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Ag Interests Going Gaga over Ag Gag Bills

May 17th, 2011 No comments

Jill Howard Church, my colleague at the Animals and Society Institute, assesses the outbreak of Ag Gag Bills in various US states. She writes,

By using its considerable financial and political resources to enact these “ag gag” bills, the industry is hoping the whole issue of factory farm cruelty will be nudged away, by adding another layer of legal intimidation toward those who already take great risks for the purpose of bearing witness to violence. Trespassing is already illegal, but by singling out filming on farms for special punishment, these states are hoping activists will take their cameras elsewhere or simply give up. I strongly suspect that’s not going to happen.

Indeed, enlightened responses to ag interests going gaga over ag gag bills is really encouraging. For example, the American Veterinary Medical Association made a most welcomed statement, which concluded

A variety of organizations, including the AVMA, industry groups, humane organizations, and state and federal regulatory agencies, offer guidelines to protect the health and welfare of animals used to produce our food supply. Too often, however, these guidelines are ignored. There is no excuse for this. If those responsible for the good welfare of the animals in their care are unable or unwilling to follow these guidelines, then additional oversight, either through public pressure or regulation, may become a necessity. We can do it the easy way or we can do it the hard way. But either way, it must be done.

Further insight into these developments and a comparison between the UK and US is a commentary published on the Web site, just-food.com, which describes itself as the “food industry’s leading online resource.” Discussing the Ag Gag Bills and undercover exposes in the US and the approach taken by RSPCA (e.g., Freedom Foods campaign) and CIWF (e.g., Good Egg Awards), Ben Cooper concludes,

Freedom Food and CIWF also aim to restore some form of link between consumers and animal agriculture. But they recognise that the real disconnect exists between mainstream production and mainstream consumers, rather than those buying niche, high-welfare products who in many cases will have that heightened awareness. The UK NGOs also believe that this is more likely to be achieved by cooperation between industry and campaigners than through conflict, and their results appear to be bearing that out.

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Threats

May 9th, 2011 No comments

Whenever I read media reports alleging that animal rights activists threaten so and so because of such and such they do to animals, I always want to know if they state whether the evidence of the threats have been handed over to the police for investigation. If they don’t, I am always sceptical of the reports and their severity as well as whether animal rights activists, as opposed to unknown members of the public, actually made them.

Take, for example, this report.

Animal rights extremists threatened to “burn” the children of TV presenter Adam Henson after he investigated the bovine tuberculosis and badger cull issue on the BBC’s Countryfile programme. The threat, and other hate mail, were revealed by Mr Henson when he spoke to 185 farmers and agricultural professionals at a conference in Cornwall.

Let me make immediately clear, before someone rushes to allege otherwise, I do not support violence whether it is threatened, implied or actual. My opposition to violence is one reason why I am for animal rights. Also, I am not alleging Adam Henson is not telling the truth.

But wouldn’t any reasonable person, whose family was threatened for whatever reason, report it to the police? And would want to make it publicly known, particularly when given opportunities to do, including public speaking? Wouldn’t you want to use any situation to send a message to the aggressors that you are not cowed by them? And know full well, given public interest and a public profile if you have one as Adam Henson does, that this sort of thing the media loves to report?

Perhaps Mr Henson provided the evidence to the police. Perhaps he said so publicly. Perhaps the reporter failed it make a note of it. Or did make a note but it was excised from the published report for some reason. We don’t know.

But what I do know, and what I don’t like, is when someone gets attention for claiming something which the media rushes to publish without finding out for itself whether there is a police report to verify its veracity. To fail to do so is sloppy journalism. Perhaps the media in this case did. We don’t know.

