EDITORIAL: Agribusiness, green politics, & the art of compromise

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2012:

Editorial feature: Agribusiness, green politics, & the art of compromise

KFC sells dead chickens from 17,000 sales outlets in 105 nations. Part of the $66.5-billion-a-year PepsiCo. empire, KFC boasts revenue in the U.S. alone of $4.6 billion.

Founded by honorary Colonel Harlan Sanders in 1952 as Kentucky Fried Chicken, KFC would not appear to need much help defending itself in any defensible cause. Even a 10-year-old PETA “Kentucky Fried Cruelty” campaign, attacking abuses in the KFC supply chain that were captured on video camera, appears to have accomplished relatively little against KFC corporate intransigence. Nonetheless, the far-right advocacy front Consumers Alliance for Global Prosperity on June 11, 2012 appealed to supporters and media to “Help Fight The Attack On The Colonel!”

Two weeks earlier, on May 25, 2012, several Greenpeace activists hung a banner on the KFC corporate headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, depicting a Sumatran tiger. Referring to alleged KFC use of packaging materials made from rainforest logging in Indonesia, the banner read, “KFC Stop Trashing My Home.”

Greenpeace simultaneously irritated the $40-billion-a-year Brazilian multinational beefpacking firm JBS, owner of three U.S. subsidiaries including the former Swift beefpacking empire and the Pilgrim’s Pride turkey brand. Greenpeace on June 6, 2012 posted a web report which alleged that JBS knowingly bought cattle from illegally deforested areas of Brazil, including within indigenous territories and from farms that allegedly keep workers in conditions resembling slavery. Several European grocery chains responded by announcing that they would no longer buy meat from JBS. But Greenpeace acknowledged within days, under legal pressure from JBS, that the Greenpeace report included errors, among them misstating the dates when JBS did business with offending suppliers, confusing several JBS suppliers with other ranchers of similar name, and identifying as a JBS slaughterhouse a facility actually owned by another Brazilian multinational company, Marfrig.

The Greenpeace actions against two of the biggest companies in the meat business, worldwide, came less than a month after the American SPCA channeled $151,100 to an organization called Farm Forward, to be used “to promote humane poultry welfare at the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas.”

Just six weeks earlier the Wendy’s restaurant chain began buying chickens who were killed by decompression, a killing method that ended in U.S. animal shelters in 1985, because it was widely recognized as inhumane, despite having been promoted since 1950 by the American Humane Association. The AHA endorsed decompressing chickens in 2010. PETA, though promoting a different “controlled atmosphere” method of killing chickens, praised Wendy’s acceptance of decompression, if only because conventional poultry slaughter flunks practically every definition of “humane.”

All of this occurred parallel to almost a year of controversy over an agreement between the Humane Society of the U.S. and United Egg Producers to jointly lobby for a federal standard for caging laying hens. The proposed standard has been ratified by most U.S. national animal advocacy organizations, though it is adamantly opposed by others, including the Humane Farming Association and Friends of Animals. But the proposed standard itself, judging by calls and correspondence from ANIMAL PEOPLE readers, may be less controversial among animal advocates than the notion of making common cause with agribusiness– even though the beef, pork, and poultry slaughter industries are fighting the proposed HSUS/UEP standard for housing laying hens at every step, lest their own practices also become subjects of federal legislation.

On the one hand, it is usually necessary for political opponents to compromise and work together to win passage of laws. On the other, the process of compromise is inherently uncomfortable for activists. Yet, paradoxically, animal advocates who reject any notion of compromise with animal use industries often seek accommodation and alliance with mainstream environmentalists–even as those environmentalists pursue such inherently anti-animal projects as promotion of sport hunting and the annihilation of any species deemed “non-native,” by any means possible, in the futile hope of restoring an imagined pristine version of nature that supposedly existed at some point when the wind, waves, and migratory animals including humans did not constantly translocate species to new habitats.

Certainly mainstream environmental advocacy includes advocating for wildlife habitat and endangered species, and against the pollution and abuse of resources that are inherent in factory farming. Especially when environmental organizations confront major animal use industries, activists may be tempted to believe that “the enemy of my enemies is my friend,” without looking at what else the environmental organizations are doing.

