Spain's parliament has voiced support for great apes’ rights to life and freedom.
The parliament approved the proposal after its environmental committee urged compliance with a declaration devised by scientists and philosophers who, as Reuters reported, “say our closest genetic relatives deserve rights hitherto limited to humans.”
Pedro Pozas, Spanish director of the Great Ape Project, welcomed the “historic day in the struggle for animal rights and in defense of our evolutionary comrades,” suggesting again that the argument rests on similarities between human DNA and that of other great apes.
Friends of Animals, and our Great Ape Standing and Personhood (GRASP) project, declines to tie our argument to DNA similarities (which have dubious moral value); nevertheless, we do welcome rights for conscious beings wherever in the world they might come.
It’s notable to see the rapid movement of change in Spain, a country that didn’t legalize divorce until the 1980s. Since then, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's socialist government has legalized gay marriage, reduced the influence of Catholicism in schools, and set up an Equality Ministry. The government is now committed to updating the statute book within a year to outlaw harmful experiments on apes in Spain.
While keeping apes for circuses, commercials and films will also be forbidden under Spain's penal code, the confinement of an estimated 315 nonhuman great apes in Spanish zoos will not be illegal, suggesting that these rights will still carry a discrimination problem. Friends of Animals and GRASP believe zookeeping should be ended, and a concerted effort made to protect the ape’s equatorial habitats from ranching and other threats.
The Great Ape Project, founded in 1993, originally argued that chimpanzees, gorillas, and orang-utans should have rights to life, freedom and not be tortured. Zoos clearly Autumn short of the freedom criterion. Sanctuaries prepared to accept nonhuman apes, meet their needs and advocate for their rights (including freedom from being displayed), however, are rare indeed. At the time of this writing, we know of no such refuges in Spain.
Unless and until extending rights will ensure the phasing out of captivity and the protection of habitat where true freedom can be experienced, this victory will be illusory. It’s essential that advocates point this out every time we speak on this issue.
California hunting regulations requiring the use of non-lead ammunition took effect in July, said the Center for Biological Diversity, to avoid poisoning the “iconic and extremely endangered California condor.” Since condors were reintroduced to California in 1992, at least 14 condor deaths in the state have been linked to poisoning from ingesting lead fragments in carcasses.
The Center for Biological Diversity and a coalition of health and conservation organizations, hunters, and Native Americans launched a “Get the Lead Out” campaign in 2004, and the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2007, mandating non-lead ammunition for shooting deer, elk, pigs, bighorn sheep, and coyotes within the condor range.
One of the last condors to be born in nature was shot and killed on Tejon Ranch in a pig-hunting event in 2003. But CBD Conservation AdvocateJeff Miller said “hunters will now play a critical role in the recovery of the condor.”
The CBD press release states: “Safe, reliable non-lead bullets and shots made from copper and other materials are widely available for big-game hunting and perform as well as, or better than, lead ammunition…” The release actually provides a website to help people buy these so-called safe bullets.
Too often, people say it’s a case of either protecting species or respecting all conscious animals as individuals, and that has been a source of tension between environmentalism and animal-rights. But both concerns matter, and should be allied. Conservation groups miss their strongest argument when they issue a release so terribly offensive to animal-rights advocacy. If animal rights were a reality, habitat would have powerful protection, and developers like the Tejon Ranch Corporation would finally meet their true challenge.
The Center for Biological Diversity claims to be dedicated to protecting wild places. That claim is reduced to meaningless babble by releases that instruct people how to buy bullets for “big-game hunting” and similarly invasive and violent activities in whatever wild spaces are still left for animals to experience their lives.
When challenged by Friends of Animals, a CBD spokesperson produced a guest editorial by a Santa Barbara resident in the Ventura County Star. Anthony Prieto, a self-described hunter who’s killed blacktail deer and wild pigs for the past 22 years, co-founded the grotesquely but accurately termed Project Gutpile, a computer-based resource for ammunition shoppers. “Hunting with lead ammo,” explains Prieto, “left me no choice but to bury my lead-tainted gutpiles.” Prieto further states: “I was taught at an early age to only kill what you need to eat, to respect all wildlife, and to leave as little impact on this Earth as humanly possible.”