Further, people who work tirelessly to stop violence to animals are incorrectly represented in the media in these situations, thereby perpetuating the mythology the animal rights movement is an inherently violent social movement. I don’t think this is the case and nor do I think it to be true. In fact, it’s the reverse. The social movement for animals (regardless of ideology) is very much a peaceful movement and inherent within its ethical credo is opposition to violence, particularly that which is inflicted upon animals. Yes, of course, there have been actions for animals which involve what most people would consider to be violence. In this regard, the animal movement is no different from all other social movements in that there is a minority which thinks differently. Nevertheless, I feel I have a duty to speak out whenever I can to correct this injustice.

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Karen Davis Assesses Peter Singer

April 28th, 2011 1 comment

Among the number of animal advocates who I most admire are Karen Davis, president and founder of United Poultry Concerns, and the philosopher Peter Singer. In a movement that isn’t always capable of rational and respectful debate on ideas and strategy, Karen makes the case in this thoughtful and fascinating article that Peter’s ethical stance on the moral and legal status of animals — and, in particular, chickens — has changed since the publication of his important book Animal Liberation in 1975.  She discusses various statements and actions Peter has taken and discusses them within the context of the place poultry occupy in the animal liberation struggle. She concludes that Peter

condemns the cruelty and environmental havoc of factory farming and observes that ‘ultimately, we should be aiming to eat vegetarian diets,’ which is all well and good, but he is no longer an inspiration for animal liberation.

What do you think?

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Henry S. Salt died today in 1939

April 19th, 2011 No comments

Henry Salt 1851-1939

The great humanitarian, vegetarian and ethical socialist Henry S. Salt died today 72 years ago in Brighton in 1939. He wrote his own eulogy which was read out at his service.

When I say I shall die, as I have lived, rationalist, socialist, pacifist, and humanitarian, I must make my meaning clear. I wholly disbelieve in the present established religion; but I have a very firm religious faith of my own—a Creed of Kinship I call it—a belief that in years yet to come there will be a recognition of brotherhood between man and man, nation and nation, human and subhuman, which will transform a state of semi-savagery, as we have it, into one of civilisation, when there will be no such barbarity of warfare, or the robbery of the poor by the rich, or the ill-usage of the lower animals by mankind.

To learn more about Henry S. Salt go to this excellent celebration of his life.

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Why We Left PETA

April 11th, 2011 10 comments

Alex Pacheco, Co-founder (1980), speaking on Animal Rights Zone:

I’m often asked “Why did you part from PETA, was it a fundamental issue and/or do you feel the actions by PETA are justified?” The short answer is: I left PETA because it had and has drifted far from its base, and because of disagreements over tactics. The longer answer is: The record will show that while I was there, my core focus was on developing high impact exposés which were very inclusive, and were typically made up of a combination of at least: undercover investigations, criminal and civil litigation, legislation and of course public education.

Kim Stallwood, Executive Director (1987-1992), from my forthcoming book, Animal Dharma:

At this time I was PETA’s executive director and proud of our accomplishments; however, I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the organisation’s leadership and the direction in which some of the publicity stunts were going. Of course, our mission was to educate people about animal exploitation but was it necessary to do so at the expense of someone else? This led me to making what I believed to be the only honourable decision I could make. I resigned in 1992 and left PETA without any other employment to go to. I enthusiastically supported what I always understood to be PETA’s effective two-part strategy of presenting, first, the problem of animal cruelty with innovative undercover investigations and, second, offering the solution by inspiring people to adopt a compassionate vegan lifestyle. The focus of this brilliant but deceptively simple approach of simultaneously and credibly presenting the problem with the solution appears to have changed. PETA’s increasing emphasis on celebrities and strident publicity stunts overwhelming its brilliant undercover investigations and unnecessarily polarising sections of the population, including women, racial minorities and obese people, from its deliberately provocative publicity stunts that trivialise them.

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Henry Salt asks Restrictionists or Abolitionists?

