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A new undercover investigation by PETA has revealed (yet again) circus handlers abusing animals. Video footage, which was released today, shows employees of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus beating elephants before they enter the ring. The video depicts elephants being whipped and making noises in protest. Workers sink bullhooks into the elephants’ sensitive skin and pull hard as the animals trumpet in pain. One of the elephants in PETA’s video, 25-year-old Tonka, is shown swaying back and forth, bobbing her head and kicking her foot ― all stereotypic behaviors indicative of severe psychological stress.
The video was taken by a PETA employee who got a job with Ringling Bros., working as a stagehand from January to June and traveling with the circus across seven states.
Predictably, rather than owning up to the abuse — or even agreeing to look into the matter — officials from Ringling Bros. are relying on a tactic commonly used by animal exploiters when faced with proof of their cruelty: attacking the messenger. “PETA is an animal rights extremist group,” said a spokesman for Ringling Bros. “We have 139 years of experience of working with Asian elephants.”
What You Can Do:
Contact the USDA. Ask them to seize the elephants in Ringling’s hands immediately, investigate PETA’s evidence and enforce the Animal Welfare Act, the federal law that governs the humane care, handling, treatment and transportation of animals used in circuses.
Mr. Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
If a circus is coming to your community, speak up!
- Contact the local humane society and ask what measures will be taken to ensure animals will be treated in accord with the Animal Welfare Act when the circus is in town. (In some cases, your humane society might not even be aware that the circus is coming.)
- Write to your local paper and explain why the use of live animals in traveling shows is not acceptable. Click here for details.
- Contact circus sponsors and ask them to support humane events rather than the circus.
- If local merchants offer free or discount passes to the circus, ask them not to.
- Protest the circus. Many local and national animal rights organizations, including PETA, will help you organize a peaceful demonstration. I protested the Carson & Barnes circus when it came to my community last month, and many families turned away once they learned about the cruelty under the big top.
Like any social-justice movement, the struggle to advance the interests of animals has its share of detractors. The most vocal of these critics come from animal enterprises such as factory farms, labs, puppy mills, circuses and other industries that exploit animals for profit. And, of course, there’s a segment of the population ― sport hunters and those who believe they have a “right” to eat animals, for example ― that enjoys blogging about their affinity for cruelty.
But there are some within the animal-protection movement itself who criticize the methods other individuals and organizations use to advocate for animals. Chief among these cynics’ targets are Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Those who disparage these nonprofits argue that they have sold out to animal agriculture and non-vegetarian businesses by cooperating with them. Here’s one example: Following pressure from Farm Sanctuary, HSUS and PETA, Smithfield Foods — the world’s largest pork producer — announced in 2007 that it would begin phasing out cruel gestation crates on all its company-owned farms. While many lauded this as step forward for animals, one longtime critic of animal-welfare campaigns decried it as a “sad defeat for nonhumans” and cynically labeled it a fundraising ploy.
Although I agree with those who argue that “humane meat” is oxymoronic, I believe that while we promote the benefits of veganism, we owe it to farmed animals to fight for every bit of humane treatment we can win for them as soon as we can. I understand there are those who think this position only benefits animal exploiters; yet, if that were the case, you would expect agribusiness and fast-food chains to be thanking animal advocates.
Let’s consider some of the comments from agribiz. Corporate farmers across the U.S. have their collective knickers in a twist in the wake of California’s Proposition 2 ― which, in case you’ve been meditating in a cave for the last year, will make it a crime to confine hens in battery cages, pigs in gestation crates and calves in veal crates and was primarily sponsored by HSUS and Farm Sanctuary. As Bryan Black, president of the National Pork Producers Council, put it: “It is regrettable that animal rights groups were successful in vilifying hardworking, honest farmers and ranchers who treat their animals humanely and provide them with a healthful and safe environment in which to grow.”
More to the point was Steve Kopperud, senior vice president of Policy Directions, Inc., which lobbies on behalf of agribusiness. Kopperud told attendees at a farm forum in Ohio this month: “The Humane Society of the United States say they aren’t pushing for a vegan society; however, if you cut the crap you’ll find they are in a PETA-kind of agenda. If you think you can sit down with an animal rights group and give them something and they go away, you are absolutely insane.”
Doesn’t exactly sound like they consider HSUS or PETA to be helping them, does it? In fact, Kopperud and many others declare animal rights organizations to be the biggest threat to their way of making a buck: raising and slaughtering animals for food.
