9. Zoos

Another example of human indifference to the welfare of animals is that awful prison known as the ‘zoo’. Most zoos are strictly limited in size and located in large population centres. They are primarily an exercise in money-making, which means the animals must be visible to the fee-paying public during opening hours. As a result, large animals, that in the wild would range over vast areas, are kept behind bars in small enclosures to be ogled and photographed by the crowds of customers. This creates a highly stressful situation for the animals and it’s not unreasonable to assume they would like nothing more than to get as far away from their captors as possible. But they can’t; we’ve made sure of that.

When I was visiting the Melbourne Zoo in 2006, a staff member told me that some of the larger mammals had to be confined in ‘smaller-than-optimal’ cages, because, if the cage were longer, the animals would get too much of a run-up when they threw themselves against the bars. This staff member seemed to think that shortening their run-up was a reasonable and sensible solution, and gave no indication of understanding that those animals were so desperate to get out of their cells that they were prepared to seriously injure, even kill themselves, in their attempts to escape. That the better solution would have been to take the animal out of the cell altogether didn’t seem to occur to her and I’m sure she would be someone who claimed to ‘love’ animals.

It is terribly upsetting to know that many of the large mammals imprisoned in zoos have been driven insane by the slow, exquisite tortures of social deprivation, lack of freedom, and their forced contact with hundreds of thousands of humans. We see the same sort of lingering cruelty perpetuated against in circuses and marine theme parks. All these places normalise the idea that it is acceptable to use animals as sources of entertainment. What doesn’t seem to be understood by the people involved in these operations is that to imprison an animal, especially a large animal, is to mentally torture it. The fact that we allow things of this magnitude to occur, merely to satisfy our comparatively trivial desire for entertainment, says volumes about us and the kind of society we’ve created. Isn’t it time we shook up our mute acceptance of zoos and completely revised our whole approach to the imprisonment of animals for any reason?

In fairness, it should be added that there are some zoos where the animals, and they are usually small animals, are provided with sufficient space, privacy, intellectual stimulation, food and water to allow them to thrive. It can be argued there is a place for zoos of this kind, particularly where endangered species are kept safe to continue breeding, but in my view, most others ought to be closed and the animals relocated to sanctuaries or open plains zoos, or even euthanised, because they would be better off dead if the alternative is to be driven insane, step by relentless step. To say the life of a caged animal is not worth living is entirely correct, and entirely correctable.

10. Animal experimentation

The use of animals in scientific experiments is another area where resistance to their abuse is growing. It is being driven by students and academics alike, and while experiments using live animals have led to, and indeed, will continue to lead to, benefits for humans, the underlying assumption that these gains automatically outweigh animal suffering looks more and more objectionable every day. Do we really believe that all living creatures on this planet are here to serve us, for us to experiment on, regardless of what they might think about it or what they might suffer? If we find these god delusions are taking hold, we need only remind ourselves that our lofty position in the hierarchy of animals is the result of a quirk in our DNA, and nothing more. We didn’t actually do anything to be in the position we are. We are just ungainly, slow, weak, medium-sized mammals that got lucky and we hold no pre-ordained authority over other species and have no more ‘right’ to experiment on them than they have to experiment on us.

In fact, where we are seeking human benefit it would make more sense for us to carry out our experiments on human subjects, not only because the results would be immediately applicable, but because the researchers would be able to obtain fully-informed consent from the subjects, suitably reward them for their contribution, and insure them against injury or death. This would be a much better and fairer system but it’s not going to be put in place any time soon because of our obsession with the ‘sanctity of human life’ and our tacit support for the unsupportable notion that it is OK for us to torture animals for our benefit, but it is not OK to place one of our own kind in any form of serious discomfort. Not only is this the height of hypocrisy, it is grossly inefficient, because, as we know, mice are not men—or women for that matter, and there always must be human trials before drugs are released onto the market regardless of how many mice the drug companies have tortured along the way.

The time for ramping up non-animal research, as a matter of urgency, passed a long time ago. Despite some institutions patting themselves on their backs, nowhere near enough effort has been made to date, although it is encouraging to see the emergence of organisations such as The Medical Advances Without Animals (MAWA) Trust (established in Sydney in 2000), taking a leading role in advocating for non-animal experimentation.xliv An impressive number of senior scientists, researchers and academics from many disciplines belong to MAWA. Clearly, they believe that there is much more that can be done to help move us toward a time when science can advance without subjecting other species to a spectrum of intrusive, painful and degrading experiments.

