Back in April, I attended a small animal rights conference at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Organized by activist Andrea Gung, the Conference on Animal Welfare in Mainland China and Taiwan featured topics ranging from the farming of bears for bile to China’s ever-growing fur industry. But what I was most eager to learn about were new efforts to halt the annual dog meat festival in YuLin, Guang Xi, a city in southern China. Andrea, a vegan and founder of Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project, addressed this issue, as her group began campaigning to end the festival last October.

dog meat festivalIt’s a mischaracterization to say everyone in China eats dogs, but there’s no denying the popularity of the YuLin Dog Meat Festival, where tens of thousands of canines arrive on filthy, overcrowded trucks, significantly increasing the risk that they carry rabies and other contagious diseases. YuLin officials maintain that the dogs are raised by local farmers, which is a ridiculous claim: many of these dogs are still wearing collars as they are removed from the tiny cages, and others are clothed in the outfits their guardians dressed them in the day they were stolen. Every dog is then slaughtered for human consumption, often right on the street in front of children. This year’s festival is slated for June 21.

I asked Andrea to explain a bit about the festival and her group’s efforts to shut it down.

When and why did the festival start?

In YuLin, local people have had this tradition for years, but it was a very small scale. Since 2009, some local merchants decided to make it a bigger event to attract out-of-town tourists to make more money.

Where do the dogs used for the festival come from?

They are from all over China, but most of the dogs are from adjacent provinces (less transportation cost). About 10,000 to 50,000 dogs are killed during the festival. There are no official records to verify how many are killed.

Are you seeing an increase in animal activism in China?

Yes, especially in the last 5 or 6 years. Here are two of the reasons:
1) Social networking. Because of the spread of social networking and video/photo sharing among young people, awareness of animal cruelty issues has increased dramatically, and the animal rights movement is growing. Photos from past festivals have sparked outrage in mainland China.

2) Many young adults who grew up in China under the one-child policy had pets as their companions, and today they feel more compassion toward animals and have less toleration for animal cruelty than the previous generations.

Besides the festival, what does your work for animals include?

At this time, all our work and resources are for stopping this festival. After the festival, we are going to work on the dog and cat meat trade in GuzngZhou, which has more dog meat consumption. It’s just more spread out and has gone underground, not like YuLin, where it’s out in the public and open. We are also going to start our neutering and micro-chip campaigns. We believe we have to start from the top to stop the dog-stealing business. We will also help the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan — one of the guest speakers at the conference — to reach out to Taiwanese-American communities about the animal welfare for the farm animals and lab animals issues in Taiwan.

Andrea Gung, founder and executive director of Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project

Andrea Gung, founder and executive director of Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project

What can compassionate people do to help end the festival?

Spread the word and tell people about this cruel festival. Share our campaign on Facebook and tweet about it.

Use any connections in China or the U.S. that can help with our campaign, such as the FDA, which can put pressure on the FDA in China to stop this festival on the grounds of health concerns. Dogs are killed in a filthy back alley, and the meat is not inspected; some of the dogs are poisoned. Write to or call the U.S. ambassador and diplomatic offices in China. Call Chinese embassies in the U.S. Donate to our campaign so we can hire more local people to do the ground work, which includes calling the YuLin local officers daily to ask for the inspection records of the meat, to make sure the restaurants have the legal license to sell dog meat, to show proof of the legal ownership of the dogs in the cages. Also, to fund more ads — billboards or radio — to educate local YuLin people that the dogs they eat are stolen and poisoned.

Please visit the Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project site for more information. You can also “like” their Facebook page

Oh, and, no, I don’t believe dogs are more deserving of our protection than other animals killed for food. I just wanted to highlight Andrea’s hard work.


BlackfishIf one image could symbolize the last 12 months of animal activism around the world, I argue it would be a picture of an orca in captivity. That’s thanks to the success of the documentary Blackfish, which exposes the abusive treatment of animals at SeaWorld — treatment that ultimately led to an orca named Tilikum killing one of his trainers. (Orcas have never been known to harm humans in the wild; this behavior only occurs due to the stress of captivity.) The film has galvanized the movement to free orcas from marine mammal parks and inspired countless compassionate people to speak out against the captivity industry.

SeaWorld remained silent about Blackfish for months after its January 2013 screening at the Sundance Film Festival — no doubt hoping it would just go away — but as the documentary went into general release in the spring and CNN began broadcasting it on its network in the fall, the public outcry against SeaWorld led to musical acts cancelling appearances at the Orlando location, and the company launched an inept marketing campaign to try to discredit Blackfish and the former SeaWorld trainers who appear in it. The film not only helped tank attendance at SeaWorld parks, it also prompted California Assemblymember Richard Bloom to propose legislation that would ban orca shows in that state; AB 2140 is officially known as the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, but most people simply call it “The Blackfish Bill.” (Voting on the bill has been tabled until next year.)

Of course, activists have long campaigned against the captivity industry, but there’s no question Blackfish has invigorated the liberation movement. One of the results of this nascent energy has been animal lovers turning out for the Empty the Tanks campaign, which brings the struggle directly to the animal exploiters by rallying advocates worldwide to demonstrate in front of theme parks, aquariums, and other businesses that imprison whales and dolphins.

Vallejo, Calif., 2013.

Vallejo, Calif., 2013.

Empty the Tanks is the brainchild of Rachel Greenhalgh, who was a Cove Guardian in Taiji in January 2013. “On one of my last days there I was thinking about how I could find a way to be productive and proactive in this fight against the captivity industry after I returned home,” she says. “That’s when and where this whole idea began. The captive animals floating listlessly in their tiny sea pens in Taiji are a sight that cuts you to your core. I wanted to come home and continue fighting for them.”


Tokyo, 2013.