And these complaints go back well before Prop 2. In its 2006 outlook report, Poultry Times quoted United Egg Producer President Al Pope (since retired), who noted that at a recent convention, an HSUS official stated that “its goal was to ELIMINATE the poultry industry.” The report goes on with more of Pope’s concerns: “Activists’ actions force the industry to add substantial costs to producing its product. Higher prices affect the customer’s willingness to purchase as we compete with other protein products. Long-term this issue has the potential of greatly impacting the demand and thus the economic well-being of the industry. It is imperative that animal agriculture look beyond 2007 and recognize ‘WE ARE AT WAR.’”
Gene Gregory, now president and CEO of United Egg Producers, used similar rhetoric three years ago in an Egg Industry Magazine article. “I’m afraid we’re losing the battle,” he said. The article described Gregory’s struggle “to compete with the budget of $100 million that the Humane Society of the United States has, and it’s relatively easy for the Humane Society to recruit members on college campuses…. [Gregory] also thinks that when universities go cage-free, it means egg consumption declines because total costs go up and that translates into fewer eggs that end up on student plates.”
In contrast to the grumbling from Big Ag, which is vociferous and frequent, you don’t hear much from fast-food companies, even though Burger King, Carl’s Jr., KFC, McDonald’s and Wendy’s have all been targets of campaigns encouraging them to adopt policies that reduce cruelty to animals (usually by sourcing from suppliers with higher welfare standards, such as not keeping laying hens in crowded cages, or that slaughter animals using methods that minimize suffering, such as controlled-atmosphere killing). That’s not to say these restaurant chains don’t have their gripes against animal activists ― not by a long shot. They just let front groups like the ironically named Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) do the griping for them. You’d be hard-pressed to find many purveyors of hamburgers or chicken nuggets complaining in public about PETA, Farm Sanctuary or HSUS. It’s much easier for them to support CCF, infamous for fighting consumers’ right to have nutrition labels in restaurants and maintaining that humans must eat animal flesh to be healthy. CCF has complained about PETA offering anti-meat and anti-dairy “propaganda” to children, has called Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-a-Turkey project “a farce” and continues to criticize efforts by HSUS to outlaw cruel agricultural practices, to name but a few examples. (As a paid lobbyist for tobacco, alcohol, meat, soft drink and fast-food interests, CCF is likely to attack anyone who criticizes their clients’ products.)
Animal rights organizations are also putting pressure on corporations by owning stock in the company. PETA, for example, which currently owns 478 shares of Smithfield Foods stock, recently submitted a shareholder resolution calling on the company to publicly disclose a timeline for fulfilling its promise to phase out gestation crates, and McDonald’s shareholders will soon be asked to vote on HSUS’ resolution urging the chain to begin switching to cage-free eggs.
It is not my contention that the tactics and campaigns of Farm Sanctuary, HSUS and PETA are always right. They have their share of misses just like any organization. But when animal exploiters or those paid to shill for them are raising the battle cry against animal advocates, I know we’ve got them on the run. Their vitriol is a signal that we ― the individual activist and nonprofit group alike ― are impacting their bottom line and making a difference for animals.
I love how Steve Kopperud, the trusted advisor to factory farms, characterizes the situation. Warning his Ohio farm forum audience about the reforms animal-protection organizations are working on, he said: “This is a collective threat. If all of the Ohio agricultural community does not sit down and figure out a collective way to stop this right now, you will all wind up as crop producers.”
And that’s supposed to be a bad thing?
A few weeks ago I got an email from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) with the subject line “Tell President Obama: No compromise on saving whale’s lives.” The body of the email contained a link to a page that, with a single click of my computer mouse, would send a message to the president expressing my concern that the US is not taking a strong enough position against whaling. I obligingly sent the message; then I wondered: How effective are these kinds of emails?
If you’re a member of one of the many major animal advocacy groups, you’re no doubt familiar with these messages. Heck, you don’t even need to be a member: emails like these can be forwarded to friends, and online petitions are as common as recycle bins at a Prius convention. But I’ve never felt completely satisfied that this one-click activism was benefiting animals. I was curious, and I wanted to make sure I was being effective as an advocate. Do elected officials and other decision-makers even care about the mass emails they receive?
