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Back in 2009, I wrote about the value of “one-click activism”; that is, using the Internet to participate in positive changes for animals. Since then there have been a number of headline-grabbing stories that involve activists using the Internet, from the more than 31,000 Change.org community members who helped convince the Food Network to stop featuring sharks as food to an online protest that led to the cancellation of a dog-meat festival in China last month. Now, I’m not suggesting that such armchair activism can ever replace more traditional avenues of campaigning. But as a tool for change, Web 2.0 activism is becoming undeniably important.
Change.org is one organization in an emerging field that is using the Internet to help people turn clicks into social change. To get an idea just how valuable online petitions have become, I asked two Change.org editors, Sarah Parsons and Stephanie Feldstein, to offer their insights. Sarah writes about food-related subjects on the site, and Stephanie is focused on animal issues. I began by asking Sarah how petitions on the site are created and who can create them. “Anybody, anywhere can create a petition,” she said. “We’ve had everyone from individuals to national non-profits. We try to promote petitions that have broad appeal to a fairly sizable audience. We do feature local campaigns as well, but they should be something that people in other parts of the country can relate to. We also want to make sure it’s something that is timely — that we feel can make an impact in the immediate future, rather than something that might take several years to accomplish.”
In addition to the recent success story about the Food Network, Change.org features a number of victories for animals, such as Urban Outfitters apologizing for selling real fur and a town in the UK halting a factory farm. But are all such victories directly linked to petitions, or are other factors involved? “It depends,” said Sarah. “Sometimes the online petition is the driving factor that creates the change; other times it’s just one piece of the puzzle. There could be an organization or individuals who are doing some on-the-ground organizing, who are holding protests or rallies or who are working with other groups to apply pressure. Sometimes the online petition is the main pressure point and other times it’s just one tool that is being used as part of a broader effort.”
I asked Stephanie how animal issues rank with Change.org’s members. “While we don’t have a ranking system among our causes,” she said, “animal issues are consistently among the most popular, both in terms of people coming to Change.org to sign campaigns and to start campaigns.” Okay, I responded, tell us a little about those campaigns. Which petitions for animals strike you as particularly meaningful? Stephanie said that one of the biggest victories they’ve had was working with the Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF) to push for reform to British Columbia’s animal cruelty laws. (Ian Somerhalder is anactor best known for his roles on Lost and The Vampire Diaries.) “When the story broke earlier this year that 100 sled dogs had been executed after a slow tourist season, animal activists around the world were furious,” explained Stephanie. “Ian wanted to make sure this kind of cruelty didn’t happen again, so ISF started a petition on Change.org, which laid out an ambitious list of improvements to British Columbia’s laws. More than 60,000 Change.org members joined the campaign. When the Sled Dog Task Force — which had been appointed in the wake of the public outcry about the 100 slaughtered sled dogs — submitted its final report to the government, it cited ISF’s Change.org petition, and nearly every recommendation from the petition was adopted by the provincial government.” She is also proud that their petition in support of the California bill on the sale and possession of shark fins attracted more than 27,000 signatures. The governor signed the bill into law last week.
One of the most encouraging aspects of online petitions is that they don’t take a lot of signatures to become an agent of change. “We had one campaign targeting Citibank Singapore, which was offering an incentive for new members to get a discount at a restaurant that served shark fin soup,” said Sarah. “The petition had about 75 signatures in 24 hours, and that was enough to get them to pull that promotion. So it’s not necessarily the number of signatures; sometimes just bringing it to a company’s attention is enough to get them to move on something.” But, I wondered, when a company like Citibank makes a change, how do you know it’s because of the petition? “You have to look at what else is going on in the space. If there are other organizations working on the same issue then you can’t say it was only because of this petition. But in the Citibank case in particular, there was really only this online petition that was calling them out to stop running this promotion. And as soon as the petition started, they ended up pulling the offer. We’ve also had companies respond to our petitions, and sometimes we work with them. It’s not always an antagonistic relationship. Sometimes a company is very willing to work with you as long as you bring it to their attention.”
Sarah acknowledged that a lot of activists consider social media activism to be a waste of time. “Certainly there’s this criticism that just signing an online petition is slacktivism, and that criticism will probably always exist,” she said. “But I think what our platform shows is that online petitions can be very powerful, and as we move into an increasingly technological age, communications via the Internet is really the wave of the future. It’s not slacktivism; it’s just modern.”