It is even possible to see the Greenpeace campaigns against KFC and JBS as harbingers of a return to founding principles, which included far more concern for animal suffering than Greenpeace has exhibited in the decades since the 1974 death of Quaker cofounder Irving Stowe. Stowe, a vegetarian who did not wear leather, would have been considered an animal rights advocate if the term “animal rights” had gained currency during his lifetime. Stowe and others formed Greenpeace in 1968 as the Don’t Make A Wave Committee, to oppose nuclear weapons testing in Alaska and the Pacific Ocean. Rex Wyler, in Greenpeace: How A Group of Ecologists, Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World (2004) recalled that “Greenpeace America was established as an adjunct to Joan McIntyre’s Project Jonah,” an early whale-saving campaign whose theme was that whales are fellow sentient beings. Wyler also recollected that “Peter Hyde, president of the Animal Defense League of Canada, in November 1974 [successfully] proposed that the Greenpeace Foundation endorse an ‘Animal Bill of Rights,’ which included an end to trophy hunting and lab animal abuse.”

Greenpeace was thus positioned to emerge as the proto-global animal rights group, a direction unsuccessfully encouraged by cofounders Paul Watson and Patrick Moore. Watson founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1977 after a bitter split with Greenpeace. Moore remained the most prominent voice within Greenpeace against the Atlantic Canada seal hunt, until the offshore hunt was suspended for 10 years beginning in 1984.

“I left Greenpeace at the end of 1985,” Moore recalled to ANIMAL PEOPLE in 2005. “I was always opposed to the seal hunt and remain opposed to the present hunt.” Moore has since 1985 defended the Pacific Northwest logging industry and promoted nuclear power, but he disavowed any involvement in the mid-1980s Greenpeace turn away from animal advocacy. “I went to the Northwest Territories to meet with Inuit leaders around 1984, to discuss the impact of our campaign on their subsistence hunt,”

Moore acknowledged, but he attributed to others the Greenpeace decision to drop anti-fur campaigning.

 

Trapped in dilemma

“One of the most contentious campaigns in the history of Greenpeace,” wrote Michael Brown and John May in The Greenpeace Story (1989), “was the anti-fur campaign launched by Greenpeace U.K. in September 1984. The campaign was designed to highlight the cruelties of the leghold trap, and to dissuade potential consumers from wearing furŠThe offices in Canada and Denmark had developed working relationships with the InuitŠAfter long deliberations, the Greenpeace International council voted to end the fur campaign.”

Within another 10 years Greenpeace observers at the International Whaling Commission annual meetings would be reminded by superiors that Greenpeace does not “in principle” oppose whaling and sealing. Though Greenpeace has continued to campaign against Japanese “research” whaling, and against many environmental impacts of animal use industries, Greenpeace post-1984 has not campaigned against cruelty to animals, or on behalf of animals for their own sake, as distinct from their perceived cological value.

The Sierra Club national board of directors, on the other hand, on May 19, 2012 adopted a new “Policy on Trapping of Wildlife” which may be most remarkable, among the policy statements of environmental organizations, for incorporating the word “humane” without misusing it to rationalize inherently inhumane practices.

States the new Sierra Club policy, “Use of body-gripping devices–including leghold traps, snares, and Conibear traps–are indiscriminate to age, sex and species and typically result in injury, pain, suffering, and/or death of target and non-target animals. The Sierra Club considers body-gripping, restraining and killing traps and snares to be ecologically indiscriminate and unnecessarily inhumane and therefore opposes their use.”

Sierra Club founder John Muir detested trapping and sport hunting, but saw preserving fast-vanishing wilderness as a more urgent priority when he formed the club in 1892. Courting the political support of hunter/conservationists, Muir befriended in particular the naturalist John Burroughs. An early advocate of the use of hunting license fees to support habitat acquisition and wildlife management, Burroughs is perhaps best remembered today for accusing writers who argued for animal intelligence and human-like emotions of “nature-faking.” While this was clearly true of some of Burroughs’ targets, others’ observations were decades ahead of prevailing scientific belief. Burroughs introduced Muir to Theodore Roosevelt. An enthusiastic hunter, Roosevelt as U.S. president 1901-1908 was persuaded to designate 150 National Forests, five National Parks, and 18 National Monuments, together protecting 230 million acres of wildlife habitat–with the caveat that all but the five National Parks would remain forever open to hunting.

