May 15, 2004

 

 The animal rights struggle - May 15, 2004

 
The ANIMAL RIGHTS struggle
Animal Agriculture Alliance addresses animal rights movement

In recent years, animal rights activists have bombed Chiron Corp., a biotechnology firm in Emeryville, Calif., and vandalized a laboratory at Louisiana State University's School of Veterinary Medicine where the effects of environmental pollutants on human health are studied. In a much milder protest, activists picketed against certain animal agriculture practices at last year's AVMA Annual Convention. So, what does the future hold?

According to Wes Jamison, PhD, an associate professor of agriculture at Dordt College (Sioux Center, Iowa), the animal rights movement, which has its roots in Europe, is cyclical and is here to stay. "Every 30 years or so, the movement gains incredible strength, and then it falls away. But every time the movement (has) come back since the 1890s, it has gotten stronger," Dr. Jamison explained at a meeting of the Animal Agriculture Alliance in late March. "It's cyclical and ratchets forward each time it comes back."

Dr. Jamison, who is also director of the Agricultural Stewardship Center at Dordt, says four social conditions cause the movement: urbanization, anthropomorphism, acceptance of evolutionary theory, and affinity for egalitarianism.

"You have an urban audience whose experience with animals is pets. You give them anthropomorphized visions of animals since they are little. You (teach) them that we really are like animals. You couple that with the idea of egalitarianism with the extension of moral rights, and you have a very virulent movement," Dr. Jamison said.

While conditions in modern society create a ready-made audience for animal rights activists, the movement does wax and wane over time. As the movement grows, Dr. Jamison explained, it exhausts the potential supply of people who will support it. Animal use groups organize and defend themselves, and the rights movement fragments.

"What happens if you are trying to stop animal use and it keeps going on? You get disheartened. You are faced with a choice—you become pragmatic as a movement or you become a fringe (fundamental) movement," Dr. Jamison said.

According to him, this is where we are today. Pragmatists lean toward the reduce-replace-refine movement; fundamentalists lean towards extremist groups such as the Animal Liberation Front. Today, zealots are more fanatical than ever and contemplate more violent acts out of desperation and rage.

Currently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is monitoring terrorist groups such as ALF and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. Mike Gallagher, an agent in the FBI's domestic terrorism operations, unit who also spoke at the AAA meeting, says that, while SHAC's current target is Huntingdon-affiliated research laboratories, he believes its members will eventually move on to other industries, possibly agriculture.

"What you guys can do is be vigilant in reporting suspicious activities. If you have people out there taking pictures, asking weird questions, trying to get access to your facility, report them to your local police," Gallagher said. "State and local police liaison with our joint terrorism task forces on a regular basis."

Joint terrorism task forces are teams of state and local law enforcement officers, FBI agents, and other federal agents and personnel who work shoulder-to-shoulder to investigate and prevent acts of terrorism. Gallagher also recommended that those in the animal agriculture industry continue liaisons, including those with federal and state agriculture and livestock agencies.

Gallagher reminded the audience that the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act passed in 2002 includes a provision imposing fines and prison sentences on persons committing terrorist attacks or conspiring to attack animal enterprises.

Animal use groups must also remain vigilant in monitoring groups that are working toward their goals using legitimate means. In the late 1990s, a switch from protest to process occurred—many animal rights groups started using legislative, regulatory, and judicial processes to work toward their goals. When animal use groups organize, they are usually unable to succeed on a federal level, and this has shunted their efforts to state and local levels.

"That is where (animal rights groups) are having a quiet and very significant impact on the way people use and view animals," Dr. Jamison said. "They have advantages. They have better organization, they have intense activism, and they have local civic support."

Dr. Kellye Pfalzgraf, director of the office of animal well-being at Tyson Foods, told meeting attendees that if animal agriculture industries want to retain certain practices and protect their image, they must be proactive. "The activists are spending a lot of money and are more than willing to talk about what we do wrong," Dr. Pfalzgraf said. "We aren't telling them what we do right."

Dr. Jamison recommended that animal use coalition groups take on every local legislative battle, maintain their coalitions even in down cycles, and use ingenuity when addressing the public.

"This is a moral movement, not a scientific one. If you try to win this from a scientific perspective, you will lose," Dr. Jamison said. "You are going to have think about how to engage this movement and engage the public from now on, because we are not going back to a rural culture where people raise their own food."

According to Dr. Jamison, animal use groups will have to deal with local and state brushfires as well as periodic conflict with a revitalized national movement roughly every 30 years. "There will be no end to this," he said. "You are in for the long twilight struggle."

– Kate O'Rourke