Of course, it is one thing to oppose experiments involving animals, particularly those that cause pain and suffering, and quite another to refuse the benefits of medicines that may well have their origins in such pain and suffering. So what should we do? There doesn’t seem to be much point in dying of pneumonia or septicaemia when there is an antibiotic to knock it out. Furthermore, most of us would be unaware of the processes that went into the development of a drug a decade ago, and it is unlikely that we could find out anyway if confidentiality rules are invoked. But then, even if we did know, how many of us would willingly forgo the benefits of the medication even if we strongly disapproved of the methods used to obtain it? Very few, I think, and new anti-viral and antibiotic drugs are going to continue to flow out of laboratories where defenceless animals are mistreated in the name of science for well into the foreseeable future. The best thing I can suggest, despite the undeniable hypocrisy of it, is to continue taking whatever medication is available, while throwing our (financial and moral) support behind those who are intent on working towards a future free from experiments that cause animal suffering. This is, of course, a wishy-washy, self-interested response, tinged with cowardice and hypocrisy, because it almost certainly perpetuates animal abuse, but as it stands, if it comes to the crunch, we either have to live with our hypocrisy and take the tablet, or die of a treatable disease.

So how do we get things moving in the right direction? Clearly, we need more stringent regulations governing animal experiments. Proposals for experiments involving animals which are likely to cause them to suffer, must be subject to much more rigorous scrutiny by animal ethics committees than they are currently where far too much ‘rubber-stamping’ is going on. I know, I’ve been a member of an animal ethics committee attached to a university. Animal experiments should only be permitted to proceed if they are deemed necessary and any suffering must be below a defined threshold. The definitions of ‘necessary’ and the ‘threshold’ will be crucial because they will govern what is allowable and what is not. Arriving at them will be equally difficult because the old standards will have to be dramatically lifted and many borderline judgement calls made and then justified to an independent panel. And nothing will speed up the development of non-animal research faster than experimenters knowing that their research grant applications are far more likely to be successful when non-animal techniques are employed. Those, who now throw their hands up in the air and say we can’t get anywhere without experiments that cause animal suffering, will find that if sufficient effort and willingness to change, are coupled with technological advances, that that is not the case and much of what they are doing today will be unthinkable among their children’s generation of scientists.

11. Environmental concerns

The Georgetown Environmental Law Review argues that animal agriculture is the most environmentally destructive of all industries.xlv That might surprise some people, but when we add up the increases in global warming attributable to the methane produced by the world’s cattle (about 15% of total methane production); the wholesale clearance of vast areas of forest and jungle, most notably in the Amazon Basin, to grow soy crops which are mostly fed to ‘meat’ animals, or to create grazing land for cattle;xlvi the colossal waste of fresh water; the loss of biodiversity, and the inevitable loss of a critical gene pool, as both plant and animal species are forced into extinction by habitat destruction; the pollution of river systems, aquifers and coastal seas caused by the enormous and concentrated amounts of manure produced by factory-farms; the wholesale use of pesticides and fertiliser needed to grow the grain the animals are fed; the destruction of marine life, for example, pelagic fish stocks on the Pacific south-east coast, which are used to feed pigs and farmed fish; the costs of transporting meat animals, alive or dead, great distances—we arrive at a staggering cost to the environment that is unmatched by even mining, transportation, or the energy sector.

Here is one example of what clear-felling bushland in Australia means. It is carried out in the main to create grazing land for animal agriculture. Remember, what you are about to read is just the tip of the global iceberg:

A (recent) report, commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund found that tree-clearing in Queensland (Australia’s second largest state in area) kills about 34 million native animals a year! Of these, 900,000 are mammals such as koalas, quolls, bats, bandicoots, native rodents, possums and gliders. Added to this are the 2.6 million birds, such as cockatoos, and the 30.6 million reptiles, such as goannas, dragons, skinks and geckos. These animals will become extinct if these activities continue. xlvii

When you look at figures such as these, it is hard to understand how anybody who is concerned about preserving the natural environment can be anything but vegan when to be a meat eater means giving financial support to activities such as clearing natural bushlands or the myriad other environmental catastrophes associated with animal agriculture.