So I called the office of Dianne Feinstein in Washington, DC, figuring my state senator would be only too happy to answer my questions. (No, I am not thrilled she co-sponsored the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, but that’s another topic.) I spoke with David Hantman, an aide in Senator Feinstein’s office. “I would say those emails are very effective,” he says. Hantman explains that when such emails come into their office, they are forwarded to the person in charge of the issue, who then discusses it with the senator. “They will then work on a response with the senator.” If it’s an individual sending the email, the senator will know that one person wrote about an issue. “But if it’s a campaign of 10,000 emails, she won’t go through them all; she’ll see that 10,000 people emailed her on one issue.” Does it make any difference if she receives thousands of emails on a single issue versus, say, five? “Definitely,” says Hantman. “She knows that that many people care about that issue. If she were to receive five emails on any given issue, she may say, ‘This may not be as important to my constituents — only five people have written me — compared to 10,000 people on this other issue.’”
Hantman stresses that every piece of communication counts. “Even if one person is writing, the Senator knows it is something that is affecting her constituents, but when more people email, she knows more people are concerned about that issue.” Plus, emails, letters and phone calls inform her (and any legislator) about what’s happening in, for example, the animal protection movement. “Animal welfare is one of the main issues she’s concerned with,” Hantman told me, “so when animal issues are brought to her attention, they’re definitely things she wants to investigate. It may be something that wasn’t even on her radar until someone writes her about it. So writing always helps.”
“These emails do work, but as part of a larger campaign,” says Grace Markarian, HSUS’ manager of online communications. HSUS combines these alerts with information on its Web site and on social-networking sites or even direct mail. Grace admits that asking people to contact President Obama is rare; it’s far more likely an email will target a company like Ben & Jerry’s. In 2006, as they were trying to get the frozen-dessert company to adopt a policy of using only cage-free eggs in its ice cream, HSUS sent an email alert to their members, resulting in so much communication to Ben & Jerry’s that the company, which responds to all its mail, couldn’t keep up. “Being able to say Ben & Jerry’s received 60,000 emails from customers demonstrates a tidal wave of response,” adds Erin Williams, communications director for HSUS’ factory farming campaign. Not only did the campaign work, but people could quickly send Ben & Jerry’s a thank-you email via the HSUS Web site.
Kim Sturla of Animal Place agrees one-click activism can be effective, but she warns that you can’t generalize. “Some aides don’t tally, for example.” Kim says her organization has struggled with the e-alert issue as technology and communication methods have evolved, but the results are still positive. “You’re encouraging people to become more active,” she says. “Maybe next time they’ll send a letter.”
Two other animal advocacy groups that use email alerts, Farm Sanctuary and PETA, are adamant they do make a difference. “If it weren’t effective, we wouldn’t be doing it so much,” says Tricia Barry, communications director for Farm Sanctuary. “We ran a report in January, and we found it’s become even more effective. From the action alerts we sent in January, we had sixty-six hundred letters sent to various legislators on various issues. It definitely prompts action.”
“I think they’re probably more effective for PETA than for other organizations because most people seem to use them to contact legislators and other government officials,” says Joel Bartlett, who manages PETA’s online marketing department. Joel explains that people also use them to communicate with corporations, allowing them to voice their displeasure over, say, a company selling fur. “Ten thousand people send them a message over a weekend and they’re like, ‘Uh-oh.’ We win campaigns thanks to our online action alerts.”
So click away, activists. You never know which piece of information is finally going to make the difference, and it all adds up.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is taking advantage of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver to focus attention on Canada’s annual slaughter of seals. This week PETA unveiled its parody of the 2010 Olympic logo: the multicolored Inukshuk emblem with a club raised over its head and a bloody seal below. Underneath, the Olympic rings drip with blood. The group will use the campaign’s logo on trading pins and billboards and at pre-Olympic events around the world. It’s just one part of what PETA says will be a year-long campaign to increase awareness about the hundreds of thousands of baby seals who are killed each spring, primarily on the ice floes off Newfoundland and Labrador.
“There’s never been a better time for Canada to clean up their image by ending the seal kill,” says Lindsay Rajt, PETA campaigns manager.
PETA says it will join forces with its international affiliates in the UK, Germany, France, India, Australia and Asia. On behalf of every animal protection organization in the world, it will focus attention on the massacre by staging protests and sending action alerts to millions of supporters.
“If Canada wants to clean up its world image for the Olympics, the first thing it should do is call off the universally condemned seal slaughter,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “We want to make sure that everyone who’s interested in Canada’s Games learns about Canada’s shame.”
