Tag: Animals

Christianity’s changing attitude toward animals

Nadyat El Gawley

The image is unforgettable, seared into my memory: pigs in utter anguish being gassed to death. You can turn away, but you can’t unsee the suffering on their faces.  A suffering that punches you in the heart. A suffering you can’t deal with and imagine for just a second that it can’t be true. It just can’t be.

ID 24602464 © Ihervas | Dreamstime.com

It’s a tiny snippet of a video on the website of the advocacy group, Animals Australia. There are others of course across the Internet—baby male calves being taken away (to the slaughterhouse) from mother cows, ducks and geese being violently fed in appalling conditions to produce foie gras, and shocking abuse of animals in some Australian abattoirs.

The cruelty of factory farming say animal advocates is on a colossal and indefensible scale; and it begs the question: Where did humanity get the idea that it could do what it liked to fellow creatures?

For some, the answer may be found in chapter one of the Biblical story of  Genesis where God gives Adam and Eve a mandate  to: “Subdue the earth  and have dominion over  the fish of the sea …the fowl of the air and every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

This has been a long-held and traditional Christian view, but leading Christian thinkers are now challenging it, and urging a new re-reading of Biblical teaching on animals. They’re also uncovering a  forgotten history of passionate campaigns for animal rights by many Christians.

A legacy of Christian animal activism

Rewind to the beginning of the 19th century,  and to what surprised Professor David Clough about Christianity and anti-vivisection campaigning.

Professor Clough teaches theological ethics at the University of Chester in the UK and says what’s been most striking about Christian activism for animals is how they engaged with the issue almost 200 years ago.

“ It was a real surprise to me when I started researching this area [to find] that it was Christians at the beginning of the 19th century who had become really concerned at the amount of animal cruelty going on, “ he told ABC Radio National’s The Religion and Ethics Report.  “ They were among  leading campaigners for changing the law to make animal cruelty illegal in Britain for the first time.”

It was leading evangelists such as William Wilberforce who campaigned for those laws, later joining with others to form the RSPCA.  Together with a group of Christians and a prominent Jew, Wilberforce, who had been a high profile campaigner for the abolition of slavery, founded the RSPCA in 1824, writes professor Clough in The Ark  the newsletter of UK based Catholic Concern for Animals.

However , he says that by the beginning of the last century with the rise of secularism in Western Europe and falling church attendance, groups such as the RSPCA wanted a broader reach and downplayed the Christian aspect of the organisation.  There was also, WW1 and the devastating human tragedy of the Great War to which Christians turned their attention.

The winds of change

There’s a scene in the 2016 Italian TV mini-series–Call Me Francis –where in the 60s, a young Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) intervenes to save a pig from the torments of a group of male students. This may have been a portend for the future where as Pope Francis, he releases his second encyclical Ludato Si, Praise be to you, in 2015. It’s one of the most far-reaching statements to come out of the Vatican on the place of animals in Christian teaching.  Significantly, it tackles traditional thinking about humanity being at the centre of creation with unchecked power over it.

“This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church, “ says the encyclical.

ID 120255764 © Mark Bosman | Dreamstime.com

“ Nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” (LS 67).

Ludato Si  was not the only important statement on animals to come out of Christianity that year.  In September, American evangelicals released their own statement on animal protection–Every Living  Thing.  It calls on Christians to avoid treating animals cruelly and was the result of a unique four-year collaboration between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the evangelical community.  Over 1000 evangelical leaders and scholars signed the document.

Yet the statement is prefaced by a declaration that it’s not doctrinal in nature,  it  doesn’t address particular issues, and says that humans have greater worth than animals.  So how significant is it in getting Christians to focus on animal rights?

Professor Clough’s research indicates that Christians don’t see the link between their faith and the treatment of non-human animals.  But he told Radio National  that  the US statement is of  considerable importance.

“Often, evangelicals in the US have been thought as most resistant to issues like concern for animals or wider environmental concerns,” he told the ABC. “But, avoiding treating animals cruelly in the current context of what we’re doing to animals in intensive farming systems is a really radical statement.

If we were to seriously investigate the implications of not visiting unnecessary cruelty on animals through our farming practices, perhaps 98 percent of the current products available would be off the table for Christians.”

Goats at Hart Acres Animal Haven, NSW. Photo N. El Gawley

How much does the public know?

“ One of the things I talk about is that commercial egg production ( including free range and organic egg ) relies on the killing of male chics because they are of no economic value,” he told The Religion and Ethics Report. “And so what happens to them, is that they are dropped live into a grinding machine called a macerator which thought to be the most humane way of dispatching them.”

How little the public know about  factory farms is a widespread concern.  In talking to many groups in the UK, Professor David Clough notes audience reaction when he explains what happens in the egg industry.

These chics are usually a day old, and billions are killed in this manner each year across the world. In Australia, about 12 million perish this way.

“That’s a shock to the audiences that I speak to.  You can almost hear an audible gasp in the room when I mention that kind of example.”

Cracks in the veneer

There ’s good news among all this in Australia. While the most recent statistics on worldwide meat eating trends, put Australia at the top in 2015; a year later , Roy Morgan Research found that just over two million of us (11.2 percent) are either vegetarian or vegan—up from 1.7 million in 2012.  Many are switching for health reasons, but some are making the change for ethical reasons, and for the animals. And Roy Morgan Research predicts the trend is set to continue.

Courtesy of Veganuary

Thousands of  Australians sign up for Veganuary, 31 days of vegan eating in January and the Daily Telegraph reports that according to data from Google Trends, Aussies are more interested in learning about vegan principles than they are about the much-hyped keto and Paleo diets.