In Santa Barbara, those who kill only what they need to eat can do perfectly well with fruits and vegetables, and need not support the makers of deadly weapons. How sad that the Center for Biological Diversity, which defends animals “hovering on the brink of extinction,” fails to note that maltreating any animals leads to disrespect for -- and ultimately the disappearance of -- the animals with whom they are rightly concerned.
In June, U.S. Congress members Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Jim Moran of Virginia introduced the “unprecedented and groundbreaking Farm Animals Anti-Cruelty Act.” The proposed law would outlaw killing, torturing, or mutilating animals without justification, intentionally inflicting pain on an animal raised for food, or the failure to provide food, water and shelter.
The lawmakers could make true advances by personally supporting the vegetarian movement, whose very existence demonstrates that all the animals we breed into existence to consume are killed without justification.
A lawyer campaigning for the bill says “it provides a powerful disincentive and punishment for unjustified acts or intentional cruelty, a powerful weapon -- the ability to bring a federal prosecution, and a powerful message -- the national importance we place on the treatment of farm animals.” The campaigner further believes that violations of the Humane Slaughter Act (such as “ineffective stunning”) violate this bill if they are without justification and intentional.
If activists themselves imply the slaughter of animals is justified, no wonder political authorities are free to proclaim the same thing. No wonder we see headlines such as “Cattleman Can Be an Animal Rights Activist.”
Dan Gralian, president of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, had heard advocates call for “comprehensive anti-downer legislation” to indicate how disabled cows should be killed. “The Livestock Marketing Association and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association are working on it right now,” chirped the cattle marketer, “and we will not let them drop the ball.”
The self-congratulatory column concluded, “Perhaps I am an Animal Rights Activist after all!”
A new project unveiled at Summerfest 2008, “Humane Myth” was introduced as “a community of former farmers, animal rescuers, animal sanctuary founders, educators, and artists working to create a just and nonviolent future.” Sponsored by Tribe of Heart (makers of several well-known films, including The Witness), the new group explains:
Currently, both the animal-using industry and some animal advocacy organizations are propagating the idea that it is possible to use and kill animals in a manner that can be fairly described as respectful or compassionate or humane. We believe that this "Humane Myth" misrepresents the realities of animal use, and cultivates a positive image of activities that are neither just nor kind nor sustainable.
The group’s website aspires to “the peaceful transformation of our society” and declares: “The public deserves to be told the full truth of who animals are and what is being done to them behind closed doors, as well as the catastrophic impact that the continuing consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products will have on human health, wildlife and the environment.”
Although Humane Myth does not rule out support for initiatives that reduce the use, pain, and killing of animals, it rejects any “misleading or incomplete portrait of the confinement, social deprivation, mutilation, reproductive manipulation, indignity and premature death endured by animals being exploited for profit.” The group further renounces animal products, as well as labels that promote them as "humane," "cruelty-free," "cage-free," "free range," "organic," "compassionate," and takes aim at the public relations benefits such labels unfairly bring to animal agribusiness.
HumaneMyth.org couldn’t be more timely. The World Society for the Protection of Animals has begun ranking U.S. grocery chains by the availability of “humane” products of animal agribusiness on their shelves. The site rates packaging labels as "A GOOD Start," "Even BETTER" or "BEST Options." Is this truly “protecting” conscious beings?
A project that holds companies and advocates accountable for suggesting that systematically turning conscious animals into commodities could be humane, sustainable, healthful or necessary is a welcome addition to advocacy. Although its purpose isn’t to provide an all-inclusive animal-rights theory, this new project deftly cuts through the obstructions that currently impede progress in advocacy, and does so in a creative and lively way. Visit HumaneMyth.org to see what’s new.