The Rights of Nature

“Just as human beings have human rights, all other beings also have rights which are specific to their species or kind and appropriate for their role and function within the communities within which they exist.”

The Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth

Nature has Rights! And not just in our wishful pipe dreams. Two countries hit the headlines recently with court rulings acknowledging the legal personhood of three rivers. In New Zealand the Wanganui River, and the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India now have rights. On 31st March India granted Himalayan glaciers the same status. They are legal persons.

A similar judgment has been made in Costa Rican law courts for the planet’s second largest reef which happens to lie in their waters.

Costa Rica’s not too distant neighbour Ecuador was already well ahead of the game – in 2008, the first country in the world to embed in the nation’s constitution itself, the Rights of Nature. The constitution was then put to a referendum of the people, and they voted yes. Ground-breakers indeed.

Not to be left behind, Bolivia was next to achieve a milestone for Nature’s Rights. Half a century after the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma, drove forward the initiative to present the United Nations with a draft of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

Since that time:

  • Nearly 40 municipalities in the US have adopted Nature’s Rights
  • The dignity of all beings is recognised in Switzerland’s constitution
  • Spain recognises the rights of apes
  • And Romania is in the process of doing the same for dolphins

The EU is lagging behind! But there is hope, as we will see. First, how law for Nature operates in most countries of the world now.

The law with reference to Nature at present stumbles along under one of three paradigms. All outdated, none holistic. Take your pick:
  • mechanistic – viewing the world as made up of separate unconnected objects interacting in a predicable way
  • anthropocentric – viewing the world as existing solely for the use of human beings – our own ‘natural resources’ or ‘natural capital’. Nature is judged only by its economic value to Man rather than on its own intrinsic value
  • adversarial – where one party wins at the expense of another. Guess who nearly always wins? It’s not Nature.
But we already have laws to protect wildlife and the environment – like our own UK Wildlife and Countryside Act. So why does Nature need legal Rights?

Generally speaking – though as we have seen there are exceptions – the law as it stands recognises only two kinds of ‘holders of rights’: humans and human-created entities such as corporations. Everything else – animals domesticated, farmed and wild, land and water, Nature itself – is ‘property’. Nature our thinking goes, belongs to us, is our possession. So laws of protection that come, can just as easily go, depending on the prevailing governmental winds.

The classic example is the USA’s iconic gray wolf, already extinct over most of its historic range. The wolf was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1974, delisted in 2012, relisted in 2014, and now once again loses  protection in Alaska, in national wildlife refuges fgs, under Trump. The man is hell bent on sweeping aside just about every protection U.S. wildlife and wild places – so hard striven for over decades – now enjoy. If ever there was someone out of tune with Nature….

Rights on the other hand give the highest level of legal protection.

Rather than treating nature as property under the law, Rights for Nature… acknowledge that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.  And we – the people –  have the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant [and in courts of law we can be its advocate].

And so we come to the ECI – A European Citizens’ Initiative for the Rights of Nature

vII8ChdUxsdMEueu8GoGHUsKT6xziUJ5k45bQMJKNm07IeMjECZMyq0pleanp1K3ViJy7gVg9qoqwzJo0jtlRpmUrAvHLW_lnSsI7h0k0O34H1o5KH6D9wTTRj5NsMGkHrS_3IUQ.pngThe European Citizens Initiative scheme was established five years ago with the aim of increasing direct democracy by enabling “EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies”. Now, a group of lawyers, environmentalists, academics and others from 13 EU countries have come together in a project to present the Rights of Nature to the EU Commission and get those rights enshrined in EU law.

Their Project Vision

Humanity flourishing in harmony with Nature.

Project Mission

To establish nature’s rights – legal personality and rights for ecosystems and other species – in law throughout Europe.

Project Aim

To launch a European Citizens’ Initiative to propose nature’s rights to the legislative agenda of the EU – see our Draft Directive.

Why This Initiative?

Ecosystems and other species are alive. Yet the law treats them as objects separate to us. This has wide reaching social and economic consequences that drive the environmental crisis. Rights of nature is a game changing solution that brings fundamental and systemic transformation to our legal and economic system by re-characterising nature – ecosystems and species – as a subject of the law with legal personality and tangible rights that can be defended in court by people. This ensures that economic activity operates to enhance rather than undermine the resilience of ecosystems so that humanity can thrive in harmony with nature. It forms a powerful counterbalance to corporate rights and a viable alternative to the financialisation of nature.  To find out more see this article – Rights of Nature – Why Do We Need It? and this TEDx Talk.

Nature needs us to create new legal systems that promote

  • respect for the profound inter-existence of all life
  • respect for the intrinsic value of all life
  • healthy relationships with all life
  • harmony with the universal laws that govern all life

Sadly, since the European Citizens’ Initiative first came into effect, only three ECIs have managed to collect the 1 million signatures required for a response from the EU Commission. And of those three, only one was approved for a follow-up proposal. (One of those rejected by the Commission was a proposal for the European Anthem to be sung in Esperanto!)

But with our support the chances for the ECI – Rights of Nature are hopeful. And here are ways you can help

If you have skills in the following areas and would like to be involved in co-creating this exciting history-making initiative, please get in touch with Mumta Ito, as representative of the organising committee, at mumtaito@gmail.com. The specific areas additional assistance is needed are:

  • Administration/administrative support; fundraising; accounting; research; IT/websites/social media; branding; education; advocacy; lobbying; project management.
  • Additional members to join the existing 13 country teams (UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Ireland, Italy, Belgium and Latvia)
  • People who would like to lead the initiative in the EU countries where we still don’t have people (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta, Lithuania, Estonia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Austria, Estonia, Bulgaria and Greece)
  • We also have places for self-funding internships in Findhorn and Andalucía.

Offers of skills support could be in a purely ‘advisory’ capacity or more hands-on – (no offer of assistance is too small). To be kept in the loop subscribe at the Being Nature Project.

We look forward to hearing from you and to creating together the legal frameworks needed to form a more resilient, thriving world for all of our future generations.

Of course here in the UK we have Brexit looming. But until the two years after the triggering of Article 50 is over, we can still have our say and make our contribution.

Follow European Citizens’ Inititative on Facebook here

Sign the Global Alliance’s Letter of Commitment to the Rights of Nature here

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It’s true UNESCO already has its own Earth Charter, approved at a meeting of the Earth Charter Commission in Paris in 2000. It lists four Principles. The problem for me lies in Principle Two :

a. Accept that with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and protect the rights of people.

That strikes me as reinforcing the status quo, the rights of Man to treat Nature as property – more a denial of the Rights of Nature than part of a charter to protect them. I would like to see UNESCO replace the Earth Charter with the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth which places Man not bestriding the Earth, above Nature with the right to own it and use it, but as just one thread in the complex web of life, each part of which is every bit as entitled to rights as are we humans.

Read the full Universal Declaration here

And sign the petition to the UN for the Rights of Mother Earth here


Postscript

Two hugely important questions arise for me from discussion about the Rights of Nature.

The first, for those of us who are dedicated to Animal Rights: if we achieve legal Rights for Nature, what does that mean for nonhuman animals? Does it mean that animal advocates like the Nonhuman Rights Project should cease the legal battle to win personhood for individual chimpanzees like Tommy, and throw its weight instead behind the fight for Rights of Nature?

Does it also mean that if nonhuman animals have the right to live at liberty in their own natural environment without interference and exploitation from humans, that the farming of animals would cease?

That we would get the vegan world of which we dream? A sentence in the Declaration seems to say so:

‘Every being has the right to wellbeing and to live free from torture or cruel treatment by human beings”

Secondly, as the capitalist system is based on extracting Nature’s ‘commodities’ and exploiting animals, human and nonhuman in the pursuit of profit and ‘growth’, don’t we need a new paradigm not just for law, but for world economics too?

Maybe I can explore these questions further at a later date, but now I would greatly value your ideas and comments on this immense subject.

Related posts

Human Rights Are Animal Rights!

A Promising Way Forward for Animal Rights?

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Through Artist’s Eyes- The Wondrous Web of Life & Death

Sources

Being Nature – Extending Civil Rights to the Natural World – The Ecologist

Rights of Mother Earth

Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

European Citizens Initiative – Wiki

ECI for the Rights of Nature – International Centre for Wholistic Law

ECI Project Summary – A European Citizens Initiative for the Rights of Nature

Revising the ECI: How to make it ‘fit for purpose’ – Euractiv

 

Human Rights are Animal Rights!

by Peter Tatchell for the Ecologist

Abusing animals is no more justifiable than abusing people, writes Peter Tatchell. The moral touchstone is sentience, not species, and the ‘humans first’ ideology of speciesism is analogous to homophobia, racism & misogyny. Cruelty is barbarism, whether inflicted on humans or on other species. We need to recognise and accept our common animal nature.

Since we humans are an animal species, it is obvious that human rights are a form of animal rights; and that animal rights include – or should include – the human species.

“We accept that we have a special responsibility to protect weaker, more vulnerable humans. Surely the same reasoning applies to other weaker, more vulnerable thinking, feeling creatures?”

Sadly, not everyone sees it this way. Many view humans and other animals as totally distinct: drawing a clear, sharp line between animal rights and human rights.
That’s not my view. Sentience is the bond that unites all animal species, human and non-human. I accept our shared animalism and advocate our shared claim to be spared suffering and accorded inalienable rights.

It is true that other animals are less intelligent than humans and lack our mental-physical skills and our capacity for culture and conscience.¹ But this is no justification for abusing them. Just as we do not sanction the abuse of humans – such as babies and disabled people – who lack these highly developed capacities.

