Animal Protection > AR Interviews

In Hong Kong with Dr John Wedderburn

Dr John Wedderburn is renowned in Asia. He is a medical doctor who has been involved in animal welfare and rights for the last 15 years. He is the founder of the Asian Animal Protection Network and also helped found EarthCare: http://www.earth.org.hk/ and the Hong Kong Vegan Society: www.ivu.org/hkvegan/

Dr Wedderburn said at the second Asia for Animals conference in September: "The [undercover] work of Western animal activists is much limited in Asia by our inability to blend into the background. We desperately need local people to undertake undercover operations in slaughterhouses, medical laboratories, etc."

Dr Wedderburn himself posed as a research scientist interested in buying beagles and macaques, and gained entry into a huge breeding establishment in China. He also gained entry into the dog farms of China now breeding St Bernards and experimenting with crossing different breeds to produce the "ideal" animal.

Claudette Vaughan met up with him in Hong Kong.

Claudette: What got you started on the road to veganism?

John: My son introduced me to veganism in 1987. He opened my eyes to the dreadful world that non-human animals inhabit. The more information I got, the more I knew I had to do as much as possible to help. Based in Hong Kong, there is so much opportunity to witness and report on animal cruelty. I am lucky I have a job which allows me to travel a lot.

Claudette: You were one of the first people to go undercover in China to document abuse in the dog meat industry. What were your experiences there?

John: There are several of us who have been doing it for many years. Dog farming is becoming big business. Scientific methods are being used to improve the livestock to product the ideal food dog. To get to the dog farms I posed as a breeder of large dogs in Scotland who wished to sell stock to China. I said I had read an article in The New York Times and was interested to see if I could do business. Actually, I had intended to sneak in and take photos without revealing anything just playing the part of dumb foreigner.

I located the first farm, blustered my way past the manager with a few Mandarin phrases and managed to get some good photos. However, the manager notified his boss and I was "invited" to meet the boss, the city mayor, the local Communist Party secretary, the head of the international trade bureau, the owner of another dog farm and, to my horror, the local school teacher who spoke very good English.

I was then given a formal tour of the same farm I had visited (in which they didn't show me the nasty bits I had managed to photograph before), and then we visited the other man's farm before going for lunch. This, paid for by the mayor, was a huge spread of practically every animal known to humans except, surprisingly, dog. My veganism immediately drew suspicion and by the end of the meal several of the group were becoming hostile.

However, the Lady Mayor continued to believe me and, as she was the highest-ranking officer, the others couldn't say anything. Towards the end of the lunch I left the table and the school teacher found a pretext to look through my bags. He then said the dog farm bosses wanted to have a private word with me so I said OK but the moment he was out of the room I was down the stairs and into a taxi.

Claudette: What are the welfare standards like in China?

John: Animal welfare in China until recently was a virtually unknown concept. But now many small organisations are springing up. They need to unite and organise and push for changes, and there are signs that this is happening.

Claudette: What do you think is required to move things along?

John: Asia desperately needs more activists willing to do undercover work. What has hampered things here has been a traditional live-and-let-live attitude. But all it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing. Evil, when confronted, can be defeated. We must try and inspire a generation of activists to take up this challenge.

Claudette: You have set up the first Hong Kong vegan resource centre. How much success have you had?

John: I started the Hong Kong Vegan Society many years ago and it has stayed alive, but only just. I have to say that the time is not yet ripe for the spread of vegan ideas in China. All we can do is make the information available and wait for the ripples to spread.

Claudette: What areas of animal abuse are you currently working on?

John: Most of my hands-on work is with dogs and cats, but I try to help in all areas when opportunities arise. I am convinced that we shall not make significant progress in any of the areas until more people are vegetarian. As long as they are eating animals, they have to justify the continuing abuse of them in all areas. The most important thing is to spread veg*nism.

Claudette: Many talented, dynamic people attended the second Asia for Animals conference a positive, pro-animal phenomenon in Hong Kong recently. How are these conferences important?

John: Animal welfare/rights people often feel isolated no one around them cares. It is good for these people to get together for mutual support and exchange of information.

Claudette: Where do you see Asia heading, specifically China, in regard to factory-farming practices?

John: Joining WTO has been and will continue to be disastrous for animals in China. Prosperity is also bad for them as many Chinese were obligate vegetarians, but with greater wealth they can consume as much meat as they want.

Claudette: Do you predict that Western multi-corporatism will inflict upon China and other Asian countries their profit-driven "standards", making them a financial trade agreement that their governments won't refuse?

John: There is no doubt that this is already happening. The good thing of course is that the same force of globalisation also helps animal welfarists to unite and organise. But things are going to get a lot worse before they start getting better.

Claudette: If the Western multinationals come in and offer "humane slaughtering practices" to an economy that cannot afford it, won't it just be a case of the values of factory-farming Westerners inundating Asia with their madness?

John: I believe animal welfarists waste far too much energy on so called "humane slaughter" and "compassionate animal farming". I believe these phrases are contradictions in terms and hypocritical. Of course I am happy if any animal is treated more kindly but when people can be convinced that their meat is cruelty-free, they will eat more.

Claudette: Is there a solution to this?

John: I see veganism as the only answer. People tell me that this is pie in the sky but if that is true then I don't think there is a solution.

Claudette: You have an excellent vegan email list. How do readers subscribe to it?

John: I have started several groups and websites, mostly locally in Hong Kong. The one I would like your readers to subscribe to is the Asian Animal Protection Network:  http://groups.yahoo.com/group/aapn/
Email: john@aapn.org

Would you like to help Dr Wedderburn build his Hong Kong vegan resource centre? Please send any animal rights/welfare magazines, books & t-shirts to PO Box 56, East Brunswick VIC 3057 and we'll send them to him for you.