The first-annual Empty the Tanks Worldwide took place seven months later. “There were 24 locations participating in 12 countries around the world,” says Rachel. “This year on May 24, the second-annual Empty the Tanks Worldwide will have over 40 locations in 20 countries participating. The numbers have doubled since last year, which is so amazing.”

Not surprisingly, this kind of success is the result not only of grassroots activists, but using Facebook and Twitter to get the word out. “Social media is an amazing tool,” says Rachel. “Facebook has created a way for activists from around the world to connect to each other and plan events such as Empty the Tanks. I honestly don’t know how this worldwide event could have happened without social media.”

Modern technology has given activists a tremendous advantage, but as Rachel points out, effectively speaking out for animals often comes down to good old-fashioned hard work. “If you want to make a difference in this world, you need patience and dedication. Anyone can go out there and be a part of making the world a better, kinder, more compassionate place. Come up with a plan and just go for it.”

In the meantime, you can participate in an Empty the Tanks demo near you on May 24. Just check out their Facebook page, of course.



beagle2April 24 is World Day for Animals in Laboratories, an international day to commemorate the millions of mice, chimpanzees, rats, rabbits, dogs, cats, fish, birds, and other animals tortured in needless experiments. It’s also a day to take action, with rallies and marches held around the world, including this one in Nottingham, England.

But even if you are not able to participate in an organized event, there’s still plenty you can do!

You can start by asking Air France and ABX Air to stop shipping monkeys for animal research. Just last month, China Southern Airlines ceased its shipments of live primates to laboratories, thanks in large part to public outcry, so these campaigns do work!

You can also voice your objection to your tax dollars being used to fund torture. If you live in the United States, tell Congress you don’t want your taxes used to underwrite animal experiments. Every dollar the US government spends must be approved by Congress, and since virtually all federally funded research is paid for with tax revenue, it’s important to let your elected officials know how you feel. You can find the members of Congress representing you, as well as phone numbers and links to contact them online, at

In addition, you can write to research-funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health:

Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, Director
National Institutes of Health
Shannon Bldg., Room 126
1 Center Dr.
Bethesda, MD 20892
You can Tweet the director @NIHDirector


In the United Kingdom, you can write to the Home Secretary and ask for the most progressive and compassionate laws governing animal research. You’ll find contact details at You can also use the website of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection to lobby your MP. Visit


In Canada, let your Member of Parliament (MP) and Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) know how you feel. Find your MP online at: You can find your MLA at


In Australia, you can find your federal electorate here:

New Zealand

MPs in New Zealand can be found here:

South Africa

South African Members of Parliament can be located online at

When writing letters, be sure to make the following two points:

  • Animal experimentation is an inherently violent and unethical practice, and you do not want your tax dollars used to support it.
  • Testing on nonhuman animals is also bad science; therefore, funding for research into health and ecological effects should be redirected into using clinical, epidemiological, in vitro, and computer-modeling studies instead of laboratory experiments on animals. (See this handbook from Animal Aid for more information on this point.)

Product Testing

In the US, animals also suffer for the “safety” testing of household products, such as cosmetics, cleansers, and even foods for companion animals.

  • Only buy products from companies that don’t test on animals! A comprehensive list is available at
  • Encourage your friends and family members to support humane companies as well.
  • Let companies currently testing cosmetics on animals know that you will not buy their products until they stop. Most companies have toll-free numbers or websites you can use to contact them.
  • Avoid pet foods that test on animals, including Iams, Eukanuba, and Natura Pet Products (owned by Procter & Gamble); Hill’s Science Diet (owned by Colgate-Palmolive); Nestlé Purina/Friskies (Alpo, Bonio, Felix, Go Cat, Gourmet, Omega Complete, Proplan, Spillers, Vital Balance, and Winalot); and these brands from Pedigree/Masterfoods (owned by Mars Inc): Bounce, Cesar, Chappie, Frolic, James Wellbeloved, Katkins, Kitekat, Pal, Pedigree Chum, Royal Canin, Sheba, Techni-cal, and Whiskas. For information on pet food companies that do not test on animals, please visit:

Other campaigns and groups worth checking out include AAVSAnimals Australia, The Bunny Alliance, BUAV, The European Coalition to End Animal Experiments, Humane Research AustraliaThe Italian Anti-Vivisection Society, NAVS, New England Anti-Vivisection Society, The New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society, PETA, SAFE New Zealand, and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty.

Finally, please consider supporting organizations that rescue animals from labs, such as Beagle Freedom Project and New Life Animal Sanctuary, which I profiled in August 2013.

P.S. I devote Chapter 3 of my new book Bleating Hearts to vivisection—it’s a chapter that took me a year to research and write. You can download the book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes, or buy a hardcopy from your local bookstore.

With Easter just days away, a lot of parents are thinking of ways to give their children a little holiday joy. Chocolate is a nice treat (at least when it’s not tainted by animal cruelty and child slavery), as are vegan jelly beans. But many well-meaning people think this is the perfect time of year to bring home a rabbit for their kids. Not only is this usually a terrible idea—countless rabbits end up abandoned after children become bored or Mom and Dad discover the animals require as much attention as a dog or cat—but many parents buy a bunny from a pet store rather than adopting from a shelter or rescue group. (Ouch.) It seems parents believe rabbits, children, and Easter are a perfect combination.

Rabbit advocate Tracy Martin and friends.

Rabbit advocate Tracy Martin and friends.

This is the kind of myth Tracy Martin has worked to disabuse people of since 2005, when she founded an education campaign called Rabbitron, named for a bunny she brought home many years ago. “Sadly, when I had her I did everything wrong,” says Tracy. “Wrong food, housing, and care. I just didn’t know any better. Later, when I learned more about rabbits and I realized my mistakes, I was inspired to try to educate others on what rabbits need to be healthy and happy. I also wanted to make others aware of the plight of rabbits at Easter, when so many are purchased only to be discarded afterward. My rescued rabbits have taught me so much—they even inspired me to become vegan.”