We accept that we have a special responsibility to protect weaker, more vulnerable humans. Surely the same reasoning applies to other weaker, more vulnerable thinking, feeling creatures?

There is, in my moral universe, no great ethical gulf between the abuse of human and non-human animals or between our duty of compassion towards other humans and other species.

Indeed, I see a link between the oppression of non-human animals and the oppression of human beings because of their nationality, race, gender, faith or non-faith, political beliefs, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Speciesism is analogous to homophobia, racism and misogyny

The different forms of human and other animal oppression are interconnected, based on the similar abuse of power and the infliction of harm and suffering. They cannot be fully understood separately from one another.

How we mistreat animals parallels how we mistreat people. Cruelty is barbarism, whether it is inflicted on humans or on other species. The campaigns for animal rights and human rights share the same fundamental aim: a world without oppression and suffering, based on love, kindness and compassion.

Speciesism is the belief and practice of human supremacism over other animal species. It is prejudice, discrimination or violence in favour of human beings; variously involving the exploitation, incarceration, mistreatment or killing of other animals by humans.

This humans-first ideology of speciesism is analogous to homophobia, racism and misogyny. A form of prejudice, domination and oppression, it is incompatible with a humane, civilised society.

We humans are an animal species. We know about pain and suffering. So why do most of us hold high-handed attitudes towards other animals and accept their abuse in medical laboratories, farms, zoos, circuses and sports events?

It does not follow that our highly sophisticated intelligence and material development gives us the right to lord it over other species. Just because we have the capacity to do so, does not mean that we should. On the contrary: our brain power and conscience give us a special responsibility of stewardship over the Earth and all its beings.

We must start thinking in a new way …

My thinking has been influenced by the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, and his ground-breaking book, Animal Liberation. In my mind, it is one the most important books of the last 100 years. It expands our moral horizons beyond our own species and is thereby a major evolution in ethics.

Singer challenges human chauvinism. By viewing non-human sentient beings as ‘other’, we allow ourselves the ‘excuse’ to look down on and mistreat them; including to insult, exploit, abuse, dominate or even kill those ‘other’ beings. We stop seeing them as living, thinking, feeling creatures.

Anti-animal prejudice runs deep. Bigots often disparage other people with speciesist epithets. They accuse them of acting ‘just like a beast’ or ‘worse than an animal.’ This bigotry echoes the vile insults that black people are ‘savages’, women are ‘bitches’ and that LGBT people are ‘perverts.’

Before we can liberate the millions of oppressed humans and billions of exploited animals we need to free our minds and start thinking in a new way: to consciously eliminate the mentality of subjugation and entitlement that allows us to passively acquiesce or, even worse, actively participate in the cycle of abuse against other sentient beings – human and non-human.

Animal liberation is in the same ethical tradition as women’s, black and LGBT liberation. It is about ending the suffering that flows from a supremacist mindset and power relations of domination.

Surely, in the twenty-first century, the time has come to emancipate non-human animals, just like we previously emancipated humans through abolishing slavery, male-only suffrage and anti-LGBT laws?

We have a moral duty to stop abusing other animal species. They aren’t really that different from us humans. Vertebrates share much of our DNA and our capacity for thought, feelings, emotions, sociability, language, altruism and empathy.

We need to recognise and accept our common animal nature. If we did that, the excuses and rationalisations for treating other species badly would fall away.


¹I love this piece and totally endorse everything Peter says – except for the statement: “It is true that other animals are less intelligent than humans and lack our mental-physical skills …” Intelligence is a human construct. Some nonhumans display remarkable intelligence even by that human-centric standard, while others show their own special intelligences that we can scarcely understand or lay claim to ourselves. As for mental-physical skills, many if not all of the 7.77 million species on our planet could give humans a good run for their money.

If you haven’t already done so, please sign the Declaration of Animal Rights


Peter Tatchell is a British human rights campaigner, originally from Australia, best known for his work with LGBT social movements. Tatchell was selected as Labour Party Parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey in 1981.

Event: Peter Tatchell’s keynote address ‘Human rights ARE animal rights’ takes place at Veggie World London at 2pm on Saturday 8th April, Kensington Town Hall, West London. Advance tickets available online: £8 for adults and £6 concessions.


Source: Human rights are animal rights! – The Ecologist


Related posts

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Will Today be the Day Chimpanzees become Legal Persons?

A Promising New Way Forward for Animal Rights?

Vegan Rights & Why They Really Matter for the Animals

Will Today be the Day Chimpanzees become Legal Persons?

Cover image: Getty

Today is a big day. Today lawyer Steven Wise of the NonHuman Rights Project will be presenting oral arguments in the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan on behalf of two chimpanzees, Tommy and Kiko.
In the fight to win legal person status for a nonhuman animal and what that would mean for nonhumans as a whole, this is the best and clearest article I’ve come across yet. It’s a decent length but truly worth reading through to the end. There cannot be much else as important as this for Animal Rights.

Should a Chimpanzee be Considered a Person?

“If we didn’t have rights, all we had was some statute that said you can’t be cruel to me, or that I’m entitled to some kind of welfare, the person who gave it to me can also take it away,” [NhRP President Steven M. Wise] said. Wise cited the example of environmental protections set forth by the Obama administration, which are now being rolled back by Trump. Essentially, if legislation can be passed, it can also be erased. Rights are more difficult to erode.”

“They used to bark at me when I walked into the courtroom,” lawyer Steven Wise said in the Sundance documentary Unlocking the Cage, which debuted on HBO last month. His use of the word “bark” is literal.

Wise, founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, has spent his entire legal career preparing to represent the first chimpanzee plaintiffs in the U.S. court system. While he’s no stranger to having his life’s work—of attempting to get certain animals recognized as persons—poked fun at, he’s found that the courts have taken him seriously.

The distinction of “persons,” not “people,” is important. Part of the apparent absurdity is that on the surface, arguing for personhood might sound like saying a chimpanzee should have the same rights as an adult human, like the right to own property and vote in elections. Instead, the category of “person” is a legal one referring to a being entitled to certain fundamental rights. The case of the chimpanzees, Wise said, is about their right to bodily liberty—recognizing the animals as legal beings instead of “things.”

On March 16th, Wise will be presenting oral arguments in the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department in Manhattan on behalf of Tommy and Kiko, two chimpanzees who appeared in movies in the 1980s and are now living in New York State in questionable conditions—Tommy, in a concrete cell at the back of a trailer lot in upstate New York, and Kiko, in a concrete storefront operated out of a private home in Niagara Falls. According to NhRP, Tommy has frequently been left with a small TV set as his only stimulation; Kiko has been photographed with a makeshift leash made of a padlock and chain around his neck. Both animals, kept in cages, are being deprived the natural habitats and socialization that chimps, known to thrive in large and organized societies, require.

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Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project arguing on behalf of the chimpanzee Tomm before the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division on Oct. 8, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (Image: Mike Groll/AP)

Rather than attempt to sue or criminalize the chimps’ owners for cruelty, Wise is using a writ of habeus corpus to argue that these animals are being held against their rights as autonomous beings—autonomy being a “supreme common law value” recognized by the courts, as Wise explained.

“Scientifically speaking, autonomous beings have the capacity to freely choose how to live their lives. They are not cabined by instinct,” Wise told Gizmodo. He believes Tommy and Kiko should be released to true sanctuaries, with living conditions more akin to the jungles chimpanzees are native to, and importantly, other chimpanzees to socialize with. While nonhuman entities like corporations have, in the past, been named persons in the eyes of the law, Wise is the first to seek personhood status for nonhuman animals in a U.S. court. And if it can happen once, the door will be open to recognizing personhood in other cases of animal cruelty. Wise could set a precedent that changes the way nonhuman animals are seen in the eyes of the law forever.

Animal cruelty is usually fought piecemeal: Reports come out of an inhumane practice, an advocacy organization leads a reactionary campaign, and maybe a new law gets passed, or an offender is pressured to change their practices. David Coman-Hidy, executive director of The Humane League, says corporate boycotts are an effective tool. But it’s an imperfect system, because many forms of animal cruelty (like keeping chimps in isolation in concrete cages) are perfectly legal. Some laws are in place to protect nonhuman animals, but not nearly as many as you might think. Farm animals, the focus of THL’s work, “are afforded essentially no meaningful protections, legally,” Coman-Hidy said.

“Some of the most inhumane practices, like extreme confinement, are outlawed, but there’s very little [that is against the law to practice] in terms of slaughter.”

Farm animals, though not (yet) the subject of NhRP’s work, make a strong case in point. Specific forms of cruelty remain legal until—maybe—they’re not anymore. Meanwhile, other forms of cruelty remain the status quo. Wise’s approach, of arguing that animals are being not just mistreated, but being held against their rights as autonomous beings, is meant to upend this usual order.

“If we didn’t have rights, all we had was some statute that said you can’t be cruel to me, or that I’m entitled to some kind of welfare, the person who gave it to me can also take it away,” he said. Wise cited the example of environmental protections set forth by the Obama administration, which are now being rolled back by Trump. Essentially, if legislation can be passed, it can also be erased. Rights are more difficult to erode. As Wise put it, there’s a big difference “between having rights that you can enforce, and just being the object of protections that someone wants to give you.”

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Kanzi the chimpanzee as seen in Unlocking the Cage. (Image: Pennebaker Hegedus Films/HBO)

It’s been a few years since Wise first made headlines for filing on behalf of Tommy in 2013, and initially being rejected by a ruling and an appeals court by the end of 2014. Since then, his firm has also filed cases on behalf of the chimps Hercules and Leo, who were being held at Stony Brook University as biological subjects for study. Wise didn’t win that case either, but a public campaign (led by none other than Jane Goodall, primate expert and NhRP board member) is now pressuring Hercules and Leo’s owner, the New Iberia Research Center, to surrender the animals to a sanctuary in Florida.

