Cruelty-free advocacy: Animals Australia's approach

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LAST UPDATED: 12 September 2016

If you are someone who believes that humane treatment of animals must always come second to profitability, then you will probably not like what we have to say here. If you are someone who believes that the only way an individual can help animals is to be a vegan, then you will also probably not like what we have to say here.

With some 500 million animals suffering in factory farms in Australia, and millions of others exported live to be killed in countries where laws do not protect them from cruelty, we seldom stop to explain why we do what we do. Mostly we just get on with the job of exposing and working to end animal abuse — and those who support our work understand why. But as animal protection gains traction as a major social justice movement in Australia, those who profit from industries responsible for animal abuse are getting a little uncomfortable.

Perplexingly, Animals Australia has been labelled by some as a 'vegan organisation', while at the same time being accused by others of encouraging the consumption of animals. These two contradictory claims are both false. Animals Australia is neither of these things.

This misunderstanding often stems from an oversimplification of what we represent into ‘black or white’ ideals. But we operate in the real world — with all its textures and complexities — and people. Animals Australia fills a critical need in animal protection in Australia. We therefore operate like no other organisation in Australia in order to provide the strongest possible representation to those animals who need it most.

Who Animals Australia represents

Animals Australia exists first and foremost to represent animals. Not vegans, meat-eaters, farmers, or even donors — animals. Everything we do is informed by a vision for a kinder world where animals are free from cruelty.

Nationally, Animals Australia also represents dozens of member societies through government committees, reviews and processes. Our campaigns and investigations are funded entirely by donations that come from thousands of kind individuals across Australia (and around the world) who themselves are vegans, vegetarians, meat-eaters, and yes, some are farmers. Our members and supporters in turn represent diverse backgrounds, religions, professions and lifestyles. The one thing that unites us all however is a desire to protect animals from suffering.

Why we are not a 'vegan organisation'

We don't believe it's appropriate to tell anyone what to do or think (or eat, or wear). But we do believe we can provide the information that people need in order to make truly informed choices that are in line with their own values.

Current animal protection laws don't prohibit animals raised for food from being severely confined and subjected to 'surgical' procedures without pain relief. In light of this, we will always identify that not consuming animal products is one of the most powerful ways an individual can help protect farmed animals from harm.

Many Animals Australia supporters choose to lead cruelty-free lives — and we encourage and applaud this — as we do any personal choices that will reduce harm caused to animals.

There are choices that every single person can make — regardless of whether they eat meat — to help end a very real animal welfare crisis that is occurring right now inside factory farms. Most Australians are appalled by cruelty to animals and given the choice will choose not to see them suffer. At the same time, most Australians are unaware of just how many products they buy come from factory farms — where sensitive, intelligent animals are denied quality of life.

After two decades of failing to create needed change for animals through government and industry processes, Animals Australia recognised the need to inform the Australian community about current practices and their ability to create change for animals through consumer choice. Since 2004, Animals Australia has been conducting an ongoing national public awareness campaign (through print, radio, TV, outdoor and online media) on behalf of animals in factory farms. Rising consumer awareness during this time has led the pig industry to voluntarily restrict the use of sow stalls, and has underpinned moves by retailers to shift away from cage eggs as well as pork/bacon/ham that has been produced in facilities that confine mother pigs in sow stalls. These changes alone will help free millions of animals from cruel confinement. Our public awareness work continues.

Shifts away from factory-farmed products are happening hand in hand with rising public awareness about the reality of cage eggs and factory farmed chicken, pork, bacon and ham. Even gradual shifts, on large scales, reduce the suffering of millions of animals. This much needed change would not be possible without caring individuals who are making the choice to refuse factory farmed products, and those who are reducing their overall consumption of animal products.

Animals Australia is not the only organisation that has recognised the need to reduce consumption, for reasons of animal welfare, the environment or indeed our own health. Australians eat three times more meat than the maximum daily intake recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council, with the overconsumption of red and processed meats being linked to higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Oxfam promotes eating less meat and dairy as part of its GROW campaign to protect the environment, improve animal welfare and safeguard global food security. While the United Nations Environment program also throws its weight behind calls to reduce meat and dairy consumption in developing countries to help avoid future famines.

We firmly believe that every positive choice — no matter how ‘big’ or ‘small’ — is worthy of support and encouragement.

Animals Australia has been criticised by the National Farmers Federation (NFF) for spending money on public awareness campaigns. This coming from a body that supports the continuation of cruel practices is not unexpected. But it also ignores obvious facts. Producers will change to more humane practices if they see that there is a demand for it. The only way there will be a demand is if consumers are aware of current practices. Every dollar we invest in public awareness campaigns, directly leads to improved treatment of animals.

The NFF also fails to recognise that whilst Animals Australia will always highlight that not eating animals is a legitimate choice people can make — it is the NFF's ongoing defence of industries such as live export and factory farming that are driving many people to consider meat-free diets.

Food choices are of course not the only personal choices that impact the lives of animals — they often just happen to be the most topical. Making informed choices about the animals we welcome into our home, the clothes we wear, the entertainment we seek, the politicians we lobby, and many other choices can all make a profound, positive difference.

Why we do not promote animal products

As an animal protection organisation, Animals Australia does not promote or endorse any commercial animal products. However, in recognition of the fact that some systems of raising animals for food are significantly better than others, we do strive to provide meaningful information (such as guides to understanding egg labels, chicken meat labels and pork/bacon/ham labels) that helps people better understand the relative benefits and concerns inherent in each of these systems.

With leading health experts, nutrition and climate scientists also agreeing that our society's current levels of consumption of animal products is neither healthy nor sustainable, we do not believe that advocating for the consumption of animal products is necessary or appropriate — particularly for an organisation that exists to represent the interests of animals.

We're all in this together

Most Australians — regardless of what they choose to eat — care about animals, and support action that helps protect them from cruelty. Animals raised for food outnumber humans by a staggering degree — yet they are underrepresented to an equally staggering degree. They cannot vote. They cannot cry out against cruelty. They have no voice to oppose injustice. Most are not even afforded the same basic legal protection from cruelty that protects our pets at home... In short, they need the voice of every caring person willing to speak up for them.

So, Animals Australia does not exist to represent vegetarians, vegans, or meat-eaters. We exist to represent animals. And we stand side-by-side with every person who wishes to see them protected from cruelty and who wishes to join us to create a kinder, more compassionate world.

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