Sarah ended our conversation with this advice: “Don’t ever feel there’s nothing you can do. If you see a problem in your community or the country at large, there is a way for one person to make an impact. There’s no issue that’s too big or too small. It doesn’t cost any money. All you need is an Internet connection.”
A new documentary was released this week exposing the global primate trade and the treatment of these animals inside the notorious Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) testing facilities in England. Produced by Animal Defenders International (ADI), Save the Primates shows animals being taken from their homes in the wild and delivered directly to laboratories. HLS in Cambridgeshire is a major contract testing operation for multinational product brands; it can hold up to 550 monkeys at a time. During ADI’s one-year undercover investigation, 217 monkeys were killed in just five studies.
This new investigation is part of a European initiative to ban the use of primates in experiments and is being coordinated by ADI and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS). Among the horrors Save the Primates reveals:
In South America, owl monkeys scream as they are torn from their families in the rainforest to be taken to Colombia for malaria experiments.
In Vietnam, monkeys frantically rattle their tiny, rusting cages while being held captive by a primate supplier approved by the UK Home Office. (In a single year, this business supplied nearly 500 monkeys to HLS.)
In the UK, primates are used in commercial testing at HLS in Cambridgeshire. The video shows struggling monkeys strapped into chairs and forced to inhale products. Many of the animals are housed in one-cubic-meter cages and then taken out to be held down by workers as tubes are forced down their throats.
The new “Save the Primates” report and investigation are part of a comprehensive study linking primate research and the international primate trade to the alternatives that are now available. Hoping to secure Europe-wide support for an end primate tests, ADI and NAVS have produced Save the Primates in English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish.
“There is a unique opportunity in Europe to finally begin phasing out experiments on primates,” says ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer. “Nobody looking at the undercover footage of monkeys at this leading UK laboratory could fail to be moved by the stress and suffering these animals are forced to endure. Yet there are alternatives to using monkeys in these tests. Now that the truth of everyday suffering has been revealed, we must seize the opportunity to put an end to it.”
This may not be the biggest animal rights news of the year, but it’s still pretty cool. Actress and animal activist Hayden Panettiere recently halted shooting on her show Heroes after she accused a crew member of being cruel to birds nesting in a nearby tree. Hayden was apparently upset when a crew member used a large leaf-blower to knock the birds out of the tree because the birds were disturbing filming of the series. Hayden reportedly shouted at the worker: “What are you doing? How would you like someone to blow that thing inside your house?”
The actress insisted the birds were only flying in front of the camera to get back to their nest. Her objections were reportedly so strenuous that the director eventually decided to move the scene to another location.
This is not the first time Hayden has been in the news for defending animals. In 2007, she joined a group of peaceful protestors in an effort to save a group of pilot whales (who are part of the dolphin family) and faced violent opposition from some Japanese fishermen. The confrontation took place in the sea off Taiji, an historic whaling town. She and five other protesters paddled out on surfboards in an attempt to stop the whales from being driven into a nearby cove and killed in Japan’s annual slaughter of the animals.
In March 2008, the Humane Society of the United States honored Hayden with the Gretchen Wyler Award, given annually at the Genesis Awards to a celebrity who brings attention to animal causes. She has also won the Compassion in Action award from PETA.
Hayden’s actions no doubt inspire her fans to consider the welfare of animals they might otherwise not think twice about ― and maybe even stand up to the bullies who abuse them.
Josh Balk is the outreach director of the Humane Society of the United States’ factory farming campaign, where he works with corporations to end their purchasing from factory farms that use the most intensive confinement devices, such as battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates. As part of HSUS’ “No Battery Eggs Campaign,” grocery stores, fast food chains, food service providers and hundreds of universities have moved away from buying and selling eggs from caged hens. Josh took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions regarding his activism, what brought him to the movement and how even one person can make a difference for animals.
What was your “a-ha” moment when you decided to go vegan?
I went vegan about eight years ago after watching the documentaries The Auction Block and Hope for the Hopeless. The first video is about the cruelty endured by dairy cows and other animals at livestock auctions and the second is about the battery cage-egg industry. Ironically, prior to coming to HSUS, I went on to work for Compassion Over Killing for three years, where I conducted undercover investigations, worked with Washington, DC, restaurants to add vegan items to their menu and did tons of vegan outreach to consumers.
Could you describe the industry cruelties you saw in those two documentaries?