Despite its losses, the NhRP is anything but discouraged.

According to Wise, Justice Barbara Jaffe, the judge in the First Department’s ruling on the Hercules and Leo case in 2015, agreed with “virtually everything” the NhRP presented. Jaffe wrote in her decision that “‘Legal personhood’ is not necessarily synonymous with being human,” and that the concept of legal personhood has “evolved significantly since the inception of the United States. Not very long ago, only caucasian male, property-owning citizens were entitled to the full panoply of legal rights.” But ultimately, Jaffe felt bound by a prior ruling against the NhRP—Tommy’s 2013 case in Albany—where the court said that to be a person you had to “assume duties and responsibilities.”

“The problem is,” Wise said, “millions of New Yorkers cannot assume duties and responsibilities.”

Wise is referring to what animal ethicists often call the “arguments from marginal cases”: if we define humanity, or personhood, as possessing a certain ability—in this case, the ability to assume responsibilities—what does that mean for the human beings who don’t? Are young children and those with disabilities less entitled to rights?

Few would say so. And this is where it gets messy when scholars and judges try to make logical distinctions between humans and other animals. The particular distinction the Albany court went with in the case of Tommy was that collectively, humans are able to assume duties, and chimps are not.

Wise is now armed to attack that assertion. The team has collected 60 pages of expert affidavits attesting to how chimpanzees in fact do assume responsibilities, both in chimpanzee-only and human-chimpanzee communities. At this stage, NhRP’s hope is the Manhattan court sets them up to appeal the Albany ruling. Considering it took almost 30 years between Wise getting the idea to argue for legal nonhuman personhood at all, and filing the first case, the process feels like a slow one. But Wise and his firm are in it for the long haul, and it’s entirely possible that one of their clients could be recognized as a person before the end of 2017. What’s more, NhRP is already looking outside of the Empire State.

Wise sees the bigger picture as a movement. He says the firm is in talks with lawyers in 11 different countries.

“We may be arguing in this courthouse way out in rural New York, but…people all over the world are paying attention to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” he said.

As of now, NhRP is gearing up to file a personhood case on behalf of circus elephants, and it’s looking into building a case for the orcas at SeaWorld in San Diego. Though the nature of the abuse and mistreatment is secondary to Wise’s legal argument, these cases are likely dire ones—abuses against circus elephants and SeaWorld orcas are well-documented. Large animals in captivity often suffer illness and developmental issues as a result of cramped and unnatural living spaces and breeding practices. Even worse, reports of violent abuse (beatings, confinement, use of ropes and shocks) in performing animal conditions are tragically common.

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Steve Wise with the chimpanzee Teko, as seen in Unlocking the Cage. (Image: Pennebaker Hegedus Films/HBO)

It would be no small victory for Wise to rescue even one of his clients from an unhappy life. But the greater value is the chance to set a precedent for the future. Future cases for nonhuman personhood in New York would be able to refer directly to the NhRP ruling, and a model would be provided for other states, even other nations.

“We’ve known from the beginning that ours will be a long-term fight continuous with and similar to other struggles for recognition of personhood and fundamental rights,” Wise said. That they’ve even made it this far, he says, is “a turn away from speciesist thinking.”

Kiko and Tommy, in other words, are only the beginning.

Support the important work of the NhRP here

Ariana DiValentino is a writer and filmmaker based in New York

Interview with Steve Wise on The Frank Beckmann Show

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When Everyone Is Telling You Meat Is The Bad Guy Revisited

If you are lucky enough to be invited to an official function of Germany’s Ministry for the Environment, you will be treated as from now to an all-vegetarian menu.

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Germany, land of sausages and schnitzels, is the latest to join our list of nation states and international organisations giving meat the black mark.

Meat features quite heavily in the German diet, the average citizen devouring 59kg of meat a year, quite a way behind America or Australia’s 89kg, but still a lot of meat.

Just this week Minister for the Environment Barbara Henricks threw a pebble into the calm pond of traditional German food culture when she instituted a ban on serving meat at all future ministry functions. As a well-informed Minister she is no doubt thoroughly versed in all the dietary advice and environmental policies for reducing meat consumption emanating recently from other nations.

She may well also be aware of a 2015 report published by Florida International University revealing meat-eaters as the number one cause of worldwide species extinction.

Unsurprisingly, the minister’s announcement provoked a backlash from the livestock industry. And she has other critics. Ms Henricks is a member of the Social Democrat Party. Members from the Christian Democrat Party (Angela Merkel’s party) have seized upon her pronouncement as a violation of personal freedom that demonstrates the SDP’s willingness to “infringe on the rights of private citizens.”

Shame on the CDP for trying to make political capital out of such an important issue – the fate of the planet no less. And what price the Environment Ministry’s credibility if it continued to dish up environmental destruction on a plate.

“We’re not tell anyone what they should eat,” the environment ministry said in a statement published by the Telegraph. “But we want to set a good example for climate protection, because vegetarian food is more climate-friendly than meat and fish.

Something of an understatement Barbara?

In August 2016 Tecnocracy News’ headline ran:

The United Nations would like to remove every meat animal from the face of the planet if it could, and especially cattle

The UN is not alone. Alarm bells about meat are ringing in the European Union, in Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, China, and for big investors in global food companies.

Need I go on? You can’t look anywhere right now without being told that meat is bad news.

So let’s see what preceded the veg*anising of official events at Germany’s Environment Ministry, beginning at the very top with the UN – August 2016

What exactly is the problem with meat? The UN’s International Research Panel reports that livestock farming is the biggest single emitter of greenhouse gas globally, responsible for 14.5% of all emissions causing climate change. Few would now try to deny – apart from Donald Trump – that climate change is a serious planet-threatening problem for which we need a radical solution.

The UN’s answer? Tax meat until it’s too expensive to eat.

“I think it is extremely urgent.  All of the harmful effects on the environment and on health need to be priced into food products.” Professor Maarten Hajer of Utrecht University, lead author of the IRP report.

So here we are, still celebrating the good news of the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement. With nearly 200 countries committed to it, the agreement comes into force in just 3 weeks time, on November 4th 2016. But there is no way many of the signatory nations will be able to keep to their commitment if their people don’t stop eating so much meat. If humans want to keep a planet to live on, they must cut back on meat. It’s as simple as that.

Europe – August 2016

The European Public Health Alliance is calling the EU to account on the same issue of meat’s calamitous effect on global warming. Europe’s Chief Advisor on Sustainability points out that Europe’s new climate policy fails to address the problems caused by intensive livestock farming.

“Preventing dangerous climate change, reversing the rise in diet-related chronic diseases and neutralising the threat of antibiotic resistance are among the most pressing issues facing the world today. An academic consensus is emerging around the understanding that changes to food consumption patterns may well be key to solving all three. Main message: we can’t afford to continue eating as if there is no tomorrow.”

So says Nikolai Pusharev for the EPHA. “Current dietary patterns high in animal products are incompatible with the aim of avoiding dangerous climate change,” he adds. Eating a lot less meat means crops are grown for people not cattle, a change vital for sustainability. In such a scenario far less land under food production is needed, and pressure is taken off the world’s precious forests and endangered habitats.

Sweden – August 2016

Dr David Bryngelsson agrees with the EPHA. His new study concludes, “radically reducing beef and mutton consumption is unavoidable if Europeans are serious about emission reduction.” After exploring six possible scenarios, his researchers found that deep cuts of 50 percent or more in meat consumption is the only way to make the necessary cuts in emissions.

He and his team conclude that Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy which heavily subsidises the farming of animals, is no longer fit for purpose and needs a radical overhaul.

“The evidence is accumulating that meat, particularly red meat, is just a disaster for the environment. 

Rachel Premack, the Washington Post.

cattle feed lot balck & white cows factory farming emissions

Denmark – April 2016

The Danish Ethics Council which advises the government also agrees.“The Danes’ way of life is far from climatically sustainable, and if we are to live up to the Paris agreement’s objective of keeping global temperature rise well below 2°C, it is necessary to act quickly,” says the council.

Which is why the Danish Council of Ethics, like the UN’s IRP, recommends a meat tax. To begin with on beef, the biggest polluter. It’s “an ethical obligation” to “send a clear signal” to the Danish public that their eating habits have to change – urgently.

UK – November 2015

Key findings of report from the Royal Institute of International Affairs:

  • Our appetite for meat is a major driver of climate change
  • Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the danger level of two degrees Celsius
  • Public awareness of the issue is low, and meat remains off the policy agenda
  • Governments must lead in shifting attitudes and behaviours

“I don’t think it’s possible to keep on a course for two degrees global warming—to keep climate change to safe levels—without looking at meat consumption,” Laura Wellesley, report’s lead author.

Netherlands – March 2016

The latest dietary guidelines for the Dutch issued earlier this year say, in a nutshell, cut out most of the meat. The reason?  “The livestock industry’s massive environmental impact.”

China – June 2016

With that country’s huge economic boom, meat went in the space of 10 years from rarity to regular staple. China’s new affluence opened the door to adopting the ‘Western diet’, heavy in meat. The Chinese government’s latest dietary guidelines recommend its 1.3 billion people cut their meat consumption by 50%, in the interests of reducing emissions, and improving public health.

Canada – October 2016

Just last week at the One Young World Summit in Ottawa, the former president of Ireland Mary Robinson urged young people from all over the world to “eat less meat, or no meat at all. We need each of us to think about our carbon footprint. Become vegetarian or vegan.”


