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The Evolution of the Animal Rights Movement
by Kim W. Stallwood

Presentation made by Kim W. Stallwood, editor in chief, The Animals' Agenda, at the Summit for the Animals, Los Angeles, California, March 1996.

I would like to thank Susan Finsen for inviting me to share her time this morning and for this opportunity to speak on the evolution of the animal rights movement. I would also like to thank the executive committee of the Summit and Vernon Weir for all their hard work in making this meeting such a success. It is good to see so many people attend this year's meeting.

The purpose of the Summit is to enhance cooperation and interaction among organizations, to sharpen professional skills, to increase understanding of the issues, and to promote movement-wide unity in the selection and realization of feasible goals. Keeping this theme in mind I have some comments I would like to make about the evolution of our movement and I will conclude with eight recommendations.

I want to start by contrasting two seemingly unrelated subjects: the recent events surrounding an animal protection federal bill and the latest developments in mad cow disease in Great Britain.

During the last year some organizations put their differences aside on an aspect of animal abuse that concerned them greatly. They agreed to introduce legislation on this subject into Congress. Recently, the bill stalled at a critical point in the legislative process. One of these organizations posted on an animal rights bulletin board on the Internet a request for activists living in particular districts to write to their elected representatives in support of the legislation. The next day a group of organizations posted a response criticizing the legislation. They called on the same activists to write to the same legislators in opposition to the same bill. Consequently, U.S. representatives were receiving conflicting messages from their constituents--seemingly from the same interest group--both for and against the legislation.

In making these remarks, it is not my intention to criticize any organization or to comment on the legislation but to question how can this be? How can we prevent similar events from happening in the future? Now let's contrast this recent episode in our movement with mad cow disease--an event occurring not because of the British animal rights movement but despite it.

The British government admitted last week that there is a link--via the human consumption of beef products--between Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE or "mad cow" disease) and its human equivalent Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

BSE is caused when diseased ruminants--sheep--are fed to other ruminants--cows--which, in turn, are fed to humans. It is thought that half of Britain's population is now susceptible to CJD because it has eaten infected meat products. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which is incurable and fatal, may take between five and 15 years to emerge after infection. It is a rare disease that normally occurs in people aged 63 and over but within the last ten years-- coinciding with the mad cow disease outbreak--ten young people with an average age of 27.5 years have also died from it. The United Kingdom has logged more than 400 times as many cases of CJD as the rest of the world put together. Only ten other countries have reported incidents of the disease and in more than half of these countries the outbreak was attributed to imported cattle from Britain. A senior government scientific advisor has warned that there may be an epidemic of CJD on the scale of AIDS claiming hundreds of thousands of lives.

The impact of mad cow disease has already had far-reaching consequences but additional effects are only just becoming apparent.

The European Union this week placed a ban on the export from Britain to Europe of live animals, sperm and embryos and meat of cattle which have been slaughtered in Britain, and all products made from beef and veal where animals are slaughtered in the U.K. This ban includes products used for medicinal, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic purposes. The European Union agriculture commissioner said the ban includes exports of British beef and beef products to all countries outside the European Union because the BSE problem has to be contained in the U.K.

Fast food chains, including McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, and Wimpy are no longer serving British beef. British Airways has removed beef from its flights. Britain's largest producer of frozen beef burgers--some 250 million annually--has suspended production. The serving of beef to children is banned in more than 10,000 British schools. The union which represents meat inspectors is calling upon the government to set up an immediate investigation into the dangers to people working in abattoirs. One slaughterhouse employee has already died at a premature age of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. The U.K. equivalent of the Consumers Union has advised against eating beef and beef products.

Britain's financial markets were pleased at the Government's decision not to order the slaughter of the country's 4.5 million beef and dairy cattle because it would cost more than $9 billion to implement. But the National Farmers Union was not pleased and called on the Government to kill older cows from the food chain. The farmers union cited the sudden drop in beef sales as consumers buy more lamb, pork, and poultry. Consumer confidence in beef is at an all time low as is confidence in the government for its handling of the crisis. Depressed farmers are being admitted to hospital and a special telephone help line has been established to provide farmers with advice. The Government's health secretary said that it was not cows but people who were "going mad."

The frightening situation of mad cow disease may not be that surprising to us because we already know about the dangers of an animal-based agricultural system and its impact on human health and the environment. Also, the practice of feeding diseased sheep to cows for human consumption does not take place in this country.

All this about federal legislation and the mad cow disease brings me to this concern: what would happen if a similar catastrophe were to occur in the United States? How well would we handle a national crisis of similar magnitude? Do we have the vision and the leadership to respond to such a far-reaching situation?

There are, of course, already catastrophes involving animals taking place in the United States as equally devastating as mad cow disease . . . seven billion chickens slaughtered each year . . . at least 20 million animals in research laboratories . . . over 12 million unwanted cats and dogs killed annually . . . These are reasons enough to drive us together to unite on our one common bond of seeking a better life for animals. But, so far, we have consistently failed to respond to this leadership challenge.

To be sure, we are at a pivotal point in the evolution of the animal rights movement in the United States. We are struggling to emerge from a protest movement to a respected force that can influence public policy. Essentially, we have two choices.

First, to continue as we have been for the last 20 years as a capricious collection of national and local organizations that sometimes works together but often times does not.

Or we can be a wise and professional movement. A movement united in a shared mission and utilizing a sophisticated, movement-wide organizational structure that fosters unity and cooperation. An association which unites our strengths, strengthens our weaknesses, and makes practical programmatic use of our differences in philosophy and strategies. The choice is ours.

