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Posted 1 September 2001
A column in a small-circulation Cambridgeshire newspaper landed on my desk the other day. It was an angry, spittle-flecked piece by a local celebrity columnist who clearly felt that animal campaigners - the RSPCA included - were most of what was wrong with the world. In particular, the author was troubled by promotion of the idea that animals are sentient and should therefore be accorded proper consideration.
So ludicrous, so hilarious did he claim to regard this idea, that tears of mirth - he'd have us believe - were rolling down his cheeks at that very moment. In fact, the author insisted that for days he hadn't stopped laughing at the thought that magpies, rabbits, pigs, sheep, foxes and the other animals that were routinely killed as 'vermin' or as meat were fully conscious, feeling beings.
I'm told that this was merely the latest instalment from our columnist friend, suggesting that he was not so much amused as horrified by the animal rights argument and all that it means for the way he 'interacts' with nature.
The outpourings of the Newmarket columnist are symptomatic of the kind of heated exposure animal rights is getting these days. Radio 4's the Moral Maze took on the issue in July (I was one of the 'witnesses' along with US animal rights lawyer Prof. Steven Wise and bloodsport enthusiast Roger Scruton.) The familiar refrain was heard throughout: helping animals hurts people - with one of the panelists convinced that the more you denigrate animals, the more the cause of oppressed humanity is advanced.
This is the logic of the asylum. It is also a negation of history, which shows that animal campaigners have been in the front ranks in the battle against social injustices such as child exploitation, slavery and the subjugation of women. We continue to be part of that wider struggle, which is why our movement is subjected to the same treatment as has been meted out historically to all the most dynamic and challenging movements for positive change. Namely, character assassination, distortion of our case, denial of our evidence and unjust treatment by the justice system.
The fact that the animal rights movement is currently feeling the heat especially strongly - over foot and mouth and vivisection - signals that our arguments are registering powerfully. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than recent government action on the vivisection front. On the one hand, we have the unprecedented spectacle of the Bank of England opening an account for beleaguered Huntingdon Life Sciences - a company deserted by City money and its client base not through 'terror tactics' but as a result of its own welfare breaches, incompetence and falsification of research data. On the other hand, the Department of Trade and Industry looks set to launch a major pro-vivisection advertising campaign - i.e. a public brainwashing exercise, paid for by taxpayers. Will the public buy it? Some will. But opinion polls show that, notwithstanding the recent pro-vivisection propaganda onslaught, the majority of young adults still oppose vivisection, on scientific as well as moral grounds.
Equally, a great many people don't like being told what to think by politicians with a mission and with strong links to powerful business concerns. Science minister Lord Sainsbury is a major donor to the Labour Party; he heads up all the key government science research funding bodies; and he also has a huge ('set aside') financial stake in biotechnology.
As well as the solid public opposition to vivisection, other reasons to be cheerful are the numbers converting to vegetarianism as a result of the animal cruelty and human health worries made manifest by the foot and mouth outbreak.
And so these are painful times for animals and for those of us who try to advance their status. But there are also clear trends in the air that should be a cause for encouragement rather than depression.
Andrew Tyler, Director, Animal Aid
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