Today’s Montreal Gazette features an interesting profile of how the media views animal activism. “Do Small Victories Affect Big Picture in Animal Rights Debate?,” by Richard Foot, is clearly inspired by the European Union’s recent vote to ban Canadian seal products, a victory due in no small part to the decades-long battle animal activists have been waging on behalf of seals.
In addition to the annual seal massacre, Foot addresses the Ottawa Animal Defense League’s campaign to rid the city’s restaurants of foie gras (the fact that Foot refers to foie gras as a “culinary treat” may provide some clue about his feelings on the issue), animal testing in the United States, fox hunting in England and the anti-whaling efforts headed by Sea Shepherd.
Though these might seem to represent a good cross-section of animal activism, from Foot’s perspective, it’s all bad news. Fur will still be sold in China and Russia, foie gras is available in supermarkets, animals continue to suffer in labs, British politicians are thinking of overturning the fox-hunting ban and whalers from Japan and Norway each still kill about 1,000 whales a year (though even Foot admits this is a far cry from the 20,000 whales killed every year during the 1970s).
Moreover, Foot focuses on extremist activities, such as the recent fire-bombings in California, and of course he has to mention that the FBI has labeled animal activists one of the country’s “most serious domestic terrorist threats.”
The reality is, we have seen a number of victories for animals in recent years, including the passing of Prop 2 in California, which will ban confinement systems for egg-laying hens, sows used for breeding and male calves used for veal. Meanwhile, Russia has banned its own seal slaughter, penalties for animal abuse are getting tougher every year, we are gaining traction against the exploitation of animals for vivisection, egg producers throughout the world are eliminating battery cages and much more.
Yes, it’s easy to spin just about any success and focus on the negatives. Prop 2 won’t go into effect until 2015 and will not eliminate all animal suffering. Animal abuse is not a felony in every US state. Cage-free does not mean cruelty-free. But the media often overlooks the positive and zeroes in on the sensational, treating every arrested animal activist as if he or she were a murderous desperado ― twenty-first century versions of Bonnie and Clyde.
If you wonder how effective animal advocacy is, one of the best barometers is animal agribusiness, which gets downright apoplectic when asked about animal activism. Big Ag’s attitude may be best summed up by Al Pope, former president of United Egg Producers, an industry trade group. Referring to the campaigns of animal activists, Pope declared: “WE ARE AT WAR.”
Animal activism is a long struggle, no question. We have our successes, and we have our failures. Sometimes our victories seem small to us, but I’m betting they don’t to the animals they affect. As Foot quotes Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson as saying, “We do what we can with the resources that are available to us. We don’t focus on whether we’re going to win or we’re going to lose. We do what we think is right, because it’s the right thing to do. If we don’t succeed, well, then it’s going to affect all of humanity.”
Can I get an “Amen”?