Money Talks! – September 2016

Dietary guidelines and climate change commitments are one thing, but money is another. It’s time for livestock farmers to start worrying when a group of 40 investors managing assets worth $1.25 trillion launch a campaign urging 16 global food companies to diversify away from industrial farming and into plant-based protein.

The companies targeted include food giants Kraft Heinz, Nestle, Unilever, Tesco and Walmart. The investors in the shape of the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return Initiative issued a report, “The Future of Food: The Investment Case for a Protein Shake Up.”

70% of meat is produced in factory farms. And factory farming is, says FAIRR’s report, a high-risk production method. In addition to problems from  emissions; rising antibiotic resistance; and deforestation, add the risk of pandemics like avian flu; unsustainable water use; water, air and land pollution; and soil degradation. Investing in factory farming is not looking like such a good bet.

“The world’s over-reliance on factory-farmed livestock to feed the growing global demand for protein is a recipe for a financial, social and environmental crisis, says Jeremy Coller, leader of FAIRR .

David Sprinkle, Research Director of Packaged Facts agrees:

“On a global basis, alternate protein sources will grow [as financial commodities] faster than meat and seafood, which will begin to wane in coming decades. Global production increases are expected for protein-rich crops including soy, peas, rice, flax, canola and lupin.”

Of course Big Food companies are far too savvy to have just sat back on their heels waiting for the FAIRR report. They’ve already taken a fair few paddles in that particular sea. Campbell’s CEO Denise Morrison gives a figure of $8bn invested in plant-based brands since 2010. That’s quite some paddling!

And the market for protein-rich meat substitutes such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, textured vegetable protein, quorn and so on, is expected to grow by 8.4% a year over the next five years.

That brings us to October 2016 And the big story to hit the news this week is Tyson Foods’ purchase of a 5% share in Beyond Meat. Nearly everything about this story appears, on the surface, astonishing. Tyson Foods is one of the world’s biggest meat companies. And even big meat companies don’t come much more hard-nosed than TFN.

Beyond Meat, on the other hand, is a small independent relative newbie founded by vegan Ethan Brown in 2009 to produce plant-based foods indistinguishable from meat, to replace meat. The latest of BM’s products, the Beyond Burger which ‘bleeds” like meat has been something of a media sensation.

beyond meat beast burger vegan plant-based meat

But as I said, Big Food is savvy. On Tuesday, after news broke of Tyson Foods’ investment in BM, its shares on the stock market rose.

“Tyson Foods investing in us, is a sign of progress towards an increasing plant-based future,” tweeted Ethan Brown. You can be sure a giant like TFN will employ the very best futurists (yes, there really is such a job) to predict which way the wind will blow. Ethan’s assessment of the move’s significance is spot on.

It’s the same in Canada. A major Canadian packaged meats company, Maple Leafs Foods, has acquired Lightlife Foods, a company that produces plant-based meat substitutes, including tempeh, burgers, bacon and hot dogs, for $140 million, the deal to be signed in March 2017. President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods states:

“Expanding into the fast growing plant-based proteins market is one of Maple Leaf’s strategic growth platforms and supports our commitment to become a leader in sustainability. Consumers are increasingly looking to diversify their protein consumption, including plant-based options.”

According to PR Newswire, the plant-based protein market is now “estimated at US$600 million.”


If animal suffering is not enough of a motivator to make us give up or cut back on meat, we might like to take a look at this article in the New York Times: Close to the Bone – The Fight Over Transparency in the Meat Industry  October 2016

If that is still not enough to tip the balance for us, how about fear of a deadly pandemic arising from antibiotic resistance? Or, remember that 2015 report from Florida International Uni? Meat-eating is the single biggest cause of species extinctions – on the last 40 years we humans have caused the loss of 50% of the wildlife on the planet. Or fear of catastrophic climate change which could see the end of human life itself?

Well, maybe we won’t even have to make that choice for ourselves. Meat will likely become a luxury we can no longer afford.

In any case, I know where the smart money is. It’s backing a plant-based future for food all the way.


Transitioning your diet could not be easier. The supermarket shelves are stacked full of meat-free products as well as great fresh produce.

If you want to cut back on animal products for the planet, or go vegetarian or vegan, incredibly useful practical tips and recipes found here

And here


To read an interview with Ethan Brown re Tyson Foods, click here


Update

Monday October 17 2016 Free screening of Cowspiracy for UNAIDS in Geneva All welcome

Sources

German government agency bans meat from official functions – ThinkProgress

Tax Meat Until It’s Too Expensive To Eat, New UN Report Suggests – Technocracy News

Europe Needs to Halve Its Beef Consumption in Order to Meet Its Climate Change Goals – Munchies

China’s plan to cut meat consumption by 50% cheered by climate campaigners – The Guardian

Why meat is unsustainable and what the protein chain of the future might look like – ZME Science

Investors urge food companies to shift from meat to plants – Reuters

Fortune Reveals Why Big Food is Investing in Plant-Based Brands – VegNews

Former Ireland President Tells Young Leaders to Become Vegetarian or Vegan – ClearlyVeg

China continues to eat more and more meat – and that is bad for everyone – Take Part

Major Canadian Meat Company Buys Plant-Based Brand Lightlife Foods – Clearly Veg


Related posts

Don’t Care About Animals? Meat & Dairy Are Poisoning Your Land Air & Water

Another Nation Trims Meat From Diet Advice

USA: Meat is Murdering American Rivers – Will America Act or Have Another Burger?

German Meat Companies Are Investing in Veg Meats

Extinction is Forever: Why We Need to Change to Save Animals

Big Meat, We’re Making You History

The Stripey Dog, CRISPR & the Chimaera

Cover pic from Pedigree Dogs Exposed

Two news items clicked together in the brain one week last year: one on the surface at least quite frivolous, and the other of such profound significance it has the potential to throw a bomb into life-as-we-know-it and blast us into utterly uncharted terrain.

Let’s start with the harebrained one. Do you remember when designer dogs first became the must-have accessory? Or maybe they always were. But a few years ago, someone came up with the bright idea of taking established breeds and cross-breeding them with each other in the search for the cutest combo-pup. Nowadays, puggles, goldendoodles, labskys and cockerpoos are everywhere. There was, and still is, good money to be made and breeders are cashing in.

Of course, this is nothing new. Humans have been interfering with natural selection for centuries, cross-breeding both animals and plants in the worlds of farming and horticulture, in search of desired ‘improvements’: more productive milk cows; heavier meatier livestock; disease-resistant crops; or just prettier flowers.

But cross-breeding as a way of getting what you want, is so yesterday. Make way for CRISPR.

CRISPR is not a typo, as one might be excused for thinking, describing how omnivores like their breakfast bacon. It is, apparently, the acronym for

Clustered   Regularly   Interspaced   Short   Palindromic   Repeats

Gene-editing to you and me. In the simplest of terms that I can understand, it means cutting out a section of the DNA double helix (see below) with something called Cas9 – biological scissors, in effect – and replacing the removed section with a new piece of DNA- which can be just about anything the scientists want it to be.

Gene-editing CRISPR Cas9 génome DNA double helix

What has made this biotechnology possible are the huge strides in genome mapping over the last couple of decades. Because of course, you don’t want to just cut out any old piece of DNA. Now, because each bit of the double helix can be identified, you can target the exact piece you want to remove, and replace it with the piece of your choice.

So your new designer dog can now be gene-edited any way you want. No more need for crossbreeding, lots more scope for innovation, and better control over results. Genetic-engineer James West has spotted the money-making potential. His Nashville-based firm AgGenetics engineered Angus cattle to have white coats instead of black or brown, to make them more heat-tolerant, thus doubling beef production. (And milk cows are already being gene-edited to be born without horns, so they no longer have to be burned off.)

Inevitably, it didn’t take Mr West long to realise that the change-the-coat-colour technique could be applied to other animals too. He tested his idea on mice, and produced poor little newborns sporting their little fur coats patterned with squares, stripes and spots.

dachshund-1532974_960_720

Maybe soon he will be taking orders for the customer’s choice of novelty designer dog picked from an online catalogue. There are so far four colourways: red, brown, yellow and black. And would you prefer squares or stripes, Sir/Madam?

Ludicrous as it sounds, gene-editing for striped dogs provokes serious questions. Who knows where it could lead, and what the implications could be – and not just for dogs?

And the designer stripey dog is one thing, but how about wiping out an entire species at will?

We ran across this even more worrying application for CRISPR earlier this year, in Should We Wipe Mosquitoes off the Face of the Earth? With CRISPR it’s possible, for instance, to delete the mosquito DNA involved in reproduction and replace that section of the sequence with DNA that makes the insect sterile. This ‘permanent solution’ for mosquitoes is being researched for obvious reasons – these insects carry malaria, zika and dengue fever, and by transmitting malaria in particular, have probably killed more than half the humans that have ever lived.

This seems to be the default human mindset: how can we use this new technology for the benefit of our own species before and above all others?

With CRISPR, humanity now holds in its hands the power of god, the power to gene-edit Nature. I’ll say it again,

Man now has the power to gene-edit life itself

And that is a terrifying prospect for us all.

In 2011 a group of geologists called for the recognition of a new era in the history of the Earth – the Anthropocene, to acknowledge the impact of humans on the planet. How much more apt now than it was just five short years ago.

So when we ask that question, how can these new technologies be used to further our own interests, there are other, and even more important questions that need to be addressed: Should we be doing this? What are the ethics controlling our ever-increasing powers? And who gets to decide?