“ What really strikes me in relation to farmed animals is that this is an issue which is a big problem, but one which we can have an immediate impact on,” professor Clough told RN’s Religion and Ethics Report.   “ If we stop consuming the products of factory farming, the animals will not be enlisted into these systems. And so through a daily practice of what we choose to eat, we can make a difference to the numbers of animals that are being forced into these cruel systems.”

Saving Racehorses: Reform or Revolution?

Note: I wrote this story before the Melbourne Cup and the tragic death of two horses there yesterday.  I have since tried to talk to the Australian Racing Board about whether they will now talk to animal advocates given this is the second year in a row where horses have died at the race.  They haven’t responded, but I will be keeping an eye on this story.

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Nadyat El Gawley

November 5 2014

The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses (CPR) is calling for reforms to the racing industry as the country prepares for the Melbourne Cup. The animal welfare group is urging the public to ask whether the glamour of horseracing is worth the cruel deaths of horses every year.

According to the group’s website, 125 racehorses have died on the track between August 2013 and July 2014 from catastrophic limb injury.

“Unfortunately there has been no meaningful change [in] the industry,” said Communications Manager, Ward Young via email. “That is why we are calling on racegoers and punters to support our call to reform the racing industry and create a better world for horses.”

The group’s controversial billboard of a dead horse erected by a city expressway in Melbourne was pulled down after only four days in early October. However, they said public support has been overwhelming.

CPR’s billboard erected on the City Link Freeway in Melbourne October 4 2014. It was pulled down October 8 2014. Image source: CPR’s Facebook page.
CPR’s billboard erected on the City Link Freeway in Melbourne October 4 2014. It was pulled down October 8 2014. Image source: CPR’s Facebook page.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian RSPCA said while they acknowledged the confronting nature of the billboard, it showed “ the outcome that will face many horses when they finish racing.

“We believe the industry that profits from these racehorses needs to do more for their welfare when they retire,” the spokeswoman said in an email.

The industry defends its reforms and points to a retirement plan announced in July that makes it mandatory for owners to report the reason for their horse’s retirement, as well as plans beyond racing.

“The data …will provide the industry with greater insight into the reasons horses retire and their activities post racing,” said Caitlin Lei Sam from Racing NSW.

Ms Lei Sam said the industry can use the information to create more rehabilitation programs which would help alleviate public concern over animal welfare.

CPR accepts this as a good start, but they point out one of the retirement options is ‘livestock sale.’

“While there is a chance the horse may be rehomed,” said Young, “there is a much bigger chance they will be purchased by kill buyers [for] abattoirs and knackeries.”

“It is so important … the racing industry uses its money and power to ensure racehorses aren’t sent to these kill-houses of despair. ”

Last year, CPR proposed a retirement plan which allowed for every horse in the industry to be rehomed. It would cost 1 per cent of the betting turnover and end the ‘discarding’ of horses bred for racing, but that don’t make it to the track. According to the group, these horses make up the bulk of what’s referred to as ‘wastage’, and end up being slaughtered.

The plan was rejected by the Australian Racing Board who would not comment on why they had dismissed it.

In the clamour following the installation of the billboard, the Australian Racing Board’s Chief Executive Peter McGauran told The Age he had no respect for CPR because they spread ‘myths’. But others in the industry have taken a different view.

Scott Brodie who runs the unique Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Program funded by Racing NSW, is persuaded by the value of communication. With a wide background in horse training and education, Brodie’s networks have included animal advocates. And he’s tried to reach out to them.

The former NSW Mounted Police horse trainer said he thought he might be able to unofficially mediate between Racing NSW, and animal welfare groups.

“I didn’t really get good feedback … it was really disappointing at the time.”

“It’s good to have someone that’s got a foot in each camp and as a mediator, have an understanding of both environments. There’s an opportunity there to bring people together,” he said.

 

Scott Brodie with one of the horses stabled at Canterbury Racecourse. Photo: Nadyat El Gawley
Scott Brodie with one of the horses stabled at Canterbury
Racecourse. Photo: Nadyat El Gawley

Brodie oversees an estimated 30 volunteers and a partnership with Corrective Services NSW’s St Heliers facility at Muswellbrook. The program also has a number of staff who look after the horses at its headquarters at Canterbury Racecourse in Sydney.

“The horses come from owners, trainers, studs,” he said. “We have horses that have been racing for 10 years; we have some horses that never even made it to the race track. “

“They go to the prison… [and] because we’ve got plenty of land up there, the horses will have six months just in a paddock being horses.”

“And once they’ve had that six months…we introduce them to the inmates [who] do six weeks with each horse utilising natural horsemanship techniques which is horse whispering.”

Mr Brodie regards the program as one providing holistic approaches to horse training where gentle interaction is core. But he also sees it as one which helps both horses and people in the art of communication.

A staff member working with Mr Sublime at Canterbury Racecourse. Photo: Nadyat El Gawley
A staff member working with Mr Sublime at Canterbury
Racecourse. Photo: Nadyat El Gawley

“I’ve seen some unbelievable stuff,” he said about the turnaround in the lives of the inmates. So far, he says, no one who has gone through the program has returned to gaol.

About 100 horses go through the program each year and according to Lei Sam, there’s a great demand for it. However, there are “ many owners and trainers who already have future plans for their horses once retired…”

It is a point of contention with animal welfare groups who say the industry is not doing enough to save the lives of retired or working horses.

A disturbing video posted on CPR’s website in 2012 taken at the Victorian Laverton Knackery during Cup Week, showed horrifying treatment of horses. The animals were shot in front of one another with one horse dragged across gravel still alive after its throat was slit.

For Ward Young, watching it all has profoundly changed him.

“It does something to you that cannot be undone. For me, it stained my psyche and I could not in good conscience turn away and let it continue,” he said.