Boosted by Muir’s success, the Sierra Club grew into the largest nonprofit organization in the animals-and-habitat sector that still has a member-elected board. This allows for the possibility that evolving public attitudes toward animals may encourage further policy resolutions that recognize humane concerns–and come to more closely reflect Muir’s own beliefs, as distinct from the compromises that he accepted to achieve his immediate goals.

The Sierra Club adopted the new trapping policy about six months after former board chair Carl Pope on November 11, 2011 retired to a role as senior strategic advisor. A Sierra Club employee for nearly 40 years, Pope as executive director from 1992 to 2010 led the club into increasingly direct confrontation with factory farmers over water pollution and soil erosion, through lawsuits, lobbying, and public education. Under Pope the Sierra Club did not endorse vegetarianism or directly raise humane issues involved in factory farming, but did a great deal to raise public awareness of the environmental cost of meat-eating.

However, Pope actively sought alliances with hunters and trappers, in response to his recognition of “a conscious political strategy to separate rural hunters and fishers from urban environmentalists. It wasn’t about hunting and fishing. It was about politics,” he told Washington Monthly managing editor Christina Larson in April 2006.

David Brower, the first Sierra Club executive director, hired in 1952, appears to have had much the same view of blood sports as Muir. Without actually pandering to hunters, as Pope did, Brower pursued alliances with hunter/conservationist organizations throughout his tenure. Resigning in 1969, Brower founded Friends of the Earth, but left that organization in 1986 to form Earth Island Institute, an incubator for start-up charities promoting both environmental and animal causes. The Coyote Project, which advanced the Sierra Club anti-trapping policy, operates under Earth Island auspices.

The Sierra Club anti-trapping policy echoes the original mission statement of Defenders of Wildlife, founded on April 30, 1947 as Defenders of Furbearers. “The particular business and objects of the society are to promote, through education and research, the elimination of cruel traps and all other painful methods of capturing or killing furbearers everywhere, and the protection and conservation of such animals,” the Defenders certificate of incorporation states. The Defenders mission was expanded in 1956 by the addition of the phrase “and all other wildlife” in place of the word “everywhere.” In June 1959, however, apparently through a board-level coup-d’-etat by hunter/conservationists, Defenders of Furbearers became Defenders of Wildlife, dropped opposition to “cruel traps and all other painful methods” of killing wildlife, and over the next several decades gradually compromised itself into endorsing leghold trapping for the purposes of capturing wolves for reintroduction into the Yellowstone National Park region and for controlling wolf predation on livestock.

Reality is that advocacy for the benefit of the animals has rarely won anything through alignment with environmentalism tainted by the hunter/conservationist outlook. This, in effect, is the whole of the environmental cause as represented by the biggest and most prominent environmental organizations. These organizations have evolved from an entirely different philosophical direction, not only indifferent to the well-being of individual animals but frequently opposed to the very idea that preventing animal suffering is a worthwhile goal.

 

Gamekeeping

The origins of hunter/conservationism may be traced to the Middle Ages, when serf-and-slaveholding feudal landlords spent their time riding after hounds. Killing livestock predators and crop-raiding wildlife kept the landlords and their hired huntsmen in the woods just beyond the cultivated fields, where they could also find and kill any serf or slave who sought to escape a life of bondage.

Feudal landlords who sought to keep others from hunting favored wildlife species led the late medieval movement toward fencing off the former “commons,” or grazing land and woodlot accessible to anyone, which lay between settled estates. After the commons became private property, however, it came to be taxed by increasingly strong regional and national governments, which depended less and less on the support of rural gentry. Under economic pressure, generations of rural gentry sold parts of their land, until many had barely enough left to hunt. As woodcutting, mining, milling, and urban expansion fragmented the habitat, the huntsmen evolved into gamekeepers, whose work came to focus upon breeding an abundance of preferred “game” species to replace animals who had been hunted out. Exterminating any other species whose presence interfered with the propagation of “game” was–and remains–central to the work of gamekeepers, whose occupation evolved into what is today called “wildlife management.”