This is what natural scientist and poet Melanie Challenger has to say about the new power we have, to deliberately wipe out a target species if we so choose (as opposed to accidentally wiping out random species which tragically, we’re proving spectacularly successful at)

If we start getting cavalier about the existence of a living being, if we start to think it’s OK to eradicate something because it’s a threat to us, we put other ideas about the sanctity of life in question”

Striped dogs, a world without mosquitoes, can it get any more bizarre and perturbing? Well yes it can – the Chimaera (chimera in the USA), already here. In Greek myth the Chimaera was a monstrous fire-breeding hybrid, a goat-headed lion with a serpent-head tail. These days, we’re more familiar with the electro-petroleum kind of hybrid on four wheels. But the very latest kind of Chimaera hybrid has more in common with the one of Greek myth – it’s a nightmarish combination of human and pig.

So what would you say to Organ Farms?

A while ago I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel ‘Never Let Me Go’. (Spoiler alert if you haven’t yet read it)  As you turn the pages you start to realise the horrible truth, that the young people we are getting to know as they grow up, are in fact clones. Then an even more disturbing truth is revealed – the characters have been created solely for their organs and will undergo a cycle of ‘donations’ until their bodies and their lives are consumed.

Well, reality is catching up with fiction once again. Only, as is always the case in the real world, it’s the infinitely useful nonhuman animal that humans deploy for the task. The unfortunate ‘donors’ will not be human but porcine. Pigs have drawn the short straw because their organs are about the size and weight of human organs. Not that they will be using the animals’ own organs though, because pig organs would be rejected by the human body. So what’s needed for the sick people on the long waiting list for transplants are proper healthy human organs.

No cloning here though – just CRISPR and the new Chimaera. This is what you do. You get a brand new pig embryo in your lab. You delete the genes responsible for the formation of, say, the pancreas. You introduce the appropriate human genes. You implant the genetically-engineered embryo into a female pig on your Organ Farm, and hey presto, there will be a lovely human pancreas ready to transplant into a human recipient in need. Farms of pigs incubating clean healthy human organs, and on demand.

images

Well, it’s not quite as simple as that, but that is where the research is heading. And it will happen. As the title of last night’s Panorama proclaimed, “Medicine’s Big Breakthrough”. The scientists are excited by CRISPR’s potential. So are the medical professionals. And who can blame those once considered incurably ill for holding on to such promise of a complete cure.

But what about the animals? And what about the planet? The waves in the wake of this technology could sink us before climate change gets a chance to.Just a final note to send you to bed with nightmares: there’s a guy in San Francisco selling Do-It-Yourself CRISPR kits online out of his garage, so everyone can do their own gene-editing at home. He calls it the democratisation of science. Sweet dreams.
Time now for an update

Above piece posted June 7th 2016, but there have been developments.

Gene-edited organs are on their way. Just last week (on the 26th January 2017) scientists in California were excited to announce a world first – Chimaera lives. They have indeed succeeded in making embryos containing both pig and human cells.

These so-called human-pig chimeras (which contained only a small number of human cells) were allowed to develop for several weeks in female pigs before the pregnancies were terminated, according to a new study.

“The ultimate goal is to grow functional and transplantable tissue or organs, but we are far away from that,” study researcher Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies’ Gene Expression Laboratory in La Jolla, California, said in a statement. “This is an important first step.” LiveScience

I don’t know about you but I find this deeply disturbing, and their triumphant announcement poses more ethical questions for me than it answers:

  • How exactly were the pregnancies terminated?
  • Did the sows give their consent? Silly question
  • What happened to the sows post-abortion?
  • Do we know the physical and emotional effect on the sows?

Scientists would dismiss such questions as irrelevant but that is exactly where the problem lies. Not only do they feel entirely justified in their research, but any thought that something could be horribly wrong here would never even come near to entering their heads.

How did the Nazis square their conscience over the barbaric experimentation they conducted on gypsies, Poles, Russian POWs, Jews, and even Germans if they were unlucky enough to be disabled? They were brainwashed by propaganda that created in their minds a ‘them and us’. Their victims were ‘other’, of a different and lesser order. They de-personalised them, designated them vermin. And of course, as we all know, nonhumans only exist for human use, human benefit, and ‘vermin’ are at the very bottom of the heap. For ‘vermin’, anything goes.

Last week the BBC news highlighted the terrible shortage of donor organs in the UK. Patients in need of transplants are going to Pakistan where they can buy an organ from the poorest, people in dire need of the money. And even worse, criminals are cashing in, lining their pockets trafficking people to harvest their organs by force.

The scientists at La Jolla are looking to forcibly harvest organs from the pigs. True, they’re not exploiting living beings for illegal personal gain like the traffickers. They would say they are doing it for science, for medicine, and indeed out of humanity. It is sanctioned by society. But only because society has also been indoctrinated into arbitrarily dividing animals into ‘them and us’, making the nonhuman animals other and lesser than the human animal, declaring, “We are not animals.” But we are. Bestowing on ourselves like gods the power over life and death. Holding the fate of those ‘others’ in the palm of our hands.

But cruelty, coercion and exploitation are always cruelty, coercion and exploitation. The end does not justify the means.

You might say to me, what if it was your son’s, your daughter’s life in the balance waiting for a transplant? A hard question to answer. But two things I can say:

  • There should be far better ways to increase the supply of donor organs. For instance, Wales now has an ‘opt-out’ system. If you don’t register as not wanting to donate your organs, you will automatically be considered as having no objection. Isn’t that preferable to harvesting organs for humans by violating pigs?
  • And secondly, are the sow’s powerful maternal feelings worth less consideration than ours? And isn’t hijacking her reproductive cycle in this way, as with dairy cows, as with laying hens, both sexist and speciesist?

Are we to accept any horror perpetrated on nonhuman animals if it is in human’s interests? Surely it is more than time to acknowledge that

“We are one species among many who share a common ancestry with all other species in the animal kingdom. The false dichotomy between us and them pits humans against the rest of the animal kingdom and reinforces the myth that humans are so superior from the other animals that it’s practically blasphemous to even suggest that other animals possess lives that matter to them in the way our human lives matter to us.” Robert Grillo

 eyes_collage

Postscript This is a huge topic with more ramifications than it is possible to imagine. I don’t pretend to any expertise and my descriptions of the science are just my way of getting my head around it a little bit. This is just skimming the surface of a technology of infinite significance that is surely ushering in the next Age of Life on Earth.

APOLOGIES – WORDPRESS HAS DONE SOMETHING WEIRD TO THE LAYOUT & I CAN’T SEEM TO CORRECT IT.

Update

23rd February 2017 – CRISPR promises a better way to stop mosquitoes spreading malaria, and without the need to render the insect extinct. Tony James from the University of California is “using the CRISPR-Cas9 technology to create a ‘gene drive’ system that spreads an anti-malaria gene inside the mosquito population. The gene basically destroys malaria, and then spreads on to the next generations.”

It sounds like a very promising approach, but it’s early days and the strategy would not be without its problems. Find out more from ZME Science.

Sources

Quote & pic Free from Harm

Let’s Not Buy Into Genetically Modified Fur – Care2 Causes

Medicine’s Big Breakthrough – Editing Your Genes – Panorama

Human/Nonhuman Chimera – Do We Really Want to Go There? – The Kimmela Centre

Related posts

Get Your Pet Fox Here

Planet at the Crossroads

Should We Wipe Mosquitoes off the Face of the Earth

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

I’ve Seen You In The Meat Aisle

I’ve seen you in the meat aisle,
Seen you choosing who to eat,
Eyeing up their body parts
In rows all nice and neat.

 

 

I’ve seen you grabbing bottled milk
That wasn’t made for you
And I know you never think about
The suffering they knew.

.

 

I’ve watched you fill your trolley up
With misery and pain,
Eggs and cheese, a leg, a wing,
My heart just broke again.

 

 

You say I should respect your choice,
That it’s your right to choose,
Well, legally perhaps you win
But morally you lose.

I don’t know how you do it
But you close your ears and eyes
To the slaughterhouse, the blood and screams,
Their fear, despair and cries.

 

 

It doesn’t even cross your mind,
You bite and drink and chew,
And you keep yourself from knowing
That they died because of you.

So no, I don’t respect your choice,
There’s no respect from me.
You are putting in your stomach
Someone you refuse to see.

 

fast-food-445581__340

The animals, they have no voice,
Convenient for you,
But have a heart and look at those
Who lost their lives for you.

 

Emma Murphy

Choose Compassion – Go Vegan here
Or here
Or here

 

Source

A friend posted this on Facebook. In the light of the message, I feel pretty confident that Emma (whom I do not know, but would like to) would be happy for me to share it with you.

I added the photos to her powerful words.

A Promising New Way Forward for Animal Rights?

If the interests of animals are properly embedded in the democratic process…the laws adopted by a society are less likely to infringe their fundamental interests.

1822 is a date we lovers of justice and animals should all have tattooed on our hearts. Because 1822 was the year Richard Martin MP won for animals an important protection which was also a right: the right – for their own sake – not to be gratuitously harmed.

A 19th Century Irishman who fought more than 100 duels with sword and pistol – and obviously survived them all! – seems a most improbable man to put forward as father of the modern Animal Rights movement. But the small snowball he set in motion has just kept on rolling and rolling for the last 200 years, and growing into what we hope will soon become an avalanche.

For Martin it was who introduced a new Act to prevent the cruel and improper Treatment of Cattle, which made it an offence, punishable by fines up to five pounds or two months imprisonment, to “beat, abuse, or ill-treat any horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep or other cattle.”

