The case for including animal rights in ‘left’ campaigns
Laura Broxson: Animal rights, often last on the list of social justice campaigns, is actually where I began my journey as a ‘left’ activist, over eighteen years ago. With almost 120 million – yes, million – animals killed in slaughterhouses in Ireland in 2020, according to figures obtained from the Department of Agriculture following an FOI request, isn’t it time we included a fight against speciesism in our campaigns?
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how catastrophic zoonotic diseases can be for the human population, and has made a lot of individuals re-evaluate their choices in terms of what they consume. Climate change has also resulted in a reflection in this regard. But let’s take away pandemics and climate change, and look at this from a purely anti-speciesist perspective.
Animals breathe, think, feel … they are sentient. We have animal welfare laws in Ireland which dictate how we treat and kill them, but should we be killing them at all? This is the difference between animal welfare and animal rights – one perspective views them as commodities and the other actually values their lives, their right to bodily autonomy, and freedom.
“Vegans are not anti-farmer, nor do we want anyone’s job taken away from them”
“Humane” is a word often thrown around in arguments against veganism, but what exactly does that mean? Is it “humane” to stun, shoot, gas or stab an animal, who didn’t willingly choose to become a filling in your sandwich? What’s the difference between a dog and a cow in terms of sentience? The answer is: none. So why love one, and eat the other?
Factory farming, and this new-age mass detachment from animals, is a direct result of capitalism, and the ease at which those at the “top” exploit the vulnerable for profit. Just look at dairy farming, for example. Female cows are kept in a constant state of pregnancy and lactation, just so humans can consume the milk meant for their calves, who are usually taken away from them a few hours to a few days after birth. Apart from how horrifically cruel that is, what a bizarre concept: drinking the breast milk of another species. How could something like this become one of our biggest industries?
But what about the farmers? Don’t vegans “hate” farmers and want them out of a job? No. Vegans are not anti-farmer, nor do we want anyone’s job taken away from them. What we want is an end to animal agriculture, and a start of purely vegan farming. We also want farmers supported financially during this change, and given an opportunity to get grants and training in any other form of farming they wish to pursue. A campaigner, James O’Donovan, published a report on this, which I recommend reading called ‘Transition to an Irish Vegan Agricultural System’ . Believe it or not, we also don’t want farmers to feel forced in to this, we want them as fully on board as we are, which is why there needs to be open dialogue between all sides so we can advance and empower agriculture within Ireland that just so happens to be ethical and sustainable as well.
“… we can live and prosper without exploiting or consuming other living beings”
A lot of left campaigners believe in a ‘just transition’ and giving power back to small-scale animal farmers, and while that would be a slight improvement, it completely misses the mark in terms of animal rights. We shouldn’t be still promoting the archaic notion that it is acceptable to forcibly breed, kill and consume animals in Ireland in 2021, when we can live and prosper without exploiting or consuming other living beings.
As someone who strongly believes in the right to bodily autonomy for myself and other humans, I also extend that belief for animals. When animals get zero say in anything that happens to them on a farm, from the second they are born to the second they are sent to slaughter, does it not make perfect sense that we should be taking a more progressive stance on our relationship with animals and our perceptions of them? They are not inanimate objects, they are not commodities, and they should be able to live their lives free of exploitation.
“Most of the vegans I campaign with on animal rights issues are also involved in anti-racism, antifascist and other social justice campaigns”
Most of the vegans I campaign with on animal rights issues are also involved in anti-racism, antifascist and other social justice campaigns. We were involved in the campaigns for Marriage Equality and Repeal too. Most are also involved in either unions or political campaigning as well. For us, we believe in being consistently anti-oppression, which means we see and acknowledge that all oppressions are linked, and intersect with each other at points. Basically, ‘no one is free until all are free’ is where we base our views of equality.
There is a common misconception that it is pointless going vegan until capitalism is defeated. While I agree that this would be an enormous help in creating the vegan, socialist utopia I dream of, individual change is imperative in making those first steps towards animal liberation. Not only do our choices as consumers equate to literally life or death for animals, but our individual change is what creates the beginning of a shift in social consciousness. I must add that our consumer choices must in no way be buying the latest ‘plant based’ burger in McDonald’s or ‘plant based’ bar of chocolate from Nestle (note that plant-based refers only to ingredients, while vegan encompasses ethics).
Funding capitalistic industries does absolutely zero to help animals (or humans!). Supporting local produce and small, ethical vegan businesses is the only way we can be consistent in our values.
“I really hope the ‘left’ are brave enough to start embracing this, before right-wing conservatives start making things even worse for animals in Ireland”.
While Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are constantly seeking to increase the amount of animals bred, killed and exported, I’m calling on the left (both in government and grassroots activists) to join me and my comrades by taking a radical, progressive stance on animal rights and say ‘no more’ to 120 million animals slaughtered in this country annually. Not for reasons of climate change or our own health (though they are huge bonuses!), but because it’s no longer ok – or necessary – to use or consume animals in order for us to live.
We can make kinder, more ethical choices, so why don’t we? The next time I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with activists, taking a stand against racism or fascism, I would love to know that they would be willing to fight equally as hard for the rights of animals too. The need for solidarity extends far beyond our own species, and I really hope the ‘left’ are brave enough to start embracing this, before the right-wing, conservatives start making things even worse than they already are for animals in Ireland.
Laura Broxson is a feminist, animal rights and social campaigner.