Animal issues matter to many people, a YouGov poll last year shows that 14% of British voters name animal welfare as an issue that would determine their vote, with 87% saying they would be more likely to vote for a political party promoting animal welfare (rising to 20% and 92% respectively of 18-24 year olds). Animal charities have millions of members who together donate hundreds of millions of pounds to help animals in need.
Even if you don’t feel compassion towards other living creatures there are also good reasons to be engaged in the debates about what we do to animals. From the overuse of antibiotics in factory farming that has been shown to contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans, to the issue of new drugs failing regulatory tests due to poor animal models, there are many reasons why the way we treat animals matters to our own health and wellbeing.
And caring about animals does not mean that you don’t care about people. Having policies to protect animals doesn’t push out the policies to protect people. The Green Party manifesto has been judged highly by organisations working in areas such as poverty, disability rights and health to name just a few. In fact I would suggest that feeling compassion towards other living creatures is probably a reasonable marker for compassion towards people.
And yet caring about animals in this election seems to have been seen as a bit of a joke, in fact it hasn't even seemed to be necessary to report the truth.
Apparently the Green Party wants to ban the Grand National, or so said the headlines. I don’t know where these headlines came from as it simply isn’t our policy. Actually what we want to do is review racing with a focus on the welfare of the animals involved. How can you argue against that? I don’t think you can, so instead someone decided to create a straw man. And once that line is out there.in mainstream media the chance of having a reasoned debate is much reduced. I wrote this article and yet most of the responses I got were ‘but why do you want to ban the Grand National’, only not so polite.
Also I read in several major newspapers that we want to ban rabbit hutches, even had angry emails about it. That is a straight forward lie, perhaps the original piece about it was meant to be a joke, yet the issue of factory farming- which our policy actually addresses- is not funny at all. The line that has caused all the trouble was very clearly in the farming section which reads as:
'We must move away from intensification and industrialisation of animal farming. Sustainable farming means animals freed from cages and returned to the land. We will phase out factory farming and enforce strict animal welfare standards. In particular we will work for:
A complete ban on cages for egg laying hens and rabbits and on zero grazing units for dairy cows."
Followed by various other points.
With the ban on cages for eggs being watered down to allow enriched cages- so conning the consumer again- the threat of our cows not seeing, never mid eating, grass and with cruel rabbit farms (that have high reliance on antibiotic use) spreading across Europe and threatening to arrive in the UK (see more details here) I thought these were points worth making.
The section goes on to talk about CCTV in slaughterhouse, ending live export and tackling antibiotic overuse. Issues that the press have been keen to highlight and support and that other political parties rarely acknowledge. Yet in this election they are off the agenda. Do we get to think about if farming is actually going in the right direction? Do we get to debate how we will feed ourselves in the future. No we do not, we instead get to dismiss the Greens on the basis of one word taken out of context and twisted.
Then someone else made a little jibe about bees being in our manifesto. Seeing as bees are responsible for pollinating one third of our food, are suffering from poorly understood high levels of mortality and the EU has been threatened to with legal action for banning a pesticide implicated in their decline I would actually like to know why the hell other politicians aren’t talking about bees.
I’m proud of the work the Greens do on animal issues. I’m proud of our animal manifesto, I believe it covers important issues and I know it has been well received by many people who care about animals. I know it doesn’t limit the work we do on all the other important issues of social and environmental justice, but rather complements it. From food prices to pollution, dog bites to campylobacter infections these issues impact us all, as well as the millions of animals suffering- hidden away from view.
A senior member of another political party hearing of ‘rabbitgate’ said to me ‘you’ll learn-like we did- not to put these things in your manifesto’. So the areas about which we dare talk and debate become narrower and narrower. This is how we end up in a world of plastic politicians who speak in soundbites. So scared that something that hasn’t been digested by focus groups and double checked by PR gurus could be twisted and used against them.
Of course the debates that get shut down aren’t just confined to animal protection. Why talk about climate change or energy policy- which are heavily covered in the Green manifesto- if you can distract people with rabbits? Why debate if we need austerity at all if we can just debate on the number and type of cuts.
So next time should we ignore animal suffering, or anything else that might be twisted to incite ridicule? Stick to the list of acceptable subjects? It was Noam Chomsky who said “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum....”.
Fortunately Greens have never really been passive or obedient, so we will continue to push the spectrum of debate, but when you read something about us that seems a bit ridiculous it may well prove wise to do your research.