Feb 25, 2009
In 1809, a society "for the suppression and prevention of Wanton Cruelty to Brute Animals" was founded in Liverpool, England. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of what is probably the oldest animal charity in the world, WSPA sat down with Peter Singer, a philosopher, ethicist and widely published author known for his book Animal Liberation.
Published in 1975, the book is often credited as having a formative influence on the animal liberation movement. Singer is the co-founder and president of the Great Ape Project, an international effort to obtain basic rights for chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, as well as the president of Animal Rights International.
WSPA: 2009 marks 200 years since the first animal protection NGO was born. What is your evaluation about how far the animal protection movement has developed during this period?
Singer: The progress has been slow, but it is still very significant. When the first laws to protect animals against cruelty were proposed in the British parliament, members laughed out loud at the very idea of protecting animals. Now laws against cruelty are regarded as part of every civilized society, and many people agree that animals have rights, or are to be given equal consideration with humans.
WSPA: What would you single out as the greatest achievements of the animal welfare movement?
Singer: Humane slaughter laws were undoubtedly a big achievement. But more recently, the movement to protect animals has forced significant changes in factory farming practices that affect hundreds of millions of battery hens, as well as intensively reared pigs and calves. Just last November, California voted that all farm animals must have room to turn around freely. That vote alone will provide better conditions for 19 million hens. These are very significant achievements.
WSPA: What would you say is the next global challenge for animal protectors?
Singer: Conditions for animals are improving a little in Europe, North America, Australia and a few other countries. But in other countries, especially in Asia, as more people become middle class, they demand more meat, and that means more factory farming. The biggest global challenge is to reverse that development, and convince them that a high meat diet is bad for their health, bad for the environment, and bad for animals.
WSPA: In Brazil and in other countries, the animal welfare movement is divided into welfare-ists, abolitionists and other "-ists". Why are there so many rivalries inside the same movement? How can these different faces of the animal movement work together around the world for the good of animals?
Singer: It seems strange that in Brazil, where the animal movement is not particularly strong, it should be weakened further by divisions. I hope people will see that the animals cannot wait for the vegan revolution - they need reform more urgently. In the United States, incidentally, the movement is working together better than at any time in the last 30 years. The Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - they are all working in the same general direction, focusing on factory farming, where the greatest amount of animal suffering occurs. That is why they have been so successful, for example in the recent California referendum. And even groups like Vegan Outreach, which focuses on spreading veganism, do not attack the mainstream groups. The few extremists who do have been reduced to complete irrelevance.
WSPA: Do you think animal welfare is an end in itself or just a step towards animal liberation?
Singer: It is both - it is intrinsically desirable, which means it is an end in itself, but I also believe it will be a step on the road to animal liberation.
WSPA: There is clear animal abuse in certain areas, such as the use of animals for entertainment. Although the use of animals in circuses is forbidden in five Brazilian states, for example, there is not a federal ban on it. Do you think these urgent changes depend only on politicians? How can the common citizen help? How can the public be heard on this issue?
Singer: By standing outside circuses, handing out leaflets describing the cruelty, and asking people to boycott circuses. Also by asking their cities and local governments not to permit circuses using animals to perform.
WSPA: WSPA is the largest federation of animal welfare in the world, with more than 950 member societies in 155 countries. Which message would you give to all these NGOs around the world?
Singer: We are fighting on behalf of tens of billions of animals around the world. But we are making progress. One day, if we all keep working hard for the cause, we will end this vast universe of suffering that we humans inflict on animals.