PETA is asking people to write to the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee to voice their outrage over the senseless massacre of seals.
For more ways to help end the seal slaughter, please click here.
When 10 activists from Austria’s Association Against Animal Factories (“Verein gegen Tierfabriken,” or VGT) were arrested in May 2008 and charged with “suspected forming of a criminal organization in connection with direct animal right actions,” activists around the world were quick to show their support. Animal Liberation Victoria even carried out an open rescue in solidarity with the prisoners, saving 13 hens from a battery-egg operation in June. All the attention shined a spotlight on the Austrian government, which released the activists in September. Clearly, in an age when the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act can become law with hardly an objection from lawmakers, anyone might find themselves behind bars for voicing an opinion not in step with the status quo.
“It’s important for us to be vocal and active about supporting people who have been incarcerated for defending animals ― or even just speaking out in their defense ― because it relays a clear message that the people abusing animals are the real criminals, not the people trying to protect them,” says Dallas Rising, president of Support Vegans in the Prison System (Support VIPS). “Supporting political prisoners of any kind makes a difference for the individual, but especially for animal rights activists. The average animal rights prisoner has very little in common with the general prison population, so having a connection to people who share a similar value system can be very important to people who are isolated, bored and frustrated by the lack of meaningful exchange in their environment.”
Peter Young, who served two years in federal prison for liberating animals from several fur farms in 1997, believes that supporting humans in prison sends a strong message to activists that there is a safety net for them if they are caught engaging in illegal actions on behalf of non-human animals. “This peace of mind makes the work of people fighting for animals under darkness much easier,” he says. “I have also found the stories of animal rights prisoners to be powerful outreach. These stories of people breaking the law to save animals raise the bar and bring those new to the issue a sense that if other people are willing to break the law to save animals, the least they can do is be vegan.”
There are many ways to help imprisoned activists, and providing a little support to someone facing years in jail can buoy that person’s morale and nurture solidarity in the movement. I am going to focus on five main methods: writing letters, sending books, visiting, helping vegan inmates get plant-based food and providing financial support (sending money, helping with legal expenses, etc.).
The first step is knowing where inmates are, and the easiest place to find addresses for animal activists serving time is the Internet:
- Bite Back magazine maintains a list of prisoners that the publisher updates weekly.
- The Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) site lists activists currently serving sentences for their actions against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS).
- The Vegan Prisoners Support Group lists inmates in the UK (including SHAC).
- A SHAC7 support site in the US is also worth checking out.
Cards and letters are paramount to relieving an inmate’s feeling of isolation; however, all mail is opened and read by prison officials, so don’t write anything that may cause problems for the prisoner. “Depending on the prisoner, do not discuss the case or anything related to the case,” advises attorney Shannon Keith, who has represented a number of animal rights activists and campaigns, including SHAC and Sea Shepherd. “Do not discuss your feelings about whether the person is innocent or guilty.” She also says that most prisons do not accept anything other than letters and photos. “So, no stickers ― especially no animal rights stickers. No pictures depicting protests.”
Dallas cautions supporters not to take it personally if the inmate doesn’t respond. “It is not about you,” she says. “Don’t get upset if the person doesn’t write back to you, especially if they didn’t know you before going in. And even if they did know you, they may not have the mental or emotional energy to write back. Or they simply may not have the time.”
Unless you’re lucky enough to have unlimited time and resources, commit to writing just one or two inmates, and do it consistently.
Here are a few more letter-writing do’s and don’ts.
- Write on both sides of the paper.
- Write your address on the letter or card.
- Number the pages of your letter.
- Make sure the content of any photos you sent is appropriate; write the inmate’s name and prisoner ID number on the back of photos.
- Let imprisoned activists know about animal activism going on around the world.
- Send currency.
- Send stamps, envelopes, blank paper or blank note cards.
- Tape your envelope closed.
- Include paperclips, staples or other metal objects inside your letter.
- Send food or care packages.
- Send photographs larger than 4”x6”. No Polaroid photos.
- Write “legal mail” on the envelope or anything in your letter that implies you are an attorney.
“Letters to a prisoner can be like anchors or lifelines to the outside world,” says Andy Stepanian, who served two years and seven months in prison for “conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act” as part of the SHAC campaign (he was released in December 2008). “Although my mail was vetted for content, I still received bundles of letters, and every time I did I felt like I could hold my head a little higher. The letters reminded me of where I came from and what I was fighting for.”