The Auction Block, filmed by Compassion Over Killing, is a behind-the-scenes look at several farm animal auctions where dairy cows, their calves and other animals are sold to the highest bidder, many times to factory farms and slaughterhouses. Inside the closed doors of auction houses, animals are often kicked, shocked with electric prods, dragged by their legs and beaten. I can’t imagine the confusion and fear they’re undergoing, especially the calves who only a short time earlier were taken away from their nursing mothers.
Hope for the Hopeless, another Compassion Over Killing documentary, shows what’s it’s like inside a giant egg factory farm where hundreds of thousands of hens are confined inside barren battery cages. These living, feeling beings are turned into egg-producing machines within an industrial assembly line. There’s little consideration for their welfare other than providing them water and food — the barest necessities to keep them alive for another day’s worth of production. They’re given so little space they can’t even spread their wings. It’s like forcing someone to live in an elevator with six other people for your entire life.
You’re well known in the movement for working with college campuses, getting their dining halls to buy cage-free eggs. Does that take up the bulk of your activism?
So far, more than 350 universities in the country have eliminated or reduced their use of battery eggs. While I’d love to take credit for this enormous success, most of the victories are due to the relentless and effective activists on college campuses I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years.
That said, most of my time is spent working with major retailers, helping them move away from using the cruelest animal products and adding vegan items to their product line. Working with corporations to enact purchasing policies that help animals is one of the most effective things we can do for farm animals.
Can you explain what the Cage-Free Campus campaign is?
The Cage-Free Campus campaign is one of HSUS’ signature campaigns to help abolish battery cages. University cafeterias often use hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of eggs a year. Whether anyone likes it or not, this will be the case for the foreseeable future. The question is: Is it better that these eggs come from hens confined in cages so small they can barely move for their entire lives, or from hens living in a cage-free environment where they’re at least able to lay eggs in a nest, dust bathe, perch, flap their wings and walk? I think the answer is clear.
Of course, “cage-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “cruelty-free.” However, while cage-free hens can and do still suffer, it doesn’t mean we should ignore that the alternative for most major egg buyers, including universities, is eggs from caged hens who are given less space to live than a single sheet of paper. In other words, cafeterias aren’t likely to stop serving eggs anytime soon, but they may stop serving the cruelest types of eggs.
I think most animal advocates would agree that putting an end to battery cages would reduce an immense amount of animal suffering. It’s important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and force millions of hens we all know are going to be exploited to wait until a future utopia exists before they’re at least freed from the misery of battery cages. In order to so, we have to get major egg users in the country to stop buying eggs from these extreme confinement systems.
You’ve also helped activists overseas working on the same goal. For example, Mahi Klosterhalfen has made some real progress for hens in Europe. Are you open to working with activists in other parts of the world to help them with cage-free campaigns?
Over the past few years I’ve had the honor of working with some of the best animal advocates from around the world. Mahi’s unbelievable work in Germany getting major retailers to end their sales of eggs from caged hens is a testament to his tenacious and effective activism. He’s one of the best activists the animals have; Compassion in World Farming is lucky have him run its German campaigns.
Up in Canada, Bruce Passmore has engineered a campaign that has resulted in numerous cities passing government resolutions opposing battery cages and has convinced some of the largest universities in the country to stop using battery eggs in their cafeteria.
And down in Australia, Kathleen Chapman is launching a veg commercial campaign similar to what Compassion Over Killing and Mercy For Animals have done in the U.S. This is after she got her university to be the first to switch away from battery eggs.
There’s no reason why others can’t duplicate the efforts of these dedicated individuals. I’d be more than happy to work with anyone from any part of the world on campaigns to help farm animals. Billions of animals suffer worldwide, and it’s going to take a global effort to win tangible advances for them.
What’s the best piece of activism advice you ever received?
Something I learned from many of my heroes in the animal protection movement is that I should make strategic decisions as an activist with the end goal being reducing as much animal suffering as possible. Since roughly 95 percent of animal exploitation in the U.S. goes on behind the closed doors of factory farms, I’ve made it may life’s mission to help those animals raised for food. You get the best bang for your activist buck, so to speak, by working to help farm animals.
The path I chose — corporate and university outreach ― isn’t the only way to help farm animals, but it’s the way I think I’m most effective. Others, like one of my heroes, Jon Camp from Vegan Outreach, give out tens of thousands of booklets every year to college students encouraging them to eat less meat as part of the Adopt-A-College program. Another hero of mine, Kath Rogers from Animal Protection and Rescue League, is in the midst of transforming her hometown of San Diego into the most vegan-friendly, anti-factory farming city in the country. Whatever our interest or our skill set, there’s always something each of us can do to have a major impact in the lives of farm animals.
