The Evolution of the Animal Rights Movement
Presentation made by Kim W. Stallwood, editor in chief, The Animals'
Agenda, at the Summit for the Animals, Los Angeles, California, March
by Kim W. Stallwood
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
3201 Elliott Street
P.O. Box 25881
Baltimore, MD 21224,
Tel: (410) 675-4566; Fax: (410) 675-0066;