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30 May 2001 Issue
Animals' Agenda - Editor's Agenda

by Kim Stallwood

If tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, and Brown & Williamson can be held responsible for the smoking-related deaths of millions of people, why can't the likes of McDonald's, Burger King, Tyson, and Perdue be held similarly liable for people's strokes and heart attacks
related to meat consumption?

The wealth of transnational corporations enables them to employ shady scientists, scurrilous spin doctors, amoral attorneys and advertisers, and loathsome lobbyists. If you grease enough palms, the finger of accountability rarely points to you.

Take, for example, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a rare and fatal neurological illness that does not normally occur until middle age. But 94 people of various ages in Europe have died from a new variant of the disease (nvCJD) which has been linked to the consumption of cattle with mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE). Such cattle become infected after eating feed containing the remains of other infected cows.

The first case of BSE was reported in England in 1984, and nearly 200,000 cattle have suffered and died. It was not until 1995 that British agribusiness stopped exporting possibly contaminated feed to more than 80 countries. Consequently, millions of people throughout the world may have eaten
infected beef. The long-term implications of this medical crisis have yet to be fully understood, and the American Red Cross has taken the "precautionary measure" of not accepting blood donated by anyone who spent six months in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996.

By thumbing their noses at nature, farmers and feed manufacturers placed profits before people. Now agribusiness finds itself suffering from "foot-in-mouth disease" as foot-and-mouth disease spreads from Britain to elsewhere in Europe and possibly the rest of the world.

Such calamity is certainly not the fault of the animal rights movement, which for many years has warned that meat and dairy products harm human health. Is my naivete on public display when I simply believe the mission of animal advocates is to educate people about animal exploitation and the many benefits of a vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle? And why are animal rights supporters continually accused of "endangering" society when the public is literally being poisoned by subsidized industries?

Take, for example, the recent efforts in the United States to criminalize some animal rights activities. The state legislatures in Iowa, Oregon, and Utah are currently considering bills that toughen penalties for "commercial terrorism" by animal rights activists. Astonishingly, when the Utah legislature was considering a bill in the House of Representatives to protect farmers and ranchers from acts of terrorism, the Senate rejected a bill to stiffen penalties for acts of racist violence.

On the one hand corporations receive government subsidies to commercially breed, mutilate, and kill animals to produce food that kills people, but on the other hand animal activists are interrogated, investigated, called before grand juries, and labeled as terrorist for trying to expose and/or alleviate animal suffering and related issues of food and environmental contamination.

The Animal Rights Network Inc., which publishes The Animals' Agenda supports only nonviolent actions for animals. We acknowledge that there exists in our movement a faction of people who are so outraged and frustrated by the prevalence of animal suffering that they sometimes act outside of the law (and sometimes in contradiction to the values of compassion, responsibility, and nonviolence to all beings). And although we believe there is no excuse for harming, or threatening to harm, any human or
animal life, that same principle -- and the social moral, and legal support of such ethics -- should make meat and dairy producers accountable for the damage they do. BSE has already killed more people and placed millions more at risk than the combined actions of all animal advocated since time began.

I could go on about holding corporate interests, government officials, and elected representatives accountable for actions that place humans at risk and result in injury and death. But the reality is that we're all responsible for the world we live in, even when we boycott products of animal exploitation. It's just that (to paraphrase George Orwell) everyone is guilty, but some people are more guilty than others.

You have only got to see Michael Mann's film, The Insider, which dramatically portrays how far Brown & Williamson went to stop 60 Minutes from broadcasting an interview with a scientist fired for blowing the whistle on Big Tobacco, to understand the power that industry has to protect its interests. It doesn't matter whether the "product" is inhaled or consumed; without government oversight and accountability, greedy industries are free to blow the smoke we all choke on.

“Reprinted with permission from The Animals’ Agenda, P.O. Box 25881,
Baltimore, MD 21224; (410) 675-4566; www.animalsagenda.org.”
Email: office@animalsagenda.org

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