“Conservation,” at the time the term and concept reached most of the world, specifically meant conservation of “game,” hunting land, and the hunting way of life. This was the goal, for example, of the New York State Association for the Preservation of Fish & Game, formed in 1841. A distant ancestor of the National

Wildlife Federation, through a succession of mergers with other organizations of similar purpose, this association in 1881 hosted the massacre of 20,000 passenger pigeons–the last great flock netted in the wild–at a Coney Island fundraiser.

Concern for individual animal welfare among enlightened individuals and within major moral and ethical traditions may be traced back as far as written traditions exist, but the organizational antecedents of the humane movement as it exists today arose largely in opposition to the practices of blood sports, vivisection, and abuse of draft animals. The abolition of blood sports, vivisection, and flogging horses and oxen was pursued by many of the same people, at the same time, as the abolition of human slavery and serfdom, and cruel and unusual punishments. Often these causes were advanced under the same institutional umbrellas.

Awakening consideration

For William Wilburforce (1759-1833), who won the abolition of slavery in Britain in 1807 and cofounded the Royal SPCA in 1824, the causes of oppressed humans and abused animals were both part of the same effort to awaken moral consideration of others. The same could be said of American SPCA founder Henry Bergh (1813-1888), Massachusetts SPCA founder George Angell (1823-1909), Women’s Humane Society and American Anti-Vivisection Society founder Carolyn Earle White (1833-1916), and practically every other major figure in the 19th century humane movement, and could likewise be said of Henry Spira (1927-1998), who helped to lead the late 20th century revival of the humane movement impetus through the formation of the animal rights movement. Each had a distinguished record on behalf of human as well as animal rights and welfare.

Efforts to protect endangered species, though claimed today as a mainstream environmental and even hunter/conservationist cause, originated from within the humane movement, and were voiced parallel to concerns for livestock similar to the concerns of today.

As the American Humane Association periodical National Humane Review recounted, “Interest at the 1883 convention in Washington D.C. centered on unnecessary and excessive branding of cattle and the cruelties of barbed wire. The wanton destruction of buffalo on the western plains was another indignation that caught the attention of the humanitarians in Washington. They urged Congress to pass a law which would keep the animals from becoming extinct. Delegates also asked the Federal Government to stamp all meat so that it would bear positive evidence of its condition when slaughtered. The members of AHA visited the White House where President [Chester A.] Arthur received every one of them.”

Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell in 1887 cofounded the Boone & Crocket Club to regulate competitive trophy hunting–but the conservation goal was to conserve “game,” not wildlife per se. Eighteen years later, in 1905, Grinnell started the National Audubon Society to regulate competitive birding. Birding, until field guide author and illustrator Roger Tory Peterson popularized nonlethal verification of sightings with a camera during the 1930s, was done mainly with shotguns.

Again the goal was to conserve “game.” The artist John Joseph Audubon, who had died 54 years earlier, was honored in the title of the organization as the shotgunner with the longest and best-verified “life list” of birds killed. The evolution of the National Audubon Society into a group promoting the conservation of all “native” birds required decades.

Meanwhile, catastrophic losses of wildlife to excessive hunting, trapping, fishing, and destruction of habitat brought the possibility that sport hunting might be banned altogether in some states. A series of bills seeking to halt hunting in New York state was thwarted through political dealing which in 1895 gave the American SPCA the New York City pound contract and gave the American Humane Association the state orphanage contract, distracting both organizations from further attention to wildlife.

Following Burroughs’ recommendation, New York then introduced the sale of hunting licenses to fund “game” restoration. After this approach succeeded, the Wilderness Society was founded in1935 and the National Wildlife Federation in 1936, both to promote the New York model to other states.

Begun by hunting writer Jay “Ding” Darling as national umbrella for 48 state hunting clubs, NWF inspired the 1961 formation of the World Wildlife Fund by trophy hunter Sir Peter Scott and cronies including captive bird-shooters Prince Philip of Britain and Prince Bernhardt of The Netherlands, the whaler Aristotle Onassis, and then-National Rifle Association president C.R. “Pink” Gutermuth.

