The Importance of Being Honest

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The Importance of Being Honest

By Patty Mark

Known as the pioneer of the global open rescue movement, Patty Mark is president of the Australian animal advocacy organization Animal Liberation Victoria (ALV), which she founded in 1978. Patty is also founding editor of Action Magazine and director of the ALV Rescue Team.

Patty Mark took the time to answer some questions from Satya editor Catherine Clyne about her views on “humane” conditions for farmed animals and vegan advocacy.

Catherine: As someone who has investigated cruelty in factory farms and rescued animals from them, what do you think about efforts to create more “humane” living conditions for farmed animals?

Patty: Working to create more “humane” living conditions for farmed animals is not the job of animal activists. Our job is to stop animal farming and shut down slaughterhouses. The quickest way for this to happen is to get people to stop eating and drinking animal products. But this isn’t going to happen overnight, and unfortunately many animal activists consider achieving this to be so overwhelming they give it little if any of their time and energy. The animal movement is stuck in the concept of ‘let’s make it better for the animals before they are killed.’ This has basically been the status quo for the last 25-30 years, even though the hearts and minds of most activists today don’t want any animals raised or killed for food.

Catherine: What are some of the trends you have seen in Australia with regard to animal welfare improvement?

Patty: In the early 80s the Australian government set up a Senate Select Inquiry into Animal Welfare. It was a broad inquiry covering all major areas of animal use and abuse. Our movement here was overjoyed such high level attention was being given to animals. For several years animal groups from around Australia worked very hard doing extensive research and writing submissions—it kept us very busy. The movement’s time, energy, resources and finances were all channeled into showing the government and the public how animal farming could be improved. The senators did make some positive recommendations to lessen animal suffering, but they were only that—recommendations—little was ever acted on. I cringe now looking back on these submissions, including the ones I worked on. We argued for free-range farming vs. factory farming—there was no mention of not having any animal farming, it wasn’t even considered. Back then we were also nervous to mention the word vegetarian, frightened that no one would take us seriously if we did. Vegan was not even on the radar—that was real outer space! The “modern” animal movement was in its infancy with little self-confidence, and in retrospect, very blurred vision. And today—do we still have blurred vision? The majority of the animal movement continues with the same approach we’ve taken for 25 years and things are getting worse for animals. The numbers killed have never been higher—55 billion each year globally, and growing—and this doesn’t include [aquatic] animals. We’ve been working very hard using our scant resources and small numbers to plug all the little holes in the dam, effectively keeping it in working order. But let’s think laterally: do we really want this dam system? Do we want any meat-eating or milk drinking? Should we help prop up a system we are inherently against, or should we step way back, take a good long look and then marshal our troops, evacuate the dam site, go upstream and stop the flow? Yes, it is unbearable to consider what the 55 billion animals are suffering and enduring today, and they must not be forgotten. Undercover resistance work to save as many of them as possible should not only continue but escalate. Spending any time working with the animal industries trying to make things ‘better’ is having coffee with the abusers. Animal activists are microscopic in the general population. We do not have “numbers,” not yet, but our passion and commitment is a force to be reckoned with. It’s our responsibility, not to mention smart thinking, to use this wisely. Promoting free-range, sunshine and fresh air before a “stunned” slaughter for animals sugar-coats the bits and pieces of their bodies for the public, but it isn’t getting our job done and it’s dishonest to the animals depending on our help. It’s a poor use of our time to engage with animal industries, big business and governments trying to encourage them to treat the animals who are at their mercy “better.” It’s time for us to set the pace and to be proactive. The real work isn’t negotiating with the animal industries, but with educating the public. The biggest threat to animal farming is veganism...this is the weakest link chaining the animals down. The last thing animal farmers want us to do is promote veganism, so let’s make it first-up.

Catherine: Factory farms are pretty horrendous in the U.S. What are conditions like in Australia? Are there national welfare laws protecting animals from certain abuses?

Patty: Factory farms are hellholes worldwide. I’ve been inside them on four continents and they are all the same, exactly like KFC’s or McDonald’s—if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I include barn-laid [cage-free] and so-called free-range farm alternatives in this as well. Some of the worst conditions I’ve ever seen were in RSPCA approved barn-laid sheds: the hens were badly debeaked, overcrowded, aggressive birds were cannibalizing sick birds and no one was there to help them. And let’s face it—all the animals die prematurely and not lovingly held in someone’s arms. Free-range eggs are also not what people think. There is currently a huge scandal here in Australia. On July 27 the Sydney Morning Herald reported: “As many as 200,000 factory-farmed eggs are being passed off as free-range each day, in a widespread egg substitution racket, swindling the consumer of about $13 million annually... The allegations of egg fraud came after an analysis of data provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Egg Corporation and the Australian Free-range Egg and Poultry Association showed that farmers were incapable of producing the 364.8 million free-range eggs consumed each year.” Some “free-range” egg farms have hens roaming outdoors, but many have the hens enclosed in large sheds with tiny pop holes that are never used and all free-range egg farms kill the equivalent number of non egg-laying male chicks as they have hens—mainly by tossing the one and two day old babies alive in industrial blenders. Each state in Australia has a Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (POCTAA) protecting animals from abuse. But any animal covered by a “Code of Accepted Farming Practice” is exempt from the POCTAA, and the Codes of Practice are “recommended,” not statutory. If the POCTAA stood alone and sincerely covered all animals at all times there could be no animal farms or abattoirs.

Catherine: What are your thoughts about the growing availability and popularity of “humanely raised” animal products in Australia and also in the U.S.?

