|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER EIGHT THE MODERN PERIOD
[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]
The interwar years had been poor ones for the animal welfare cause, and this state of affairs largely continued into the post-war period. The situation began to alter however in the 1960s, accelerating in the seventies until a major change had come over the animal-welfare, now increasingly called animal-rights, movement. Two issues were of particular importance in this development: these were factory farming and animal experimentation.
The publication of Ruth Harrison's Animal Machines in 1964 and its serialisation in The Observer created wide public disquiet, which stirred the government into appointing the Brambell Committee. (1) What the book did was make plain to the public, almost for the first time, the changes that were over-taking British livestock agriculture in the post-war years. Farming was increasingly going the way of big business, conducted by food companies and informed by technological values. The old picture of the farm with its animals in the open fields was increasingly out of step with these new developments in factory-style indoor units. The pioneers had been the battery hen houses and laying units developed after the war, and the sixties and seventies saw the extension of these intensive indoor methods to pigs and, to some extent, to beef. The most notorious development here was in veal production where the calves are kept tethered in closely confining crates, so as to prevent the development of hard muscle, and on a diet lacking in roughage and deficient in iron to produce anaemia, and thus the favoured white flesh. Despite the outcries, little was done. The food industry is a powerful lobby in government; Britain's economic state in the seventies and after has disinclined all administrations to do anything that would increase the cost of food; and there is little evidence that people are willing to pay more for ethically-produced food.
Much of the debate here and elsewhere centres around whether these methods are cruel. The farmers, supported by some vets, argue that no suffering animal thrives and that farmers have a direct financial interest in the happiness of their beasts. Ruth Harrison and others deny this, arguing that they are capable of deep suffering while still retaining basic health. At a common-sense level, it is probably true that most people would not hesitate to describe many factory farming practices as cruel; however where economics and profit are involved, people apply different criteria, as they do where the animals are food animals: thus, the 1954 Protection of Birds Act makes it an offence to keep a bird in a cage too small for it to stretch its wings, but adds 'provided this subsection shall not apply to poultry . . . '
The issue of factory farming was of special importance in the development of vegetarianism since it undermined the compassionate meat-eater' s argument that farm animals, grazing in the fields and humanely killed, had not really suffered. The widespread use of hormones and other artificial techniques to increase yields also gave new strength to the vegetarian characterisation of meat as contaminated, and in some sense unnatural.
The 1950s and sixties found the anti-vivisection movement much as it had been for the last fifty years: its propaganda caught in a dead end of reiterated arguments and highly emotional statements and not well informed scientifically. The movement had become stale. In the late sixties and early seventies, however, new currents began to stir; three in particular were important: the rise of the pursuits of scientific co-operation through the use of alternative techniques; the growth of militancy; and the growing prospect of legislative change. These were, in principle, conflicting tendencies; however, in practice they operated together to create new climate of opinion within the anti-vivisection movement.
A particular area of concern had been the explosion in the number of animal experiments. When the Cruelty to Animals Act was passed in 1876 there were only some 500 experiments per year. After an initial leap in the late nineteenth century, there was a steady increase during the 1920s and thirties. The rise of toxicology in the post-war period in particular meant that greatly increased numbers were needed to test new drugs and domestic substances. The chief focus of anti-vivisection has always been experiments such as the testing of luxury goods like cosmetics, (2) or of psychological experiments animal experiments now run at about five million animals per year. (3)
In an attempt to reduce these numbers, the anti-vivisection movement has since the 1950s, and more actively since the 1960s, turned to the possibilities of using substitutes. Certain scientific developments, for example tissue culture, have aided this, and a series of bodies like FRAME, the Lawson Tait and Humane Research Trusts and the Lord Dowding Fund were set up to encourage the development of alternative techniques. (4) There has also been a growing coverage of alternatives in anti-vivisection literature, for they have been recognised as a practical way forward, and one that commands considerable public support. (5)