April 3rd, 2011 1 comment

Henry Salt 1851-1939

The great Henry Salt explores in the essay, Restrictionists and Abolitionists, in the journal, Humanity, published by the Humanitarian League on November 4, 1900. He concludes,

For our own part, we have no quarrel with those who are abolitionist only, or with those who are restrictionist only; it is for each to do what he or she can. But we hope that members of the Humanitarian League will strive, wherever feasible, to adopt the fuller and wiser policy—that is, to be both restrictionists and abolitionists at once. Humanitarians have a hard fight before them against the power of cruelty and oppression, and they cannot afford to refrain from using their intellects as well as their hearts. Stupidity, in such a contest, will retard the noblest cause. And the recrimination that goes on between the advocates of greater and lesser measures strikes us, if we may say so, as just a little stupid.

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Helping Animals in Japan–Update

March 31st, 2011 No comments

From WSPA: A man carries his dog in the city of Ofunato on March 15, 2011.

Two weeks on from my original post Helping Animals in Japan in which I conducted an admittedly unscientific review of Web sites of animal advocacy organisations and their response to the earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, this report, Helping pets in post-disaster Japan, from the Los Angeles Times sums up well the current situation and the challenging situation for all concerned.

From their reports, various groups are now active, including WSPA; the IFAW video below reports well on the situation and its challenges; and HSI. Also, if you’re on Facebook, an excellent source of information is Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support (JEARS), which also has its own Web site and is a collaboration of three established and registered no kill animal rescue NPOs in Japan.

One outcome from the disaster is its impact on Japan’s whaling industry. The New York Times reports

Japan’s tsunami seems to have succeeded — where years of boycotts, protests and high-seas chases by Western environmentalists had failed — in knocking out a pillar of the nation’s whaling industry. Ayukawahama was one of only four communities in Japan that defiantly carried on whaling and eating whales as a part of the local culture, even as the rest of the nation lost interest in whale meat.

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WSPA Animals in Disaster Japan Video Blog

March 18th, 2011 No comments

Link to WSPA Animals in Disaster Video Blog.

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Helping Animals in Japan?

March 17th, 2011 2 comments

I completed this morning a quick survey of some of the Web sites of some of the world’s leading animal protection/welfare/rescue/rights organisations to review their activity on rescuing animals in Japan following on from the earthquake and tsunami that occurred one week ago tomorrow. The following organisations did not include anything about the crisis.

  • Animal Defenders International
  • Compassion In World Farming
  • Eurogroup for Animal Welfare
  • Humane Society for the United States (see below HSI)
  • International Fund for Animal Welfare (both UK and International Web sites)
  • RSPCA
  • World Society for the Protection of Animals (see below WSPA Animals in Disaster blog)

The following organisations included information about the crisis.

  • American Humane Association: Links from home page to AHA blog dated March 16 which states their position on the crisis (see extract below).
  • Humane Society International (HSI): Mention on home page with link to secondary page with statement dated March 12. HSUS links from its home page to this HSI page.
  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Link from home page to PETA Blog which includes a post (time of post is indicated but not the date) which states its activity on the crisis.
  • WSPA Animals in Disasters blog: Linked from WSPA home page. Date of last entry on blog is March 14.

Admittedly, this is not a scientific assessment. It is a quick review of the Web sites of these organisations nearly one week after the crisis occurred as they appeared this morning. I note the American Humane Association published an informative explanation of the challenge they face to the crisis, which I assume is also pertinent to the other organisations included in this brief review as well as others. (See extract below.)

Notwithstanding these formidable obstacles as well as the challenge of dealing with a complex situation that continues to develop in unprecedented ways, the response to this disaster does not appear to be a significant issue for some of the world’s leading animal advocacy organisations if their Web sites as they appeared this morning represent their interest and involvement.

Further, if these groups are active in helping to mitigate the crisis in Japan they are not sharing with their supporters, the public and the media information about their activities. I invite them to get in touch with their comments and any relevant information they would like to share.