Most inmates appreciate receiving books, since reading is one way to pass the time behind bars. It’s a good idea to write to the prisoner first to confirm he or she can receive books; you can also ask what kinds of books they would like to read.
Books sent to most prisons must be new and with a soft cover (paperback); hardcover books will either be refused or prison officials will tear off the covers before passing the book on to the inmate. Unfortunately, many prisons will not permit you to mail a book to an inmate yourself; instead, books must be sent either directly from the publisher or through an online retailer such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Prisoners are often able to list books they would like to receive on Amazon’s Wish List section (just search the inmate’s name), or through a support group Web site.
Each US federal prison has set up certain days and times ― visiting hours — for family and friends to visit inmates. The inmate you plan to visit should tell you what the hours are for that prison. But you can’t simply show up and expect to see an inmate.
“Most prisons require that you be accepted and on an approved list first, so before you take your trip to the prison, call to make sure you do not have to be approved first,” says Shannon. “If so, mail the prisoner and ask them to fill out a form for your visit. You will receive an approval later, and then you can visit as you please during visiting hours. When visiting, know that you are being watched and possibly recorded. Avoid discussing legally sensitive subjects. Dress appropriately.”
In the UK, visiting a convicted prisoner requires you to first have a visiting order (a “VO”); these are generally issued to inmates once a month, and he or she will mail it to you. Depending on the prisoner, visits are one to two hours, and prisoners may be allowed between two and four visitors a month. For more information on Visiting inmates in the UK, click here.
If a city or county jail is denying a prisoner access to vegan meals, a few phone calls to the warden can help, says Dallas. “There’s not a lot people can do to help make sure a vegan is getting good food in a federal prison, but in a jail, phone calls matter a lot.”
Peter agrees. “Mob-action phone calls work,” he says. “You can’t overstate how concerned most jailers are with outside scrutiny. I have never had a problem with food that 100 phone calls in six hours did not fix. One jail was so concerned about the perceived threat of angry activists they sent a sheriff to the supermarket each morning, with a shopping list I wrote with my own hand.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals can help with prisons. PETA’s Bruce Friedrich says it is best if the judge orders the prison to provide vegan food before the convicted vegan heads to jail. “If your judge orders it, you’re set.” Failing that, family and friends on the outside can help by contacting PETA. “PETA is always ready to work to get vegan food for anyone who is having trouble,” says Bruce.
Although prisons may not be known for their vegan fare, some have surprisingly good plant-based food options, including lentil shepherd’s pie, vegan pizza, veggie burgers and mock meats. Here is PETA’s list of the top 10 veg-friendly US prisons.
Prisoners must pay for envelopes, postage stamps, phone cards and other necessities. They may even have to buy their own vegan food from the prison commissary. They probably also have legal fees. All these expenses can be offset with a fundraising effort managed by friends on the outside. Some organizations, like SHAC, set these up and allow people to donate online. Moreover, they raise funds through benefit concerts, film screenings and product sales.
“Fundraising for costly legal fees is always appreciated,” says Dallas. “As a bonus, you automatically have something to write about.”
You can also support inmates by sending money directly to their commissary account. The US Bureau of Prisons has a system to maintain an inmate’s monies while he or she is incarcerated. Family, friends or other sources may deposit funds into these accounts. For details on options for depositing funds into a prisoner’s account, click here.
You might also consider money-transfer services like JPay that allow you to get funds to a prisoner the next business day.
Prisoner Support Groups
SVIPS – United States
Founded by Dallas Rising, Peter Young and Aaron Zellhoefer, Support Vegans in the Prison System (SVIPS) assists prisoners needing vegan food, toiletries and general support.
VPSG – United Kingdom
Vegan Prisoners Support Group (VPSG) helps prisoners obtain vegan food, vegan toiletries and vegan footwear. British animal rights activist Jo-Ann Brown formed the group in 1994 to aid activist Keith Mann. Since then, VPSG’s work has grown, and it has been called upon to advise on disputes between prisoners and the prison service relating to vegan diets. Though based in the UK, VPSG supports prisoners in other countries. While incarcerated in Austria last August, for example, VGT activist Elmar Völkl wrote: “The Vegan Prisoner Support Group work must have been very good, because from the first day I got vegan food (on the first day I didn’t get anything), although I didn’t ever mention the word ‘vegan’ once!”
