|The following article was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), Dec. 2, 2004, and is reproduced with the author's permission.
The Green Beast Is Out of Control
In campaigning for animal rights, some activists have lost respect for humanity
A sensitive child will always refrain from stepping on ants. Some will burst into tears at the thought of killing one of God's smallest creatures. Kindness to ants is to be encouraged. But not to a ridiculous extent. Sooner or later the child will come to realise one of life's many sad lessons: that if you want to walk around, it is impossible to avoid killing the odd ant.
Not so for the increasingly pushy ranks of animal liberationists who seem locked in a childish Eden, in which all animals are sweet and "only man is vile".
The most visible of the animal rights organisations, the US-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has recently turned its sights on Australia. Last month it damaged our $880 million-a-year merino wool export industry by forcing a large US clothing chain to boycott our wool.
A vegan organisation which began with campaigns against fur, PETA has been targeting "cruel" Australian rodeos, and last week raised the prospect of running its anti-fishing and anti-fish-eating campaign here on the basis that fish are intelligent and have feelings.
It might seem like a joke but PETA is an ideological organisation committed to winning each of its campaigns and with a pretty good track record so far, exploiting the natural aversion most city dwellers have to thinking too deeply about the origins of that neat piece of steak or plastic-wrapped chicken tenderloin. People in touch with their humanity are, of course, opposed to cruelty to animals.
We are genetically programmed to eat meat, but we cringe at the sight of half-dead lobsters in the fish tanks at the front of seafood restaurants. We seek free-range eggs rather than those laid by battery hens which, by all accounts, lead a bleak existence.
We expect humane farming and have been content to fund the RSPCA and animal welfare groups to that end.
But now animal liberation zealots are going too far, and risk losing the goodwill of the public and damaging the animals they profess to protect. The RSPCA, with a proud record of protecting animal welfare in Australia, has become their enemy.
Recently, a university student member of Animal Liberation threw red paint over the RSPCA national president, Hugh Wirth, at a black-tie dinner, in a protest about Pace Farms's eggs. Guests reportedly feared Wirth had been shot or stabbed. One of Wirth's crimes is to state the truth that Animal Liberation's agenda is to force everyone to become vegetarians.
In the US, where protests have morphed into terrorism, activists vandalised the house and car of a San Francisco chef who served foie gras, firebombed an apartment complex in San Diego, causing $50 million damage, and regularly smash up McDonald's restaurants, spraying "McKiller" and "meat is murder" on walls. It's an old ploy to make the public arms of the movement, such as PETA, look reasonable, even when they're trying to stop us eating fish.
In its most successful attack in Australia so far, PETA bullied the US clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch into boycotting our wool with a bogus campaign against the age-old farming practice of "mulesing" sheep. While no one would argue the process, which involves cutting off folds of skin around the sheep's anus, is pleasant, it's a lot less painful than what happens to an un-mulesed sheep when attacked by blowflies.
But PETA doesn't like mulesing so it targeted more than 20 US clothing retailers, including A&F, showing executives a potential ad campaign featuring the logo "A&F" splattered with blood. Another reads: "Abercrombie or Abercruelty?"
The company caved into the blackmail and the Australian wool industry promised to phase out mulesing by 2010, which still didn't satisfy the activists. There is no logic to the boycott against Australian wool but it illustrates the power of eco-warriors and the great cowardice of corporations and their senior managers who have been caving in to all sorts of greenmail lately in order to appease the green beast, funding employees to work as eco-volunteers in the Amazon, for instance.
The effrontery of activists is limitless. One example is that last year a whistleblower sent me a copy of a 16-page letter sent from the offices of Maurice Blackburn Cashman lawyers on behalf of the Climate Action Network. The letter came with a list of 145 Australian and Australian-based companies "given notice by Maurice Blackburn Cashman". From Qantas to Wesfarmers, Foster's and Westfield, the letter warns the company is creating greenhouse emissions and the directors are therefore legally liable.
"It would be prudent for your board to assess and, if necessary, address climate risk. A failure to take these steps may raise questions about the fulfilment of the directors' duties under the Corporations Act 2001 and general law." The letter concludes with the insolent request for the company's "plans for assessing and addressing climate risk in the 03-04 financial year and beyond".
The modus operandi for animal liberationists is much the same, seemingly with some success. But in a world in which "meat is murder" the newfound obsession with animal rights is not a sign of a more compassionate society but of one which has lost respect for humanity. It has lost its belief in the soul and free will, which used to distinguish people from animals and gave existence meaning.
The guiding philosophy of animal rightists is that humans are the moral equivalent of animals, no better or worse. Australian philosopher Peter Singer, now a feted professor at Princeton University who advocates infanticide, first mapped out this equivalence in his influential 1975 book Animal Liberation.
Last night the ABC aired a British documentary, starring famed chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall, who expresses a similar view. In the promos, she says: "If you look into the eyes of a chimpanzee you know you're looking into the eyes of a thinking, feeling being. We must redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as humans."
The documentary emphasises the fact that we share "98 per cent of our DNA" with chimps. It doesn't point out we share half our DNA with bananas. Where is the Banana Liberation Front?