A skilled graphic designer, Tracy uses her talents to create vivid ads that are displayed on buses, in newspapers, andRabbitron_ad on billboards around her Spokane, Washington, community. She’s even done some public-service announcements for television. “I try to reach more people through my Rabbitron Facebook page, as well as taking every opportunity to do radio and TV interviews as they come up to try to reach as many people as possible. Besides the campaign, I also answer questions about rabbits online and conduct ‘bunny tours’ in my home to show people what it’s like to live with rabbits.” Tracy and her husband not only care for 20 rabbits, they also share their home with pigeons, hens, dogs, and cats.

Rabbitron_billboardTracy used to fund the Rabbitron campaign on her own, saving money all year. “In recent years I have been able to get some help with donations from friends and people who want to help,” she says. “Also, after partnering with River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary, we pool our resources to benefit the campaign as well as spread awareness for the sanctuary.” River’s Wish primarily rescues rabbits, though they are also home to horses, chickens, goats, and pigs. The sanctuary adheres to the House Rabbit Society standards and philosophy for rabbit adoptions, which means potential rabbit adopters must first understand the responsibilities involved in living with a house rabbit.

So what’s the biggest misconception people have about living with rabbits? I ask. “I think the biggest misconception is that people have no idea how fun and silly and opinionated rabbits are,” says Tracy. “I think most people’s interactions with rabbits are limited to looking at them in a cage. They are not seeing what rabbits are all about, the personalities they have, and that they are just as personable and fun as the dogs and cats they are familiar with.”

For more on why rabbits and Easter don’t mix, visit Rabbitron. You can also follow Tracy on Twitter @RabbitronTracy and like her Facebook page.


“I do a lot of writing on the subway,” Sangamithra Iyer (Sangu) told me during a recent phone conversation about her new boTheLinesWeDraw_Coverok, The Lines We Draw (Hen Press). “It kind of feels like I have my own private writing space.” It’s hard for me to believe anyone could get that feeling on such a busy public transit system, but then, unlike Sangu, I wasn’t blessed with sublime powers of concentration. I’ve also never had a friendly conversation with a vivisector, which Sangu did in 2008. Her discussion with Dr. Alfred Prince, a scientist in the field of hepatitis research, grew from Sangu’s desire to know how people draw the line between what they will and will not do.

Sangu’s resulting narrative offers a heady dialogue—the animal activist and the animal exploiter—but Sangu handles it with aplomb, and her writing is sometimes more poetry than prose. The Lines We Draw delves into related topics as well, including the environment, political conflict, and the fate of chimpanzees used in labs, where the practice of using them as test subjects is slowly being reduced. Sangu’s affinity for nonhuman primates was evident when she was assistant editor at the now-defunct and much-missed Satya Magazine, where she wrote with great affection about visiting chimp sanctuaries (here, for example).

“Ater Satya, I started an MFA in nonfiction at Hunter College, and I worked on The Lines We Draw a bit during one of my workshops and on the train.” Sangu says she revisited the piece on and off over the years, but recognized it didn’t fit neatly into an obvious publishing niche. “It’s longer than a magazine article and shorter than a book. A lot of literary journals thought it was interesting, but they didn’t feel the subject matter was a good fit for them.”


Sangu Iyer

Perhaps that’s because The Lines We Draw deals not only with animal research, but with Dr. Prince’s—how shall I put this?—unusual fondness for one of his test subjects. Fortunately, the piece landed in the hands of Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan, founders of Our Hen House. “It was really nice working with Jasmin and Mariann,” Sangu says. “This is the first book of their publishing arm.”

I ask Sangu if she has any idea why Dr. Prince was so candid with her. “It was at a time when he was collecting his own memoirs,” she explains. “I felt he wanted to be open about his life and his career. I think he also wanted to lay out his case for wanting to raise money and continue to do research—to tell his side of the story.” But Prince’s story went well beyond justifying his need for funds, I say. “Yes, that was a bit of a shock,” Sangu says with a laugh. “I was unprepared for the direction the conversation was going. In his memoir, when he talks about this, he notes that his own colleagues were outraged by what he was suggesting—to see what would happen if humans and chimpanzees mated—but for him it was just a scientific query. He thought if they mated and the offspring were not sterile, it would prove that we are the same species, which would have ethical implications. The logic behind it is very twisted. He said that to be resistant to it is a form of racism, and that was quite shocking.”

At turns funny and horrifying, The Lines We Draw is a beautifully written ebook, and I was happy to learn we haven’t heard the last from this talented Sangu_with_chimpsauthor. “I am juggling a few other essays of this length, and I’m also working on a book project,” she says.

The Lines We Draw is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes. Watch Sangu’s moving TEDx talk about her time with nonhuman primates here. And you’ll find more of her writing on her blog, Literary Animal.





Could you go a whole year without speaking? That’s what James Aspey from Sydney, Australia, is doing. To help raise awareness about animal exploitation (and a bit of funds for the nonprofit Animals Australia), James launched Voiceless365 and kicked off 2014 by beginning a sojourn around Australia in a van and silently promoting compassion toward all beings.  James took some time to discuss his campaign via email.

What gave you the idea that a vow of silence would be an effective way to get active for animals?

JamesAspeyTo be perfectly honest, initially I didn’t have the idea to take a vow of silence as a way to get active for animals. I was five days into a 10-day silent meditation, and the idea of a taking a one-year vow of silence just came to me. I realized the only way I could be motivated enough to take on such a challenge and see it through to the end would be to do it for something I cared deeply about. I was tossing up between a few ideas but as a new (two-month-old) vegetarian who had recently been shocked, appalled, disgusted and awakened from my ignorance in regards to the horrific treatment of animals for trivial reasons such as palette pleasure, I decided the only thing I cared enough about was my newfound passion for reducing the suffering of animals. I felt like I owed it to all the animals who had suffered because of my choices, to dedicate my life to helping them.

