Animal activists are admonished to work within the system to pass humane laws. But in trying to follow that advice, we have learned one thing–the system does not work for animals. Too many people either don’t care about the abuses or they demand its products. Besides, every proposed law meets the opposition of wealthy and powerful exploiters and their army of well-paid lobbyists.
When discussing Republicans/conservatives, we need to remember that one segment, the Christian evangelicals, have strong views that may influence any votes on animals. They believe in an absolute separation between human and nonhuman animals. They follow biblical traditions and believe that God gave only human beings immortal souls, conferring a special relationship upon them. They also believe that God gave people dominion, or control, over all other creatures on earth. Thus, conservative evangelicals believe that animals are totally subservient to humans and their needs. So even fertilized eggs and fetuses are to be protected from harm, but fully developed and sentient animals are not. Evangelicals are not likely to fight Big Ag and Big Pharma, whose animal exploitation benefits human beings.
Conservative voting patterns also validate the belief that political success does not depend on numbers alone. It is also affected by intensity of beliefs. Therefore, those who feel strongly on an issue, such as abortion or gun and hunting rights, are more motivated to act, to vote, and to continue being involved in political activity. Progressives, if they are not dedicated animal activists, may support humane laws but not often with the zeal the conservatives have for their causes. Apathy does not produce successful political results.
Progressives also are not a monolithic group ideologically or demographically. Most social justice advocates are progressives and include feminists, most ethnic groups, LGBT activists, and those fighting against income inequality. Not all of them have similar views on animals. For example, many animal activists are women who believe in animal rights. Yet, other women are offended at comparisons between misogyny and animal abuse, just as Jews condemn the comparison between the Holocaust and factory farming and the black community condemns the comparison between the ownership and abuse of slaves and the ownership and abuse of animals.
While animal activists are likely to be progressives, there are also divisions between those involved in activism itself. The majority of animal activists are female, estimated at 68% to 80%. In terms of ethnicity, approximately 83% are white, 12% are black, and 4% are from other groups. The fact that the majority of advocates are female and the beneficiaries are animals affects funding which, in turn, influences votes. An organization called Giving USA estimates that only 3% of charitable gifts are for animals. The salaries of those working for animal welfare/rights organizations are also less than those working for the major human-oriented private sector organizations. And woman generally have lower incomes than men. Thus female activists, along with animal organizations, will likely have less power in the political arena where money and donations are crucial.
Actual votes are also not the only things that affect humane laws. The political ambition of politicians or their personal beliefs count. For example, in 2013 New Jersey voted to ban gestation crates for pigs. The bill. S. 1921, won overwhelming bipartisan support (60-5 in the Assembly and 29-4 in the Senate) and had the backing of more than 90% of New Jersey residents. However, apparently after a phone call from the governor of Iowa (an important state for presidential candidates and campaigns, as well as for hog farming), Governor Christie vetoed the New Jersey bill.
Similarly, Californians voted to ban the use of the bullhooks on elephants. But Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, vetoed the first bill.
When it comes to the votes themselves,, even ardent activists and humane legislators cannot overcome the conservative opposition and the money poured into lobbying by the most powerful and wealthy exploiters such as Big Ag, Big Pharma, and the NIH (National Institutes of Health). Laws that are actually passed contain convenient loopholes or have no will for consistent enforcement, allowing many abuses to continue.
For example, the Humane Slaughter Act (HSA) was first passed in 1958. It covered multiple aspects of the slaughter industry, including transport. For the slaughter itself, the law stated the following: “In the case of cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock, all animals are to be rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut.” But the animals were frequently not rendered unconscious, and the law was amended in 2002. However, undercover investigations and reports from the workers themselves reveal that animals are still conscious when their throats are slit, when they are shackled and hoisted, even when their hooves are cut off and they are skinned. There is no stunning for kosher and halal slaughter. And chickens and other birds were not even covered in the law. Loopholes conveniently added to the HSA, as well as to following laws, allow much of business and abuse to continue as usual.
The Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966, was supposed to protect animals in research and exhibition, as well as pets. Not even covered were mice, birds, farm animals, and all cold-blooded animals. So the most frequently abused research animals, rats and mice, were excluded (more loopholes), as well as the farm animals so often tortured by the military in trauma training. The abuse in labs continued, even among covered animals, as one of the most egregious cases reveals. That abuse was the basis of a film, “Unnecessary Fuss,” which showed the torture of baboons used for head injury research at the University of Pennsylvania. The original films were shot by the research staff themselves and were discovered in a raid by the Animal Liberation Front. The films were turned over to PETA. The staff was shown laughing and mocking the baboons on whom they inflicted devastating head injuries with hydraulic instruments. One instance of abuse after another has been documented after the passing of the AWA.
In 1970 the Horse Protection Act (HPA) was passed to stop the soring of Tennessee walking horses. It was badly written and ineffective, and the soring continued. In 2015 a bill, the PAST (Prevent All Soaring Tactics) Act, was introduced in Congress to eliminate the faults of the HPA. The bill has been stalled and still awaits a vote in 2018.
In the meantime, exploiters and legislators enact new laws, such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) and ag-gag laws to criminalize the work of activists.
Obviously, the deck is stacked against animals at every level. According to the law, animals are objects that can be owned, and the owners determine treatment. According to religion, animals are given no moral standing, and their abuse is not condemned. Speciesism is embedded so thoroughly in the culture that the suffering and deaths of animals occur under the radar. Animal exploitation is a big part of the economy, which those who profit from it will not easily give up. Lobbyists will continue to bribe legislators, who want money for their next campaign. The products of exploitation–ice cream, hamburgers, leather, wool, furs, cosmetics, circuses and rodeos, and products of the health industry–will remain in demand and continue to saturate the culture.
So if the fate and lives of animals depend primarily on a small group of progressives who care enough about nonhumans to fight for them, they had better think of a new strategy. Judging from the history, they aren’t going to save them by voting
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