Thanks to our friends at Ánima for providing this document in Spanish on their web site.
- Separating the Scare From the Greens
- Mean Vegans?
- Sarah Palin, FARM Activist?
- Free-Range Butter Hits the Shelves
- No Good Egg
I was invited by Vermont Law School to speak in October at a symposium focusing on national security trends, specifically regarding the threat of unpopular ideas.
Isn’t it strange that we should come to think of reverence for life or serious concern for the Earth that sustains us as unpopular ideas?
Now, the methods of some activists are unpopular -- but they are not based on the idea of animal rights. A threat, or a report of violent activity, certainly doesn’t reflect the boundless potential of vegetarianism to improve human life, or how wonderful it could be to grow out of a cultural mindset that sees other animals and the planet as mere resources.
Since t he Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was passed in 2006, one could be charged with a felony over “force, violence, or threats” that could affect profits of farms, zoos, aquaria, rodeos etc. Representative Dennis Kucinich rightly opposed the law, telling Congress to “ be very careful about painting everyone with the broad brush of terrorism” and adding, “ I think that it would be important for this Congress to look at the claims of people who are sincere advocates of animal rights.” (Here we are, Congress!)
But sincere advocates of animal rights, and information related to their values, are sometimes drowned out by the din of coercive rhetoric. Civil disobedience is not condemned by serious advocates; but certain actions clearly harm the cause.
Consider a press release issued in September 2008 by Dr. Jerry Vlasak from the Animal Liberation Press Office. It announced that primate vivisection protesters had set one university van afire and stolen others. Did those involved know the “idea” of animal rights? Do they represent the “ideas” held by the growing community of ethical vegetarians -- those who accept the core premise of the animal-rights movement?
The press officer willingly connected the vans with “a movement throughout the nation and the world to stop primate experimentation, as well as give primates some legal rights to bodily protection” including a Spanish proposal to affect nonhuman apes.
A release that tries to make such a connection can make nonhuman personhood “unpopular” by publicly connecting it with burning vans.
Acts of violence are not endorsed in rights advocacy. They are promoted by people who think a goal justifies the means. Their own logic fails. Vivisection is international, and too far ingrained in administrative law to be stopped by violent means.
Militant tactics have the precise opposite of the desired effect. They allow lawmakers to rationalize legal insulations for laboratories, or to criminalize dissent. In cyclical fashion, a repressive culture can foster a reactionary view that the government must be opposed by force.
The release Dr. Vlasak distributed in September 2008 has a taunting tone: “Despite increased police repression, there is ample evidence to show that the campaign to stop primate vivisection at UCLA is continuing by both legal and illegal activities.”
It’s not a crime to condone legal, illegal, and destructive activities in a press release. That said, a nimal-rights theory is not destructive . W hen we understand vivisection as violence, we decline to add still more violence to our culture.
The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection announced itself as “proudly non-violent” when publicly naming and praising airlines, including US Airways, Delta, Northwest, United, British Airways and Qantas, that reportedly stopped transporting primates destined for labs. (The hold-outs include Air France, which, BUAV reports, recently transported macaques caught in Mauritius and some bred in Vietnam, and American Airlines and Continental, which have been shipping primates from the United States to Europe.) There is some evidence that the campaign, limited as it is, can affect cultural norms. China Airlines told BUAV, “[W]e would like to extend our appreciation on your dedication to protect the life of primates from unnatural human interference.”
A large, educational movement that creates a critical mass of people willing to see scientific proofs in more peaceful ways is the only way to end animal research.
And the end of vivisection should be considered a most popular idea, given the long history of dangerous experiments being performed on vulnerable subjects. Animal-rights advocacy strives to challenge such exploitation at its roots.
Time magazine says Sarah Palin lost support from female voters because they felt jealous of Palin’s “too pretty” looks. Wrote columnist Belinda Luscombe, “Women are weapons-grade haters.”
It’s not Gov. Palin’s misguided view on global warming that gets to them; it’s not Palin’s penchant for terminating the lives of caribou. No, it’s the confidence.
“Women have self-esteem issues,” asserts Luscombe. “With all this extra baggage a female candidate has to bear, the chances of finding a woman whom other women won't hate seem skinnier than last year's jeans.”
The upshot? We keep getting male leaders because female voters are competitive and “savor discord.”
This insult to the intelligence of female voters should not be encouraged by vegetarian activists; yet it probably has been. A well-known book promoting vegetarian living is titled Skinny Bitch; it plays off the concept that female competition over looks and confidence is an influential social force on which a new diet can be based. Whether it’s a good idea to take advantage of such a concept to sell a book -- even a well-meaning book -- needs critical thinking.
In early October -- just a month before the presidential election -- the advocacy group “FARM” excitedly announced that Republican governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin had declared a “World Farm Animals Day” in Alaska. Really.
The co-founders of the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Animal Law and Ethics, together with activists from Friends of Animals -- and other groups and individuals from three countries -- responded in an open letter: Sarah Palin has no standing whatsoever to convey ideas about what is and isn’t good for animals.
As if we need proof, Palin gave a November interview at Triple D Farm and Hatchery outside Wasilla, Alaska. In the background, turkeys’ necks were being broken.