Can you offer any parting advice to the individual activist who doesn’t work with an organization? Are there any simple things they can do to reach out to restaurants, for example, or approach their college?
The great thing about animal activism is that one person can make a tremendous difference. One way for students to get involved ― on the individual level ― is to meet with their dining director about moving away from using eggs from caged hens and/or add vegan options to the menu. There are numerous universities that have stopped serving battery-caged eggs and added vegan options because one student brought this issue to the attention of the dining staff.
For instance, at Georgetown University, just one student met with the director of dining, and only a few weeks later the entire university ended its support for battery-cage confinement and went exclusively cage-free. The university used one and a half million eggs a year, meaning that one victory led to improving the lives of literally thousands of animals. If someone is interested in doing this type of effort at his or her university, they should feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Activists with the Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN) of Ireland this week are calling on their government to halt further funding for animal research at Smooth Muscle Research Centre (SMRC) located at the Dundalk Institute of Technology. An exposé in this week’s Dundalk Argus, a leading local newspaper, reveals how researchers at SMRC use rabbits and mice imported into Ireland from Charles River Laboratories based in the UK and Mayo, Ireland, for research into erectile dysfunction, urinary tract infections, incontinence and cardiovascular systems.
At SMRC, rabbits and mice are routinely killed and dissected so their body parts can be used in the experiments. ARAN argues that SMRC should use parts from human bodies donated to science and that such work would provide human-relevant data while also eliminating the extra steps of having to breed the animals, transport them, kill them and then use their body parts. The laboratory is subsidized in part by the government.
“Yet again animal experiments are shown to be highly unethical, unnecessary and unreliable,” says Stephan Wymore, head of research for ARAN. “Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are like us.’ Ask the experimenters why it is morally OK to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are not like us.’ Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction. Irish medical research needs a rapid modernized shake up.”
According to the news article, figures released from the Department of Agriculture show that between September 2005 and November 2008 SMRC imported 1,000 New Zealand white rabbits and 70 mice to use in tests.
ARAN is directing activists to the site for the National Anti-Vivisection Society for more information on humane research and ways to get involved in campaigns against vivisection.
You can read more about ARAN and their campaigns here.
The Animal Agriculture Alliance is reporting (complaining, actually) that donations to some of the world’s largest animal rights and animal protection organizations have gone up.
According to a study carried out by this coalition of agribiz producers, producer organizations, suppliers, packer-processors, private industry and retailers, “In 2008, there appeared to be an increase in well-funded animal rights activities directed at animal agriculture…. In 2007, the latest reporting period available for review, charitable donations to animal rights groups rose 11%, providing activist groups funds to develop activities such as California’s Proposition 2, undercover video operations, legislative initiatives and legal actions. Donations to the extremist People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and its subsidiaries increased 11%.”
“Much of this increased funding is attributed to donors who are not fully aware of the anti-animal use campaigns of many of these groups,” said Kay Johnson Smith, executive vice president of the Alliance. “It’s unfortunate many portray themselves as mainstream and working to improve animal care, yet their funding is primarily spent on campaigns to ban or restrict essential uses of animals such as being raised for food or for research to find cures for diseases.”
Donations to Humane Society for the United States (HSUS), the largest animal rights activist group in the U.S., remained about the same as last year when including subsidiary organizations the Fund for Animals and Doris Day Animal League.
On the international front, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) increased its donations by 80%, displacing PETA as the third-largest activist group targeting modern animal agriculture.
Total donations to the most significant domestic and international animal rights groups reached nearly $330 million in 2007. “This level of funding will only improve the ability of animal rights groups worldwide to continue their multi-dimensional efforts attacking animal agriculture and other animal use businesses,” says an editorial on AgWeb.com.
So, if you can afford to donate to an animal rights or animal protection organization this year, please do so. Let’s keep animal abusers on the run.
If you’re into animal rights/animal welfare, have an idea for activism you’re dying to share and love speaking in front of hundreds of people, you’ve come to the right place.
The organizers of Taking Action for Animals, one of the largest conferences in the animal advocacy movement, are looking for workshop ideas for this summer’s event. Proposals for “creative, relevant, and innovative workshops that will give attendees the tools to take action for animals” are being accepted until January 16 using this form.
