The Fellowship of Life
A millennial reflection
Welcome, everyone, to this, our last Newsletter of the 20th century and this millennium. It is a time for reflection, fear and hope. The past century of world wide violence and cruelty has given us, among other horrors, the atrocities of genocide, weapons of mass destruction, factory farming and industrialised, assembly-line animal slaughter, the proliferation of ever-more-nauseating and pointless animal experiments, the terrifying danger of genetic engineering and the use of animals as 'spare parts' for humans as well as the nuclear age with its legacy of deadly radioactive waste for countless millennia to vome.
But, don't despair - these evils are being fought by many individuals and groups, some of whom we'll highlight in this Newsletter. Furthermore, the last hundred years have seen many profound and heartening changes for the better, such as the rise in support for 'green' values and animal protection and the blossoming of vegetarianism.
Here are some successes of the century:
The early 1900's were notable for the impact of the humanitarian movement. In the UK, the Henry Salt - inspired Humanitarian League fought injustice, inequality and cruelty to all sentient beings, including humans. The year 1911 saw the passing of the Protection of Animals Act. But between 1915 and 1960 progress for animals was slow.
Human rights causes flourished with the success of the suffragettes after World War I; Mahatma Gandhi's campaign of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance to British rule in India, with independence achieved in 1947; the establisment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948; civil rights victories and legal protection for minorities followed in subsequent decades; support for peace campaigns and holistic medicine gathered momentum; and 1994 saw the first democratic elections in South Africa.
All this time, the vegetarian movement was achieving its own milestones. During World War l thousands of conscientious objectors were imprisoned. Scores of men died in prison because of the harsh treatment, which was especially abusive for vegetarians, who could barely survive on prison meals. Fenner Brockway led a food strike at Wormwood Scrubs and the authorities finally sanctioned a vegetarian diet.
In 1920 came the first government recognition of the health benefits in reducing meat consumption. Vegetarianism was gaining respectability, particularly among nutritionists.
In 1928, the Nature Cure Clinic was established and run by Nina Hosali, a vegetarian and animal rights supporter. The founding principles were based on qualified medical guidance, vegetarianism and anti-vivisection.
The Vegetarian Society in the 1920's, at the time of the General Strike and throughout the depression years of the 1930's, sent food parcels to areas of mass unemployment.
In 1931 Gandhi visited Britain and made a huge impact. He popularised the idea of a peaceful and spiritual way of life intrinsically involving a vegetarian diet. He embraced the belief that respect for humans and animals are inseparable. His influence gave vegetarianism a renewed spiritual power. The slaughter of animals was now condemned as a symptom of human greed and aggression that was destroying the world.
During World War ll and the years of rationing, vegetarian restaurants did very well because they proved to the public how an economical and tasty meal made from plant foods could be satisfying and enjoyable. Also at this time, a Committee of Vegetarian Interest was formed to lobby successfully for official recognition of a meat-free diet. Special vegetarian ration books were provided, allowing extra rations of cheese and nuts to those who registered. This non-meat alternative drew an increase in converts.
The Vegan Society was formed in 1944 by a small group of courageous pioneers wishing to avoid all animal products because of the inherent cruelty of all animal farming.
In 1959 Lady Muriel Dowding founded Beauty Without Cruelty, which produced the first cosmetics and toiletries to be marketed as cruelty-free.
The late 1950's and early 1960's saw an upsurge of interest in studying the behaviour of wild animals in their natural habitat. In 1960 Joy Adamson's book about Elsa the lioness, Born Free, was published and later turned into a smash-hit feature film. This eventually led its stars, Virginia McKenna and the late Bill Travers to form Zoo Check in 1984, now the Born Free Foundation.
The 1960's also saw the formation of the innovative Hunt Saboteurs Association, and the mass-media began to focus upon issues such as seal slaughter, endangered species and factory farming.
Ruth Harrison's ground-breaking book Animal Machines was published in 1964 and received widespread publicity. The seed for the book had been sown four years earlier when Ruth, a Quaker, received a leaflet on veal production. Having been a vegetarian all her life, her first reaction was to think that any part of the meat trade had nothing to do with her, so she put it aside. But, 'In doing nothing I was allowing it to happen', so she sent the leaflet to every Friends meeting in the country - she received only twenty replies. A Friend then advised her that if she was going to campaign about animal rights she must learn about animal suffering. So she visited farms and broiler units, battery hens, veal calves and slaughter-houses. Armed with all that she had witnessed and the information she had collected, she wrote Animal Machines, which opened the eyes of the public.
Several new campaign groups were launched in the 1960's, including Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), formed by farmers-turned-campaigners Peter and Anna Roberts. From the first, CIWF equated world hunger with the feeding of deliberately-bred 'livestock'. This led them to find a marketable alternative to meat, and in 1969 the first vegetarian textured vegetable protein products went on sale in UK health food shops.
From the 1970's onwards, advocacy for animals grew, as did media and public interest. For example, in 1976 the Vegan Society produced an 'Open Door' programme on television which brought an avalanche of enquiries.
Active campaigning and direct action went from strength to strength. The anti-fur movement caused the eventual collapse of the UK fur trade. The Save the Whales campaign led to unprecedented protection, and in most countries whales have become the first species to be granted limited rights to be free from human persecution on moral grounds.
This period saw the publication of several books that were also catalysts for the upsurge of interest in animal issues and the re-emergence of the anti-vivisection movement. Slaughter of the Innocent (1978) by Hans Ruesch has been hailed as the greatest presentation ever of the medical, moral and scientific case against vivisection, inspiring a worldwide anti-vivisection movement of doctors, scientists and many others.
In 1976, the Band of Mercy became the Animal Liberation Front and its endeavours to rescue doomed animals and targeting of the property of vivisection companies, etc. did wonders in gaining publicity and raising public awareness and support for abused animals.
In addition to direct action, liberation groups and traditional methods of campaigning, the 1980's and 1990's included carefully planned undercover investigations which demonstrated the total inadequacies of the law and exposed establishments with shameful and damning revelations.
There is increasing public pressure to end animal tests. Campaigners have also succeeded in creating a growing market for 'cruelty-free' products. Many powerful companies have adopted a non-animal testing policy on their goods. Compulsary dissection of animals for school biology pupils has been abandoned. People are realising that animal experiments are dangerously misleading and damaging to human health.
Many circuses are now animal-free; and British campaigners have inspired new pro-animal initiatives all around the world.
There have been triumphs in farming campaigns, too: the veal crate is now illegal in this country. The European Union has agreed to ban the use of Baterry hen cages from 2012 (a far too long phase-out period, of course, but it was against all odds that they agreed a date at all, and it's all thanks to campaigners). The EU also agreed to a legally binding protocol which has elevated the status of farm animals from 'agricultural products' to a new classification of 'sentient beings'. This probably offers the best hope so far of eventual bans on live animal transportation and extreme factory farming systems.
The last decade has seen the numbers of vegetarians rise dramatically. There are veggie cookery books galore, and an ever-increasing range of veggie and vegan foods is now widely available - even in American baseball parks where 'not dogs' are being sold!
Here's to many more successes in the 21st century.
From: The Fellowship of Life Newsletter, Christmas 1999
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