Up until ‘Martin’s Law’ was passed, it was the animal’s owner who was considered wronged by any harm done to the beast, not the poor animal itself. The animal had no greater status than a table or a chair, so harm inflicted on it was simply damage to the owner’s property. Martin’s Law changed that.

The prolific and accomplished duellist followed up his great legislative achievement by personally bringing the first prosecution under the new Act. The criminal – a fruit seller. The crime – beating a donkey. When the MP led the donkey into the courtroom to exhibit its injuries to judge and jury, he provoked a storm of publicity. Political cartoons appeared depicting him with donkey’s ears. Instead of being praised for his unusual-for-the-times passion for animal protection, he was publicly ridiculed.

Before another two years were out, this remarkable man was instrumental in founding the SPCA –  later the RSPCA – the very first animal protection organisation in the world, prompting the birth of similar groups in Scotland, Ireland, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Only welfarism as yet, but animal advocacy began to spread around the world.

But that was 200 years ago. So where is Animal Rights today?

Well, because human society and its treatment of nonhuman animals is still, it goes without saying, regulated by law, changes in the law are what we continue to wrangle for in our pursuit of Rights for Animals. And laws that win new rights and protections for our nonhuman cousins have really gathered pace in the last decade.

badger-44210__340

But when, just to take one example, badgers – a ‘protected’ species – are being slain in their thousands year upon year supposedly to safeguard other animals, dairy cattle – which later farmers will send to their deaths in the slaughterhouse  – there is clearly still a very long way to go.

So what if we didn’t need to change the law concerning animals at all? What if nonhuman animals had the right to have their interests properly taken into account before any human proposals were cemented into law?

Well, we just may have an exciting new way forward for Animal Rights, a way that could sweep aside the drawbacks inherent in all the various AR theories to date: it is the principle of political theory called the “all-affected.”

“The interests of animals are affected – often devastatingly – by collective decisions and, therefore, they, or – more specifically – their representatives, have a democratic right to have some say in the making of those decisions” says Professor Robert Garner.

If I can beg your patience a little further? To appreciate just how promising this approach could be, we need a super-quick run-through of Animal Rights in the past 40 years or so. Animal Rights is, as it always has been, dependent on two disciplines:

Philosophy, which deliberates on human perceptions of nonhuman animals, and their status relative to us.

And Law, which regulates that status.

I am neither a philosopher or a lawyer, so forgive my lack of expertise, simplifications of a complex subject, and any glaring omissions in my brief summary. This is a personal view, not by any means a definitive account of Animal Rights.

Utilitarianism

One of the first and most influential in recent years to grab hold of Richard Martin’s snowball and give it an energetic push down the mountain was Australian philosopher Peter Singer. He famously shook things up in the 1970s with his book Animal Liberation. His approach to Animal Rights was based on two principles:

  1. The separation of ‘human’ from ‘animal’ is illogical and arbitrary – there is far more difference between a great ape and an oyster than there is between a human and a great ape
  2. The utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham that ethics and morality are dictated by what will achieve “the greatest good of the greatest number”

It necessarily follows from his first principle that nonhumans must not be excluded from that “greatest number” for whom it is our moral duty to obtain “the greatest good”.

Drawback

The problem with this approach to Animal Rights is that if it can be established (by humans, nonhumans having no say) that the greatest good can only be achieved for the greatest number by the use of animals, even if this means inflicting pain upon them or causing them to die, then such actions are justified. Singer for example condones the use of animals where ‘necessary’ in medical research – a position I for one totally reject.

Subjects-of-a-Life

Following quickly on Singer’s heels, Tom Regan gave the snowball another hearty shove with his book “The Case for Animal Rights”. His was a very different argument. He proposed that if animals are ‘subject-of-a-life’ as unquestionably humans are, then their value lies in more than just their usefulness to humans.

“Such an individual has inherent value independent of its utility for others. Because of this inherent value, a subject-of-a-life has rights to protect this value and not to be harmed. Other subjects have a duty to respect these rights.”¹

Drawback

It seems a promising approach until you realise how high he set the bar for non-human animals to be worthy of consideration as ‘subject-of-a-life’, strangely, higher than is set for human beings.

The Big Stumbling Block – Species Criteria

For Regan, to be ‘subjects-of-a-life ‘ nonhumans must have “beliefs, desires, memory, feelings, self-consciousness, an emotional life, a sense of their own future, an ability to initiate action to pursue their goals, and an existence that is logically independent of being useful to anyone else’s interests” – his criteria any species must fulfil.

Humans all have rights independent of Regan’s requirements: newborn infants, certain disabled people, elderly people with failing mental and physical health – none of these could fulfil his criteria, but their rights are nevertheless guaranteed.

He is said not to be speciesist but so many species would be left by the wayside. Would the honey bee, for instance, reach Regan’s bar? Does the honey bee have ‘an emotional life’ and ‘beliefs’? And who decides? Humans of course. When it comes to nonhuman animals, Regan limits those supposedly deserving of rights to ‘normally mental mammals over a year old, several species of birds, and possibly fish’.

Apart from the few wild animals that qualify, certain farmed animals – cows, pigs and sheep – could benefit from his approach. But not calves, piglets or lambs, and very probably not (in spite of what we now know of their intelligence and complex emotional and social life) hens. Certainly not the millions of day-old chicks that drop off the conveyor belt into the grinder.

The criteria he has set would leave billions of animals, and a very large slice indeed of the estimated 8.7 million species on the planet without rights.

Abolitionism

In the here and now, animal advocates fall broadly speaking into two camps: the abolitionists and the welfarists. The foremost spokesperson for Abolitionism is Professor Gary Francione. As a lawyer with a background in philosophy the Prof is peculiarly well qualified, one would think, to set out the ideal path for the AR ‘snowball’ to travel.

Abolitionism is based upon the philosophical premise that all animals, human and nonhuman, have the basic moral right not to be treated as the property of others. Therefore any human use of nonhumans is unjustifiable, just as human slavery is unjustifiable. All animals exist for their own purposes, not others. The moral baseline is veganism.

The battle for Abolitionism is legal as well as philosophical since in law, with a few notable exceptions, such as in a limited way in France², the status of nonhuman animals is still that of property. And most laws that relate to animals simply protect their welfare to a greater or lesser degree – without changing their status.

So how to get that legal status changed?

Two ways the status of nonhumans can be changed:

  1. By governmental legislation
  2. In the law courts. If a change in status can be established in a court of law, a legal precedent is set which would subsequently apply to all similar cases.

There are heroes for animals like Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Animal Rights Project in the US, and the Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) in Argentina, toiling tirelessly to get that status change from property to person accepted in a court of law.

Drawback

It’s a tough battle, less like giving the AR snowball a gentle nudge on its way, much more like pushing an elephant up a mountain. And once again there is a major problem. We are back to the dreaded Species Criteria. Bringing a case to court, a lawyer has to limit him/herself to a particular client or clients on whose behalf he/she is pleading. And we’d be crazy to think a judge would grant personhood to, say, a silkworm, let alone to the entire animal kingdom. The right client has to be chosen.monkey-256420__340

So what are the criteria by which a lawyer selects a client that has the best chance of success in court? The NhRP’s current plaintiffs are “members of species who have been scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous: currently, great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales.”

This list of the species that qualify is even more meager than Regan’s. The idea, of course, is to ‘get a foot in the door’ for one species, which would pave the way for others. But I’m guessing it will be a long long while before science decides silkworms are self-aware and autonomous, the first hurdle they need to jump if their advocates are to pursue this particular route to legal rights.

I applaud their efforts and don’t wish to sound unduly pessimistic, but short of turning the entire world vegan, it is unclear how in practical terms Prof Francione is going to achieve his Abolitionist goal.

Protectionism/Welfarism

Certain animal charities such as PETA, Animal Aid, Viva, also advocate total non-use of animals for human purposes. But where out-and-out Abolitionists are at odds with them, is their pursuit at the same time of incremental welfare improvements to reduce the suffering of animals alive now.

Drawback

It could be – and is – argued that campaigning for greater protections is a distraction from the goal of Animal Rights. Or worse, counter-productive, allowing the public to believe they can keep right on using animals, as long as it is done ‘humanely’. Abolitionists certainly think so and reject single issue campaigns. But that’s an argument we won’t get into just at the moment!

And the majority of other animal charities like ASPCA, HSUS and the RSPCA make no bones about their purely welfarist agenda.

Out-and-out revolution

There is absolutely no doubt that nearly all the exploitation and abuse, legal or illegal, humans inflict on nonhumans is in the service of the great capitalist god Profit. When it comes to lining their pockets humans have no regard for the rights of animals. So the answer is simple –  bring down capitalism.

Drawback

Or is it? Personally, I can’t see the overthrow of capitalism stopping people wanting to eat meat and cheese, use leather or wear fur. Isn’t it likely, or at least possible, that today’s capitalist factory farms would be tomorrow’s communist or socialist state-run operations?


Finally, the good news!

At last we come to Professor Garner’s exciting new paper Animals and democratic theory: Beyond an anthropocentric account” published in Contemporary Political Theory less than two months ago. Even the title whets the appetite!

The Prof bases his thesis on the ‘all-affected principle’, already current in political theory. It goes like this: in a democracy, the interests of every sentient being affected by legislation must be considered. And those who clearly cannot speak for themselves must have their rights represented by those who can.

“A democratic polity should take account of animal interests, not because a substantial number of humans wish to see greater protection afforded to animals, but rather because animals themselves have a democratic right to have their interests represented in the political process.”

