Animal Rights and Public Policy

The following paper I presented at the Animals and the Law conference at Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona in October 2011.

I wish to thank Marita Candela for her invitation to speak at today’s conference. I offer my congratulations to the Barcelona Autonomous University, the Animal Law Centre and the Master in Animal Law & Society programme. I apologise for not being able to present this paper in Catalan.

My key message today is that the single greatest challenge the animal rights movement faces in achieving animal rights is in embedding these values into public policy and the law. Campaigning for personal change will persuade some people, indeed, a minority of people, to change their hearts, minds and lifestyles. But only public policy will achieve institutional change in society. Personal change changes one person at a time. Institutional change changes society. What we have to discover is how to achieve institutional change so that the values of animal rights are embedded into society along with human rights.

When I considered what I would say today, I thought about what made me different from my respected colleagues on the conference programme. First, I noticed I am the only representative from the UK. Second, I am the only speaker who has had a full-time profession in animal rights since 1976. Third, my experience includes leadership positions in some of the world’s foremost animal rights organisations in the UK and US. Fourth, and most importantly, I see my role as evolving from animal rights activism to animal rights advocacy. It is this development — from activism to advocacy — that I particularly want to focus on today. This is because I see this transition from activism to advocacy as representative of the wider challenge we face in establishing animal rights. Moreover, I believe my British and American experience and the challenge to expand from animal activism to animal advocacy are also relevant to Spain and other European countries.

The Case for Animal Rights by Tom Regan

Before I go any further I should explain what I mean by animal rights activism and animal rights advocacy. By animal rights activism I mean such things as public education, protests, demonstrations, civil disobedience and advertising. In short, public educational campaigns. Whereas I take animal rights advocacy to mean lobbying, legislation, litigation, public policy development and academic study. There is no competition between them. One is not more important than the other. They are both necessary. Indeed, they need to function in cooperation with each other. Much in the same way that environmental studies in the academy works along side the environmental protection movement.

Having been an animal rights activist for many years, I now consider myself to be an animal rights advocate. I make this distinction not because I am an attorney. I have no legal qualifications. In fact, I do not have any formal academic degrees of any kind. My qualification is my personal commitment and professional experience. I have been in the forefront of the animal rights movement in the UK and US for more than 35 years.

As an animal rights activist, I used to think that if enough people became vegan, like me, we would achieve animal rights. Then, I began to see that not everyone is like me and cares about animals as I do. This led me to realise that optional, personal, cruelty-free, vegan lifestyle choices — as important as they are — will not on their own end institutional, commercial animal exploitation. I have not given up being an animal rights activist nor fighting for animal rights. What has changed is my understanding of how we are going to achieve animal rights. This is why I see myself principally as an animal rights advocate. I should also add that when I say animal rights I mean moral and legal rights for animals based essentially on the natural rights view presented by Tom Regan in The Case for Animal Rights (1983. University of California Press).

Many animal activists experience what I call personal transformative moments. The veil of animal exploitation is lifted to reveal the meat they eat as the charred remains of a dead pig’s bottom. The moral shock of the personal transformative moment is so powerful that it influences virtually everything that animal campaigning organisations do. We believe society will change in the same way we did. But it is naive to believe that the moral shock of the personal transformative moment alone will transform society’s values into embracing animal rights. If we think our lives are complicated, we should take a moment to consider the complexities and tensions within society. It is challenging to get any ideology embraced by society let alone one like animal rights, which may require sacrifices on our part — a subject I will return to.

"This means that to Parliament we must go," said Lord Houghton.

The first person to challenge my assumptions about how to achieve animal rights was Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I first heard him speak at the RSPCA’s Rights of Animals symposium at Trinity College Cambridge in 1976. He said,

My message is that animal welfare, in the general and in the particular, is largely a matter for the law. This means that to Parliament we must go. Sooner or later that is where we will have to go. That is where laws are made and where the penalties for disobedience and the measures for enforcement are laid down. There is no complete substitute for the law. Public opinion, though invaluable and indeed essential, is not the law. Public opinion is what makes laws possible and observance widely acceptable. (David Paterson and Richard D. Ryder. 1979. Animals’ Rights–a Symposium. Centaur Press. 209. Emphasis in original.)

