The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973

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Not by bread alone . . .

Presidential Address given by Michael Fryer at the Annual General Meeting of the Crusade Against All Cruelty to Animals on 30th October 1976:

There is increasing reference today to an imminent and possibly prolonged drop in our standard of living. The improved material standards which have been a feature of life in developed countries in the last decades have arisen out of man's technological progress and no-one would deny that many of the benefits therefrom have made life pleasanter and less arduous for a great many people. It is unfortunately true, however, that appetites tend to grow on what they feed on and so we have found ourselves in an age of materialism - some would say gross materialism - which may look glossy and attractive enough on the surface but which, when examined more closely, is seen to have built-in recipes for disaster - and I refer not only to the material aspects of an economic collapse, but also to the effect of a materialistic philosophy on man's mental and spiritual nature.

Let us think for a moment about the much-overworked phrase 'high standard of living'. It is commonly taken to mean the enjoyment of a good proportion of this world's goods and services. In my view this is too narrow and limited a view. Living does not - or should not - consist merely of getting and using and eating, etc. etc. Man also has a mind which grows on what it feeds on; if unused or not fed with good material, the mind tends to deteriorate, which in turn results in deterioration in man's behaviour.

It is a grave mistake to think that the acquisition of material wealth and goods is the indisputable sign of a high standard of living. If such acquisition were all that man needed to give him contentment and mental and spiritual wellbeing then the majority of the citizens in developed countries should by now exist in a pleasant state of euphoria, but all the evidence points to the contrary. The thinking person cannot avoid the conclusion that something fundamental is missing from the lives of a great many people. Man does not live by bread alone - or even cake! His very nature cries out for something more but so often he knows not what this is or where to find it. Consequently, despite so-called higher living standards in the material sense which so many people now enjoy, peace of mind - the peace which alone makes life worth living in the true sense - appears to be the privilege of the comparative few. And yet the clamour for maintaining and improving the standard of living goes on and any threat to it - as we are witnessing in these troubled times - is met with widespread fear and dismay, anger and acrimony.

It is my personal view that we have been living in a fool's paradise, believing that there was unlimited scope for the ever continuing development of an affluent society. We are forgetting - or choosing to forget - some of the world's problems which directly affect in one way or another the living standards of every world citizen. I refer to the human population explosion and the ever-increasing demands the earth's teeming millions make on the finite resources of the world - not only food but the energy and mineral wealth on which rests the whole of our complex technology. We are forgetting - or choosing to forget - or perhaps we were never made aware of the fact - that we each come into the world with nothing, that the world owes us nothing, and that the greatest contribution any human being can make during his short stay here is to make the world a little better before leaving it.

Now you may wonder what this has to do with animal welfare. It has a great deal to do with it as I shall seek to show. Whilst man has been striving and clamouring for an ever higher standard of living for himself, the majority of men were not caring tuppence what was happening to the beleaguered animal kingdom, even though much of the wealth they sought or the material goods they wanted to enjoy were based on or came directly from the sacrifice of the animal kingdom to suit man's needs and ends. The affluent society is a consumer society and so often modern man greedily consumes the earth's treasures without a single thought as to his responsibility in the fields of conservation, protection and restoration.

Man constantly seeks a better life for himself but so often without regard to the immense amount of cruelty and exploitation that is the lot of many species in the animal kingdom every single day of every year. Only now and again when some new horror hits the headlines will there be a momentary surge of pity but, judging by the lack of consequent action, this is soon allowed to subside and life continues in its man-centred way. Poor recompense we make to animals for the vital part they play in our lives in countless ways! Poor recompense for the millions sacrificed yearly in one industry or another to meet man's needs or desires!

In the short time at my disposal today I can refer only to a few aspects of man's use of animals which give grave cause for concern.