Palin has publicly opposed protections for polar bears, and, citing the importance of oil and gas development, has also opposed safeguards for a community of beluga whales on the verge of extinction. Palin’s position on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (calving grounds of caribou on Alaska's north coast) and startling lack of clarity about global warming could doom any life over which this politician might wield control.
Under Palin, Alaska has waged a bloody and systematic war on wolves, and Palin personally (and with great pride) kills moose, caribou and other animals. Through Palin’s sights we see the only animals who could have meaningful “animal rights” -- the right, that is, to live on their own terms -- blown away before our eyes.
The World Farm Animals Dayproclamation on the Alaska governor’s website insists animals raised for food “be accorded humane and sanitary treatment” as “our food supply should be safe and wholesome.” Of course, efforts to have other animals eaten without causing us illness is a human interest unrelated to respect for other animals.
The proclamation also says farming is “critical to our national food supply” and “should be designed to protect our environment by preserving the viability of our public lands and waterways and conserving our water, soil, and energy resources.” As though animal agribusiness were suddenly conservation.
In fact, animal agribusiness is a serious threat to the entire biocommunity; that should be the message from the environmental and animal-rights communities.
By offering a meaningless gesture about caring for (some) animals, some politicians who demonstrate disdain for humans and other beings think they'll get kudos and extra support. They do not receive help from a serious animal-rights movement.
“In research, consumers totally bought into the free-range concept,” said Anchor butter’s Senior Brand Manager Lorraine Crowe to Grocery Trader Magazine. Thus, said Crowe, regarding the butter’s prospects in Britain: "We're confident that it will drive immediate sales and build value for the brand and the category."
Crowe says people believe the butter has “ a better quality and taste as well as ethical benefits,” reducing ethics to the drab, sterile language of marketing. Missing is any sense of understanding the real animals involved -- cows raised on New Zealand farms, who are obliged to get pregnant then have their calves taken away.
“Our free range strategy is really working,” Crowe added one year into the sales campaign, “and consumer response to our advertising has been fantastic.”
Vegan margarines, such as the Pure brand spreads in Britain, or the Earth Balance brand used in Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine, have proved as easy to use as butter and other margarines in a full variety of recipes. And the ethical benefits are genuine.
In September, a group of Philadelphia activists announced they’d successfully changed the eggs bought by suburban Immaculata University from the common battery-style eggs to the so-called cage-free eggs. (There is no legal standard for a “cage-free” egg.)
The activists claimed: “Between 1,000-2,000 hens will be spared suffering inside of battery cages each day on account of the University's change in policy!”
The announcement did not mention an equally important point: Those hens will still be suffering -- inside sheds.
"The primary drawback of a conventional cage system is that it restricts the hen's movement and some of her natural behaviors," says Joy Mench, an animal science professor and director of the Center for Animal Welfare at the University of California.
Mench adds, however, that hens in barns or outside are more likely to fall victim to cannibalism or illnesses caused by direct exposure to manure. Furthermore, most laying hens suffer from osteoporosis, because they are bred for intensive egg-laying and the calcium goes out of their bodies and into the eggshells. So uncaged hens are more likely than caged hens to break bones.
And in all of these situations, male birds are systematically killed as chicks, hens are slaughtered when their production wanes; and painful de-beaking is a fact of life. Birds are still seen as ours to use, and that’s the problem. Tiny chicks, just one day old, can be shipped by the post office. Should advocacy accept any of this -- let alone call it a success? People can prepare excellent meals without eggs, but only if they are taught and encouraged. Is the advocate’s work to tell people what to settle for? Or what to strive for?
It’s essential for animal advocates to be truthful people. Here’s the truth, from an owned hen’s perspective: There is no good egg.
- Press release: “Another UCLA Van Goes up in Flames; ALF Takes Credit” (Sep. 23, 2008). Available: www.animalliberationpressoffice.org/communiques_home.htm .
- Traditionally, the state can only forbid advocacy of the use of force or illegal action “where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969) .
- BUAV press release: “Airlines Refuse to Transport Primates for Research Following Public Outcry” (8 Oct. 2008).
- Belinda Luscombe, “ Why Some Women Hate Sarah Palin” - Time (2 Oct. 2008).
- FARM news release: “Palin Urges Humane Treatment of Farmed Animals” (dated 2 Oct. 2008; announcing: “Republican Vice-Presidential candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin has proclaimed October 2nd World Farm Animals Day in her state”). “FARM” has been known, variously, as the “Farm Animal Reform Movement” and “Farm Animal Rights Movement.” The latter name, which the group uses today, is a contradiction in terms, as beings who are purpose-bred do not and cannot have rights.
- “Panderama? Palin Proclaims Humane Treatment of Farm Animals” (an open letter to Alex Hershaft of FARM, dated 6 Oct. 2008). Available upon request.
- “New Anchor Strategy Spreads Free Range Butter Message” (Jun. 2007 edition).
- “Anchor Launches On-Pack Rewards Scheme” quotes a corporate release in Talking Retail (online publication; 14 Apr. 2008; last visited 2 Oct. 2008).
- UC Davis News Service, “To Cage or Not to Cage: Research Coalition Seeks Answers” (13 Feb. 2008).