So exactly why should we believe Garner’s new political theory could do better for animals than what has gone before?
  • Firstly, because it removes disputable questions of morality, ethics, and humanity (humaneness) from the equation. Under this principle Animal Rights is a purely political matter. You don’t have to believe it immoral to exclude nonhumans from democracy – it’s enough that it’s undemocratic.
  • Secondly – and I think this is huge – because it sweeps away all those contentious species criteria we were talking about. Here there are no criteria to fulfil, except that of sentience alone.

So no longer does AR depend upon humans deciding whether an animal is ‘intelligent enough’ or has a ‘sufficiently complex emotional life’. A life need only be sentient. And that, says Professor Marc Bekoff, author of a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience³, is now beyond dispute:

“After 2,500 studies, it’s time to declare animal sentience is proven.”

Not so very long ago black people and women, though most certainly affected by the collective decisions of their society, were entirely excluded from the democratic process. They battled hard for their rights, their vote, their say.

And won.

Because the ‘all-affected’ principle is surely the very heartbeat of Democracy.

Animals next!

To get general acceptance for Professor Garner’s new approach to AR, to help turn that snowball into an avalanche, please share widely!

You can read his complete paper here

Check out CASJ (Centre for Animals & Social Justice) who commissioned his work, and whose aim is to achieve:

• an overarching legal/political status for animals
• the institutional representation of animals’ interests within Government
• a government strategy and targets to improve animal protection

¹Subject-of-a-life – Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy

²What France’s New Animal Rights Law Actually Means For Animals – The Dodo. This change in French law “only applies to pets or wild animals tamed or held in captivity. The sentience of wild animals, meanwhile, is not recognized.

³A Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience – Psychology Today

Footnote: The EU already implements something approaching Prof Garner’s thesis.

“In terms of Regional Economic Communities (RECs), the European Union (EU) is the most progressive one in regard to including animal welfare in its sphere of policy work. Its activities in this area are based on the recognition that animals are sentient beings.

An amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into effect on 1st December 2009, now includes this principle and made it a binding condition to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals when formulating and implementing policies in relevant areas.This puts animal welfare on an equal footing with other key principles such as: gender equality, social protection, human health, combat of discrimination, sustainable development, consumer protection and data protection.”

 

Other Sources

There are three Animal Movements – Armory of the Revolution

Animals have democratic right to political representation – CASJ

The Case for Animal Rights – Wiki

Animal Rights – Wiki

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Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Vegan Rights & Why They Really Matter for the Animals

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Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Pigs are animals, lions are animals, dogs are animals. We are not animals. We are human beings. We are different, and belong to a higher order of life. We stand at the apex of evolution.

That is nonsense of course, because we are animals too. But we are conditioned by our culture to accept without question the notion of our superiority and our rightful position of power over all other life forms. It’s called “anthropocentric patriarchy”.
And that is the first of four myths we humans choose to believe about our uniqueness and pre-eminence on Earth.  But now we’re going to debunk them one by one.

MYTH: Humans are different from animals

FACT: Humans are animals

Ok then. Well, we don’t think of ourselves as animals, but of course we know we are really. So let’s correct the myth and say ‘Humans are different from other animals’ then. That’s more like it, isn’t it?

Well, no actually. That is no better. That’s still setting us apart and above, when in fact ALL animals are different from other animals. Yes, we may have some unique traits, but so do many other species. We can’t fly like birds. We can’t change colour like chameleons and squids. We can’t walk on water like the basilisk lizard. We can’t regrow an amputated limb like an axolotl, and we absolutely can’t live forever like the immortal jellyfish. The list is endless.

But we do have attributes exclusive to us, right?

Perhaps not. A mounting stack of research papers is almost daily uncovering other animals’ capacity to experience the same emotions we do, and communicate with each other in complex languages of their own.

Many also have much the same thought processes. The human brain not so special after all. Did you know pigs can play computer games with humans, for example, and give them a run for their money.

Or that calling someone ‘bird-brained’ should be a compliment not an insult. Relative to their size, birds’ brains are large and remarkably similar to ours. Birds are smart! Watch this clever creature who goes by the name of 007, sizing up and solving an 8-stage puzzle with ease.

But we do have culture, yes? Surely in this we are unrivalled.

Again, sorry to disappoint, but many nonhumans have their own culture too. Culture is defined as ‘socially transmitted behaviour’. And there’s been “an avalanche of recent research” throwing up new discoveries of culture among cetaceans, fish, insects, meerkats, birds, monkeys and apes.

Whales, dolphins and songbirds, it’s been discovered, actually have local dialects. That means they’ve passed down through generations their own unique communication culture that differs from group to group, region to region – just like humans.

The New Caledonian crow makes incredibly precise and sophisticated tools to extract insects from the bark of trees. Research has established that over time, the design of the tool has become more and more refined – proof that it is always the latest improved blueprint that is handed on to the next generation. The exact model of the tools, again, varies from locality to locality.

Orcas can be observed working together as a pod, taking it in turns to dive down under a school of herrings, creating a circle of bubbles around the fish, forcing them up to the ocean surface in an ever-tightening ball. “Each whale has a role. It’s like a ballet [and] they move in a very coordinated way and communicate and make decisions about what to do next.” The strategy is called ‘carousel feeding’, one of several hunting practices developed, refined and passed on that scientists consider warrant the label ‘culture’.

A more bizarre example of cultural transmission is the trend among capuchin monkeys to poke each other’s eyeballs with their long, sharp fingernails. It’s believed this strange custom started small, but over time caught on in a big way among the capuchin population  – who knows why!

We do not have a monopoly on morality either.

A study from as long ago as 1964 showed that hungry monkeys would not take the food on offer if it meant other monkeys getting an electric shock. Likewise rats. And we are not alone in our ability to make character judgments by watching others’ behaviour. Chimps can too.

What about art then? Nonhumans, match that if you can.

lyre-bird-1140064__180They can. Take the lyrebird of Central Australia who has the audio version of a photographic memory. He (it’s always he) samples not just birdsong from a variety of birds, but any other sounds he picks up from his surroundings: chainsaws, beaten nails, car alarms, human speech. Then he puts together the snippets he’s picked up in a unique continuous sequence of song. Exactly like a DJ sampling old recordings and creating something new. Absolutely an artistic endeavour, chainsaws and all.

Then there is the amazing bower bird, as seen in many a wildlife documentary. He crafts a sculpture out of twigs – the bower. And then designs a decorative courtyard in front of it, using flowers, leaves and pebbles, bottle tops, paper clips, plastic straws – anything colourful that’s to hand. He plays with perspective exactly as a human artist might, placing the largest objects furthest away. The effect is to make them look even larger than they really are. It’s what is called a forced perspective. Clever arty stuff, and all to entice the ladies.

‘Well but phff’, you may be thinking. ‘These guys are hardly in the league of Mozart or Michelangelo.’ But perhaps it is simply that we are deaf and blind to nonhuman animal art because our human superiority complex prevents us knowing where to look for it, and understanding what we are seeing when we see it. I believe the same holds true for their other abilities too. We even judge their ‘intelligence’ according to how closely or not it resembles human intelligence. Our perception of nonhuman animals is completely skewed by our own self-importance.

But back to art. Art News magazine believes there is still much to be discovered about nonhuman animal art. “Looking at the spectacular dams, nests, webs, and other elaborate constructions found in the natural world, it remains difficult to leave our art-world sensibilities behind. Indeed some scientists are convinced that animals have the emotional complexity to perceive beauty, make esthetic choices, and produce forms (or song) for art’s sake.”  

MYTH: Humans evolved from chimps

FACT: Humans evolved alongside chimps

africa-1299202__180We didn’t evolve from chimps. We and chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans all evolved from a common ancestor, most likely from the Nakali ape Nakalipithecus nakayamai, 8 – 10 million years ago in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The four evolutionary paths then diverged, and so we have the four different species now. We evolved alongside them, not from them. Man is, in fact, an ape.

MYTH: Each of us is a distinct, coherent individual

FACT: Each of us is no more than an ecosystem, a habitat, a landscape for other life

Who knew, except biologists of course, that our bodies are actually made up of 90% microbial cells and only 10% animal (ie human) cells?! What a staggering statistic. It’s making me feel quite peculiar just writing that. Scientist working on the Human Microbiome Project have discovered 29,000 unique genetic proteins from only 178 bacterial species living in our bodies – and that’s so far. It could be the tip of the iceberg. Compare that with the human genome’s total of 23,000 genes.

It seems then, we are the perfect habitat for unknown numbers of bacteria, fungi and viruses, busily exploring our body’s landscape, and thanking us for our kind hospitality. Some are helping us, others are harming. We don’t yet know who does what. But we do know they far outnumber our simply human components. Eek!

MYTH: Humans sit atop the evolutionary ladder

FACT: There is no evolutionary ladder. Every species is evolving in parallel to every other

We are not, as is commonly believed, more ‘highly evolved’ than bacteria. On the contrary, you could say we are less evolved than bacteria because they have been around longer. They have evolved continuously for the last several billion years. We are relative newcomers. There are, it is true, more and less complex life forms, but no higher or lower.

“All the species alive today that have evolved and adapted to find their way through the world long enough to produce offspring are ‘equally evolved’. In the context of biology, newer isn’t necessarily better: evolution isn’t a process of gradual refinement towards an improved version, but rather a question of stumbling along just well enough to make it into the next generation.”

So it is human arrogance alone that classifies creatures according to our own human-centric notion of their place on the ladder. The idea of a ladder at all, of a hierarchy, of higher and lower, is a human construct, nothing more than a thoroughly unscientific value judgment.