Between World War Two and his death in 1996, Lord Houghton played a primary role in British politics as an elected Member of Parliament, Minister, Parliamentary Labour Party Chair and member of the House of Lords. I recall him as an authority external to the animal rights movement. He provided much needed leadership in the 1970s and 1980s to an emerging animal rights movement by showing us the importance of law and politics to fulfilling our mission.

Have we paid sufficient attention to what Lord Houghton said? Have we lived up to his entreaty to focus on law and politics?

I do not believe we have. In fact, I think we could do better. Much better.

The passage of the Hunting Act legitimized the public policy position that hunting is a cruel and ineffective wildlife management tool deserving of prohibition.

To be sure there is significant progress to report. The public is more informed. It has never been easier to be a vegetarian or a vegan. There are more regulations and laws in the UK, the EU, the US and, indeed, throughout the world. Enlightened companies and institutions implement pro-animal policies. Just a few examples to consider from the UK: the Badgers Act 1992, Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000, Hunting Act 2004 and Animal Welfare Act 2006. Also, European Union directives restricting or banning various egregious practices to do with the production of fur, animal research and factory farming. In the US progress is being made at the state level to make illegal egregious examples of factory farming and some wildlife issues. Notwithstanding this progress, two out of three farmed animals worldwide exist now in cages.

Here, I wish to pause for a moment, to recognise present today the eminent specialists who work tirelessly on regulations and laws relating to animals and outstanding professors who teach law, including animal law and other related subjects. Please do not interpret anything I am saying here as critical of your important work. My objective is to take a step back from the immediate and short-term to consider the long-term strategy to achieving animal rights.

In doing so, I wish to draw attention to anthropologist Barbara Noske and her description of the combined forces and interests which benefit, financially or otherwise, from animal exploitation as the animal industrial complex. (Humans and Other Animals. 1989. Pluto Press.)

The animal industrial complex is not, of course, a monolithic empire. Although it tries to behave like one by organising itself into various trade associations. There is, for example, Understanding Animal Research in the UK and the Foundation for Biomedical Research in the US. Their involvement in the political process helps to maintain the status quo, adopt regulations and pass laws that ensure the animal industrial complex continues its use of animals. A political bias in favour of animal exploitation is reinforced by our continued institutionalised, commercial use of animals as property and disposable commodities.

The animal rights movement is not a monolithic empire either. Although at times I wished it tried to behave like one. What is generally known but little understood is that the animal rights movement is a social movement. Social movements are

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)

The academic study of social movements by sociologists and political scientists offers insight into the animal rights movement as a social movement. Further, the writings of social movement practitioners — studies, histories, biographies, memoirs — also provide lessons for us to learn from their experiences.

There is, however, one difference which makes the animal rights movement unique from all others. 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 — the animal industrial complex — use of animals. Nevertheless, 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 Barbara Noske asks,

which human needs are being fulfilled and whose interests are promoted by the existing animal industrial complex? (Humans and Other Animals. 1989. Pluto Press. 23; emphasis in original)

Whatever benefits that may or maybe not at risk, the benefits we do accrue from not relying upon animals to produce food and cure disease are considerable. There is not time today for me to expand on this important point. 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.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of money to be made from animal exploitation and many other non-financial gains to be made. 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.

This is why Lord Houghton’s challenge of to ‘Parliament we must go’ is one we cannot ignore.

Many social movements struggle to learn how to achieve their missions. I see the struggle for the animal rights movement as one of emerging from activism to advocacy. Indeed, we are not alone in this regard. So, how to make this transition? How do social movements advance their mission from public education to public acceptance? How do we secure laws relating to animals which do not exist to protect their exploiters but the animals themselves? Even if it is at our expense or the impression of doing so?

If politics is the art of the possible, as Otto von Bismarck observed famously, law comes from the art of the political compromise. Consequently, as with all aspects of the regulated life, the law, including animal law, is imperfect. This reality is a challenge to those, like me, who seek perfect laws giving animals rights. This need not be an obstacle, however, if there is an understanding of how social justice issues and their corresponding social movements move public awareness from unfamiliarity to acceptance.

