• DAY 396: THE END

    Oct 26 2013

    Martinmango

    This year is now over.

    It has been horrific, sad, inspiring and deeply transformative. I can say with hand on fast-beating heart that you readers and supporters have helped hugely on an otherwise exhausting journey.

    It may seem strange that a year of (trying) to help animals takes 396 days but to delve into the world of suffering means the earth moves around the sun ever so slightly slower.

    The days have been long, the nights, dreaming of pigs in spanish intensive farms, longer.

    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    In the past 396 days I have (tenuously) saved:

    16 domestic animals (dogs mainly – UK, India, Philippines)

    18 farm animals (by not eating meat)

    22 fish (as above including some interventions in Vietnam

    7 birds (it would have been more if I hadn’t killed a few. Bugger)

    12 weird and scary animals (you’ll have to read the blog)

    255 insects, slugs, snails (do these count? Well, they are sentient)

    If you want to see more about how this might not be entirely true…but actually could be, please click here

    My total haul is fairly small. I am left with a pig’s bite mark in my leg, an even larger hole in my wallet and a sadness that trails me like a winter shadow.

    But then there is Mango –  the dog who you will be glad to know is coming home from the Philippines in three weeks thanks to your support.

    Hooray!

    Mango - rescued

    Mango – rescued

    Since the beginning of this year around 65 billion animals have been consumed by humans and many many more killed by us through other means: hunting, city expansion, pollution, global warming, neglect, simple cruelty – the list goes on.

    And yet there are people working against this, so much more bravely than I ever could –  the likes of Trevor, Avis, Kartick, Gheeta, Ira, Charlotte, Liz, Julia and Alberto as well as  organisations like  Network for Animals, Compassion in World Farming and WSPA and so many more who I can’t mention here – they  show us that there is hope. I want to thank all of these people and those I can’t mention from the bottom of my heart. And then I want to thank you for your generous support – emotional and financial. But also of course Ann – who has stood by me so patiently and with so much love and who tomorrow I marry (again!) in our US wedding (her family is from America so this is where the big ceremony is)

    An ex-dancing bear at the wonderful sanctuary of Wildlife SOS in India

    An ex-dancing bear at the wonderful sanctuary of Wildlife SOS in India

     

    My efforts during this year – misguided at times, naive at others, indulgent perhaps but always heartfelt I hope – are my own small attempt to swim against a  tide. I don’t feel I have done much but then I never expected I would. But I also feel I have done what is more important than anything. I have had the opportunity to reconnect with animals. This has been a luxury but a necessity too. My guiding mantra – which will accompany me to my grave  – is E. M Forsters:  ‘only connect’.

    That connection is most easy to make in the eyes of the animals I have photographed. Images of suffering speak directly to us in a way that logic and argument don’t. Many of us know that animal suffering is wrong. But most of don’t KNOW it deep down so that we act on it. Until we see it. Until we really SEE it.

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    The eyes have it

    Wildlife SOS

    Wildlife SOS rescued monkey

    Mango

    Mango

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    A chained monkey in India

    A stuffed leopard in unceremonious garb and elephant tusk - seized contraband at the Wildlife Crime Unit

    A stuffed leopard in unceremonious garb and elephant tusk – seized contraband at the Wildlife Crime Unit

    Galgo against a wall

    A rescued Galgo in Southern Spain

    Many people will say – why animals? What about the starving children in Syria (you f**cking wanker)?

    But , as you know, it is neither one, nor the other. It is both. We are all animals and we all suffer. But we humans have done our best to forget this, and so have denigrated the other animals to a position where we repeatedly abuse them. For that reason my mission has been to help  those OTHER animals. While the separation between us and other human groups can be devastating, it is of a different order entirely to the rift we feel (or don’t feel) to other animals.

    It goes without saying there are a huge number of people on this planet who love and care for animals.

    Charlotte with Ete. From a hunter's hands to a carer's, thank you Charl!

    Charlotte with Ete. From a hunter’s hands to a carer’s, thank you Charl!

