Jul 312008

Concern for the treatment of farm animals worldwide brought 160 representatives from animal welfare organisations and from the European Communion together in Brussels in mid-April. Held under the auspices of External Trade Director Peter Mandelson’s Civil Society Dialogue, the aim was to prepare the way for a larger EU gathering early next year.

As convenor of Norwich and Waveney’s Quakers and Kindred Animals Committee (QUAKA), I was there to represent the only faith-based CSD organisation concerned specifically with the well being of animals in world trade. My main task was to develop awareness of the spiritual nature of our fellow creatures, which we had already begun to ease – very gently onto the EU agenda.

The prime mover in bringing about the forum was the charismatic Adolfo Sansolini, whom some of you met when he came to Norwich to speak at Friends Meeting House in March. QUAKA will be taking an active part in a blog being set up to develop the ideas that came out of that meeting. It will be posted shortly on the forum’s website http://www.animalwelfareandtrade.com. The views expressed will in turn be reflected in the final submission that is made ahead of the 2009 meeting.

What follows is the mission statement which I took to Brussels on behalf of QUAKA. Copies were made available to all delegates.

Valerie Macfarlane

Factory Farms – We’re in This Together

The intensive rearing of livestock has until recently been a matter of concern to only a minority of people. It was considered solely an animal welfare issue. Increasingly however, evidence is coming to light showing the serious effect it can have on the people who work in this industry.

Casual attitudes are inevitable where thousands of creatures are processed on an un-ending conveyor belt of feeding and killing. Repetition is bound to desensitise anyone to the welfare of individual animals. But to see where this can lead you only have to go on the internet, key in Cruelty on Factory Farms, and read the accounts of former employees. Almost anything you can imagine happening in an understaffed, ill-supervised environment where low overheads and high through-put are paramount  happens.

Peer Pressure

One of the worst cases of cruelty to get into the newspapers happened in England on a Bernard Matthews turkey farm. Two young men, using poles intended as aids for rounding up the stock, were secretly filmed playing baseball with live birds. Their lawyer said they had been influenced by peer pressure. He told the court: In this sort of environment the one thing you cannot do is step outside what everyone else is doing.

The risk of certain individuals being led into sadism is always present where respect for living creatures has been eroded. Despite the secrecy policy of the majority of factory farms, it now appears that exposure to this behaviour can lead to brutality being regarded as normal. Today, therefore, we must face the fact that what was once seen as an animal tragedy, is in fact one which embraces human beings as well.

It doesn’t end there. Research suggests a clear link between cruelty to animals and violence towards people. In America, an FBI analysis showed that a high proportion of those convicted of violent crimes have histories of animal abuse. One study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and North-eastern University put it as high as seventy per cent.

At the same time it has become clear that we can no longer justify the division which we have always maintained between the animals and ourselves. In recent years science has taught us a great deal about what we and our fellow creatures have in common physically. It is now accepted that they are sentient beings which experience fear and pain as we do. In many cases their senses are far superior to our own. And these “dumb” creatures have their own means of communication.

Differences of Degree

We can no longer claim that what separates us is more than a matter of degree. And in many ways they have the advantage over us. So what grounds do we have for continuing to treat our fellow creatures as different in kind from ourselves? Encouraged by the Church, man has always clung to the soul as the single thing that separates him from the rest of creation. But spirituality in man manifests itself through such qualities as love, symbiosis and altruism. And anyone who has lived close to animals knows that these are not the monopoly of homo sapiens. Those most aware of this  and who live their lives accordingly are indiginous peoples such as the First Nation Americans, the Inuit and the Aborigines.

The evidence today is that these groups – often looked down upon as primitive – have been right all along. Each life form is really an aspect of a single, indivisible whole. There may be variations when it comes to individual development. And we progress at the pace of the slowest. But in the end we are one. On the factory farm as in everything we are in this together.
Email: valmacf@btinternet.com

Dec 032007

Quakers and Kindred Animals

This was first set up as the Kinship Group in 2004. Two years later it organised a nationwide Quaker petition to the European Commission seeking proper consideration for the welfare of animals in world trade.

As a result of this initiative we were asked to go to Brussels to put our case to officials of the External Trade Directorate. At this meeting we were invited to register with the Civil Society Dialogue, a regular discussion group chaired by Peter Mandelson, the EU Commissioner for External Trade.

The group is open to not-for-profit NGOs with interests in world trade, enabling them to exert an influence on EU trade policies. It was set up in 1998 in pursuance of the Commission’s policy of open governance.

Our registration was formally accepted in April 2007.

Dec 032007

Where We Stand

Mankind is uniquely endowed with the ability to decide how to treat his fellow creatures. But so far he has too often failed to live up to the responsibilities which that ability places upon him. In recent years, however, science has provided proof of just how closely related all animals – human and otherwise – really are. As a result, we can no longer claim that physical and emotional pain are the monopoly of human beings.

As Quakers, we believe that in the twenty-first century we must at last recognise that what separates us from non-human animals are differences of degree and not of kind.

Quakers and Kindred Animals considers it unrealistic to expect the majority of people to give up eating meat. Nor, since the needs of humans are generally placed so far above those of animals, is there any chance of an immediate end to all vivisection.

So instead we commit ourselves to improving the standard of care in the raising and killing of livestock for food, strict limits on the use of animals in sport and other entertainment and the greatest possible control of experiments involving animals. At the same time we will actively support the development of alternatives to those experiments.

We are in addition concerned about the de-sensitizing effect on people working in both the meat industry and vivisection. In our view the cases of cruelty that come to court – almost always the result of secret filming – are only the tip of an iceberg.

In our view casual brutality is an inevitable result of under-staffing, lack of supervision and pressure to maintain through-put. These are matters which urgently need to be addressed for the well-being of both the people and the animals involved.

Dec 032007

In August, Norwich and Lynn’s Quakers and Kindred Animals Committee (QUAKA) made its first submission to the European Union as a member of the Civil Society Dialogue (CSD) . It had been invited to comment on trade negotiations between the EU and Mercosur, the South American trade group. QUAKA is the only faith-based organisation specifically concerned with animal welfare registered with the CSD. The inspiration for its submission came from the following article by JOHN MYHILL.

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