12. Efficiency in food production

If indeed the world’s human population does exceed nine billion by 2050, food production methods will have to be much more efficient than they are today, or millions of people are going to starve to death. Producing more meat using today’s cruel and clumsy methods, or minor improvements upon them, won’t provide a viable solution especially when plant foods of equivalent nutritional and energetic value can be produced much more efficiently. xlviii

There will, of course, be many food production innovations over the next thirty years. It is a relatively young and certainly vibrant industry riding on a wave of both increasing ethical awareness and increasing need, and fully able to exploit new scientific and technological advances. Crowding the horizon of possibility are a host of new approaches, among them: cellular agriculture—which will include growing animal tissue in laboratory-type conditions; synthetic biology—where efficiencies will be engineered at a genetic level; marine permaculture—which may include growing seaweed in the open oceans; growing nutritious algae, such as spirulina, in controlled environments, as well as growing today’s better-known plant foods, hydroponically. None of them will involve animal agriculture as we know it today.

The question as to whether advances in food production will be developed in time, and then scaled up to a level where they are able to make planet-saving impacts, is moot. Time is not on our side and the noose of catastrophic climate change continues to tighten around our necks. (Despite this, some of the world’s most powerful political leaders and wealthiest individuals, have calmly taken out their fiddles and strolled to the front deck of the Titanic, secure in the belief that if the ship goes belly-up the first-class passengers will all hop into their magnificent life boats and sail away. The only problem with this logic is: they will have nowhere to go.)

When we talk about increasing efficiency being of such critical importance, here are some points worth considering:

  • Six pounds of grain, fed to one bovine, produces one pound of beef. The (grain) feed conversion ratio (FCR) for beef is therefore: six. Another way of looking at this: around 83% of the grain’s food value is used to support the animal’s life processes such as maintaining body temperature, digestion, thinking, growing inedible body parts such as horns and hooves, and providing the energy that enables the animal to breed, move and moo. You can’t eat any of that—so only 17% of the grain’s potential is converted to muscle tissue, otherwise known as beef. In the case of pork, the FCR is about three or four, and for poultry it is about two; although commercial chicken food is supplemented with meat, which pushes the FCR much higher. xlix If we eat plant foods only, much of the intermediary inefficiency, that is the 83% ‘wasted’ on cattle, is cut out.

  • It takes about 112 litres of water to produce one gram of protein from beef, 63 litres to produce one gram from sheep or goat meat, 57 litres for pork and 34 litres for chicken. In contrast, cereals and pulses require 21 and 19 litres respectively.l Disparities such as these must be considered against a background of shrinking water resources. The UN estimates that an additional 2.3 billion people will be living in areas with severe water stress by 2050. li Currently, there are thought to be about 1.8 billion people without access to a reliable supply of water safe for human consumption. And here we are, wasting or polluting enormous quantities of fresh water in animal agriculture in pursuit of something we don’t need.

  • In a report by the Humane Society International India, it was documented that according to the FAO…

The livestock sector…is probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, ‘dead’ zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others. lii

Lack of clean fresh water could easily be a reason for future wars and we need to use our global stocks with the utmost care. Wasting huge volumes producing meat is untenable, unethical and plainly just stupid.

  • Monocultures, permaculture and true costs

The agricultural companies which produce most of the plant food consumed in the developed world today, bring cheap food to the supermarket shelves from large land areas growing just one genetically identical crop. These are known as monocultures. Some of the food crops often grown in this way are: maize, wheat, barley, soy, sorghum, rice, and numerous types of fruits and vegetables. As demand for plant food increases, as it must surely do, the scale and geographic spread of monocultures can be expected to increase because this form of agriculture is currently the only way we have, to produce the huge amounts required. But monocultures also bring with them serious environmental concerns, among them:

A monoculture, by definition, lacks genetic diversity, meaning the biological controls that are intrinsic to a diverse ecosystem are also missing. As a result, weeds and insects that favour that crop accrue in great numbers and need to be controlled by ever-increasing amounts of synthetic herbicides and insecticides. Over time, these insects and weeds develop resistance to the poisons, and much stronger chemical solutions must be found. Increasingly larger amounts of synthetic fertilisers are also needed, because the species grown with these fertilisers eventually deplete the soil of important nutrients. The residual material from these synthetic products, which is not broken down by soil bacteria because it is not organic, eventually leaches out of the soil and flows into the water table and waterways causing further problems, such as algal blooms. Furthermore, the removal of ground-cover plants in monocultures results in increased run-off, drying of the soil and reduced bacterial activity; all of which contribute to soil degradation and increased water use. Insecticides, which kill indiscriminately, wreak enormous environmental damage. Bees, crucial in their role as pollinators, have become the well-known face of the insect species whose survival is now threatened by insecticides. liii The wild bird population in France has fallen by 30% in the last 15 years, believed to be the result of insecticides wiping out the insects they eat. Insecticides continue to create huge problems globally and there is an urgent need to rein them in, but monocultures can’t survive without them, and in larger and more potent amounts.

