In the first SoLVe Seminar held earlier this year, I spoke about the dangers of animal welfare ‘spin’ being used by government and animal industries, and how difficult it was for the ordinary consumer to decipher the messages being put out about the treatment of animals. It’s not like the ‘old days’ where animal welfare was simply ignored, and farmers would respond to concerns by saying that ‘animals didn’t matter’ or ‘couldn’t feel pain’. Instead, those in power now respond with much more refined language. They talk about how essential welfare is, and remind us that New Zealand has (they claim) the highest standards in the world. This type of PR ‘spin’ is, in my view, much tougher to combat.
Deciphering the messages and explaining why animals are not actually any better off from the elaborate codes put in place to ‘protect’ them is not always easy. Indeed, I think it’s one of the toughest challenges in the new animal welfare era. In many ways, it was easier for animal advocates when we were fighting against opponents who simply denied our claims. Then, all we had to do was show evidence that animals were suffering. Now, it’s a different ‘game’, and much of it involves fighting through PR spin – no easy task. Check out this Australian article by Katrina Sharman on the topic, which describes the problem – and attempts to combat it.
I’m currently in Melbourne, teaching a course on animal law, the first ever held in the state of Victoria. It’s been a fascinating process, and I’ve spent a fair bit of time already discussing law, the media, and messages sent by those in the industry and in government about what good welfare means. Next Tuesday, I’ll even have a whole lecture devoted to this topic, which I’ve never done before in my class. Sign of the times, I guess – and its an issue that will continue to require plenty of attention in future.