Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Five fatal flaws of animal activism

From tacky nude posters to dubious concepts such as 'happy
meat', animal rights groups are losing the fight for real change

There are a few things that have kept me going, and kept me proud of
how I've been living over the decades. Pretty near the top of the list is
being a vegetarian for ethical reasons. That was deeply unfashionable
back in 1977 when I abandoned meat-eating and went on to make The
Animals Film. I was over the moon when that film had a greater impact
than I'd dreamed it would; and then I went back to human concerns in
my creative work. It wasn't until some 30 years later at the suggestion of
the BBC World Service that I returned to this terrain for the radio
documentary series One Planet: Animals and Us. But I'd remained a
vegetarian, and so hoped to discover that the exploitation of animals for
food and science had been reduced since the 1980s.
What I found, however, was more than disappointing – a complete
absence of decisive progress. Austria with several new laws has come
closest to meaningful change, but even there the number of animals
suffering for human needs and pleasures is undiminished, and the
industrialised exploitation of animals for food is spreading across the
There has been one unarguable advance, though, and that's been the
progressive "normalisation" of vegetarianism over the years.
When I first settled in Britain, restaurants seldom offered vegetarian
choices; supermarkets barely catered to my needs at all. London's main
vegetarian restaurant was named Cranks, and that said it all. Today, by
contrast, families happily pop out to the corner shop to buy vegetarian
foods to host my young daughter, and "veggie" options are steadily
becoming staples in school lunch halls.
In light of this, one New Zealand-based listener's criticism of my work for
the BBC World Service stood out from enthusiastic responses to the
programmes. "So disappointing to hear Schonfeld is still a vegetarian
after so many years," she complained. What she was underlining is that I
had not become a vegan. Though I concluded the series with Professor
Gary Francione calling for vegan education as "the moral baseline" for
animal rights, that still left the question: what about me personally, and
the way I live now?
I had stopped short of removing milk and eggs from my diet and all
leather and wool from my clothing. I'd had my rationales for this, the
main one being that I hadn't wanted to impose too zealously
nonconformist a lifestyle on my family. Also, in the 1980s, one of the
traps for the animal rights movement was marginalisation. So when I
was interviewed about The Animals Film and journalists thought they'd
caught me out in personal inconsistencies, I'd say I wore leather shoes
or took milk in my coffee so that the implications of the film couldn't be
dismissed by labelling the filmmaker a fanatic.
But now in the 21st century supermarkets routinely cater to vegetarian
food buyers, restaurant menus regularly display vegetarian symbols, and
the harm to health and the global environment caused by factory farming
has become established knowledge. It's time for vegans to become
vocal. Even free range eggs and organic milk production entail significant
suffering and the animals are killed when their productivity goes down.
Yet we are socialised from early childhood to use a plethora of animal
products without thinking. To follow a vegan path requires daily thought
and effort. Here's what I've realised: getting to that ultimate zeroexploitation
goal may be elusive, but the continuing efforts are
So, on an individual level I'm hopeful. But the Animals and Us series
made vivid that the organised group efforts on behalf of animals have
been largely fruitless to date, in terms of the end goals, and campaigns
for small changes are quite possibly counterproductive. The organised
activism is sorely in need of fresh perspectives. Thus I submit here for
scrutiny five fatal flaws of animal activism:
1. Instead of promoting animal rights goals as a major plank within
broader social change movements, animal organisations insist on going it
alone. Yet the Green party's animal rights goals are as radical as any
animal rights organisation's.
2. One of the world's largest animal rights organisations routinely
employs naked young women, including porn stars, to chase mass
media attention. Would a human rights organisation stoop so low?
3. Animal rights organisations have been handing out awards and
lavishing praise on slaughterhouse designers and burger restaurant
chains after "negotiations" for small changes that leave the systems of
exploitation intact.
4. Instead of animal rights organisations promoting a clear "moral
baseline" that individuals should become vegans to curb their own
demands for animal exploitation, groups have given their stamp of
approval to deeply compromised marketing concepts such as "happy
meat", "freedom foods", "sustainable meat", and "conscientious
5. Tactics of violence and personal intimidation have at long last fallen
out of favour, but activists now pour energy and resources into
organisations that lack any real strategy for bringing an end to animal
exploitation, whether for food or science.
Animal activists have not been asking themselves the difficult questions,
and organisational self-promotion stunts substitute for the less glamorous
work of figuring out how to help each of us change the way we live. Much
noise, little change. Perhaps it's time to reverse that.