This leads to an important question: Can smaller, more diverse, ecologically sustainable ventures secure a substantial foothold in the plant food supply chain, beyond the niche markets they currently serve? The answer will, in part, depend on who is prepared to spend how much, and on what. I believe there is a strong case for the application of permaculture principles (as outlined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978) in large areas of our most fertile land so we can determine just how successful this method of food production can be. Already, it has been demonstrated that permaculture is less reliant on insecticides and herbicides than are monocultures; uses fertiliser and water more efficiently; employs more people; produces a greater variety of food with improved taste and nutrition; allows the land to be managed in more sustainable ways through the use of crop rotation, companion-planting, animal grazing (for fertiliser and weed control); and other environmentally friendly practices. liv With so many advantages there is surely a strong argument to trial permaculture more broadly.

The increased numbers of people needed for permaculture farming could also mean a positive expansion of the numbers of people living in dwindling rural communities. It is an ideal opportunity for government involvement by securing the land and providing both infrastructure and affordable loans to initiate a large-scale permaculture experiment. Displaced animal farmers could well be the people to make a success of commercial plant-based permaculture operations if given adequate training and financial support. But as it stands, it’s difficult to imagine a government which supports something as profoundly immoral as the live export trade, having the nous to support an initiative such as wide-scale permaculture, so once again it will have to be the collective actions of inspired people that make it happen. It is the sort of cooperative venture that some of today’s richest people could be throwing their billions behind instead of indulging in ego-massaging space programs and really make a difference down here on earth.

Some ‘economies-of-scale’ acolytes— including agricultural economists who foolishly believe they have mastered their dark art—become enraged by ideas such as permaculture, furiously pointing out that the food produced by such means could only ever be in small amounts and would cost more than that produced by massive monoculture operations. And while that is almost certainly true according to the definitions they apply, any ‘dollar only’ view of the world fails to acknowledge that the true cost of anything is only partially measured in monetary terms.

Most of us are attracted to the option with the lowest price tag, differences in quality notwithstanding, because comparing the dollar cost of A to that of B is a simple numerical process, and, quite sensibly, we do not like to waste our money. But what is deliberately hidden from us most of the time, is the extent to which production costs of what we buy have been ‘externalised’—that is, have not being borne by the producer as they ought to have been. When we can estimate what those externalised costs are, we get a much better idea of what the true cost of a product is. For example, how is one to compare a tomato from a permaculture farm with one grown in a monoculture other than by the dollars per kilogram (or per pound) price tag? The tasteless, thick-skinned supermarket tomato may cost less in terms of dollars, but does it really cost less if we consider the higher levels of environmental damage that underpin its production?

Determining, and then making publicly available, the true cost of food, is a new challenge in the ‘informed decision-making’ arena. And even if we don’t yet have all the data we need there is nothing to stop us making estimates based on common sense and those data that are available. Perhaps more importantly, we need decide what value we put on a healthier environment, more sustainable communities, and better food; and whether we are prepared to reflect those values in the way we spend our money?

As far as the meat and dairy industries go, their externalised costs include those paid, in terms of pain, suffering and loss of life, by their animal victims. This is something which, although we cannot put a dollar figure on, is a massive real cost that should dominate our equation. Other major costs which the meat and dairy industries have dumped on the rest of us fall into two main categories: (i) environmental—reflected in huge piles of animal waste, polluted waterways, dangerous amounts of methane released to the atmosphere; land degradation; the loss of both animal and plant species; and (ii) human health—reflected in the increasing numbers of drug-resistant pathogens their industries incubate and the high medical costs that result from the consumption of their unhealthy products.

If the environmental and human health costs, which total billions of dollars in a country like Australia, were borne by the industries that create them, animal products would be much more expensive than they are today—unaffordable in the main. Instead, these costs are either ignored, as is the case with methane gas production, destruction of habit and water pollution; or spread across society where they inevitably fall on the ordinary citizen who funds through their taxes the extra burden on the public health system imposed by the diseases and disability caused by the consumption of animal products.

13. Speciesism and selectivity

Humans, like other species, seem to have an instinctive preference for their own kind and unless an animal is a much-loved pet, or of considerable economic value, most of us would not hesitate to give preference to a person over an animal, especially when it comes to matters of suffering, life and death.

