Animal liberation has been part of my politics since the early 1980s -
but respect for other species gives rise to some difficult practical
and moral problems. Do you stop eating shellfish? Do the great apes
require real human rights? Different people give different answers;
but respect for the other is, while necessary, perhaps always
difficult to define absolutely.
One big influence on me personally was watching a couple of grainy and
frightening films at a meeting of the University College Union
Anarchist Society in the mid-1980s. ...
What really shocked me was footage of feedlots for cattle in the US,
essentially the factory farming of cattle, crowded together with
little space to move - an abomination. This was followed by footage of
a major burger chain whose PR specialists told children that the
burgers were grown like plants. All the cruelty had been airbrushed
out of the picture. It was a moment I still remember today with
The Animals film has just been re-released. Nevertheless, while
awareness of animal issues has risen, vivisection has grown since the
1980s and factory farming remains. The film's ending, which appealed
to viewers to support militant protest on behalf of groups such as the
Animal Liberation Front, has been replaced with more gentle demands to
embrace vegetarianism and participate in pressure-group activity.
Animal rights issues remain important today: we can't just dismiss the
rest of nature, or see ecology as a factory to be exploited for human
benefit. In 1906 Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle, showed how the
mass production of meat was hugely exploitative of both animals and
humans - both are degraded by a factory system. He illustrated how
dead rats were minced up for meat and diseased cows were processed
after officials had been bribed to look the other way. BSE and bird
flu are threats because such an approach remains in operation today.
Abuse of animals, usually for quick profit, nearly always leads to the
abuse of human beings as well.