Animal Nations

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Animal Nations

By Jill Howard-Church from Animals and Society Institute

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals…. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.
– Henry Beston

The death of the sealing industry in Canada is lingering even longer than that of its many helpless victims, and politicians on different sides of the Atlantic get both the credit and the blame. Word finally came on May 5 that the European Parliament had voted to ban the importation of Canadian seal products, effectively shutting the market for this barbaric “hunt.” The ban passed with 92 percent support, an overdue but much welcome victory for animal activists who have been trying to stop this slaughter for decades.

But even with the blood-red writing on the wall, the Canadian Parliament refuses to admit defeat. Just a day after the European ban was announced, the Canadian House of Commons unanimously supported a motion that would have required the Canadian Olympic team to have some sort of seal products incorporated into their uniforms during the Winter Games in Vancouver next year. Thankfully, the Canadian Olympic Committee rejected the idea, saying the athletes didn’t want politics injected into the Games.

Part of me understands that position, since team members are united by nationality and not necessarily ideology. The Olympics are meant to be a place where athletes come together for competition and camaraderie, period. But there have been gestures related to human rights and civil rights at past Olympic Games, so why not animal rights as well? After all, we are all animals, first and foremost. However, as one of my vintage campaign buttons reads, “Humans aren’t the only species on earth – we just act like it.”

The thousands of nonhuman species of the world have no political nationality, and no votes other than the ones some of us cast on their behalf. But their well-being falls under the jurisdiction of many different governments that can be corrupt, callous or both. They are, as Henry Beston noted, “other nations” with whom we share the planet. Sadly, “sharing” is often not the case.

We Americans are good at righteous outrage but conveniently overlook our own transgressions, such as shooting wolves in Alaska and experimenting on chimpanzees. When we think of the atrocities that other countries perpetuate against animals, notable images come to mind: Japanese harpooning whales, Spaniards stabbing bulls, Koreans cooking dogs, Rwandans eating gorillas, and of course, Canadians clubbing seals. It’s ironic that the debate over the seals has government officials pointing fingers across the Atlantic in a warped contest to decide which country sanctions the worst animal abuse.

But as our parents told us when we copied our friends’ bad behavior, just because someone else does it, doesn’t mean you should. So instead of deciding which country has the more hideous habits, perhaps the world’s leaders ought to take the high road for once and collectively decide that the worst of the abuses need to stop now, across the board and across the borders. No more whaling. No more bush meat. No more seal bashing. No more treating wildlife (especially threatened and endangered ones) like cash crops.

The Animals and Society Institute’s Animals' Platform, although designed for U.S. policy, reflects the principals of humane treatment toward wild and domestic animals that could apply across the globe, and in some cases already do. We know the British often lead the way, but several other countries, such as Austria, have been quite progressive lately in establishing national policies that better respect animal nations. However, as the stubborness in Canada shows, it will take a lot of work in many a congress, legislature and parliament for the world’s ethical standards to rise collectively. Whatever flag we fly, it is up to us, as citizens of the planet, to create a world with more splendor than travail.


Jill Howard-Church is a writer and editor who specializes in animal issues. She serves as the part-time communications director for the Animals and Society Institute, and is the volunteer president of the Vegetarian Society of Georgia.

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