By way of illustration, let us imagine that a person on safari in Africa is about to be attacked by the world’s only pink lion. Most of us, myself included, would prefer to see the lion shot dead rather than allow it to disembowel the person, even if that person was a truly unpleasant individual who we had already wished dead on several occasions. On one hand, our reaction seems quite illogical, because it forgoes an opportunity to rid the world of an awful person while preserving the life of a unique animal, but on the other, most of us, I believe, would find it hard to sleep at night if we lowered the rifle while our fellow human being was ripped to pieces in front of us. Our identification with our own kind in situations such as this is overwhelmingly strong, which makes evolutionary sense also among such a strongly-connected social species as Homo sapiens.

The famous animal welfare philosopher, Peter Singer, refers to the preference for own species, even in situations that defy logic and common sense, as ‘speciesism’.lv The innate, but illogical, nature of speciesism makes discussing animal welfare issues in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’, pointless because when it comes down to a life and death choice we are almost always going to come down on the side of ‘us’. We will choose an encephalitic baby over the guide dog, to borrow an example from Professor Singer’s book, Animal Liberation. lvi That’s speciesism in a nutshell. It can be illogical but it’s real and it dictates much of our behaviour in relation to other species.

And when you think about it, there are no practical reasons for us to care about the pain and suffering of other life forms, unless it is to our advantage to do so. Most animal suffering is, after all, caused not by humans, but by other animals—usually predators—because killing to consume the bodies of one’s prey is the norm in every biological system. So why should we, the apex predator, concern ourselves with such a sentimental guilt-trip as animal welfare? It could even be argued that one of our rewards for getting to the top of the food chain is that we can imprison and kill other animals with impunity. After all, there are no bovine police coming around to arrest us for kidnap or murder.

However, instead of wielding our power over animals with cold indifference—as we could, without penalty—many countries have laws and institutions designed to protect animals from such human behaviour, albeit in a limited and selective way. This suggests that a substantial majority of people in those countries care sufficiently about the suffering of at least some other species for these laws to have become a reality.

The selectivity with which animal welfare is approached varies between countries, a good example being the different ways people in the West treat dogs and pigs. Both species are of roughly the same intelligence and both make good pets. But we don’t usually keep pigs as pets—we eat them. Dogs, on the other hand, are our companions and have been so for thousands of years. We generally treat them well despite there being many cruel exceptions chained up alone in backyards right across the dog-loving world. But we don’t eat them, despite South Australia being the only state in Australia outlawing the consumption of cats and dogs by people. Of course, many migrants to this country see it differently and have had to give up eating dogs and adapt to the norms surrounding them or face the wrath of a community that finds such behaviour unthinkably awful.

Why is it that pigs have never won our affection the way dogs have done? Is it because they can’t help us hunt other animals, or is it because they are stiff-legged and not pretty enough? Part of the answer must surely be that dogs have learned to give us a certain ‘look’ and to greet us with unbridled enthusiasm, no matter what. Pigs don’t do that, as far as I know. Clearly, our dealings with these two species are marked by inconsistency. On what moral basis do we treat dogs and pigs so differently? Why is it ‘wrong’ to kill and eat a dog in a Western country but not so in a Vietnam and China?

Wouldn’t it be much better if we treated them all well? And not just pigs and dogs.

14. Rights

One of the most useful myths to take hold around the world is that of rights. All of us living in what are referred to as democracies (but of course are only approximations of this ideal) are familiar with the concept of human rights. We take it for granted that we have a right to vote; a right to attend protest rallies; to assemble in groups, publicly or privately; to speak freely in public (provided we are not inciting hatred or slandering someone); to publicly criticise our political leaders; to practice the religion of our choice; to change or drop our religion without interference of any kind; to state our opposition to religion; to marry whoever we wish; to end our lives with dignity; to indulge in public satire and mockery; to own private property; to walk down the Mall skimpily clad; to receive state-funded education and medical care and to receive equal treatment under the law…and so on.

We tend to think of these as the naturally occurring rights of all people, but as Yuval Noah Harari points out in his book, Sapiens: A history of humankind, no person, animal or thing has a ‘natural’ or ‘inherent’ entitlement to rights of any kind. Rights are just myths to which we willingly subscribe because they are so wonderfully effective in improving our lives.lvii Hardly surprising then that human rights are popular among people everywhere. But when it comes to animal rights, which one would think would be a natural extension of this idea, our behaviour is so contradictory it is difficult to say where we stand. On one hand, many countries have laws that recognise an animal’s right to be protected from ill-treatment, but on the other, these same countries allow certain industries to inflict terrible cruelty on a range of animal species in direct contravention of this right. The underlying principle seems to be: we will grant animals a limited range of rights just as long as in so doing we are not disadvantaging too many people. It is this line of thinking that has been utilised by special interest groups to create the widely accepted, but purely fictitious idea that if meat was not available, people would be disadvantaged. It is within this psychological space, which they have created, together with the economic arguments for their continued existence, that the rights of animals have been suspended and the animal-abuse industries permitted to survive. If an animal’s right to be protected from ill-treatment was accepted as being equal to that of a human, as it should be, the existence of today’s animal-abuse industries would be unthinkable and the arguments that allow them to exist today, absurd.