That’s when I realized it actually made sense. Animals are the same as us in many ways. They enjoy pleasure and avoid pain. They seek food and shelter. They have families and companions. Only two main differences are obvious to me: 1. They are shaped differently than humans and 2. They cannot communicate with words. In our definition of the term, they are voiceless.

Apart from that obvious comparison, I haven’t ever known or heard of anyone to volunteer to stop talking for a year. The idea of it intrigued me very much and I figured if it intrigued me, it would intrigue others. So using that logic, I assumed I could spread a message of compassion for animals to a far greater audience through the Voiceless365 campaign and social media sites than I would be able to using my voice alone.

Your campaign is benefitting Animals Australia. What particularly appeals to you about this organization?

Initially, it was hard for me to choose where I wanted the raised money to go as the whole animal rights thing was still new to me. I regularly visited websites and pages of organizations working to create a better world for animals and decided on Animals Australia because I found their message to be clear, direct, palatable to a wide variety of people (from meat-eaters to vegans), up to date with the latest news, and when I found out they also donate some of their money to other organizations with similar interests, my decision was made.

So many activists use their voice to communicate. What non-verbal tools do you use to raise awareness about animal suffering?

Yes, and my deepest thank-you goes to anyone who is brave enough to speak up and spread the message.

My greatest asset is my website, Voiceless365, which has a link to my Facebook page and daily blog detailing my experience travelling around Australia during the vow of silence. I conclude each entry with thought-provoking quotes, photos or messages regarding the way animals are treated by humans and why we should give them respect, compassion and protection.

My idea is to plant a seed each day and hope after 365 days, at least some of them have begun to grow. The website also has links to the things that helped me to awaken and transition to veganism. Famous vegans and vegan athletes, recipes, animal rights FAQ, documentaries, debates, speeches and more.

Apart from that, I use my notebook, which I carry with me everywhere I go. I find that it is such a great tool to write directly to someone else. It takes out all the passionate and sometimes angry/defensive body language and vocal tone, and all that is left is the words. Also, when you write to someone, they have to stop and read it. When you are in a verbal debate, they aren’t always listening.

Your journey will take you completely around Australia. Have you encountered any animals you made a special connection with?

voiceless365Absolutely. I’ve had some great encounters with kangaroos, dogs, cows, birds, fish and echidnas. My favorite connection so far has been with a Koala bear who was sitting in the middle of a busy, main road. I stopped to direct traffic around him and ushered him back to the bushes. He looked at me for a long time and actually, he didn’t look so friendly, but that may have been because I had to brake suddenly and missed hitting him by only a few meters. Still, it was my favorite experience with an animal on the journey so far because I’ve never seen a Koala bear in the wild and I might have saved this one’s life.

What’s the hardest thing about not talking?

The hardest thing is continuously reminding myself to remain silent. It is such a deeply engrained habit to speak when spoken to and acknowledge people when they say “hello” or “excuse me,” and I find that the urge to reply or to speak and say something still comes up regularly, though I am getting more skillful at observing them and letting them pass instead of reacting to them. Though, sometimes the words escape my mouth before I’ve even realized they were coming, so I have slipped up a handful of times.

Are there any benefits of not talking?

Yes, so many! I am learning to listen. I am more aware of what is going on inside of my mind and my body. I am paying more attention to my surroundings and environment. It gives other people a chance to do more talking than they usually would, and without interruption. It is teaching me about discipline and self control. Most importantly though, it has given me an avenue to raise money for Animals Australia and spread a message of compassion to a number of people who may have never been otherwise interested. Also I’ve received messages from quite a few people who are inspired by what I’m doing and he sacrifice I’ve made.

You are a recent vegan convert. Congratulations! What inspired you to go from vegetarian to vegan?

Thank you! I have never been happier!

I was having a conversation with my cousin, Laura, who was asking questions about Voiceless365, which at the time was only an idea that had been in my head for less than a month. I was telling her about the unnecessary cruelty and suffering humans inflict on animals and how wrong it is. I was explaining all this to her while I was eating cheese! I looked at the cheese I was eating and realized what a hypocrite I was being. After that I never bought dairy products again, though I would still sometimes have them if they were going to waste. After a while I decided I didn’t want to support it in any way and I didn’t want it in my body, no matter what. And that was that.

Any idea what you’ll say on January 1, 2015?

Absolutely no idea. I’d like to think it will be something totally profound and amazing but I’ll probably just wing it and see what comes out. If you think of anything good, I’m open to suggestions!

Do check out James’ website, Facebook page and thought-provoking blog! You can also follow him on Twitter: @voiceless365

Beagles rescued

Two of the 200 beagles rescued from a lab in Brazil this year.

Two-thousand and thirteen was another remarkable year for animal advocacy—so remarkable that it’s difficult to choose just 12 stories to highlight. So much good news came out of India, for example, that it could be an entire category onto itself. And don’t get me started on all the incredible documentaries released in the last 12 months (though I’ll get back to that point later). Everyone has their favorite animal activism-related stories for 2013; here are the 12 that really made me cheer.

1. Congress holds US military accountable for killing animals (January)

For the first time, a bill was signed into law that demands accountability from the Department of Defense for its killing of more than 7,500 animals each year in medical training courses. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, lawmakers required Pentagon officials to present a plan that details the phasing out of “live tissue training,” in which combat medics operate on animals to learn how to treat gunshot wounds and severed limbs. (I admit I knew very little about this issue until a couple of years ago, when I was researching Bleating Hearts, but now it is an integral part of the book.)

