mountain, every valley, every creek on this Earth is home to creatures,
organisms and spirits that have roamed the Earth a good deal longer
than we have.
And yet it is we who have been gifted with
the power to preserve, destroy, or restore. We are the ones who
must choose. What will we create, as our legacy to the future?
Animals – Building Circles of Compassion
by Guy Dauncey
We like to believe that we wander so harmlessly, on this our Earth. We are kind. We feed the birds. We cuddle our cats. We play with our dogs and take pride in our horses. We dream of building bridges, and stopping the war in Iraq.
Where we come from, or where we are going, no-one knows. We have journeyed through all evolution to get this far. Our ancestors were once kin with the chimpanzees. Earlier, they were kin with the flatworms; we still share 50% of their genes. Earlier still, we were kin with the first ocean life. Before that, we were cosmic dust, flying through space. Before that – who knows? Giving things scientific names doesn’t change the mystery. We all share the same origins, the same incredible journey. We are them. They are us.
And yet in our individuality, we can be so cruel. In our communality, too.
In the role-call of suffering, when we lift aside the suffering that we cause among our fellow humans, we see the suffering of animals – those who have no voices to speak of their pain. It starts in the woods and forests, where we hunt and kill for pleasure and vanity. In the US, in the 1996/97 season, hunters and trappers killed 134 million animals - 367,000 a day. We do it in Canada, too. We show off our guns, glorify it in magazines, and protect it with wildlife officers. I’m speaking of us, collectively.
From the woods, it continues in the farms and slaughterhouses. During 2001, in the US, nine billion animals were killed for food; a further 888 million died from injury, suffocation or stress in the slaughterhouse. Taken together, that’s 27 million a day. If we include Canada and Europe, the number probably reaches 70 million a day. Beyond the farm, there are animals that die in animal laboratories, after experimentation for new beauty or health products. Beyond the laboratory, there are the animals that suffer and often die in bullfights, cockfights, circuses, puppy-mills, rodeos, zoos.
As a people, most of us are in enormous denial about this holocaust of our evolutionary partners. Six million Jews, gypsies and gays were murdered in the Nazi holocaust. We know this, and we shudder. About the animal holocaust that is happening right now, every day, most people remain silent. 134 million wild animals and birds, killed every year by hunters. Just in the USA.
All around the world, however, in small cramped offices, thousands of dedicated, compassionate and often unpaid people are working away to chip away at this cruelty. "A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe", Albert Einstein wrote. We experience ourselves as separate, restricting our affections to the people nearest to us. "Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
From those offices, backed by the commitment and persistence of tens of thousands of members who write letters, send emails, and join protests, they are succeeding. Here, from the files of The Fund for Animals and other sources, are some recent successes:
The European Parliament has banned most testing of cosmetics on animals within the EU by 2009, and the sale of new cosmetics which have been tested on animals anywhere.
Uganda has rejected a plan that would have allowed the massive export of wild animals to wildlife traders around the world.
Cuba has withdrawn its proposal to start trading the endangered hawksbill sea turtle to Japan.
Brazil has rejected a proposal that would have authorised sport and trophy hunting through the country. The current prohibition will remain in force.
German MPs have voted by 543 to 19 to guarantee animal rights in their national constitution, alongside human rights.
Safeway has pledged to begin making unannounced audits of Seaboard Farms, the USA’s fourth largest pig-meat supplier, and of its other suppliers, and to enforce the new animal welfare guidelines being developed by the Food Marketing Institute.
Following a voter initiative, Florida has become the first state in the US to ban the cruel confinement of pregnant pigs in two-foot-wide metal crates.
The Makah tribe, in Washington State, has lost its quest to hunt grey whales, after the US Court of Appeals ruled that it violated the Marine Mammals Protection Act.
A North Carolina grand jury has handed down the first ever felony animal abuse indictment against pig farmers.
European government Farm Ministers have signed an agreement banning battery cages for hens, to take effect in 2012.
New York has passed a bill elevating intentional and extreme animal cruelty to a felony offence.
New Mexico, Maryland, Maine, Virginia and Nevada have enacted laws that allow courts to order psychological counselling for animal abusers.
Protests have dramatically altered the Environmental Protection Agency's high volume production industrial chemical testing program, reducing the number of animals used from 1.3 million to 500,000, saving the lives and torture of 800,000 animals.
Colgate-Palmolive and Mary Kay Cosmetics have declared a moratorium on all animal testing of their personal care products.
The New Zealand Parliament has banned all use of great apes in research, testing or teaching "unless such use is in the best interests of the non-human hominid".
Slovakia has banned all cosmetic tests on animals, after a three-year campaign by Slovakian animal protection groups.
Pepsi has withdrawn its sponsorship of Mexican bullfighting events and ordered all its signs removed from bullfighting arenas. Coca Cola has dropped all sponsorship of rodeos, and those who support rodeos.
All member nations of the European Union have now ratified the Treaty of Amsterdam, which recognises animals as sentient beings capable of feeling fear and pain, and enjoying themselves when well treated. They must now pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals when formulating policies on agriculture, transport, research and internal trade.
Israel has banned animal experiments in junior high and high schools, including dissection, after animal rights advocates worked for years with the Minister of Education.
Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine has become the first veterinary school to eliminate dog labs.
Meat alternatives are becoming increasingly more popular and available in supermarkets and restaurants worldwide.
Each of these victories came after lengthy campaigns by the members and staff of animal rights organisations around the world. Slowly, step by step, we are widening the circles of compassion. Every year, there is some new cruel proposal to be fought off, on top of existing cruelties to be fought. Just think - if organisations such as The Fund for Animals (www.fund.org) and PETA (www.peta.org) had twice as many members, who applied twice as much pressure, they could make twice as much progress. It has to grow out of our hearts, our love, and our commitment.
Guy Dauncey is the author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change. He lives in Victoria, and has been a vegetarian for 34 years. See www.earthfuture.com
First published in Common Ground Magazine, February 2003.