The suffering that eating meat inflicts on animals is clear. What you might not realise is the harm it does to humanity and the planet. That’s why I’m campaigning for the Animal Justice Party, writes AJP member Geoff Russell.
The 2011 ABC Four Corners program “A Bloody Business” sparked an explosion of compassion in Australia. A wide cross-section of Australians reacted with grief and outrage to the suffering of cattle in Indonesian slaughterhouses. These animals were being killed using Australian machines seemingly ingeniously crafted to maximise suffering. But the crucial thing about the footage wasn’t the blood and savagery, but how the animals responded; their palpable fear and panic.
Viewers had the obvious thrust before them; which isn’t that we are all animals, but that all animals are us in ways that matter. They don’t only feel pain, but fear and terror. They tremble with it and go weak at the knees. They cower and whimper or rage against the horror of their death. They cling to life with obvious desperation.
With an election on the horizon, it would be interesting to ask if Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten watched that program? Or if they’ve watched any of the string of similar footage produced regularly by Animals Australia and other investigators? Both leaders and their parties remain committed to industries predicated on animal suffering.
I’m old enough to have seen a number of industries die. Nobody blinked when it was the bank clerks being displaced, or the record shops or video rental outlets. But meat workers? Of all the jobs on the planet, why would any politician with a shred of compassion want to preserve these particular jobs? It’s like wanting to preserve wars. Wars and fighting may sometimes be necessary, but slaughtering animals for food isn’t just unnecessary, it also has dismal effects on those who do it and the end product kills many before their time. It’s also a key factor in both climate change and our burgeoning health costs.
A 2013 Australian study confirmed a link between slaughterhouses and violence. It was a small study but consistent with a much larger US study which used data from 581 counties and found slaughterhouses were linked with more rapes and other violent crimes as well as higher total arrest rates. But is this because slaughterhouse work makes people violent or because those who are already violent tend to gravitate to such jobs? The study wasn’t just big, but carefully designed to investigate precisely this question. It concluded that it is the work that is the problem rather than the people. Slaughtering animals isn’t a job we should be protecting; the stench of death and the act of killing damages those at both ends of the knife.
Many of my meat eating friends voiced their horror to me after the Four Corners documentary. Others refused to watch for fear of it upsetting the careful detachment they lavished over their meals. But how could events in a foreign country have such an impact? They could and they did. This was, as I said, because the footage didn’t focus on those perpetrating the cruelty but managed to capture the feelings of the animals. People who hadn’t previously given it a second thought could now understand the suffering on any pig, chicken, or cattle truck. They could identify with any animal thrashing around trying to avoid the hook, bullet, stun gun or knife; whether it be chickens hung on a killing chain, cattle in a crush, or fish on a line.
Many people became, if only briefly, aspirational vegans. Perhaps they’d miss a meat meal from time to time. Perhaps they’d start sampling the increasing range of plant based products emulating the textures and fattiness of meat.
But that groundswell of compassion was politically undirected. Neither of the major parties gave a damn. They still don’t. They embrace the horrors of the pig truck and killing chain as core beliefs. Any compassion is tightly constrained within the tiny circle of a single species.
Around 12 months prior to A Bloody Business, the brutal killing of kangaroos in the ACT and the apathy towards it by all Australian political parties inspired a small group to meet and form a new political party, the Animal Justice Party. Readers of my biographical details will know that I’m a member and have been on its national committee for a little over 12 months. During the last five years, under the leadership of wildlife rescuer, carer and academic, Professor Steve Garlick, this small party has expanded rapidly. In 2015 it gained its first seat in an Australian Parliament when Mark Pearson was elected to the NSW Upper House.
The AJP is for every Australian who saw A Bloody Business and understood that animals are us in their desperation to live. The AJP is for every Australian who understands that slaughterhouses do not kill animals out of necessity. The AJP is also for every Australian with a desperate desire to roll back our extermination of wildlife both directly and by co-opting their habitat.
Is it a party just for vegans? Not at all. For over three decades the most common response I get from people when I tell them I’m vegan is: “Oh … I don’t eat much meat.” If that’s how you respond, then the AJP is for you. You may not yet walk the talk, but you understand why you should and eventually you will.
But the middle word of the party’s name, Justice, should alert you that this party is different from the rest. A superficial look at the policies of the Australian Greens might have you thinking that they and AJP have much in common. But a deeper look will show that the Greens policies are just superficial echoes of the real thing.
The Greens’ policy on animals begins with two principles:
Animals must be recognised as sentient beings that deserve our care and respect.
Animals have intrinsic value, separate from the needs of humans, who have a responsibility to ensure that animals’ rights and welfare are respected.
How are these principles consistent with loading a young healthy animal onto a truck for slaughter? There are no pressing needs that justify this. Not only is it unnecessary, but people can live healthier lives without animal products. The only way of eating compatible with those principles is a plant based diet. But the Greens don’t advocate such a diet.
Greens principles are for show; ours are for keeps.
When you consider other Greens policies, like those on climate and environment, you see the same irrationality. Cattle generate more warming than all our coal power stations but while the Greens want to phase out coal, they don’t want to phase out cattle and their leader is involved in the industry as a cattle breeder.
But the Greens don’t only conveniently ignore the role of cattle in wrecking the climate but also in wrecking the reef. For thirty years the Great Barrier Reef has been steadily losing coral with the biggest driver of damage being the cattle industry. Travel along the north Queensland coast and you will river after river after river after river; all feeding increased levels of sediment and fertiliser onto the reef as a result of clearing forests and fertilising pasture. One of the things that makes this problem so intractable is that it’s a distributed problem. It isn’t something big and obvious like a coal terminal, but a mass of individual cattle farms all contributing their little bit to the problem. Nobody wants to tackle these cowboys, not the ALP, not the Liberals and certainly not the Greens. Here’s the latest Greens 7-Point plan for the reef. It’s like a Richard Di Natale crossed with Basil Fawlty comedy sketch; Whatever you do, don’t mention the cattle!
In 1980, Don Chipp of the Australian Democrats described his party’s aim as “Keep the bastards honest”. The AJP wants to make the bastards give a damn; give a damn about suffering, whether human or animal; give a damn about wildlife; give a damn about the future of planet earth. Our two major parties are moribund before the biggest issues of our time and the Greens aren’t much better. They all refuse to tackle Australia’s largest source of warming … animal agriculture. It’s a bloody business and there is only one party which sees it for what it is.
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