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has been lobbying to end the cruel practice for years, especially in light of the available human-based alternative methods. Instead of using animals, the medics will be expected to use human simulators, which resemble mannequins designed to react like the human body while being operated on, including the hemorrhaging of fake blood. Holding the military accountable for how animals are used will help draft legislation to one day end the practice altogether.

2. EU ban on animal testing for cosmetics goes into effect (March)

Animal experiments to test cosmetics or their ingredients have been outlawed in the European Union since 2009, but companies have been free to sell products with a history of animal testing conducted outside Europe. That all changed on March 11, when the EU’s new directive went into effect, making it illegal to sell any cosmetics in the EU—including shampoos, soaps, perfumes, deodorants, and toothpastes—if they have been tested on animals anywhere in the world.

“Animal testing in the name of beauty has never been acceptable,” said RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant. “This landmark legislation at the end of a long campaign sends out a loud and clear message to other countries and those companies operating outside the EU.

“Many cosmetic companies are multinational but this legislation means that they can’t avoid a test ban in the EU by carrying out tests in other countries.

“If their products or ingredients have been newly-tested on animals then they cannot be sold in the EU, no matter where the testing took place.”

3. Japanese whalers go home with less than half of last year’s catch (April)

Complaining of “unforgivable sabotage” by Sea Shepherd, Japan’s whalers returned to port with their lowest Antarctic catch: 103 minke whales and no fin whales, the fewest since their so-called “research whaling” began in 1987, and well below the 1,000 whales they had hoped to kill. (In 2012, they caught 266 whales.) Japan’s Fisheries Agency said the whaling fleet spent nearly half its time in the Antarctic trying to avoid Sea Shepherd.

The new season of whaling in the Antarctic begins next month, and Japanese whalers intend to kill 1,035 whales, including 50 endangered fin whales and 50 endangered humpback whales. Something tells me that’s unlikely.

4. Britain announces it will ban all wild animals in circuses by 2015 (April)

This was a long time coming, especially after activists from Animal Defenders International released video footage showing a 57-year-old arthritic elephant named Annie being beaten with a pitchfork and hit in the face by workers from the Bobby Roberts Super Circus in 2011. Although a government Select Committee recommended that any ban on the use of wild animals in circuses should be limited to just big cats and elephants, the government rejected the suggestion and announced the ban will apply to all animals.

It is believed there are about 35 wild animals—including camels, zebras, and snakes—currently being used in circuses. The RSPCA and Born Free Foundation have offered to help circus owners re-home their animals.

5. EU upholds trade ban on seal fur products (April)

When it announced its decision to uphold a three-year-old ban on seal products, the General Court of the European Union surprised many, including some who had all but declared that the ban would be overturned. This latest attempt by Canada’s sealing industry to suspend the ban came when they offered the ridiculous argument that it hurts the livelihood of the Inuit—a group that kills a small fraction of seals in Canada and for whom a clear exemption in the ban has been made.

In upholding the ban, the Luxembourg-based court said it is valid because it fairly harmonizes the EU market while protecting the economic and social interests of Inuit communities.

The World Trade Organization announced in November that it too was upholding the ban.

National surveys consistently show that most Canadians want the commercial seal slaughter to end, and that they oppose the Canadian government using tax dollars to promote the sealing industry. About 90,000 seals were killed in this year’s “hunt.”

6. India bans dolphin-captivity parks (May)

India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests declared a ban on dolphinariums and other commercial entertainment that involves the capture and confinement of cetacean species such as orcas and bottlenose dolphins, saying that because dolphins are by nature “highly intelligent and sensitive,” they ought to be seen as “nonhuman persons” and should have “their own specific rights.” It added that it is “morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purposes.” The government said research had clearly established cetaceans are highly intelligent and sensitive, and that dolphins “should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights.” (Just let those statements percolate in your brain a bit.)

The move came after weeks of protest against a dolphin park in the state of Kerala and several other marine mammal entertainment facilities that were to be built this year. “This opens up a whole new discourse of ethics in the animal protection movement in India,” said Puja Mitra from the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations. India joins Chile, Costa Rica, and Hungary as countries that ban the capture and import of cetaceans for the purpose of commercial entertainment.

Three months after outlawing dolphin abusement parks in the country, the Ministry of Environment and Forests banned raising other marine mammals like whales, walruses, and seals in similar parks.

7. Colombia bans wild animals in circuses (June)

“After a six-year public campaign that included scientific reviews and exposed extreme abuse of circus animals through undercover investigations, Colombia joined four other South American countries (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay) to ban their use,” the Colombian Congress announced.

Animal Defenders International (ADI) led the campaign as part of its global “Stop Circus Suffering” initiative. “We congratulate the Colombian Congress for approving this Bill and are delighted that Colombia has shown that animals should not suffer for our entertainment,” said ADI Chief Executive, Jan Creamer.

There are about 25 circuses in Colombia, 18 of which use animals. Circus operators will have until 2015 to comply with the new regulations.

8. India imposes a ban on animal testing for cosmetics (June)

India’s groundbreaking move follows the example set by Israel and all the 28 European Union countries that have implemented bans on animal testing (as well the sale) of products tested on animals anywhere in the world.

“Keeping in view the cruelty towards animals involved, the testing of cosmetics on animals will now not be allowed in the country,” said India’s Drug Controller General G.N. Singh.

Two members of the Indian Parliament, MP Baijayant “Jay” Panda and MP Maneka Gandhi (founder of People for Animals, India’s largest animal welfare organization), have indicated that the country will also move toward a sales ban, which will prevent companies from outsourcing testing to third countries and importing the animal-tested cosmetics back into the country for sale.