ALFSG – United Kingdom
The Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group (ALFSG) is a legal, above-ground organization that provides financial and practical support to those who find themselves in prison as part of the movement.
Advice from Prisoners of Conscience
Peter Young gave a talk on prisoner support at last year’s Let Live conference, and it’s definitely worth checking out.
SHAC activist Lauren Gazzola believes no form of support is better than activists staying active. Lauren, now serving a four-year, four-month sentence at a federal prison in Connecticut, told Abolitionist Online: “[T]o everyone who has written, sent books, donated, or done any other form of direct support, please know that the best form of support we can receive is vicarious ― please get out and fight for the animals. Step up your efforts, no matter where you currently stand in your activism ― take one step further, inspired by the SHAC7, and make our conviction a victory for the animals.”
“It’s easy to get lost in prison,” says Andy. “Lost in solitude, despair or other negative sentiments. Letters and outside support help pull you out of that space and strengthen you, make you whole.” Andy encourages people on the outside not to be deterred if they don’t know what to write about. “What many fail to understand is that the prisoner is just eager to make contact, to hear good news about movement victories or reconnect with an old friend. If you are a stranger, don’t feel discouraged. I can speak from firsthand experience that on some of my worst days while imprisoned, it was the words of a stranger that helped me trudge through another day. Something as simple as describing a beautiful day outside may mean the world to a prisoner at that moment when they open your envelope.”
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.
For countless generations every spring, pregnant seals have gathered on the placid ice floes off the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland and Labrador and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence east of Quebec to give birth to their babies. And every spring, thousands of Canadian fishermen descend upon the helpless mothers and their newborn pups, bludgeoning, shooting, clubbing and skinning between 270,000 and 335,000 seals, depending on the quota set by the government. Most of the dead seals are only weeks old. The fishermen call this a “hunt,” yet the animals cannot hide or escape the armed fishermen, who simply walk up to the seals and kill them. As Paul Watson described it in his 2002 book Seal Wars, “The slaughter of the seals is an annual baptism of blood.” And it’s subsidized by the government.
Despite worldwide condemnation, Canada will proceed with its yearly massacre of seals in March. Last December, the Canadian government quietly passed new regulations regarding the slaughter. The new rules ban the use of the hakapik ― the spiked club that has come to symbolize the atrocity ― for killing any seal older than one year. Instead, the seals are supposed to be shot. The hakapik ban was an effort to placate the European Union, which proposed legislation in July that could prohibit the import of Canadian seal pelts and other products; a decision is expected in April. (Because it’s the European designers who set the fashion trends for the rest of the world, the belief is a ban on seal fur in the EU would doom the Canadian seal slaughter, even if seal products are allowed in Russia and elsewhere.)
Banning the hakapik was also meant to mollify animal activists. But Humane Society International’s Rebecca Aldworth, a Canadian who has long campaigned against the commercial “hunt” of seals, says removing the spiked club would actually increase the suffering of seals because seals who are shot during the hunt are often only wounded by the first bullet. Now sealers will have to cut open live, conscious animals, which Rebecca stresses is not only “an extremely cruel act,” but a violation of regulations.
I asked some animal protection groups around the world how they intend to campaign against Canada’s seal slaughter this year, and I’ll wrap this up with five things you can do to help.
Animal Alliance of Canada (AAC)
Animal Alliance of Canada is working with the Humane Society of the United States to get restaurants, grocery stores, “seafood” companies, chains, hotels, resorts and casinos not to purchase Canadian seafood until the seal hunt ends permanently. “Fishermen are the ones who kill baby seals in their off season specifically for fur and leave their bodies to rot on the ice,” says Karen Levenson, director of AAC’s Canadian Seafood Boycott campaign. Karen says that to date, 5,000 restaurants, hotels, casinos, grocery stores and seafood companies have signed on to the campaign.
AAC is also investigating claims made by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) regarding the importance of the seal hunt. “During the seal hunt, we will be monitoring the media to ensure their reporting is unbiased and factual,” says Karen. “During previous seal hunts, journalists from Canadian Press who cover the seal hunt and work mostly in Newfoundland have reported very one-sided accounts and have included numerous statements by the DFO that were factually inaccurate.”
Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN)
“In March, as per every year, Animal Rights Action Network will be staging another high-profile demonstration to raise awareness of Canada’s seal hunt,” says ARAN’s founder, John Carmody. “We also have plans to release the 2009 slaughter footage from an international campaign group we are working with, plus we intend on doing a photocall [publicity event] outside the Canadian Embassy. Also this year we’ll be calling on Irish MEPs to ensure that the EU trade ban goes ahead and that the Irish Government shows their support for such a ban also.”