Here is an example of how the rights of an animal can be trampled upon when we insist on seeing everything through the prism of human benefit:

In the United States, in April 2014, a ruling was handed down by a New York appeals court denying a chimpanzee, named Tommy, freedom from the agonies of solitary confinement because he could not ‘bear any legal duties’, ‘submit to societal responsibilities’ or ‘be held legally accountable for his actions’. lviii The Nonhuman Rights Project had argued that Tommy should be considered a person in legal terms with the right not to be wrongfully imprisoned. But the judges in the case refused to order his removal to a sanctuary with other chimpanzees, and in doing so, denied him relief from his terrible predicament. His human owner was permitted to continue denying him the right to live with others of his own species because he wanted to keep Tommy for himself. lix

The court’s decision, in my view, missed the whole point of the action, namely, that it is wrong to inflict torment on sentient beings, let alone our closest relatives, and the primary responsibility of the court was to correct that wrong. What exactly has the bearing of legal duties got to do with it? Are we to interpret the law in this jurisdiction to mean that because a chimpanzee cannot vote or buy a house, it does not have the capacity to suffer, or the right to be protected from unnecessary cruelty?

As world-renowned primatologist, Jane Goodall, stated in her affidavit found here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-lawsuit-chimps-idUSKCN0V72P5

‘…there is ample proof that chimpanzees “have well-defined duties and responsibilities,” and that “common law personhood” should be afforded to them...’ lx

Why, in this modern era, do we still have rulings that at their heart are based on a primitive view from 200 years ago when animals were considered to be little different from machines, and the agonised howls of dogs being dissected without anaesthetic were judged to be the reactions of an insensate automaton? Nobody believes that animals are machines anymore, do they?

It is disheartening to think that an American court would allow itself to get tied in knots about the definition of a person when a real and urgent issue involving profound suffering in another species is brought before it. This is the type of outcome we must expect when human interests, or human procedural matters, are put ahead of animal welfare as a matter of course. But the tide may be turning elsewhere. In New Zealand, the Whanganui River; and in India, the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers; were recently declared to be legal ‘persons’ to afford them environmental protection.lxi And it will be a while before any of them buys a house.

16. Ways to avoid responsibility

A popular way to avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions in relation to animal welfare is to accept the notion that ‘God’ has given humankind dominion over the animals to do with them as ‘He’ pleases (to stick with the old naming practices). But if the god in question is of the omnipotent, benevolent, peace-loving version as described by Christians, why does He allow (‘encourage’ might be a better word) humans to inflict horrendous levels of suffering on sentient creatures (including other humans) when He could easily prevent this from happening? If you accept the endearing qualities and limitless powers of such a god, there is no satisfactory answer to this question despite many religious scholars spending half their lives over the last few hundred years trying to create one.

This is not to suggest that religion cannot play a useful and meaningful role in a person’s life, or that a person of religious faith cannot also be deeply concerned about animal welfare. We all subscribe to many useful myths that lead to the betterment of our lives and our societies. None of them are true, but that doesn’t matter if we believe they are, or even if we don’t believe in them per se, we can accept them because they are useful to us, and our greater society in either a psychological or practical sense. You can be an atheist, in terms of what you see as man-made religions, and still have a sense of an ‘otherness’ or ‘greater power’ in the universe, if you wish. It’s horses for courses, but when it comes to animal abuse the major problem I see with most of today’s religions is that they relieve their adherents of the burden of logical thought and with it a sense of both responsibility and compassion. If a person accepts the line that a divine entity put animals on earth for people to do with them as they please, then that is just what they’ll do, even when it conflicts with the major tenets of their religion, such as treating others as you would have them treat you.

Imagine how different things would be today if the major religions, rather than just Buddhism, attributed rights to animals in the same way we lavish them on ourselves. If this was the case, people of religious faith would have to think long and hard about the consequences of their actions instead of the current situation where they feel they can countenance horrific animal abuse with impunity and go to bed with their stomachs full of animal flesh and their minds at peace.