Oh, India, if only you were so progressive when it comes to human rights.

9. Belgium bans wild animals in circuses (July)

The Belgian government’s decision follows a 2011 survey that revealed the difficulty for circuses to ensure the welfare of animals. Issues of concern include lack of space, lack of opportunity to swim for some species, and non-compliance with the temperature requirements.

For ten years, the Belgium group Global Action in the Interest of Animals has been campaigning for a ban on wild animals in circuses and the group was finally able to introduce and win approval for such a bill.

Sadly, the ban only covers “wild” animals. Cows, buffalo, pigs, llamas, camels, camels, ferrets, rabbits, dogs, cats, pigeons, geese, chickens, parrots, parakeets, ducks, horses, donkeys, ponies, sheep, and goats will still be allowed.

10. Costa Rica closes zoos, sends animals to rescue centers (July)

Citing concerns about animal captivity and welfare, the government announced it was closing the country’s two public zoos and transferring the 400 animals to private animal-rescue centers around the country. There, those who will be able will be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. “We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way,” Environment Minister René Castro said at a press conference to announce the planned closures. “We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”

Incidentally, Costa Rica banned circuses with animals in 2002 and has also outlawed hunting for “sport.”

11. Brazilian lab from which animal activists freed beagles permanently shuts down (November)

They came, they saw, they rescued 200 beagles. Two weeks later, the lab the activists had raided—the Instituto Royal in Sao Paulo—was closed. For good. Seems the lab’s operating license was suspended by the city government, as police investigated allegations of animal abuse.

The lab had carried out pre-clinical trials for drugs. Now, Brazilian drug makers seeking approval for such medications must do testing outside of the country. Or perhaps it’s time for the industry to rethink the whole “animal testing” model.

12. China moves to ban animal testing for cosmetics (November)

People are often surprised when they learn that testing shampoos, makeup, and soaps on animals remains legal in 8 out of 10 countries. Up until their announcement, which will go into effect in June 2014, China remained the only nation with mandatory animal testing requirements for domestically manufactured cosmetic products.

With a population of 1.3 billion, China is the world’s second-largest economy, making this a move with huge ramifications for animals. Humane Society International estimates that every year as many as 3,000,000 rabbits, mice, and other animals may be victims of cosmetics testing in China.

But it’s not just the millions of animals who will benefit. Now, brands that have refused to compromise their values and test their cosmetic products on animals—including LUSH, The Body Shop, JASON, and Paul Mitchell—will be able to trade in China, while Chinese brands will now be able to sell in the EU.

Other stories of the year worth noting:

CITES votes to protect sharks (March)

Sonora becomes the first Mexican state to ban bullfighting (May)

National Institutes of Health announces it will retire hundreds of chimpanzees to sanctuary (June)

The Animal Welfare Board of India recommends banning all animals from circuses (August)

Los Angeles City Council bans bullhooks (October)

Indian court orders tortured elephant to be freed (December)

Music groups cancel their SeaWorld performances (December).

I’d also like to point out what a remarkable year it was for animal rights/vegan documentaries. Give Me Shelter, The Ghosts in Our Machine, Live and Let Live, Turlock, Lion Ark, and Speciesism: The Movie are just a few titles that come to mind, but it’s hard to imagine a film that has captured the attention of the public and mainstream media—not to mention animal abusers—like Blackfish; indeed, I will be shocked if it doesn’t take home the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Shortly after Striking at the Roots was published, I embarked on another literary endeavor: a book about animal suffering that takes into account the many forms of exploitation that do not receive a lot of mainstream media attention. We see, read, and hear so much about animals raised for food, for example, but how often do we see a story—or even a Twitter post—concerning donkeys who toil in the brick industry, or pigeon shoots, or bear baiting, or the plight of birds in the feather industry, or xenotransplantation, or bestiality? The distressing roll call of animal abuse goes on and on.

BleatingHeartsLittle did I know in 2008 that Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering would consume five years of my life, researching or writing nearly every day. I am so pleased to say the book is being released this month in both print and electronic form (it’s already available from some online sellers). In addition to covering lesser-known topics, Bleating Hearts examines issues we hear about, such as animal testing, but may not fully understand. The contents include:

Chapter 1 – Bleating Hearts: Animals Used for Food

Chapter 2 – Dressed to Kill: Animals Used for Fashion

Chapter 3 – Trials and Errors: Animal Testing

Chapter 4 – Poachers, Pills, and Politics: The Persecution of Wild Animals

Chapter 5 – Ruthless Roundup: Animals Used in Sports

Chapter 6 – The Age of Aquariums: Animals Used in Entertainment

Chapter 7 – Animal Rites: Animals as Sacrificial Victims

Chapter 8 – Conceptual Cruelty: Animals Used in Art

Chapter 9 – The Horse Before the Cart: Working Animals

Chapter 10 – Secret Abuse: Sexual Assault on Animals

Chapter 11 – Achieving Moral Parity

That last chapter is a Q&A session with some of the leading voices in the animal rights movement. I couldn’t spend 10 chapters exploring many of the cruelest abuses imaginable and not end the book with some ray of hope. So I turned to Carol Adams, Marc Bekoff, Mylan Engel Jr., Harold Herzog, James McWilliams, and Richard Ryder, who all respond to questions relating to what it might take for animals to receive full moral parity with human beings. I think you’ll find their insights genuinely fascinating.

Here’s a short video interview I did with activist Michelle Taylor Cehn of Vegan Break that explains a bit about the book and why I wrote it. I was also on Our Hen House recently discussing the book in a little more depth.

I see Bleating Hearts as a companion to Striking at the Roots—one book examining animal exploitation and the other giving advocates tools to campaign against it.