The conference will be held July 24-27, 2009, at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia.
Opportunities are limited, and not every proposal can be accepted. The Humane Society of the United States says it will be selecting workshop topics and speakers at its sole discretion and may reject a proposal for any reason.
Speakers receive complimentary conference registration; however, financial assistance is not available for speakers’ travel or hotel expenses, says HSUS.
The animal rights group Igualdad Animal (“Animal Equality”) has revealed details of their December rescue of 31 rabbits from a farm in central Spain.
Eight activists took part in the raid, jumping over a fence and gaining access to the farm, which was also raising pigs. The activists — Sun, Edgar, Ivan Yahira Jose, Esther, Sharon and Eu — put the rabbits into large plastic containers and drove the liberated animals to a rural location not frequented by humans. There the activists had prepared three burrows with a large network of tunnels, which Igualdad Animal says the rabbits took to right away, “feeling for the first time the fresh grass of their new and safe surroundings.”
Active in Spain, Peru and Venezuela, Igualdad Animal has carried out a number of open rescues in recent years, including six baby pigs in August 2007, four minks from a fur farm in July 2008 and 10 hens from an egg farm in December 2008.
A statement released by the organization reads: “We want to dedicate this new open rescue to all the non-human animals that we could not rescue this year and who have been victims of human habits and prejudices. They are the reason that leads us to work every day with greater dedication…. We also want to dedicate this new open rescue to all those who strive every day to help other animals without expecting anything but the satisfaction of knowing they have helped others who needed them.”
According to Igualdad Animal spokesperson Sharon Núñez, the organization “believes that all sentient beings deserve equal consideration, this meaning that all animals’ interests should be considered equally no matter an individual’s gender, age, species, degree of intelligence, etc.”
Igualdad Animal has pledged to rescue at least one animal a day in 2009, calling open rescues “an inextricable part of our identity.” In that spirit, the group has adopted a new slogan that reflects better that work for non-human animals: “Educate, Investigate & Liberate. They are, in our view, three types of activism closely interrelated and complementary: Education as a way of freeing animals through the change of social consciousness. Investigating as a way of helping society discover the reality of animal exploitation. And finally, Liberating, which is to implement our wishes and words to help those individuals who are enslaved and suffering at the moment.”
Although I would have preferred to see these newly liberated rabbits placed in permanent homes with human guardians, at least they’re better off now than they were. With no experience in the wild, they will have to learn to survive on their own — foraging for food, dealing with inclement weather, coping with predators and insects, etc. — but they certainly face a brighter future than they did at the farm, where they were destined for a terrifying death and someone’s dinner plate.
To view some excellent photos of the rescue, click here.
So what’s up with über-cruel Karl Lagerfeld? The chief designer from fashion house Chanel recently attracted the ire of animal activists everywhere by defending fur. In an interview with the UK’s Telegraph, the designer said the fur industry is justified because the “beasts’” fur comes from would “kill us if they could.”
As PETA’s Michael McGraw points out, “Lagerfeld seems particularly delusional with his kill-or-be-killed mentality. When was the last time a person’s life was threatened by a mink or rabbit?”
Lagerfeld was quoted as saying that hunters who have learned no other skills depend on the fur industry to make a living. Yet 85 percent of fur comes not from hunters, but from Chinese fur farms, where there are no laws to protect the millions of animals who are routinely beaten and skinned alive.
Lagerfeld better hope he comes to his senses before he meets a killer rabbit in a dark alley.
From the same vivisectionists who helped give us the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act comes animalrightsextremism.org. Launched by the US-based Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), the Web site is devoted to resources on “animal rights extremism.”
The site says that “Animal rights extremists … pose a real threat to medical progress and the scientists who dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others.” Well, as long as they’re human, presumably.
According to Carrie Wolinetz, FASEB’s Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Relations for the Office of Public Affairs, “We wanted researchers who have been targeted by these groups to have centralized access to the resources available to assist them. Scientists need to know that the research community supports them and they are not alone.”
FASEB apparently hopes to attract the younger set: there’s a page on the site featuring cartoon animals and photos of animals in all kinds of cute poses. Conspicuously absent are any shots of mice left with untreated ulcers, immobilized monkeys locked in torture devices or cats with electrodes planted in their brains.
For reasons why animal activists are working to end animal testing, please visit http://www.stopanimaltests.com/