John believes this is an issue everyone should be involved in. “I would suggest getting in contact with your local animal protection group to see what they are up to, or some of the main groups campaigning for an end to the seal slaughter like HSUS, IFAW, Sea Shepherd or Harp Seals.” He also recommends sending letters and emails to lawmakers in your country, voicing your opposition to the slaughter. “Of course,” he adds, “there’s no better way to highlight the killing than to organize a peaceful protest or photocall with the press — it works every time!”
“We are working with various groups, including one in Canada, on a campaign to convince EU parliamentary members to ban seal products to all European countries,” says Rosa Close of the Anti-Fur Society. “You may know well just how much Canadian authorities are working to have EU members vote against the ban. In fact, there is a Canadian delegation in Belgium right now doing all they can to stop the ban, and unfortunately, it seems that the EU is inclined to vote against a ban.
“The European Parliament must hear from people all over the world so they may make at least some humanitarian requirements from the Canadian government. But, I am afraid things don’t look too promising.”
Campaigns Against The Cruelty To Animals (CATCA)
“CATCA has been busy doing high-level lobbying in Europe with the decision makers on this issue,” says the group’s president, Ericka Ceballos. “This year, we are waiting to see what happens for further action, but we sent several E-Campaigns on January 3rd for everybody to write to Ministers and MEPs crucial on the upcoming decision to be taken about the Resolution on the trade of seal products at the European Parliament and Council.”
CATCA has listed campaign information here.
Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
As part of its Protect Seals campaign, HSUS is encouraging consumers not to buy Canadian seafood until the seal slaughter ends. In addition to the 5,000 grocery stores and restaurants mentioned above, more than 600,000 individuals have pledged not to buy seafood from Canada since HSUS launched its boycott in 2005. The organization hopes the Canadian government will realize the economic impact of a fisheries boycott is too high a price to pay for the seal hunt.
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
“The International Fund for Animal Welfare has documented hundreds of criminal acts of cruelty in the seal hunt,” says Corrie Rabbe of IFAW-Canada. “Unfortunately, due to lack of enforcement of regulations, most serious acts of animal cruelty ever documented continue to go unpunished. To date, we have submitted video evidence of more than 660 probable violations of Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations — including the skinning of live seals — to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Not a single charge has been laid in response.”
Corrie says that his year IFAW will continue to lobby European officials to put a ban on all seal products in place. “This is where most of our energies will be concentrated,” she says. “We will also be going out to monitor the hunt as we do every year so we can show officials our documentation and inform the public about what really happens. In addition, we will continue to conduct research and spread public awareness about this important issue.”
IFAW will continue their lobbying efforts across Canada, and Corrie says that this is where activists can be of great assistance. “IFAW believes that is it important that the Canadian government is aware of how strongly people feel about this issue, and for that reason we are asking supporters to let their views be known through writing letters and signing petitions.”
IFAW also has a site for community involvement.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
Sarah Gawricki, assistant activist liaison, says PETA is still brainstorming what they’ll be doing to protest this year. In the meantime, though, Sarah suggests activists join PETA’s A-Team, which notifies members of upcoming events, demonstrations, breaking news and urgent alerts.
And Sea Shepherd?
Unfortunately, the group so well known for confronting Canada’s shameful “hunt” will not be engaged in any direct action against the seal slaughter this spring. “We intend to give the European Parliament the opportunity to end this atrocity through the implementation of a ban on all seal products,” reads a statement on Sea Shepherd’s Web site.
“Last year the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat was assaulted in international waters and two crewmembers, Captain Alex Cornelissen of the Netherlands and 1st Officer Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden, were charged with approaching closer than a half a mile to a seal being slaughtered. The witnessing or documentation of a seal kill is considered a crime in Canada under the strange Orwellian name of the Seal Protection Regulations.
“The Canadian government still holds the Farley Mowat hostage although no charges have been laid against the ship and the two Sea Shepherd officers are scheduled to be tried in a Nova Scotia court in April 2009.”
Sea Shepherd is promoting the international boycott of Canadian “seafood” products as a means to strip the commercial seal hunt of all economic value and force it, by financial means, to end. (See #2 below.)
Yes, You CAN Help!