Anita Krajnc of Toronto Pig Save, lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project, Jo-Anne McArthur of We Animals, and Mark Hawthorne

Anita Krajnc of Toronto Pig Save, lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project, Jo-Anne McArthur of We Animals, and Mark Hawthorne

I am especially pleased that the book features a cover photo by Jo-Anne McArthur of We Animals. (You may know Jo-Anne as the human subject of the new documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine.) Jo-Anne took the photograph during one of the vigils organized by Toronto Pig Save, an organization founded by the tireless activist Anita Krajnc. The group bears witness to the suffering of animals raised and slaughtered for food, and lauren and I were delighted to spend some time with Anita and Jo-Anne in Toronto a couple weeks ago. We participated in a demo outside one of the city’s slaughterhouses, and I was more than a little surprised to see Anita not only speak to the owner, but present him with a copy of Forks Over Knives, which he promised to watch!

Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering is available from the usual online book sellers in several countries, but if you can, I’m hoping you will support your local independent bookstore or the animal rights groups and vegan e-tailers that will carry it, such as Herbivore and Vegan Essentials. Please check my website for updates. Thanks!

“I feel like I’m a war photographer,” says Jo-Anne McArthur early in The Ghosts in Our Machine, a powerful documentary that follows her for a year as she uses her lens to bear ghosts_in_our_machine_xlg-700x1024witness to the exploitation of nonhuman individuals for food, fashion, and research. Happily, TGIOM juxtaposes this war on animals with the lives of many who have been rescued—ambassadors for the “ghosts” who go unseen in slaughterhouses, fur farms, and research labs.  After premiering in Toronto last spring and being screened throughout Canada, the film makes its U.S. theatrical debut in November in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and other cities.

Director Liz Marshall frames TGIOM around Jo-Anne’s journey as she captures devastating still images of cruelty, heals the emotional wounds she experiences from her work by visiting Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York, and develops the soon-to-be-published book of her photographs, We Animals. Along the way we meet a couple who adopts two beagles saved from research labs, and learn about some of Farm Sanctuary’s residents from the shelter’s director, Susie Coston, who introduces us to cows Fanny and Sonny, a bandaged turkey named Boydstun, and a family of adorable pigs, all of whom will live out their natural lives in peace.

What makes the film especially compelling, I think, is that it covers so many issues related to animal exploitation and does so without hitting viewers over the head, often letting the animals speak for themselves. It is mercifully light on graphic images (though they’re not entirely absent), instead focusing on Jo-Anne’s use of photographs as activism. It’s remarkable how much impact her photos can have, especially when you see the context in which they were shot.

In one undercover segment at a fur ranch, Jo-Anne teams up with a European investigator, identified only as “Marcus,” who speaks of the power behind images. “When I worked [covertly] in an animal testing laboratory,” he says, “this laboratory was not afraid of property damage because this is paid for by insurance or they can pay it from pocket money. But they were afraid of somebody infiltrating them and taking photos or video.”

Jo-Anne McArthur at work in "The Ghosts in Our Machine"

Jo-Anne McArthur at work in “The Ghosts in Our Machine”

TGIOM also highlights some of Jo-Anne’s other activism, including humane education and demonstrating with her local group Toronto Pig Save, and we hear from many of the leading voices in the animal rights movement today, including anti-captivity advocate Lori Marino; Theodora Capaldo, president of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society; and Bruce Friedrich, senior director of strategic initiatives for Farm Sanctuary.

As well as being an inspiring film, The Ghosts in Our Machine is augmented by terrific music (original score by Bob Wiseman), imaginative editing (by Roland Schlimme and Roderick Deogrades), and beautiful cinematography (it was shot by Nick de Pencier, John Price, Iris Ng, and Liz herself). I hope you will take time to watch it and share it with family and friends.

Personal note: I am so proud that the cover of my new book, Bleating Hearts, features a photograph by Jo-Anne McArthur.

The conference center, a former slaughterhouse. Photo by Rosielyn Wolf

The conference center, a former slaughterhouse. Photo by Rosielyn Wolf

With speakers hailing from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, and the US, last week’s third-annual International Animal Rights Conference (IARC) in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg, truly lived up to its name. I had the privilege of attending, and I have to say, it had an entirely different feel from AR conferences I’ve been to in other countries.

To begin with, IARC was held inside a former slaughterhouse, and from the tiled, subtly slanted floors to the rusty hooks still dangling eerily beneath conveyors from the ceiling, it was impossible to ignore the tools of a system engineered to kill and disassemble animals. I have been inside factory farms, but this was my first interior view of a slaughterhouse, and it was all too easy to imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of death this place was responsible for. (It was closed not because of lack of business, but because Esch’s residents felt uneasy about having a slaughterhouse in town and wanted the killing done in a more isolated location.) Yet there was something empowering about having an animal rights conference amid the remnants of animal suffering, as if to wave a collective middle finger at industrialized abuse.

Rusty hooks hang from the ceiling of what was once a slaughterhouse

Rusty hooks hang from the ceiling of what was once a slaughterhouse

Another difference was that there was a higher percentage of men among the 400 attendees than I’ve seen at other conferences, and that of the 38 speakers—including Chris DeRose, pattrice jones, Brendan McNally, Sharon Núñez, lauren Ornelas, Claudio Pomo, Kim Stallwood, and Liz Tyson—a refreshingly large percentage were women.

The conference had a very communal feeling, with people gathering for meals (vegan, of course, and mostly organic) in a large tented area with picnic tables. The food was plentiful and generally delicious, and no one went hungry. There was even a bar where you could enjoy beer and wine, and a Saturday night concert featured a lineup of three vegan singers/groups: Tes, Maxime Ginolin, and Gab De La Vega. There was the usual exhibit hall where organizations and retailers had tables (I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Belgian group Bite Back offering Striking at the Roots for sale), and smaller rooms where you could find a quiet corner to chat or get online. A particularly compelling element of the conference was an art display by the German painter Hartmut Kiewert, whose work reflects his hopes for the liberation of animals. And no AR conference would be complete without a few documentaries; the one I caught was a rough cut of Live and Let Live.