    Steve Trewhella and Derek Davey, two people more skilled than me at saving wildlife

    Steve Trewhella and Derek Davey, two people more skilled than me at saving wildlife

    The wonderful Avis from ARK, in Kerala, India, doing so much for street dogs.

    The wonderful Avis from ARK, in Kerala, India, doing so much for street dogs.

    The dog sanctuary in the south of Corfu. Those that don't fight each other are allowed to roam free, the others are kept in well managed enclosures.

    The dog sanctuary in the south of Corfu run by Marjorie

    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    Peter Singer, philosopher on animal rights

    Peter Singer, philosopher on animal rights

    But there are too many that don’t.

    bear paws are especially prized in the illegal wildlife trade.

    bear paws are especially prized in the illegal wildlife trade.

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    The overwhelming consensus is that animals are for us to USE and it will, I fear, be many centuries before this filters down. It is NOT simply because most countries cannot afford to be compassionate. It is the new found middleclass in India, for example, who are often treating their dogs the worst.

    Cordelia - the 'cow-dog'. She was almost totally blind

    Cordelia – the ‘cow-dog’. She was almost totally blind

    Perhaps the most shocking realisation over this year, aside from understanding the sheer scale with which we humans abuse other animals, is the power of normalisation.  

    The way in which are culture tells us it is NORMAL to think of animals as separate and lower. This process is our greatest and most silent enemy. It is so NATURAL to eat meat.  The fridge with the bacon is SO NICE AND WELCOMING.

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    If you accept your culture, as we normally all do in one form or another, you have to accept that in another culture you might be a wonderfully charming sexist and racist that thought Jimmy Saville a  good TV presenter. This is neither bad nor good. We are all products of our upbringing and to generate the escape velocity to free ourselves from the gravitation pull of the norm requires considerable energy.

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    You can argue about many of my actions or opinions in this blog but you cannot argue with the transformation I have felt. At times the process has been sad, often it has been painful,  but I have felt a strangely subtle shift towards a greater connection and openness that is ultimately rewarding. I feel more content with myself in a way that I only hope will feed into my recovery from a life-long lingering depression.

    With Charlotte's wonderful galgos

    With Charlotte’s wonderful galgos

    Who knows.

    But the transformation is not complete and will probably be a lifetimes work. I am stepping onto the path of veganism but without the certainty I feel about vegetarianism.  I am ashamed to even admit it. Why? Why am I not more certain?

    I have also learnt that the process of reconnecting with animals is neither linear or logical. It is a heart unfolding, and we each have different folds made over many years. Yes, you can read Peter Singer and understand the logic, yes,  you can watch Earthlings and see the horror,  but ultimately the shift comes from a complex combination of your beliefs, your culture, your compassion, your independence, your lifestyle and many other unknown factors.

    This little pup was too terrified for me to touch it. He was found abandoned and we can only guess about his life before rescue.

    This little pup was too terrified for me to touch it. He was found abandoned and we can only guess about his life before rescue.

    What about us?

    What about us?

    Baby hedgehogs suffer too. Me holding a rescued hedgehog in the centre

    Baby hedgehogs suffer too. Me holding a rescued hedgehog in the centre

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    The purpose of this year was not to moralise or even persaude. It was certainly not to prove myself a worthy person. I had thought it was simply to tell you my story in the hope it might enlighten your own.

    But if I am being brutally honest, the purpose of this year was to save something of myself. If I had gone to my grave not trying to do something very small to help animals I would have lived an un-whole life. To connect with animals is also to connect with ourselves.

    I love animals a little bit more. I think I even love myself a little more too.

    Grrrrr!

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    Get moving!! Bug and moose enjoy the snow.

    Get moving!! Bug and moose enjoy the snow.

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  • DAY 392: WHAT DO THE LABELS ON MEAT ACTUALLY MEAN?

    Oct 21 2013
    Murder

    Murder

    For the last few days I have been on a juice-only detox to shave off the pounds before my US wedding next week to Ann (we got married in the UK but are having our celebration next week – I’m not allowed to be saving frogs or pigs as the confetti falls so this blog must end then).

    The diet is a massively upsetting endeavor which involves drinking green slime.