Victor Schonfeld, Monday 18 January 2010 14.00 GMT

Views: 46

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Comment by Andres Grijalva on March 11, 2010 at 23:02
I think one of the most fatal flaws of animal rights activism is focusing our efforts in attacking those organizations that are trying to help, no matter how small or different their help might be, instead of focusing our efforts on changing the legislations and organizations that need to be changed.

I have heard many attacks from so called "animal friends" on PETA, WSPA, etc. These attacks will only make those that fight against animal rights even stronger. If PETA or the WSPA do not meet your moral standards or expectations, it does not mean that you should consider them your enemy. Take the following analogy as an example. If a person that eats meat tells you that he's willing to join you in the fight against animal testing, but not willing to stop eating meat, would you then start an attack on that person for not joining you the whole way or would you welcome his efforts against animal testing and continue to encourage that person to adopt a vegan lifestyle? I think the answer is clear, you would welcome this person's help and even praise that person for their decision to fight against animal testing and to make a difference, a difference that might not be the ideal one in your eyes, by a good decision none the less.

We shouldn't be attacking those that are willing to make a difference, no matter how small it might be. I disagree with some of the tactics that PETA have used in the past, but should I start an attack on them or would my efforts be better channeled by making an educated and polite suggestion to make them improve in their efforts to save animals. PETA and the WSPA may not be perfect, but common sense tells me that attacking these organizations will not save animals and it will not help in our fight for animal rights. If this organizations don’t meet our moral standards then by all means let them know and I’m sure your suggestions would be welcome, but trying to bring them down is not the answer to achieve what we are trying to achieve.

I completely agree that you need to know what you’re fighting for and what results you expect to get in order to achieve them. The fight for animal rights should have an organized strategy. People that fight for animals rights should focus in educating and persuading others to join us in the fight in a manner that will appeal to them, you won’t get the results you want from one day to the other and you won’t have the response you want from all the people that you target, but if you make this decision to fight for animal rights look appealing to them, some changes will happen and once this small changes happen, we can start working on the rest. It would naïve to think that we can change other to adopt a vegan lifestyle as we present our argument. What I’m trying to say is that small changes in the right way are better than no change at all. If PETA can encourage a designer to stop using fur in his/her line of clothes, but hasn’t managed to stop them from using leather too, should we then not be happy that a change has been made, that animals have been saved? Or should we instead attack PETA and the designer for not meeting the guidelines of our moral philosophy and stop the use of leather too? No! We should praise what has been achieved as it is a step forward towards our goal. We should praise them, but not stay stagnant and satisfied with this result. No! We should continue fighting and encouraging this designer and others too to stop the use of all animal products in their clothing. With this praise and encouragement for the good decisions that they make as an example, they will be more open to making other further changes and all these changes make a difference for the animals that we are fighting for. Animals need our help we have the duty to have their best interest in mind in our efforts to save them.

This basic morals philosophy you mention will be possible for everyone to grasp, it is something that people are not willing to easily accept it as it means that they have to change their lifestyle, something that they have know all their lives and have never taken some time to question if it’s morally correct or not. This is why most people won’t join you in the struggle for animals’ rights all the way and not all of them will meat your moral standards, but the little help they offer should always be welcome.

I find that some animal rights activists are not free from the arrogance and this arrogance will not help the fight for animal rights. An animal rights activist should always have the interest of animals in mind before their pride. We too often ask people to open their minds to change and moral progress, but we too should keep our minds open to see and find the best way to help these people become more compassionate and find solutions and not only questions for their actions. It is all well and good telling people to stop the seal hunt in Canada, but what we need to do is help these people change it, come up with alternatives. These people won’t react well to our requests if we don’t help them make the changes that need to be made. Unfortunately this is the way it is and whilst some of us hope that everybody realized that animals are not ours to use, abuse, eat, etc. It won’t happen unless we help them realize and we can only do this by keeping our minds open to what they have to say. We need to give them solutions and not demands.
Comment by Brenda Trerice on February 20, 2010 at 3:06
In my opinion, Mr. Schonfeld may be adding to the 'noise'. He refers to animal welfare organizations as animal rights organizations. Also, vegetarianism is a plant-based diet [no animal by-products]. Hence his above discourse reinforces both masquerades and adds to the confusion.
As a side note, I think of animal welfare 'organizations' as animal welfare corporations.


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