Animal Activism began in its extreme form in 1974 with the attempts of the Band of Mercy, later the Animal Liberation Front, to set fire to laboratories. In 1975 two members were sent to prison. The Front is still active, most recently being involved in attacks upon the homes of certain prominent scientists. The criminal activities of the Animal Liberation Front have had a mixed effect, in part discrediting the movement and raising internal antagonisms, though perhaps in greater part encouraging the new mood of non-criminal militancy. Groups like Animal Activists have developed vigilante networks using local demonstrations and denunciations to embarrass organisations using vivisection. The more vigorous use of publicity, for example in the Smoking Beagles Campaign of 1975, has brought antivivisection arguments to a wider public. The Hunt Saboteurs have since the sixties pursued active disruption of hunts. The Vegetarian Society has joined this now mood of positive action - or at least sections of it have - for example organising an annual march of protest to Smithfield Show. (9)
Within the animal-welfare movement, the activists have formed an increasingly powerful lobby, in 1979 they won control of the wealthy British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, intending to direct its considerable income towards aggressive publicity; (10) and in 1980 and 1981 similar attempts were made on the RSPCA, though so far their efforts have been repulsed by the traditionalist element. The RSPCA has a long history of moderation in its aims and, certainly in the nineteenth century though also later, of class bias in the focus of its concerns. Conflict started in the 1960s with the blood sports issue and then moved on to factory farming. There is now a bitter split between the new generation of radicals and the traditionalist, county-based supporters, known as the cat-and-dog-brigade – this latter group favours welfare activities among animals, especially pets, but is less willing to take up a radical stance against animal experiments of factory farming, whereas the militants argue that these are now the significant sources of cruelty and should be attacked by all legal means.
A striking feature of the activists is that most are vegetarian and many are vegan. (11) They are usually younger, less establishment-minded and regarded by sane of the traditionalists as 'long-haired' and 'left-wing'. Though their social base is in fact wider than that, they do draw significantly from the counter cultural generation, and there are parallels between their activities in the animal-welfare charities and the entryism of traditional party politics in the late seventies. There are also cross-links with alternative medicine: many share the view that has been put forward since the late nineteenth century that if people were more responsible about their health and lived healthier lives there would be little need for the palliative drugs and medical techniques that necessitate animal experimentation. (12) There are also cross-connections between animal rights and forms of Indian and other spirituality.
With the revival of activism came increased pressure for legislative change, principally focussed around the revision of the 1876 Act. (13) Pressure had been gathering in the House of Lords around Lords Houghton and Platt, assisted by Richard Ryder and Clive Hollands, and 1976, the anniversary of the Act, was declared 'Animal Welfare Year'; The prospect of a general election produced the 1978 Campaign to Put Animals into Politics which succeeded in having animals mentioned in all three major manifestos. (14) Activity in the Lords continued to focus around the prospect of the Halsbury Bill. (15) The principal difficulty remains the reluctance of the government to sponsor any change; though there is evidence of some Home Office response to anti-vivisection pressure, in that two animal welfare officers now sit on the Advisory Committee.
Perhaps the most important parliamentary development however, was the July 1991 report of the Select Committee on Agriculture which condemned various factory farming methods and stated that humanitarian issues must play a greater role in British farming.
Part of this new spirit in the animal-welfare movement has involved the adoption of the concept of animal rights. (16) Debate concerning the moral status of animals had been stagnant for many years. Now in the late sixties end early seventies, a group of moral philosophers, some centred on Oxford, and including S. & R. Godlovitch, J. Harris, Peter Singer and Stephen Clarke, took up the question again. Their works have popularised the term in the movement, as well as raising the issue successfully within the more academic circles of moral philosophy, itself indicative of wider changes. (17)
The basis of the new approach is that animals have rights on direct parallel with the rights of men; they are not therefore to be regarded as instrumental beings, but fully ends for themselves. The possession of rights here does not imply that they are identical to humans, but that they have legitimate interests that must be considered. In the early seventies Richard Ryder coined the word speciesism, on a direct parallel with racism and sexism, to describe the dominant attitude to animals: speciesism being a denial of rights and interests on the arbitrary prejudice of species. (18) Animal rights, it is asserted, is a radical concept because it demands respect and justice for animals, and does not just ask for benevolence; the old animal-welfare view looked more to man’s duty towards the beasts and rested on emotions of kindness. As much as anything, however, animal rights is an expression of a more positive and active approach, that wishes especially to set aside the old charges of sentimentality and softness. Many exponents of animal rights say that they have no special fondness for animals; their concern is with hard moral issues - the rights of animals not the love of animals. (19)