We now have instant world communication and scarcely a day passes without one section of the media or another carrying news of this, that or the other form of animal exploitation or cruelty. We can no longer justify apathy on the grounds of ignorance. The facts are known or available if we care enough to seek them out. It is known that there is an enormous international trade in exotic animals - animals snatched from the dwindling few wild places of the earth to meet the greedy demands of the affluent society. Let us not make the mistake of putting the entire blame on those who rape the wild for their pathetic victims! So long as there are markets willing to pay the price, there will be people to supply those markets. On the occasions when a consignment of animals is found dead on arrival at London's Heathrow, the trade in exotic animals hits the headlines and there is temporary public dismay. Nobody knows quite how big the trade is as there are no hard international statistics but it is estimated that animals make up 10 per cent of all air passengers. The suffering and death which seems inseparable from the trade begins in the countries where the animals are captured and perhaps the luckiest are those whom death claims quickly in their homeland.

Real fur is still a much-coveted status symbol - one of the outward signs of a high standard of living for many who apparently do not concern themselves over the suffering fur-bearing animals endure to feed man's and woman's vanity. Millions of wild fur-bearing animals are still caught every year by means of the cruel leghold or steel trap. This is illegal in Britain but not yet in the countries producing most wild fur. However, although Britain no longer permits such traps, huge consignments of skins of fur-bearing animals come to London each year to be sold in the world's fur markets because London is still the clearinghouse for the world's fur trade. When an animal steps on the trigger plate of a leghold trap, it is caught alive by the leg and there remains in pain - sometimes for days - without food, and suffering cold and exhaustion until it dies or the trapper comes to kill it. Some animals have been known to gnaw or twist off their paw in order to escape. How can we in Britain call ourselves a nation of animal lovers when we are prepared to turn a blind eye to the continuing cruelty of the leghold trap by allowing the import of millions of furs obtained by this means?

The answer lies, in one word - MONEY! So often principles go overboard when there is money to be made and this is the big obstacle holding up many much-needed animal welfare reforms. There can be no other justification for the British Government's continued refusal to ban live exports of food animals for slaughter on the Continent. There is certainly no humane justification for it.

Attempts to increase agricultural productivity in all countries to meet the expanding food needs of the world's exploding population have brought about great changes in farming conditions. Today more and more animals are reared under factory farm systems - a revolution stimulated partly by rising price of land and farm labour - and scarcity of both - and partly by the desire to produce mass food more cheaply under present conditions. So here in Britain as in many other developed countries we have broiler chickens, battery eggs, white veal, pork from sweatbox pigs and so on - all produced from animals which are divorced from the living soil and kept in close confinement to suit man's convenience. But despite the immense amount of publicity given to these factory methods of farming over the years (and Crusade has played an enormous part in stimulating such publicity), how many of the public today give a thought to the methods by which such products are obtained and to what frustration of natural behaviour our farm animals are subjected?

Not only have the majority of our farm animals been divorced from the land; it would also seem that many of our people have become divorced from reality by the artificiality of so much of life today - divorced from their age-old links with the world of living creatures, each species a link in the chain of life's interdependence. Far better in the long run for our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing to have no washing machine, no TV or car than to be cut off from our birthright of contact and kinship with the living world of Nature!

It has been said that it is the battery cage mentality which gives rise to the battery cage system of living both for animals and for man - and we are now beginning to reap the bitter harvest in vandalism and psychological illness resulting from crowding people in close proximity in the unnatural environment of high rise, high density blocks of flats with scarcely a blade of grass or a tree in sight. We could have learnt a lesson from the stress and behavioural symptoms exhibited by animals incarcerated in factory farms which, in an attempt to combat the unnatural effects of such conditions, necessitated the use of drugs, special lighting and other aids. But perhaps it is only just and right that we should experience for ourselves the ill-effects of shortsighted planning. Let us hope that behavioural studies of both man and animals under such stress conditions will result in more enlightened and humane conditions in the future.