Art exhibit featuring paintings by Hartmut Kiewert. Photo by Rosielyn Wolf

Art exhibit featuring paintings by Hartmut Kiewert. Photo by Rosielyn Wolf

Like many other conferences, IARC offered parallel tracks, forcing attendees to choose between at least two interesting topics. Fortunately, it seemed like they recorded all or most of them, so they’ll be posted online soon (check IARC’s Facebook page for updates).

I could easily write a few thousand words on my impressions of this conference, but here are some highlights:

Independent scholar and author on animal rights Kim Stallwood kicked things off on Thursday by delivering the opening plenary. He summarized his critique of the animal rights movement with his paper “Animal rights: Moral crusade or political movement?,” which was published in the academic journal Relations. He addressed the animal industrial complex, the politics of animal rights advocacy, and a new strategy for the animal rights movement. “Most, if not all, social movements struggle with the question of fundamentalism and real politik or abolition and regulation,” Kim said. “Often, they fail to resolve it successfully, and I think that we are no exception. Frequently, this tension is framed as an exclusive choice. I do not support this view. Both are needed to help the other achieve the change they seek. The challenge is to learn how to direct strategies simultaneously and complementarily. This is why animal rights is more than just a moral crusade pursuing idealistic goals of abolition. It is also a pragmatic social movement working to embed the values of animal rights into public policy.” Kim’s observations are always insightful, and I urge you to check out his talk. (His book GROWL will be published by Lantern in 2014, and I can’t wait to read it.)

Longtime animal campaigner Kim Stallwood and yours truly relaxing between presentations

Longtime animal campaigner Kim Stallwood and yours truly relaxing between presentations

On Friday, Food Empowerment Project founder lauren Ornelas addressed a variety of issues with her presentation “Food justice: Making animal rights/human rights more than just a slogan.” lauren pointed out that even the food of vegans—fruits and vegetables—is drenched in oppression, as farm workers are poorly paid and treated and live in terrible conditions; some are even homeless. “These workers are not paid enough to put a roof over their heads,” she said, noting that many don’t even have access to the fresh produce they’re picking for the rest of us. “In the US, eating healthy is a privilege, and it shouldn’t be that way.” lauren said that the same institutions that oppress and exploit animals are responsible for doing it to people too.

For several years now, Food Empowerment Project has been raising awareness about the working conditions of children in the cocoa farms of West Africa—many of these children are slaves taken from their families—and lauren mentioned one of the efforts her group is working on is a campaign to get Clif Bar to disclose where they source their chocolate. (You can sign the petition here.) “Just because something is vegan, that doesn’t mean it’s cruelty-free,” she said.

Food Empowerment Project founder lauren Ornelas

Food Empowerment Project founder lauren Ornelas

lauren emphasized the importance of working on a variety of animal issues—from fur and vivisection to captivity and animals raised and killed for food—as well as the importance of using all the tools available to activists. (This was in response to statements made in earlier sessions implying that advocates should dedicate their energies to fighting factory farming at the expense of other campaigns, since more animals are killed for food than in any other form of exploitation. While this may be true, I think activists should embrace the issues that matter most to them.)

Also on Friday, Steve Best gave an interesting talk called “Future: Tense” in which he painted a rather grim picture of the ecological catastrophe we’re facing. “We live in an era of absolute planetary crisis that is rapidly worsening,” he said. Invoking Thomas Malthus, Steve blamed this crisis on population growth, globalization, industrialization, environmental degradation, modernization, and resource scarcity. “To an important degree, the future is already loaded into the environment,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what we do—although, of course, we must do all we can. There already is a catastrophe waiting to unfold, no matter what we do now.”

The nice folks at Bite Back (Belgium)

The nice folks at Bite Back (Belgium)

At the end of the presentation, an audience member asked Steve what we can do to change the bleak course we’re on, to which he admitted he didn’t have a satisfactory answer.

In her presentation the following day, pattrice jones of VINE Sanctuary offered a response for Steve: “Don’t worry—the feminists are coming!” pattrice’s talk, titled “Intersectionality in theory and practice,” introduced the feminist theory of the intersection of oppression, arguing that understanding the link between the oppression of women and others and the oppression of nonhuman animals is necessary for building a consistent animal liberation movement. She explained how the gender system was built to keep men and women in their place, for example, and how the logic of domination divides the world into binary dualisms, such as nature vs. culture and black vs. white. Relating this to our domination of nonhumans, she offered zoos as an example: “It’s all about saying, ‘We’re so powerful as people we can create a savanna in Sweden!’” In the end, she said, we as activists need to put our efforts into the intersections of social justice, which is where—just like highway intersections—most of the action takes place. “The more that you understand these intersections,” she said, “the more able you’re going to be not just to see connections between different problems, but to make real and meaningful connections with other people who will work with you, and together there will be enough of us to do what we need to do.”

The food was delicious, plentiful, and mostly organic

The food was delicious, plentiful, and mostly organic

I also enjoyed the presentation by Sharon Núñez, one of the founders of Animal Equality. Sharon talked about some of the investigations her group has conducted and how they’ve used tools to achieve results, such as getting more media. She stressed the importance of high-quality images and video footage, and discussed why campaigners need to set SMART goals—goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

The International Animal Rights Conference 2013 proved to be a well-organized event, and I look forward to returning next year.

Welcome to the official blog for Striking at the Roots by Mark Hawthorne, your source for interviews, profiles, and advice for more effective animal activism.

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