For example, if there were a national crisis similar to mad cow disease in the United States our movement today would probably respond with conflicting messages and miss the opportunity to influence a national audience that is seeking vegetarian alternatives to poisoned meat. Our response would probably consist of leadership egos standing on the sidelines disagreeing on organizational sovereignty and program purity while jockeying for position to out maneuver each other as the national debate passed us by. The disagreement over the federal legislation that I referred to earlier and our track record of other disputes at the local and national level suggest that this would be the case.

At last year's meeting in a discussion about the state of our movement and the role of the summit, I urged the formation of an association of animal advocacy organizations. I can't help but think that if such an institution had been in existence it may have prevented the public disagreement over the legislation. An association provides for its members a forum to share, discuss, report, and unite on a plan of action that has a far greater chance of succeeding than the individual efforts of the participating organizations.

If more than 250 competing insurance companies can form the International Insurance Association and 1,000 soft drink manufacturers can find enough common ground to form the National Soft Drink Association, why can't the 50 groups represented at this meeting form an association of animal advocacy organizations?

I believe the U.S. animal rights movement and the summit for the animals are stuck in a time warp that is stifling our growth to the next step of our natural evolution. It is my sincere hope that if we can successfully negotiate the following eight challenges our effectiveness both as a movement and as individuals will be greatly improved.

1. Professional Association

We must form statewide and nationwide associations of animal advocacy organizations. We have to develop an enabling structure to conduct the debates about the different philosophical approaches to animal advocacy and the different strategies and tactics we employ. This association will help to foster essential mutually supportive relationships that are so critical to success.

2. Develop a Platform

We must use these associations to develop statewide and nationwide platforms of program objectives in five priority areas of concern: companion animals, animals in entertainment, animals in education and science, animals in agriculture, and wild and free-roaming animals. We must demonstrate our leadership by tenaciously sticking with these objectives until they are accomplished. This does not preclude any group from working on any other issue.

3. Expert Advisory Committees

We must establish statewide and nationwide expert advisory committees in the same five priority areas of animal concern. The function of these committees is to provide a forum for experts to gather and exchange information on animal exploitation, develop convincing documentation for public policy makers, and advise and assist with the implementation of public education programs.

4. Mainstream Politics

We must make animal advocacy a mainstream political issue. If animal cruelty is at the top of the Congress mailbag and if 67 percent of those recently polled believe an animal's right to live free of suffering should be just as important as a person's right to live free of suffering, then why have we failed to establish animal rights as a mainstream political issue? Political candidates and elected representatives will only care about animals when they are linked to votes and campaign contributions and we must learn how to leverage this support.

5. Stand for Election

We must encourage animal advocates to seek election to local and national office. Peter Singer recently told me that he only received three percent of the vote as a Green Party candidate for the Australian senate. But Angela Smith, who until recently was the lobbyist for the London-based League Against Cruel Sports, has been selected as the Labor candidate for a safe parliamentary seat in the House of Commons. There is a very strong possibility that Angela, a long-standing animal rights advocate, will join the small but growing number of vegetarian M.P.s.

6. Alliances and Mergers

We must work toward eroding the barriers between our organizations and eliminating the squandering of finite resources on duplicative activities. This includes friend and fund raising, organizational management, publications, and program expenses. Organizations can no longer afford to exist in splendid isolation. There may be strength in diversity but there is also waste in duplication. From my conversations with foundations and individual contributors, I believe this will have a positive impact on fund raising.

We should consider merging or establishing formal alliances with kindred organizations within our movement. We should also consider investing more in those organizations and activities which cross over the boundaries of individual organizations. For example, I am very encouraged by the wide spread support for the forthcoming World Congress and the March for the Animals. There are many other equally important programs that also deserve our support. They include the Genesis Awards, the citizens initiatives against hunting, Spay Day USA, Meat Out, the group of nine organizations that are working on a standard list of cruelty-free companies; and we should also identify as needing our combined support the specialist organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and the Medical Research Modernization Committee.

7. Leadership Training

We must invest in local and national leadership training programs. Many local and national organizations are established and led by charismatic individuals who have the courage to speak out for animals. But this admirable distinction does not automatically qualify any of us as an expert in organizational and financial management, fundraising, public relations, marketing, and so on. We must take the necessary steps to improve our skills and understanding of how change occurs.

8. Smoking and Meat Eating

We must position the effects of an animal-based diet as a health care cost that society can no longer afford. A recent issue of Preventive Medicine published an article co-authored by Drs. Neal Barnard and Andrew Nicholson of PCRM that detailed the medical costs attributable to meat consumption. They calculated the annual health care cost of a meat-based diet is much as $60 billion. This figure is comparable to the $50 billion in health care costs attributed to smoking. With a professional association in place, we would be in a better position to create national awareness of this cost.

The successful implementation of these eight recommendations will help to propel the animal rights movement forward to the next stage of its natural evolution.

Finally, this October I celebrate 20 years of professional involvement with some of the leading animal rights organizations in the United Kingdom and the United States. This experience, augmented by my position as editor in chief of The Animals' Agenda for the last three years, has given me the privilege of a unique perspective on our movement. I respectfully offer this commentary knowing all too well that some of the ideas may not be accepted. But as Pablo Picasso commented:

An idea is a point of departure and no more.
It is time for us to start the journey. I invite you to contact me if you are interested in working on a proposal that we could submit to next year's summit for the creation of a professional association of animal advocacy organizations.

Many thanks once again to Susan and the committee for this opportunity to consider the evolution of the animal rights movement.

Kim W. Stallwood
Editor in Chief
The Animals' Agenda
3201 Elliott Street
P.O. Box 25881
Baltimore, MD 21224, U.S.A.

Tel: (410) 675-4566; Fax: (410) 675-0066;

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