In my years as an animal activist, one of the most fundamental lessons I’ve learned is the importance of sharing accurate information. Nothing hurts the credibility of an animal advocate quite like imparting a fact that is woefully out of date or, worse yet, just plain wrong.
For example, I once tabled with an activist who told someone that chicken meat commonly comes from hens who no longer produce enough eggs to make them profitable in the egg industry. Um, no. While a “spent” hen may have ended up on the dinner plate at Old MacDonald’s Farm many decades ago, that’s not the case with today’s factory farms: raising chickens for eggs and raising chickens for meat are two separate industries. (Moreover, a hen who has been forced to lay at least six eggs a week for human consumption while cramped in a tiny wire cage for two years is so depleted she has little flesh left on her battered body.)
Although you might think I’m being picky—after all, it’s the main message that counts, not the details, right?—I believe we can actually damage our integrity by sharing misinformation, even if it’s unintentional.
Getting the most recent, reliable information into the hands of activists is one reason I wrote Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering, which covers a wide variety of animal oppression issues, from captivity and fashion to sports and vivisection. Indeed, I spent a full year just on the vivisection chapter because the movement so badly needs up-to-date details on this complex issue.
Among the facts the book examines:
- Despite the popular belief, leather is not a byproduct of the meat industry, it is a co-product—it subsidizes factory farming.
- 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the US—30 million pounds a year—are fed to perfectly healthy animals.
- In captivity, orcas only survive, on average, another 13 years after being taken, yet wild male orcas can live 60 years and female orcas may reach 90 or more.
- Animals in circuses spend 91 to 99 percent of their time confined in cages, carriers, or other enclosures.
- An average of 24 horses die on US racetracks every week.
- The infant-mortality rate for elephants in zoos is nearly triple what it is in the wild.
- 92 percent of drugs that prove safe and therapeutically effective in animals fail in clinical trials using humans. Of the 8 percent of drugs that do pass clinical trials, more than half are found to have toxic or fatal effects that were not predicted by animal experiments.
I am not suggesting that speaking persuasively on behalf of animals requires us to have a ton of facts committed to memory, but there’s no question we should know the essentials and understand the issue we’re campaigning against. So before you get out there and table, or leaflet, or even write a letter to an editor, please educate yourself on the facts you’ll be presenting to the public. You are a voice for the animals, so speak with authority.Follow @markhawthorne