Thankfully, veganism is not incompatible with a belief in any of the major religions (and probably not any of the minor ones either). One can be a vegan Christian, Muslim or Jew without transgressing any rules. Buddhism, the most animal-friendly of all the major beliefs, is largely based on ‘intent’, rendering absurd the argument I have heard from pseudo-Buddhists that, ‘we don’t kill animals, we just eat them. If you ‘intend’ to eat animal flesh then you can scarcely be excused the consequences of your intent. In my view, people who call themselves Buddhists but who needlessly contribute to animal suffering in contravention of one of their religion’s most sacred tenets, are not Buddhist at all.

Another stance commonly used to abrogate responsibility for animal cruelty is to claim that the government has put measures in place to ensure that animals are humanely treated right up to the time they are slaughtered, and everybody can therefore relax because there is nothing to be concerned about. If you really think this is the case you must have a look at some of my suggested viewing in part two of this essay (‘Down at the Slaughter house’), or read the chapter entitled Slices of Paradise/Pieces of Shit in the Jonathon Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals. lxii. There is a great deal we should be very concerned about and don’t forget, government agencies are obliged to see the world through the prism imposed upon them by their political masters, who in turn are slaves to opinion polls and the power of big business. In this environment it ought to be no surprise that animal protection laws are weak and weakly enforced. This is what the animal-abuse industries want so this is what they get in a floundering democratic state, despite what they are doing being wrong on a multitude of levels.

17. More on the weakness of Australian governments

In Australia, neither of the two major political parties have shown any indication they will do anything other than pay lip-service to ongoing demands for an end to the export of live animals to overseas markets, or for legislation to rein in the dreadful levels of animal abuse that occur in our home-grown industries. There has been some timid movement on the live sheep export front recently as the result of the appalling footage I have a link to at the end of Section 2, Down at the Slaughterhouse, but the barbarities continue unabated despite this. Apparently, our politicians think the live export of species other than sheep is OK when demonstrably it is just as bad. At the end of the day, each party puts what they believe will help them win the next election ahead of any morally difficult decision, no matter how compelling the arguments in its favour. For a local example we need look no further than at the way the New South Wales state government’s 2016 ban on greyhound racing collapsed when it thought it might cost them votes. That’s all it took. What appeared at first to be a brave decision, based on a large amount of truly horrifying animal welfare evidence, soon became one of ungainly backsliding and political expediency. Self-interest won the day and the animal suffering goes on and on. If you can take it, and it won’t be easy, here is some footage of ‘live baiting’ in Australia’s greyhound racing industry.


Prior to its disgraceful back-flip, the NSW government made it very clear that this kind of behaviour is not just that of a ‘few bad apples’ but is in fact widespread.

The grim reality is, even if a large majority of the Australian population was in favour of new and more powerful laws to protect our most vulnerable animals, it is unlikely that their views would be respected by any parliament in the land: state, territory or federal. The influence of big money, greasy palms, and the loud, insistent voices of unscrupulous lobbyists invariably win the day meaning we do not live in a democracy at all, and the so-called ‘will of the people’ means nothing unless it can be translated into a cold fear that electoral seats and superannuation payments will be lost.

Look at the failure to enact voluntary euthanasia laws in all Australian states except Victoria when 70% of the population supports this legislation,lxiii or the requisitioning of a humiliating and unnecessary postal survey to decide the legitimacy of same-sex marriage when a significant majority of the population already supported the concept.lxiv When governments refuse to act in the parliament when they have these levels of public support, democracy is reduced to a farce. Again, I emphasise, the best way to bring about change is through the collective actions of ordinary people acting outside the political system. Fortunately, the issue of animal welfare is beautifully positioned in this regard because the best way to curtail the activities of all the major animal-abuse industries is to stop buying their products. No other action is needed, although a great deal more can, and is, being done by inspired people all over the world.

If you are among the inspired, some things worth trying are sharing your thoughts online, talking about it with friends and family, taking centre stage in public discourse, joining animal welfare agencies and those political parties that take animal welfare issues seriously, creating stories and documentaries in film and music, exemplifying it in other forms of art, keeping pressure on local politicians through correspondence and meetings, organising community events and presenting information sessions in schools. The arguments for animal welfare, and the associated effects on the environment and human health, are clear, simple and logical. They are based on compassion and common sense but getting a wide range of people to listen to and respond to them is the hard part and it takes hard work to get there.