My view is that there are five stages necessary to complete this transformation. The five stages are:

  1. Public education, when people are enlightened about the issue and embrace it into their lives
  2. Public policy development, when political parties, businesses, schools, professional associations and other entities that constitute society adopt sympathetic positions on the issue
  3. Legislation, when laws are passed on the issue
  4. Litigation, when laws are implemented and enforcement is made in the courts
  5. Public acceptance, when the issue is embraced by the majority of society

FIve Stages in Public Policy

Further, as social justice issues progress through each stage, their ability to influence change and resist setbacks proportionately increases. For example, bloodsports in Britain — hunting and killing, foxes, deer and stags with packs of dogs on foot and horse back and hare coursing — was for many years in stages one and two. The hunting issue is now in stages three and four. With the passage of the Hunting Act in 2004, bloodsports went from being a legal to an illegal activity. Even though the Conservative Party in the present coalition government would like to repeal the legislation, it is increasingly difficult for them to do so for various reasons. Yes, laws can be over turned but it is a challenging and controversial action to take.

So, which stage do I think the animal rights movement has reached?

My take is that we are principally in stages one and two and increasingly in three and four. In other words, animal rights is mostly viewed as personal lifestyle choice but increasingly the responsibility of public policy and government. This is where I think we are. You may well have your own view. In any event, there is much more to do. Nevertheless, we need to understand and recognise the point that we have reached. Otherwise what do we know what is next? One more point here: Stage one and two, public education and public policy development, are the function of animal activism. Stages three and four, legislation and litigation, are the function of animal advocacy.

What I know is next for animal rights activism is the continuation of moral shocks and personal transformative moments to educate the public. Sadly, these outrages will not be in short supply for some time. It never ceases to amaze me at our ability to devise new ways to exploit animals. But as Lord Houghton says, ‘Public opinion, though invaluable and indeed essential, is not the law.’

Our focus must be on what is next for animal rights advocacy. As with animal rights activism, a certain amount of reacting to moral shocks will be necessary in animal rights advocacy. The responsibility of the animal activist wing of the animal rights movement is to expose the problems in the existing regulatory and legislative system.

On the other hand, animal rights advocacy is about setting the agenda for long-term strategic change toward recognising animal rights. All too often, this agenda is set by the animal industrial complex and not the animal rights movement. The challenge of the animal industrial complex is to readjust continually their status and activity in response to the challenges raised by animal rights movement.

Think of the animal rights movement as both a moral crusade and as a social justice movement, or animal rights activism and animal rights advocacy. At present, however, we are more of a moral crusade than a social justice movement. This is why I am delighted to be here today meeting you, who, I believe, are the future animal rights advocates.

It is the combination of animal rights activism and animal rights advocacy working together toward long-term strategic objectives that I believe will bring us closer to achieving animal rights. Remember: as social justice issues progress through each stage, their ability to influence change and resist setbacks proportionately increases. We have to move animal rights further along the five stages. This is why our mission must be to embed animal rights into public policy. This is accomplished when animal rights activism and animal rights advocacy work together toward this as a long-term objective.

Richard Martin MP

In a little more than a decade’s time, there will be an opportunity to recognise the bicentenary of what is generally recognised in the UK, if not the world, as the first law to address animal welfare. This is the so-called Martin’s Act, which was passed in 1822. Named after Richard Martin MP who sponsored the legislation, the act made for the first time in Britain an offence punishable by fines and imprisonment to wantonly and cruelly ‘beat, abuse, or ill-treat any horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep or other cattle.’ It is worth taking a moment to consider that nearly 200 years later, the recent expose by Compassion In World Farming, Eyes on Animals and Animal Welfare Foundation revealed wanton and cruel treatment of sheep and cattle in Turkey. This tragedy underscores the need to combine together the focus of activism, to lobby the EU and others to ensure existing regulations and laws are efficiently and effectively enforced. It also shows the need to strengthen them.

This 2022 bicentenary provides us with an opportunity to focus on the accomplishments made to date on behalf of animals and the remaining outstanding challenges for the future.

So, in my remaining minutes I want to summarise with some key action points.

  • Balance animal rights activism with animal rights advocacy
  • Think and act strategically
  • Learn from other social movements
  • Get involved with the development of public policy
  • Play an active role in the political process
  • Think of the animal rights movement both as a moral crusade and a social justice movement

These key action points will, I believe, help you to embed animal into public policy and the law. Thank you.

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