2 What is the Challenge?

June 25th, 2010
Animal rights is framed by those who profit from animal exploitation. Photo credit: Foundation for Biomedical Research

Animal rights is framed by those who profit from animal exploitation. Photo credit: Foundation for Biomedical Research

The animal rights movement primarily consists of well-intended organizations led by charismatic individuals each pursuing their own vision and their own campaigns. Tactics include animal rescue, demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns, various outreach efforts, direct mail appeals, newsletters and magazines and Web sites. They are used to educate the public and recruit new members and retain them through annual renewals. Welcome to the business world of charities and not-for-profit organizations. I know because I have more than 30 years of experience in leadership positions with some of the world’s foremost organizations.

My objective today is to explain how and why animal rights groups essentially function at the level of intervention and public education and not at the level of public policy and legislation. My core message is this: The animal rights challenge is to make the moral and legal status of animals a mainstream political issue. How do we respond to this challenge?

This is the animal rights challenge: Making society’s treatment of animals the responsibility of society, not just the individual responsibility of some. The challenge is to bring animal rights into the political mainstream and make it a legitimate public policy issue. The present emphasis on individual action (“Go vegan!”) must be expanded to include a political agenda for institutional change. Yes, individually, we’re all responsible for what happens to animals in our personal and professional lives but collectively the commercial exploitation of animals is the responsibility of society and government.

According to a 2008 survey published by the Food Standards Agency, 2% of respondents were found to be “completely vegetarian” and an additional 5% “partly vegetarian.” And, so, yes, we need more individual action but we need institutional change more.

Animals are, of course, already in the political arena. It’s their representatives who 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. Of course, this political bias in favor of animal exploitation is reinforced by our continued use of animals.

Animal rights is framed by those who profit from animal exploitation as:

  • An emotional, irrational and sentimental issue
  • A personal lifestyle choice, which implies that animal use should be self-regulated and is not a public policy issue
  • A competition between humans and animals
  • A hot-bed of violent radicals who use force against those who use animals

The movement’s present repertoire of protest demonstrates our political naivety. Actions frequently occur in isolation and absent any long-term strategic, organized political vision or mission. They do not make a coherent long-term, macro-strategy to achieving institutional change. Surely, the mission of the animal rights movement is to encourage individual change as well as to work for regulatory and legislative victories. Yes, I know the movement has had some successes in elected bodies. These activities, however, are a small part of our overall endeavor. Even the ballot initiatives in the United States, as successful and important as they are, are extensions of public education campaigns. It is important to note that California’s Proposition 2 to stop the cruel confinement of farmed animals passed by a vote of 63% to 37%. Nearly 6.3 million Californians voted for Prop 2 and their exercise in democracy will positively impact 20 million factory-farmed animals in the state.

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