“Like every other kind of life on Earth, we may be unique but we are not special”

Evolutionary biologist Seeder El-Showk

It is we who place ourselves at the top, decreeing the rank of all other creatures by the measure of their likeness, or unlikeness, to us. A few rungs down the nonhuman apes, a few further the other mammals, continuing down through birds to reptiles, fish, amphibians etc. Bacteria just about the bottom of the pile. According to us.

But there is no bottom or top. There is no ladder, no up or down, higher or lower. Evolution has no hierarchy. There is no evolutionary or biological justification for this myth. We are just one among many.

Debunking this particular myth could hardly be of greater importance for our fellow animals, or for the planet itself. Our self-bestowed crown of superiority is illegitimate. We have placed ourselves on the throne so we can look down on all other animals and view them as existing just for us, the kings of creation. But our claim to the throne is spurious. We have granted ourselves the royal prerogative of making other animals our slaves, extracting whatever we can from them, carving up their bodies to satisfy our whims. As for those we choose not to eat or wear, once they cease making themselves useful to Our Royal Highnesses in some other way, or are simply surplus to our requirements, or just get in our way, become a nuisance to us, or a threat, they too are sentenced to death.

It is by perpetuating the myth that we are top of the tree that humans have stripped all other animals of the autonomy that is their birthright. We’ve reduced creatures that are miracles of nature to commodities. It is by this myth that mankind justifies – no, embraces without even seeing the need to justify – the most unspeakable cruelty. It is this myth that gives its blessing to the wholesale ravaging of wildlife and nature. And it is this myth that paves the bloody road to the slaughterhouse.

James Brabazon sums up Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy of Reverence for Life like this:

“Reverence for Life says the only thing we are really sure of is that we live and want to go on living. This is something that we share with everything else that lives, from elephants to blades of grass—and, of course, every human being. So we are brothers and sisters to all living things, and owe to all of them the same care and respect, that we wish for ourselves.”

Science speaking in the voice of Evolutionary Biology agrees:

We are but one among many

Update

22nd November 2016 Ants behave as mini farmers in Fiji study – The Guardian

1st December 2016 Research shows Birds Have Skills Previously Described AsExclusively Human – The Scientist

23rd December 2016 “I am NOT an animal” video from the Kimmela Center

 

Sources

 5 Common Biology Myths – ZME Science

10 Incredible Things Animals Can Do That We Can’t – ListVerse

Strongest Evidence of Animal Culture Seen in Monkeys & Whales – Science Mag

How Orcas Work Together to Whip up a Meal – National Geographic

Six ‘uniquely human’ traits now found in animals – New Scientist

Can Animal Ever Be Artists? – IFL Science

The Genius of Birds – Jennifer Ackerman

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Don’t Care About Animals? Meat & Dairy Are Poisoning Your Land, Air & Water

Fertilizing Catastrophe

From sinkholes to burgers: Florida’s latest environmental disaster and your next meal – by Jennifer Molidor for the Center for Biological Diversity

Sinkholes. The environmental cost of meat and dairy production, like climate change, wildlife extinction, water pollution and habitat loss, now includes massive sinkholes. In breaking news this month, it was announced that a colossal stack of radioactive waste, hundreds of feet tall, dumped 215 million gallons of contaminated water into Florida’s largest aquifer. The sinkhole at the heart of this breach comes from a New Wales strip mine owned by the fertilizer corporation Mosaic — a company that waited weeks to publicly disclose its radioactive contamination of Florida drinking water.

The American diet depends on phosphate fertilizer for nearly all the crops we grow — most of which go to feed livestock. In fact, more than half of the corn produced in the U.S. becomes livestock feed crop. With 12 pounds of grains needed to fatten just one pound of beef meat production is a highly inefficient use of crops and the resources that go into growing them. In other words, our super-sized appetite for burgers and chicken nuggets is driving the unsustainable and toxic extraction of phosphorous ore to make fertilizer.

Until the 1950s crops were fertilized with compost or phosphorous-rich manure. As is the American way, we found a way to get phosphorous quicker, cheaper and easier, but with an enormous environmental cost. In addition to radioactive waste, the production process leaves cancer-causing radon gas in the air.

Phosphate mining pollutes the planet from the air we breathe to the water we drink and the lands we live on — but not just for us, for all the diverse wildlife living in these regions too. As Mother Jones’s Tom Philpott noted, a great deal of fertilized phosphate is not absorbed by crops and ends up polluting our waterways and creating dead zones in wild habitats.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can take action immediately by putting less pressure and demand on the production process by eating less meat. And we need to start today because phosphate is a finite resource. When we run out, we will find ourselves with polluted water sources and wild places destroyed beyond repair, and without a viable, sustainable way of producing food.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s Take Extinction Off Your Plate campaign shows we can make positive environmental impacts every day by modifying our diet. If every American replaced one chicken-based dish with one plant-based dish per week, it would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking 500,000 cars off the road. Meanwhile, the wild animals we share the planet with are currently facing the sixth major extinction crisis. If there’s ever been a time to eat less meat and save more wildlife, this is it.

Mosaic wants to mine an additional 50,000 acres in bio-diverse habitats in Florida which is the largest phosphate producing state in the U.S. Phosphate mining has already destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres in that state. As our global population grows exponentially, we must make fundamental changes to our food systems in a way that is truly sustainable for today and for tomorrow. Help us urge our political leaders to stop the expansion of phosphate mining in Florida and instead create a more sustainable food system.

Jennifer Molidor, writer, wildlife enthusiast, animal advocate, vegan is the senior food campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity.

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Footnote

I wouldn’t normally just reproduce an article word for word, but this is such an important addition to the arguments against consumption of animal products and for the need to go vegan.

Get Your Pet Fox Here

If you want to know where to join the queue, and I hope you don’t, visit Novosibirsk in Russia, where fifty years ago one man started breeding the wild out of foxes. What took thousands of years to turn the wild dog into our most loved companion, geneticist Dmitry Belyaev managed for Vulpes vulpes in just five decades. His farm can now boast the fully domesticated fox that loves nothing better than a cuddle and a belly rub. And when I say ‘fox’, I don’t mean one particular individual. I’m talking about a whole breed.

Foxes are harder than most animals to tame. They are said by those who’ve tried to be “highly-wired” and possessing “a stubborn wildness that is impossible to get rid of.”

nature-1533807_960_720

But there is nothing complex about Belyaev’s method. Or high-tech. We’re not talking about CRISPR or ‘gene drive’ here. He has simply done what Man began all those millennia ago with cats, dogs, sheep, goats and cattle, and has carried on with ever since  – selective breeding. He embarked on his mission in the 1950s, visiting fur farms around Russia, picking out foxes that seemed to him the friendliest. Those that hid in corners and made aggressive noises were ruled out.

Back on his farm with his starter foxes – 100 vixens and 30 males – once the vixens gave birth to their first cubs, Belyaev selected the tamest and most docile cubs from each litter, the ones that interacted with people best. It was as simple as that. The chosen 10% were not trained to become tame. They lived in cages and had minimal contact with humans, because the aim was to see how tameness could be bred, not how it could be taught.

Belyaev was trying to discover, for the Institute of Cytology and Genetics at the Russian Academy of Sciences, just how our distant ancestors had tamed the animals we now live with at home or on farms. How these evolutionary changes came about. There is some archaeological evidence that humans did attempt to ‘break in’ the fox in the distant past, but cats appear to have replaced them as better candidates for domestication. After Belyaev’s death in 1985, his intern Lyudmila Trut took over.

And so the process continues, litter after litter, generation after generation. By the early 2000s, the foxes were showing none of the fear or aggression of a wild animal. They seemed to have turned into (very pretty) dogs, greeting visitors with a lick and a wagging tail. By 2005-2006 the foxes had become playful, friendly and responsive to people’s gestures or glances. Their vocalisations were now different from those of wild foxes – more like dogs’.

And that wasn’t all. Surprising shifts in the foxes’ physical appearance started to emerge: there were changes in coat colour, legs got shorter, so did snout and tail, the skull widened and the ears got floppier. A fox with floppy ears?! They started to look more tame, more delicate, in a word ‘cute’. Even their natural behaviours changed. Now they’re able to mate out of season, and they produce on average one more cub per litter.

By 2009 Ms Trut discovered a change in brain chemistry compared with the wild Vulpes vulpes population. The people-loving foxes have higher levels of serotonin – the ‘happiness hormone’, which also inhibits aggression. And less active adrenal glands, adrenalin being of course, the ‘flight or fight’ hormone, so vital for an animal in the wild. It makes sense then that foxes bred specifically for their tameness would have less adrenalin pumping round their systems. And less adrenalin means droopier ears!

“The proudest moment for us was creating a unique population of genetically tame foxes, the only one in the world,” said Ms Trut. She makes no mention of the other 90%, rejected from the experiment as still too wild, and killed for their fur.

The experiment continues.”The main current goals are focused on molecular-genetic mechanisms of domestic behaviour”, she says. But maintaining the work is expensive. Despite the sale of pelts, the institute struggles to finance itself. So, in the 1990s it began selling the foxes as house pets. You can have one imported into the USA for $8,900 if you want one. But, as I said, I sincerely hope you don’t.

Does the world need pet foxes? I think not, no more than we need their fur. What price the fox’s legendary cunning, cleverness, boldness, trickery and elusiveness? It appears that what the Russians have done is reduce this magical animal into not much more than a docile furry footwarmer.

Doesn’t the very beauty, allure, mystique of the fox lie in its unbroken wildness?

fox-1540833_960_720

There have to be better ways to make scientific discoveries than this.

Source

A Soviet scientist created the only tame foxes in the world – BBC Earth

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