The revolution in farming techniques which now rely so heavily on technology and costly sources of energy may itself in due course - and perhaps sooner than we think - fall victim to yet another revolution made imperative by the need for Britain to become more self-sufficient in food supplies. Our production of eggs, chicken, pork and beef from animals reared intensively is heavily dependent on imported foodstuffs which makes us extremely vulnerable to world food shortages and high prices of cereals. To make any progress towards self-sufficiency in food supplies, Britain would need to take steps to lighten this dependency on imported cereals which could only come about by a reduction in the intensive farming of livestock. One would prefer that such a reduction could be achieved out of humane consideration for the animals involved but, being realistic, one must acknowledge that it is far more likely to come about through concern for the self-preservation of the human race.

Now it could be said that these three aspects of animal cruelty and exploitation to which I have referred - the rape of the earth's wild places for its wildlife, the cruel trapping of fur-bearing animals for their skins and factory farming - are not done by the vast majority of people. This is true. The vast majority are not directly responsible for the exploitation and suffering in the sense that they do not commit the actual deed. But as members of the materialistic society they are indirectly responsible because in one way or another a great many of them provide the markets for the products. They are also indirectly responsible if they know something of the facts and yet silently and without any protest whatsoever acquiesce in the continuance of the exploitation. And yet, if challenged, a large proportion of the ordinary public would admit most fervently to being animal lovers.

I am beginning to distrust the term 'animal lover' because it is so often misleading. What the majority mean when they say they are animal lovers is that they love cats or dogs or horses or budgies or perhaps all of these favourite or domestic pet animals. They seem to find it very difficult to extend their circle of interest and compassion to those animals which are not cuddly or at least very familiar to them. One should not perhaps be surprised at this just as I am not surprised, although immensely saddened, by another aspect of cruelty to animals which can be laid directly at the door of many ordinary people because they commit the act of cruelty in full knowledge of what they are doing to a defenceless living creature. I refer now to one of the most distressing by-products of this age of materialism - the appalling increase in the number of unwanted stray cats and dogs. The last decade or so in which more people have had more money to spend than ever before has also been noteworthy for an increase in callousness towards pets that gives cause for the greatest concern on behalf of the animals so used and also on behalf of the mentality of people who are capable, apparently without a qualm, of abandoning or otherwise disposing of unwanted pets. Dogs are obtained by some as easily and with as little thought as when buying a packet of cigarettes. The current popular breed in puppies is bought without any real thought as to the responsibilities entailed so when the animal becomes a nuisance or grows bigger than anticipated, it is quickly disposed of. I say I am not surprised by these trends for the following reason. Once people concentrate so much thought and energy into the acquisition of material things and consider that life owes them the instant gratification of every whim, the finer senses inevitably become dulled and moral values overlaid.

This brings me back to the theme on which I began my talk - the standard of living. When all is said and done, the only standard of living worthy of the name and also worthy of having the adjective 'high' applied to it is one based on decent, compassionate principles and ideals, which is not at all dependent upon the state of one's bank balance, the size of one's house, the number of cars in the garage, the exotic holidays of which one can boast, or the number of gadgets with which to make one's friends envious. Isn't it because some people at least have realised what a snare and delusion the materialistic life is that they are opting out to the wild and secluded places to get back to a more natural way of life?

A high standard of living which is to me worthy of the name is the one lived by the golden rule "do unto others as you would they should do unto you" in which this rule is applied to the animal kingdom as well as to one's brother man.

Those of you old enough to remember the Second World War will recall what a tremendous spirit of comradeship, self-sacrifice and dedication to others those terrible days inspired in many people. Is it too much to hope that in the months - and perhaps years - to come when it seems we are going to have to tighten our belts and face reality squarely, that something of the same spirit will return so that instead of clamouring and fighting to go one better than the Joneses in our share of this world's goods and pleasures, we shall once more opt for the finer things in life - the decent, compassionate principles and ideals, remembering always that the best things in life are free!

Man needs to learn greater humility in his relation to the world of Nature. He is after all only one detail in Nature's vast canvas of life, albeit through his power, ruthlessly used, he mars the whole picture. He needs to learn his rightful role, that of benevolent guardian of the rest of life on earth.

If our economic tribulations could help eventually to achieve this result which is after all essential to the very future of all life on earth, then we can truly begin to talk about a high standard of living!

From The Living World No 15, 1977

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