"The animal rights movement illustrates
the incoherent nature of a moral passion become immoral by virtue of
Professor Charles Griswold Jr Department of Philosophy, Howard
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ANIMAL WELFARE AND ANIMAL RIGHTS?
Most people today would agree that, while we use animals in many ways, we have a responsibility to avoid inflicting unnecessary suffering on any creature.
This ethic has been promoted over the past century by animal-welfare societies. By working with governments and industry they have contributed to steadily improving standards for the treatment of animals we use - whether it be stricter regulations governing the transport and slaughter of domestic livestock, or guidelines for the care of animals used in laboratory research.
Recently, new types of organizations purporting to protect animals have emerged. They call their philosophy "Animal Rights". Its fundamental thesis is: we shouldn't use animals for any purpose at all - not for food, or medical research - or even for pets.
This doctrine has been spelled out succinctly by Ingrid Newkirk, president of the Washington-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a group which has often acted as spokespeople for the underground Animal Liberation Front: Animal liberationists do not separate out the human animal, so there is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They're all mammals. - Toronto Star, 28 December 1986.
Some have tried to carry this philosophy to its logical conclusion: they follow a strict vegetarian diet; they attempt to use no animal products whatsoever, including many vaccines and medicines; they keep no household pets.
Others have realized that this ideal raises a host of paradoxes for which it provides no answers.
Do all animals have "rights", or is this standing reserved for creatures we find attractive? Will rats and cockroaches be afforded equal status? What about tse-tse flies and the smallpox virus? If so, our world will soon be full of "wildlife". Rats can produce up to twelve litters of eight to ten young each year - and begin breeding at three months old. But if rats are not to have "rights", who then decides which species are included, and by what criteria?
With a little thought it becomes obvious that an extreme Animal Rights position is completely unrealistic. Unfortunately, people spending most of their time in cities have little opportunity to seriously evaluate these questions. Those of us who "gather" our food in supermarkets do not, personally, have to procure meat or protect the fruits and field crops we need to survive. We are unaware of wildlife management problems - or may choose to ignore them. Thus we are especially susceptible to emotional and simplistic rhetoric about animals and nature.
Animal Rights activists are not interested in the complicated task of gradually improving standards which regulate our use of domestic and wild animals. They ignore the real difficulties of balancing human needs with the habitat and other requirements of wildlife. Instead, they merely repeat that "exploitation" is wrong and that all use of animals should somehow suddenly cease.
WHAT HAPPENS TO MONEY DONATED TO "SAVE" ANIMALS?
In an age increasingly dominated by mass communications media, simple visual and emotionally-charged messages can be very effective. Social, economic and political problems often seem to be overwhelmingly complex, so it is tempting to believe that "simple" solutions might still be possible. The new Animal Rights campaigners have recognized this and provide marketing messages to satisfy our desire "to do something" - to support a "good cause".
Unfortunately, simple solutions won't help us tackle many of the serious long-term environmental problems we face today. The task is not made much easier when people are led to believe they can "save" animals by contributing to a new and flourishing business - The Protest Industry.
It is a fact that emotional appeals may attract more public and media attention than carefully-researched scientific analysis. But the Protest Industry doesn't depend only upon emotion to fuel its campaigns. Stephen Best, vice-chairman for the International Wildlife Coalition, has unabashedly described the business-like way in which animal-rights campaigns are orchestrated:
... a need is created for a product through promotion . . .
. . . overhead, trained staff, and an infrastructure are required. These financial obligations and responsibilities mean that organizations are economically as well as philosophically compelled to seek out new "products" or issues to offer to the public and their supporters . . .
Furthermore, all animal rights organizations are in competition with each other for a larger share of the donor base and experience has shown that the public is more likely to respond to more radical and extreme positions than conservative ones . . .
. . . As membership bases increase and income rises, organizations are discovering they can attract a higher quality of employee: a professional animal rights activist ... It is now possible to pursue a career in the animal rights movement.
Today, the animal rights movement, indeed the entire environmental/ecology movement, is in every sense of the word an industry in its own right; no less than any other. - Proceedings of the 1986 Symposium of the Alberta Society of Professional Biologists.
Issues that "sell" can be identified by opinion polling and other market-research techniques. Texts, layouts and even the color schemes and fund-raising "newsletters" are fine-tuned accordingly. The "product" is promoted through protest rallies, boycotts and other media stunts.
Computer-generated mailing lists are used to solicit funds from the part of the public selected as a potential "target" audience.