Patty: I don’t see this as progressive or helpful in the slightest and it certainly isn’t achieving our aim of wiping out speciesism. Some people with more money in their pockets will pay the premium, but more than most because of “better taste” than to ease their conscience. “Humanely raised” animal products are currently marketed in gourmet sections of the supermarket. For someone to buy, eat or endorse animal products, despite how the animals are raised, priced or promoted, there is complicity in their murder. There is only sadness and pain knowing that any animal anywhere was killed to please someone’s taste buds.  We must always imagine the human condition rising above violence and killing when it’s simply not necessary. To me it’s perverted to give an animal a “humane life” (implying the animal has needs and desires) only to then stick a knife in them, bleed them to death and eat their body, or let them live only a fraction of their life so you can eat their eggs. The worst suffering, terror and torment I’ve ever had to witness was the killing of free-range pigs at a New South Whales abattoir. They came from their “good life” roaming the paddocks to the loud, foul, crowded kill lines—smelling the blood and hearing the screams of the pigs ahead of them nearing the knife. Many foamed at the mouth in panic and their eyes rolled in anguish and fear. We’ve all read about Virgil Butler’s experiences on the chicken kill lines [see Satya interview in February, ‘06 http://www.satyamag.com/feb06/butler.html].  There are no cozy little slaughterhouses for free-range hens who get held and comforted when their throat is slit after laying all those humane eggs for us.

Catherine: What do you think of the increasing association of (at least American) animal rights activists and groups with industry, for example, promoting certification schemes, endorsing Whole Foods’ Animal Compassion standards or advocating switching to cage-free eggs?

Patty: I believe groups and individuals who do this are well intended and want to make a difference. I remember in the early 80s I heavily promoted free-range eggs and sincerely believed it was a good thing. However, knowing all we know now, and after seeing all I’ve seen inside animal farms and abattoirs, I think this is a dead end street—no, worse—it’s the WRONG WAY, GO BACK sign on the freeway. I sincerely believe more good would be done by spending that time and those resources on rescuing or taking in factory farmed animals; distributing vegan literature, promoting vegan cookbooks and restaurants, teaching vegan cooking, sponsoring vegan events or school lunches and organizing regular vegan expos and festivals, which more and more groups are now doing. Also, when we align ourselves with any company or product that exploits and/or kills animals, it destroys our credibility and sends the wrong message. Animals are our friends—our family. Would we ever sell our mother out like this? We need to continually question what speciesism really is, how deeply it can go, the same as with racism and sexism. Even for those of us who believe we’ve got it all covered, there’s always more to realize when we walk, fly or swim in someone else’s skin, sex or claws.

Catherine: By directing resources into advocating for, even creating, humane standards for farmed animals, are animal rights activists supporting rather than challenging factory farming?

Patty: Yes, absolutely. Sadly it’s taken me over 20 years to clearly see that humane standards for farmed animals and promoting any animal product is not only a waste of our time, but it’s supporting factory farming and abattoirs. We all become set in our ways (just like the meat-eaters!), so it’s vital and of utmost importance to always keep one’s mind open and questioning our attitudes, tactics and strategies. We can be so grateful for authors like Professor of Law, Gary Francione, writing against the property status of animals and the importance of an abolitionist agenda, and for all those groups and individuals who relentlessly encourage and support a vegan lifestyle

Catherine: Do you think labels such as “humanely raised” and “animal compassion certified” will validate or reduce meat-eating?

Patty: Certified Humane, Compassionate, Endorsed By... type labels will definitely validate what’s in the package. It’s advertising 101 and all about positive promotion and selling the product. When an animal organization gives “humanely raised” meat or free-range eggs their approval, support or endorsement, they are increasing animal suffering by actually opening up yet another brand. Check it out at the supermarket for yourselves, as the free-range eggs and free-range meat products increase, do the factory farmed egg and meat products decrease on shelf space? No. The only products we should be endorsing in our marketplaces are vegan ones.

Catherine: What do you think the solution is?

Patty: There is no easy solution and let’s face it, both animal activists and the general public will come to their own conclusions in their own time. We all know the animal movement—as any movement or group of people—struggles with internal politics, personalities, directions and factions. I’ve been booted out of the group I founded a couple times and I’m sure it will happen again. Animal groups, organizations and activists come and go, and some stay. The important thing for the long-term is to be a vegan, keep positive, read as much as you can about strategy and history, keep an open mind and set your eye on the battery hen in the seventh tier, 30th cage, sixth aisle, or on the scared little pig with the electric prod bearing down upon him at the slaughterhouse—and don’t lose your focus. In the short-term don’t get sidetracked or waste time with internal politics or what other groups may or may not be doing. Work with people you trust and who have similar approaches. Never think “never”—especially about shutting down slaughterhouses. It’s the most important and heroic quest on our planet. Let’s get human meat tray ‘displays’ happening on a regular basis—they’ve already appeared in Europe, America, Asia and Australia. And then there’s abattoir lockdowns, vegan leafleting, friendly discussions with anyone who wants to hear more, vision vans with factory farm videos, open rescues, giving rescued animals a good home, vegan BBQs and recipe give-aways outside supermarkets. And keep on hand: Introduction to Animal Rights, Your Child or the Dog? by Gary Francione and Earthforce! An Earth Warrior’s Guide to Strategy by Paul Watson.

Catherine: How do we move veganism to the top of the agenda?

Patty: I like this question because it’s the answer: veganism—top of the agenda. How do we move it there? It’s not going to be easy, but the key words are patience, determination, persistence and honesty—done with goodwill. But, the bottom line for activists to always consider is: just look over our shoulders, if we are not going to give the hard message for what the animals need, who is?


To learn more about the work of Animal Liberation Victoria (ALV), visit http://www.alv.org.au.

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