Simultaneously, trophy hunter Russell Train founded the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation, now called just the African Wildlife Foundation. A primary goal of both WWF and AWF was to promote funding of wildlife conservation internationally by sales of hunting permits.

This, the founders hoped, would prevent newly independent former colonies of European nations from following India and Kenya in banning sport hunting (which was not finally achieved in either India or Kenya until 1977, although attempts began much earlier).

 

Ecological nativism

 

Hunter/conservationism is scarcely the only theme differentiating mainstream environmentalism from animal advocacy.

Ecological nativism is another, also emerging from the hierarchies of feudalism. The science of species classification, called taxonomy, began with Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), who started from the medieval notion of “higher” and “lower” species, each with a specific place in a presumed natural order ordained by God. Though Linnaeus himself soon noticed problematic anomalies in this system, his model furnished “scientific” support to privileged people who imagined themselves to be near the pinnacles of creation. The Linnaean model was not upset when Charles Darwin several generations later outlined the precepts of evolution. Instead, the notion of “survival of the fittest” was incorporated into defense of the presumptive Linnaen hierarchy–and whatever the self-appointed “fittest” disliked, principally whatever challenged their dominion, was deemed unfit to be allowed to survive.

“Ecologism is a phenomenon of the despised ‘Northern White Empire,'” observed British social historian Anna Bramwell in her 1989 volume Ecology In The 20th Century. Tracing the intellectual origins of the environmental movement, Bramwell argued that the central themes of “green” politics fuse romanticism about bygone pastoral life with the anxieties of a privileged elite about the rising influence of underclasses, ethnic minorities, and immigrants.

Bramwell pointed out in passing the influence of one Jorian Jenks, who in the 1940s and 1950s helped articulate the views of nature now predominating among environmental policymakers, as editor of the journals Rural Economy and Mother Earth, and as secretary to the Soil Association. Earlier, Jenks was agricultural expert for the British Union of Fascists.

Bramwell noted “a Boy Scout enthusiasm about the military attitude” that Jenks “adopted toward some problems.” For instance, Jenks wrote circa 1935 that the hypothetical fascist government he advocated would take “Effective steps…to cope with the host of rabbits, pigeons, rooks and other vermin who now levy a heavy toll on our fields. A corps of expert vermin-destroyers equipped with up-to-date apparatus will clear each district systematically.”

Such activity had centuries of precedent in the pursuits of the purported nobility. The U.S. government had already purged wolves from the Lower 48 states, and had embarked upon a similar persecution of coyotes, beginning in 1930.

What Jenks introduced was the now commonplace synthesis of traditional predator and “vermin”-killing with the intellectual pretense that it was restoring a supposed Garden of Eden, instead of just expediting a presumed Biblical injunction to subdue and dominate the earth.

Environmentalism may in time evolve beyond hunter/conservationism and ecological nativism to incorporate authentic deep concern for animal well-being. Campaigns against the environmental effects of factory farming and meat consumption, and the Sierra Club resolution against body-gripping traps, may mark the beginnings of philosophical change. But this is for now just a hope.

 

Hunters vs. farmers

Meanwhile, of note is that in contrast to hunting, fishing, and trapping, in which the goal is to enjoy killing animals, and in contrast to purges of “non-native” species, in which the goal is just to kill, the abuses and excesses of agribusiness are byproducts of economic competition.

While there is little consideration in agribusiness, as yet, for the welfare of living “production units,” neither are the animals caused to suffer for human recreation or the pursuit of abstract aesthetic objectives. Agribusiness organizations, including United Egg Producers, have no inherent objection to improving animal welfare, if making the improvements does not put them at an economic disadvantage.

Of course almost every form of animal agriculture ends with slaughter. And of course wildlife usually enjoys much more quality of life–and a longer life–than similar species raised for slaughter. Though agribusiness and animal advocates have a common interest in keeping farmed animals healthy, this scarcely suggests an alliance of purpose.

But neither does negotiating deals with agribusiness to better the lives of animals require bridging a philosophical gap wider than the notion of humans killing animals for fun, or merely because they may not have existed in a particular habitat circa 500 years ago.

 —The Editors

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