    ‘At least I’m being vegan’ I said to Ann

    ‘You are not vegan. You just aren’t eating anything’

    I take her point.

    The meat-eater is also not a vegetarian when they put their hamburger down to eat their chips. But at least they are temporarily abstaining.

    But I have decided, therefore, after I drink the last green slime, to be a proper vegan.

    With a heavy heart I can tell you that this decision has not come as naturally to me as being vegetarian but I feel I must at least try. Am I doing what is expected of me for the sake of this blog? I had hoped I would be throwing cheese at right wing politicians by now but I am simply not as angry about dairy as I ought to be.

    Perhaps I still have some connections to make in my own heart.

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    PORK HAPPINESS

    Nevertheless I’m lightheaded and vaguely angry about not eating. Which is the perfect mood with which to trawl the great British supermarkets looking at the labels on pork meat.

    I will be going to a cross section of great british supermarkets and assessing PORK HAPPINESS.

    This is not a strictly scientific measure (for that you need to ask pigs how they are feeling) rather it will be an overview of how much silent pain you might expect in each supermarket meat shelf based on the welfare quality of their products.

    But it’s a fairly accurate assessment nonetheless. I’ve been reading up a lot about pork labels and speaking to Compassion in World Farming, the absolute experts, to get all the info so you don’t have to.

    The supermarkets I’m going to are:

    WAITROSE – posh but expensive.

    SAINSBURY’S – middle class but bearable

    CO-OP – sort of in the middle??? Who knows, who cares.

    ICELAND – rubbish and cold. Full of mad old women with trolleys

    TESCO – the everyman’s behemoth that loves cheap chicken. Will sell your house as well as your soul.

    And what do the labels mean?

    I’ll be going into much more detail in my book about this but the essential information goes a little like this

     

    Highest welfare to lowest – what labels measure of happiness?

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    Organic

    the gold standard, with ‘soil association’ being the best.

    Although it doesn’t necessarily follow that using good fertilizer means the pigs are happy on the whole there is a reliable connection between  meat labelled ‘organic’ and happy(ier) animals. If you must eat pig ALWAYS AND ONLY buy organic. Please.

    Free range

    the term ‘free range’ is not a legally binding definition as it is with chickens but it does denote a reliable agreement between farmers and supermarkets indicating that the pigs live outdoor, although not necessarily on rich pasture

    Outdoor bred

    The pigs are bred outdoors as opposed to in farrowing crates but then revert to being intensively reared, indoors. It’s something but not an awful lot.

    Indoor reared

    This is what I saw in Spain: intensive and not very happy. Some labels may indicate the use of deep bedding and straw. You should look for this as a minimum if you are buying indoor reared food.

     

    WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? IT LOOKS LIKE A CHILD'S TRACTOR??

    Red tractor

    This is the lowest assurance of all. Means little except that the farm is (probably) complying with the most basic EU laws, the pigs are not castrated and that some tractors are….er… red. It seems a bit like being given a losers prize for turning up to the race and falling over your laces at the start. Even though some higher welfare meat (like Organic Duchy Orginials) will have this label as well as their orgnic labels it’s not something to be impressed by. And if meat doesn’t have this label (or any other) and doesn’t come from a reputable shop you might want to see if it glows in the dark or is still writhing in the pack.

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    The RSPCA freedom food sticker – this can be applied to both indoors and outdoor reared meats. It gives a welfare approval rather than denoting a particular system of rearing. Indoor reared meat with RSPCA approval may mean the pigs are in better conditions than free range meat without it. Worth looking out for.

     

    Can we trust labels at all?

    From what I have read and the experts I have spoken to, the labeling system on pig meat is meaningful and on the whole honest if not bound in EU law.

    And yet a while back a reader on this blog pointed out a video  that showed appalling conditions on an ‘RSPCA freedom food approved’ farm of pigs covered in much and unable to walk.

    How does this square up?

    If you are generous it  means that the RSPCA can’t check every farm. They check about 1 in 3 unannounced which within the industry is very high but which is, in some instances, clearly not good enough. If you are not generous it means the RSPCA don’t care. Your call. But you might want to take labeling – as well as your bacon – with a pinch of salt even if on the whole it has good intentions.