Here are 5 things you can do to help end the Canadian seal slaughter:
1. Write letters to Canada
Corrie Rabbe of IFAW-Canada recommends people write to both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, to express your disapproval of the annual slaughter:
The Honorable Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington St.
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fax: (613) 995-7858
The Honorable Gail Shea
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
House of Commons
441-S Centre Block
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Be sure to mention you’ll be boycotting Canadian products until the annual slaughter is ended for good.
2. Boycott Canadian “seafood” and Red Lobster
If you eat fish, please boycott “seafood” from Canada and ask your family and friends to do the same. Boycotting Canadian seafood targets the very people who slaughter the seals, since it is the fishing industry that runs the seal “hunt” for off-season fishermen.
You can begin by not patronizing Red Lobster restaurants. Red Lobster is the number-one seafood restaurant in the U.S. and the world’s largest purchaser of Canadian seafood. Red Lobster purchases millions of dollars worth of Canadian seafood each year, including lobster, shrimp, crab, scallops and salmon ― animals caught by fishermen who also club and shoot baby seals or pressure the government for increased seal quotas. Despite repeated requests from animal protection organizations, Red Lobster refuses to join the boycott of Canadian seafood or take responsibility for their role in enabling the seal massacre to continue. You can learn more, and contact Red Lobster, through this link.
According to Sea Shepherd, the most optimistic estimated value of the seal hunt is $16 million; exports of seafood to the U.S. are about $3.3 billion; therefore, the seal hunt value is less than 0.48% of the value of exports to the U.S. If we can achieve just a 25% decline in the wholesale price in the U.S., that’s $825 million, or 51 times the value of the seal hunt.
“It is individual citizens who have the most power to make this campaign a success and also help us end the seal hunt,” says AAC’s Karen Levenson. “By using their purchasing power, and by letting the restaurants and grocery stores know when they do so, they can pressure companies to stop purchasing some or all Canadian seafood until the seal hunt ends.”
3. Send letters to editors
The Letters page is one of the most highly read sections of newspapers and magazines, so a letter to the editor is one of the best tools animal activists have for making our message heard. You can send letters on the seal slaughter now, expressing your outrage; please do not wait until the killing begins this year. Click here for tips on writing letters.
4. Educate others
Unfortunately, many people believe that Canada banned the killing of seals for their fur years ago. Talk to family and friends about what is happening; let them know this is an ongoing issue that you’re concerned about. And don’t forget to post campaign information and undercover videos on MySpace, Facebook and other social-networking sites.
An auto-signature on your email is another great way to spread the word. You can include a link to one of the many organizations campaigning against the slaughter (a few are listed below), and you can encourage people to join the boycott of Canadian products and speak up for the seals!
You can also forward this post to others or link to it online.
5. Contact animal protection organizations
The killing of seals each spring in Canada is one of the few issues that animal rights, animal welfare and environmental groups all seem to agree must be stopped. Contact one or more of the following organizations to learn more on this issue, and, if they take contributions, consider making a donation to further their work on behalf of seals.
Incidentally, the average Canadian agrees the carnage should stop. Last April, in a lengthy review of the economic impact caused by subsidizing the slaughter in the face of boycotts and the EU trade ban, Murray Teitel wrote in Canada’s leading business newspaper, The Financial Post: “Enough already. This is a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. And the sealers? Sealers should prefer these monies be used to train them for jobs in the 21st-century economy, rather than to preserve them as relics of a hunter/gatherer one.” Nearly every Canadian who posted a response online supported an end to the slaughter.
Thank you for helping the seals!
Saturday was a great day for George the lobster. The 20-pound crustacean, estimated to be about 140 years old, was released from a New York City restaurant, thanks to a concerned patron and some negotiating from PETA.
The City Crab and Seafood Restaurant had purchased the lobster, caught off Newfoundland, Canada, and had been displaying him as a mascot for about 10 days before his release. But at least one diner became concerned about the old lobster being confided in a tank and alerted PETA.
“We applaud the folks at City Crab and Seafood for their compassionate decision to allow this noble old-timer to live out his days in freedom and peace,” said Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “We hope that their kind gesture serves as an example that these intriguing animals don’t deserve to be confined to tiny tanks or boiled alive.”
On Saturday, PETA members drove George to Maine, where he was released near Kennebunkport, in an area where lobster trapping is forbidden.
To learn how to help liberate lobsters in your area, click 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.
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.