At the time of writing (April 2018), the feature length documentary Dominion, which looks in detail at animal abuse in Australia (written and directed by Chris Delforce) has just been released and the James Cameron-produced film about veganism, The Game Changers, is not far away from public release, and hopefully both find wide audiences outside the vegan community. High profile vegans such as Cameron, the director of the movies, Avatar and Titanic (among others) can play a crucial role in getting information into the public domain and they deserve to be commended when they do. It is just the sort of action we need to circumvent inert and complicit governments, which have let animals down to such an enormous degree.

This list of famous vegans may be of interest to some people. I don’t know how they managed to leave Mike Tyson off the list. That’s a real oversight.


18. Ag-gag laws

Much of the best evidence of animal abuse is collected by the modern-day heroes who film what is going on inside places like abattoirs, piggeries, intensive dairy farms, live animal export ships, and research facilities. It takes a lot of courage to do this, because these places have a huge amount to hide, and even more to lose.

To prevent the American public from finding out just how high the levels of animal abuse really are in their meat industries, so-called ‘Ag-gag’ laws have been passed in the following US states: Wyoming (2013), Missouri (2012), Utah (2012), Iowa (2012), South Carolina (2011) Washington State (2010), California (2008), Montana (1991), North Dakota (1991) and Kansas (1991).lxv

These laws, which have all the perversity of a Stalinist nightmare, make the filming of animal abuse a crime punishable by fines or imprisonment. It does not matter that the abuse might be filmed from adjacent land, or that what is occurring is illegal. All American citizens should be aware of Ag-gag laws because they are designed to strip them of their right to know the truth about some of the terrible things that are happening in their country; things that many would undoubtedly want to put a stop to.

It beggars belief that laws so fundamentally opposed to common sense and justice were ever enacted, and even more baffling that, apart from in Idaho,lxvi no federal District Court has struck them down. lxvii Any fool can see they’ve been enacted at the behest of the meat industry, which quite rightly lives in a constant state of fear that more and more of the meat-buying public will start to take a greater interest in the way they treat their animal victims. The rabid determination with which the industry tries to hide the truth about its operations is nothing other than a profound public declaration of guilt and complicity. What else could it mean? You won’t find avocado farmers asking politicians to enact draconian laws to stop people filming them at work, unless their employees happen to be ‘undocumented aliens’ (for want of a more dehumanising and pejorative description).

The only responsible way to deal with Ag-gag laws is to challenge them in the courts and ignore them in the field. Filming of animal abuse must continue unabated because it is the most effective way to show the public what is really going on. Words alone are far too malleable, easily forgotten, misinterpreted, misconstrued, distorted, or taken out of context to carry the day. Visual images, although not infallible in the digital age, are more difficult to falsify or explain away—which is precisely why they are targeted by Ag-gag laws.

19. New animal welfare agencies

Right across the globe, government bodies tasked with the protection of animals have failed so utterly and completely to carry out their core responsibilities it is imperative that they be replaced by new agencies with the sweeping powers needed to carry us through the rest of this blood-soaked century. The enforcement officers employed by these agencies must have the authority to enter industries suspected of animal abuse, unannounced, and close them down when necessary. All abattoirs and animal transport and handling facilities must be subject to constant camera and human surveillance and all people working in these industries thoroughly trained in the animal welfare practices proscribed in the new legislation. Penalties for non-compliance must be harsh and swift, involving lengthy prison sentences. A new tax should be levied on the animal-abuse industries, not only to fund the new agencies, but to pay for the environmental damage they cause and the burden their products put on the health system.

Initially, these agencies would be charged with ensuring that animal handling, transport and slaughtering practices are made far less cruel than they are today. Live exports would be banned immediately along with: sow crates; veal calf torture; the keeping of chickens in inhumane conditions; and cattle feedlots. Animal welfare requirements associated with commercial exercises such as zoos, horse and dog racing, circuses, puppy farms, scientific experimentation and animal theme parks need to be urgently overhauled with the onus being on commercial organisations to show just cause why they should not be abolished on the grounds of animal welfare alone. These are just basic improvements which should have been made decades ago. They are not solutions in themselves, but this doesn’t make them any less necessary.

However, except for those in Scandinavian countries, it’s hard to see any governments creating agencies such as those described. Just because there is a clear moral imperative to do so doesn’t mean a thing to most legislators if they consider that taking on the big players to be tantamount to political suicide. Their own well-being is by far their number one priority, and so while the need for new regulation and policing will never go away, and must always be kept on the table, the greatest exponents of change will, as ever, be ordinary people, shaping society from below with the choices they make every day.