Tuesday, 10 August 2010

New Swedish animal rights activist tactics is smart, effective and strategically sound

Animal rights activism in its various forms is motivated by a basic aim that you need to be particularly callous not to sympathise with – to prevent forthcoming and stop ongoing needless animal suffering. In developed countries, this includes an abundance of production and distribution practices, not least within the agricultural sector, but also in, e.g., research, product control and clothing production. However, the methods used by some activist groups have provoked harsh criticism for being illegal and overly violent and inconsiderate to property related interests. In my own country, such groups were quite active using these kind of methods (such as breaking into farms and medical labs destroying equipment and freeing animals, burning vehicles for meat distribution, and so on). A quick Google search seems to indicate that this sort of tactic is still quite common internationally.

However, there is much evidence that while the use of these sort of illegal methods can probably be initially effective for placing animal rights issues on the political agenda, very soon they start to rather serve the interests of those groups aiming to politically discredit the animal rights (and also the environmentalist) movement as a whole (in order to prevent truly effective political measures, such as strengthened animal protection and rights legislation). At the same time, even if much has happened on this front in many countries, not all people committed to the animal rights agenda are suited for the tedious political work of a parliamentary democracy while at the same time being discontent with restricting their action to adjustment of practices in their private lives. Understandably, they feel a strong urge to do something concrete and practical with salient beneficiary effects for the cause and, presumably, it is this urge that explains the continuation of the use of the more extreme methods in spite of the just mentioned criticism.

Therefore, I have noted with some interest a recent change of tactics employed by Swedish animal rights activist groups - in particular the so-called Animal Rights Alliance (Djurrättsalliansen, in Swedish). Instead of breaking and entering, destroying property, creating risks for the public (e.g. through setting fires), terrorising individual farmers , shop owners and the like, the new tactic is to adopt the role of the concerned citizen gone investigative journalist slash spin doctor. About a year ago, ARA went public with a rich collection of materials (videos, photos, audio recordings, sworn witness statements) documenting systematic and widespread criminal abuses of current Swedish animal protection legislation in pig farming. The material had been collected over an extended period of time (almost two years) with great care and obvious insights into what a prosecuter might need to make a case and what would force responsible control agencies to take action. The publication was made with great skill as to how to awake media interest (to its help, ARA had the undisputed fact that one of the worst abusers, Lars Hultström, was a former chairman of the Swedish animal farming association, Swedish Meat, and, in addition, an acting board member of the veterinary company Swedish animal health care, owned by my country's largest distributor of meat, SCAN, and being responsible for this company's animal health protection program). The effect was a public outcry of some magnitude in support of the animal rights cause, criminal legal action taken against Hultström and several others, considerably beefed up control procedures from responsible agencies uncovering yet other legal abuses and mismanagement within Swedish pig farming (with lame excuses from the farmers about not knowing the rules that had been waltzing around the press for several months thanks to ARA's exposure). In the end, whatever will in the final outcome of the legal processes (although formal charges have been extended against Hultström et.al., the prosecutor is still preparing the case), ARA managed to expose more or less the totality of Swedish industrial pig farming with, first, its pants down and, then, its socks far from pulled up.

After this very successful action, ARA has followed up with formally charging the Swedish Board of Agriculture (responsible for animal protection control) for misconducting its responsibilities and thus causing unnecessary suffering for thousands of chinchillas. And then yesterday, ARA went public with a new exposure of illegal abuse in animal farming, this time regarding minks for fur production. Once again, the case is airtight, the timing perfect and the strategic thinking (the aim is to press Swedish politicians to adopt a general ban on mink farming similar to that of several other European countries) brilliant. Obviously the media strategy works, since the exposure was all over the national news – papers (here, here, here, here), radio and TV. In just a couple of years, this new tactic has achieved so much more and mobilised so much more public support for the animal rights cause than all those smashed up medical labs, burned meat trucks, crushed fur shop windows, etc. did over a period of at least two decades in the past. My hat off!