to homosexuals; and so on. In our case, it is humans are superior to animals, which is called speciesism.

As society evolves and we become aware of our superiority prejudices we seek to resolve them as we become more aware of the resulting injustices. We readjust, accommodate and move on, in all likelihood, all the better for it.

The same, I have no doubt, will be true for animal rights; particularly when we understand if we want to feed the world’s population and encourage well-being that animal exploitation in factory farms and research laboratories are not only fundamentally problematic but also significant contributing factors to aiding famine and disease in the first place.

This is why it is vital animal rights is understood as part of a progressive agenda of social justice alongside other liberation movements.

Notwithstanding the need for the animal rights movement to enact Lord Houghton’s advice, animals are already in the political arena. It is the representatives of the animal industrial complex whom we should be concerned about.

Powerful commercial interests that profit from animal exploitation are well established political players. Their involvement in the political process helps to maintain the status quo, adopt regulations and pass laws that help animal users more than the animals. This political bias in favour of animal exploitation is reinforced by our continued institutionalised, commercial use of animals as property and disposable commodities.

There is a lot of money to be made from animal exploitation and many other non-financial gains. It is, therefore, not surprising that most of the regulations and laws relating to animals is more about protecting our interests in what we do to them than in us defending them from our actions.

Animals are represented in public policy by those who benefit from the power and control they exert over them. Animal researchers (not anti-vivisectionists) and factory farmers (not vegans) are more likely to be members of the policy-making networks which determine regulations and laws governing our relations with animals.

Consequently, animal-related public policy is more about how to use animals than protecting them from us.

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ALAW Article

February 8th, 2012 No comments

Journal of Animal Welfare Law Autumn/Winter 2011

My article, ‘No Substitute for the Law,’ is published in the latest Journal of Animal Welfare Law produced by the Association of Lawyers for Animal Rights.

The article is available to read here. I conclude,

It is dispiriting to learn about animal cruelty. It is understandable to despair at the inadequacy of the law for animals and its enforcement. But it is also empowering to know how to work within society to ensure it has the necessary effective legislation and sufficient law enforcement resources to regulate and, ultimately, end animal exploitation. This is why there is no substitute for the law.

 

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Happy Birthday!

February 8th, 2012 No comments

Who says vegans can't have their cake and eat it?

This Web site celebrates its fifth birthday today!

On February 8, 2010 the first post was made here. This is the 355th post, which makes an average of six posts per month.

Here’s a photo of one my vegan fruit cakes to celebrate.

BIG thank you to everyone who visits!

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Categories: Kim Stallwood Tags:

Which to Support?

February 6th, 2012 2 comments

I have in front of me three appeals for funds. The first is from a national animal rights organisation which promotes vegan, cruelty-free living and exposes institutionalised animal exploitation with undercover investigations. The second is for an animal sanctuary which rescues not only cats and dogs but also farmed animals such as chickens, goats and sheep. The last request is from a local refuge which works in practical ways to help people, including their children and companion animals, who are abused by their partners.

Each one wants me to support their work by making a donation. But my funds are limited. It is not possible to help everyone. Which one should I choose? Which is a priority? Which lives or dies?

Here, then, is the dilemma for those of us with limited funds who care about animals when we read the mail and E-mail sent to us by various organisations. But this quandary is not restricted to animal advocates and the animal rights movement. It is also true for those who care about social justice and generally support charities, non-governmental organisations and not-for-profit groups.

I must determine whether I can support any or all of these appeals. Is one more urgent than the other? Or more important? Whose need is greatest?

Finding answers to these questions prompts more in turn.

What am I seeking to accomplish with my donations? To help genuinely? Instant emotional gratification? Assuage guilt? Seek long-term solutions to entrenched problems? Do I have a personal mission that guides me? If so, what is it? How much difference can I really make? Is this the best way to help? In order for me to help animals must I also support the work of advocacy organisations and sanctuaries and refuges for people and their children and companion animals who are abused?

Personal questions such as these also inspire similar ones directed toward social justice movements.

What are their missions? Are there any long-term objectives? Short-term goals? Is it, for example, intervening in abusive situations? Bringing public attention to egregious examples of abuse? Attracting the media’s attention? Challenging institutional exploitation? Promoting alternatives?

It is all of these things and much more.

But this questioning prompts yet more. This time it is deceptively simple but demands a complex answer.

How is accomplishment to be measured?

Is it by public opinion? Quantity and quality of media coverage? Growth of organisations and their influence? Public policy? Policy statements and election pledges made by political parties? Regulations and laws passed and their enforcement? The practices of industry and commerce? Academic research? Statistics? Lives saved?

Even before they can be answered, there is still one more question. Again, deceptively simple but complex to answer.

Who is responsible and should be held to account?

These are the questions which run through people’s minds when they are confronted with appeals for funds.

Which to choose? Whose need is greatest? Is this the best way to help? What are their missions? How to measure effectiveness? Who is responsible? Are donations used well?

I am familiar with all of these questions and more. Over the years many animal advocates have asked them of me. What do I think, for example, about a particular organisation? Do I support them? Should I give them money? I have heard such and such, they say, and ask me, What do I know? I also ask myself the same questions when I consider the groups I support.

My four key values in animal rights — truth, compassion, nonviolence and interbeing — guide me on how to answer all of these questions. They help me to understand the problem of animal cruelty and exploitation and determine effective ways to act for animals. They also lead me to reason that the problem is not with the animals themselves but with us.

We are the problem. We cause the suffering.

I believe the fundamental problem of animal exploitation is us. Human attitudes, behaviour and beliefs are the cause. Animal exploitation is the effect.

The animal rights challenge begins and ends with us.

We are the solution. We can stop the suffering.

So, which one, if any, or should I support all three of the appeals in front of me?

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