In contrast, humanitarian non-governmental organisations, including the coalition Interaction, document their involvement in Japan as well as other world crises such as those occurring in Libya and the Ivory Coast. Whatever the challenges animal groups face in dealing with this crisis in Japan humanitarian non-governmental organisations do not appear to be constrained similarly.

Extract from AHA blog:

Due to the safety risks and the primary focus on saving people’s lives, the Japanese government has not yet allowed even Japanese organizations to begin large-scale animal rescue operations. However, discussions are currently ongoing between our international partner organizations and the appropriate governmental agencies to obtain invitations to deploy to the stricken areas with animal rescue teams. It is the policy of American Humane Association and other legitimate animal welfare organizations to not deploy without a formal invitation from the responsible government/agency. This policy is for the safety of the people who risk their lives to save people and animals in disaster situations, as well as for the safety of the human victims who are still awaiting help from rescuers.

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Animal Rights Debate–Second Review

March 16th, 2011 3 comments

This second review of The Animal Rights Debate by Gary Francione and Robert Garner is by Carlo Salzani and is published on the Humanimalia Web site. Again, a thoughtful review. This time, however, a third book is also considered: Beyond Animal Rights: Food, Pets and Ethics by Tony Milligan (Continuum), which I’m not familiar with. Salzani concludes

Unlike Francione and Garner, whose disagreement is internal to the animal ethics camp, Milligan opens up the discussion to a greater range of inputs, which help nonetheless to locate the debate against a wider background. What Milligan does not offer, unlike Francione and Garner, is a political strategy: he proposes a personal analysis of a number of issues based on a pluralist set of considerations, which however ends up often in an argumentative stalemate or in a sort of situational ethics. Unlike Francione’s and Garner’s, his voice is not that of an activist, but rather that of a philosopher, sometimes too detached and doubt-ridden to be able to offer the simplification that action requires. His book is therefore to be read in the context of a wider discourse. Together with Francione and Garner, Milligan provides some coordinates to orient the reader within the current philosophical and practical debate concerning animal ethics.

Regrettably, The Animal Rights Debate frames the discussion about strategy as an either/or. Either it is animal rights or it is animal protection. Salzani appears to position Milligan’s Beyond Animal Rights as not providing direct insight into this dispute but nevertheless a worthwhile contribution to the overall discussion. I look forward to reading Milligan to form my own opinion.

Salzani, like Mepham, makes an interesting observation about the different approaches taken by Francione and Garner.

Robert Garner begins his chapter on an apparently more restrained tone: he does not want to criticize animal rights per se, and even states that “a great deal of the ethics of animal rights is convincing” (103). However, soon after he adopts a language that is not second to Francione’s in harshness and condemnation: what he opposes is the “abolitionist” version of the animal rights theory, which he characterizes as “fundamentalist,” “inflexible,” and “dogmatic”; like a fundamentalist religion, it is based on “essential truths” and on an “unwillingness to compromise” in order to achieve incremental short-term goals that fall short of the ideal end point; as such, it is irreconcilable to the “political art of the possible” (104). Garner advocates the position Francione called “new welfarism” but that he prefers to label “animal protectionism,” which defends a “politics” of incremental and “feasible” legal reforms aimed at ameliorating the conditions of animals.

I say regrettably The Animal Rights Debate frames the discussion as an either/or because I believe a smart social justice movement for animals is one which matures sufficiently to understand and appreciate the differences between them. These differences can be irreconcilable opposites if we want them to be. They can also be a clever coordinated strategy which utilises the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each. The strategy I advocate is one which balances the utopian vision of animal rights with the pragmatic politics of animal welfare. Many if not all social movements struggle under a tension of fundamentalism and pragmatism. A smart social movement is one which learns how to deploy both simultaneously. I first made this case in my paper, Utopian Visions and Pragmatic Politics: Challenging the Foundations of Speciesism and Misothery, was published in Animal Rights: The Changing Debate edited by Robert Garner (Macmillan, 1996).

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