Before PETA was founded in a basement flat some four decades ago, the idea that animals exist for their own sake – not for us to do with as we please – was novel, even radical. How times have changed! And while change for animals never comes quickly enough, make no mistake, society is evolving, waking up to the fact that animals are not things but sentient beings like us.
As a result, dozens and dozens of countries have banned circuses from using wild animals, hundreds of fashion labels have dropped fur and angora wool, thousands of companies have committed to never testing their personal-care products on animals, and advances in medical technology – including mind-blowing innovations such as the organ-on-a-chip – are increasingly able to replace harmful experiments on animals. Millions of people around the world have gone vegan, too.
With momentum now on our side, we’ll continue to make progress for animals – and 2022 is sure to be a year of landmark legislative change for animals. First up is trophy hunting. Perhaps one day, this display of bloodlust will be listed as a sign of a psychiatric disorder, as it should be today. In the meantime, the government can and likely will take a stand against this cruel pastime by introducing a ban on the import of hunting trophies early next year. The long-awaited – and much-needed – piece of legislation is set to be one of the most robust of its kind, preventing hunters from bringing back the heads, hides, and other body parts of thousands of endangered and threatened species and thereby deterring them from taking part in the killing sprees in which they obtain them.
Live exports will also be banned from England and Wales – at long last. The move will distance us from this horrid trade, which crams cows and sheep into barren shipping containers without fresh air, food, or adequate water and marinates them alive in their own waste. Let’s hope the new law has a domino effect around the world, because animals raised for their flesh already endure extreme misery – the absolute least we can do is spare them the additional trauma of an arduous journey overseas, only to be killed at their destination.
Israel became the first country in the world to ban the sale of fur this year, and we hope, now that the UK is no longer bound by EU trade regulations, it will shortly follow suit. The issue has widespread support, and it’s easy to see why. Fur farming was banned in the UK two decades ago when Parliament deemed it too cruel a practice to be accepted by civilised society. Permitting the import and sale of coats, pom-poms, and other frivolous fashion items made from fur obtained by killing factory-farmed or trapped animals therefore flies in the face of the values held by almost all British people, who don’t want to support an industry in which animals are drowned, electrocuted, shot, crushed, and even skinned alive.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) must – and no doubt eventually will – step up, too. Her Majesty the Queen has stopped buying fur for her wardrobe, yet unbelievably, black bears are still being gunned down to make caps for the Queen’s Guard. It takes the skin of at least one bear to make a single cap. Some of the bears shot for their fur are nursing mothers, whose cubs die without their protection, meaning one cap may actually represent the painful deaths of an entire family. All this for ceremonial headwear that serves absolutely no military purpose! I
t is made more preposterous by the fact that PETA, together with luxury faux furrier ECOPEL, has created a faux bear fur that is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, allowing the MoD to retain the aesthetic of the bearskin cap without the cruelty. ECOPEL has even offered to provide the fabric for free until 2030 – likely saving taxpayers millions of pounds. There are no more excuses – a new, cruelty-free faux-fur cap must be quick-marched into service immediately.
Well into the 21st century, we are moving away from crude experiments on animals and towards cutting-edge replacements – as evidenced by the European Parliament, which just voted in favour of developing an action plan to do just that. For the millions of animals in laboratories, that day can’t come soon enough. They spend years in cages, living each moment in fear. They are burned, poisoned, starved, and cut open, despite the fact that in this technological age, we have exceptionally accurate non-animal research methods, which can more efficiently develop human therapies. PETA’s Research Modernisation Deal provides governments and agencies with a precise roadmap for moving away from experimentation on animals and towards better methods that offer humans real hope for cures – so there can be no more delays.
Of course, none of us has a crystal ball. We can’t know what new opportunities and challenges lie ahead. What we do know is that animals have the ability to feel love, pain, joy, fear, loneliness, and more. They are full of emotions and interests, desire freedom, and want to live. And given what we know about them, surely, we can no longer justify killing them for a souvenir, a sandwich filler, or a hat. Let’s seek to redefine our relationship with them – away from domination and towards respect. The writer Henry Beston so beautifully penned,“They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” And so they are.
Elisa Allen is director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)