The problem is that none of this necessarily has much to do with real animal-welfare or environmental priorities.
A THREAT TO TRUE ANIMAL WELFARE
Sensationalist campaigns siphon off public donations which might otherwise support constructive animal-welfare projects - work which isn't necessarily publicized on the evening television news.
Moderate groups today also risk being systematically infiltrated and taken over by extremists. This strategy is now openly promoted in Animal Rights publications, to win social prestige and gain access to the considerable bank accounts which some established groups have accumulated.
Unfortunately, the irresponsible actions of a few extremists can jeopardize reputations which responsible animal-welfare advocates have worked many years to build.
IDEOLOGY OUT OF CONTROL
In the name of their wild ideal, the "Animal Liberation Front" has firebombed medical research laboratories in Europe and North America. They also attack meat-packing plants, farms, fur stores, fishing-tackle shops, milk depots and even restaurants serving hamburgers.
One shop was destroyed in Britain - because it displayed a poster for a visiting circus.
A doctrine which equates humans and animals may all too easily open the door to violence against people, as the activists themselves admit:
I believe that this decade will see the first acts of true violence. Some may be accidental - like a bystander killed in a bomb blast; some will be deliberate - like a vivisector shot in the street. The violence will confuse and divide us, but it will be a temporary adjustment and then we will learn to live with it as has every social movement before us. - Vicki Miller, co-founder of ARK II The Animals' Agenda, Jan-Feb 1986.
Some are even more straightforward about their tactics:
In a war you have to take up arms and people will get killed . . . and there's no other way you can stop vivisectors.
Tim Daley, British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection -Manchester Guardian, 18, June 1986.
Small wonder that the 1987 Canadian Senate Special Committee Report on Terrorism and Public Safety identified radical "animal liberation" activists as a likely source of domestic terrorism.
THE REAL ANIMAL-RIGHTS AGENDA
. . . Animal rights is part of a revolutionary political process aimed at restructuring the major institutions of our society. - Richard Morgan, founder of Mobilization for Animals, Love and Anger: An Organizing Handbook, (Animal Rights Network, 1980.)
While ready to take on any issue that might attract media attention, Animal Rights has no constructive program and no interest in reforms which have been and continue to be made. Many activists began their careers by protesting the annual seal hunt in the Northwest Atlantic. Once markets for sealskins were largely destroyed, they simply moved on to other targets: agriculture, medical research and, most recently, the fur trade.
Under pressure from animal-rights extremists, even once moderate groups have launched more radical campaigns. The Humane Society of the United States now condemns bacon and eggs as "The Breakfast of Cruelty," Demonstrators have painted hamburger restaurants with "Meat is Murder" and "McDeath" graffiti. Creameries have not escaped the charge that "Milk is Murder" - cows produce milk to nourish their calves, not humans, say the militants. Even the use of seeing-eye dogs for the blind is opposed by hardliners - as "exploitation" of the dogs.
British journalist Polly Toynbee has called Animal Rights "probably the most revolutionary movement the world has ever known - absolutist, impossibilist, bizarre." One young woman she interviewed explained the Animal Liberation Front program:
We'd have to pull down the big cities and return to small communities, to make room for the animals to roam free ... in any case, I'm an anarchist, so I see a society without rules and prisons. - Manchester Guardian, 10 June 1985.
IS THE PROTEST INDUSTRY GROWING?
Fortunately, people are beginning to understand that an extreme Animal Rights doctrine is an unrealistic, counter-productive and often dangerous ideal.
There are already signs that the pendulum is swinging back to the side of reasoned discourse. Public opinion surveys conducted by the Canadian Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing reveal that less than 5% of the population in North America and Western Europe believe that no use should be made of animals.
The Commission also found, after two years of study, that the Northwest Atlantic seal hunt was, after all, properly managed: the harp seal was not endangered, government quotas ensured sustainable harvest levels, and hunting methods were consistent with generally accepted humane standards. Public opinion had been manipulated by intense international protest campaigns.
The responsible, sustainable utilization of wildlife is accepted by all leading world environmental organizations.
The key to protecting wildlife has been spelled out in the World Conservation Strategy, drafted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In brief, these principles are:
1. Maintenance of life-supporting ecosystems;
2. Preservation of genetic diversity (i.e. protection of endangered species;
3. Sustainable use of renewable resources.The fur trade supports and abides by the principles of the World Conservation Strategy. The International Fur Trade Federation is also a member of IUCN, and has provided financial assistance for IUCN scientific surveys.