    Who wins gold for happiest pigs?

    Who wins gold for happiest pigs?

    A simpler system?

    I asked Compassion in World Farming why the system could not be simplified. Surely it would make more sense to have three lables, like GOLD, SILVER, BRONZE, which denoted how happy the pigs were and avoided the consumer needing a PhD in pig welfare.

    They agreed this made sense but pointed out it required huge organisation and a large drive from the consumer. Perhaps it would come.

    And what would count as Gold and silver and bronze? I asked.

    ‘The obvious answer is that organic would be gold, free range silver, and indoor rearing with straw bedding and no castration would be bronze. But we would like gold to be something higher than the current standard organic level. An aspirational level that has not yet been achieved. There are always improvements to be made’

    Routine tail docking is illegal in the EU and yet still prevalent in both the UK and abroad. It is one of the main 'props' of intensive pig production. Without it, frustrated pigs would bite of each other's tails and farmers would be forced to provide more stimulating environments.

    Routine tail docking is illegal in the EU and yet still prevalent in both the UK and abroad. It is one of the main ‘props’ of intensive pig production. Without it, frustrated pigs would bite of each other’s tails and farmers would be forced to provide more stimulating environments.

    Always buy British?

    Compassion in World Farming  recently  published a shocking report on the state of EU farms.  Of 45 intensive pig farms visited from 9 EU member countries 44 were seriously flouting EU welfare regulations including the use of routine tail docking and lack of appropriate bedding and enrichment material

    This means that EVERY SINGLE pig farm that I visited in Spain, all of which had no straw bedding or any enrichment were breaking the EU law.

    This is very telling because the key reason that pigs bite each others tails  is because of intense frustration and lack of stimulation. If farmers were forced to avoid routine tail docking they would have to provide higher welfare to stop the biting.

    Looks good, tastes good, smells of pain

    Looks good, tastes good, smells of pain

    This should put you off  buying meat from an EU country without an organic label or other assurance – that means Parma Ham in fancy packing is out, expensive chorizo from spain is out (unless Iberico pork), cheap Danish bacon is out, cheap frankfurters are out.

    But what about good old British pork? Can we hold our head up any higher?

    While the conditions in British pig farms are somewhat better than in most other EU countries (we have totally banned sow stalls whereas in the EU they are allowed for limited use) in 2008 CIWF found that over half of intensive British pig farms that they visited undercover had a prevalence of tail docking and over a third had no, or ineffective, enrichment.

    This is all rather depressing isn’t it?

    The simple answer is ONLY buy organic – and if your sandwich has pork in it with no label don’t buy it. The simpler answer still is don’t buy pig meat at all.

    In the next blog: what I found in the supermarkets.

     

     

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  • DAY 389: CHASING PIGS ACROSS SOUTHERN EUROPE

    Oct 17 2013
    Pigs look out of a truck on their way through france and Italy to slaughter

    Pigs look out of a truck on their way through france and Italy to slaughter

    As night falls we see our first pig truck.

    Excitement is entirely the WRONG emotion on seeing a vehicle stuffed with animals but after waiting ten hours for anything you’re relieved when it finally happens. Except for a firing squad lifting their guns.

    Oh, but I didn’t realise…. we then have to drive behind the vehicle until it stops.

    Bring on the firing squad.

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    For another 3 hours we trail the sorry truck, across the border into France, into the night and through the years… before we finally pull up at a lay-by.

    After doing so much undercover work I am nervous of what will happen next but the driver steps out of the vehicle and is strangely polite. Julia checks the pigs while Alberto chats amicably to the driver. I take some photos but in the dark it’s hard to make out much. The pigs seem vaguely dirty and cramped.

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    Sardinia…that’s a long way

    Apparently the driver is heading to Sardinia – at least another 24 hours away . He says he is driving through the night to catch the 9am ferry. Julia does her calculations and works out he’ll probably miss the 29 hour limit by 2-3 hours but says ‘this is totally normal’. He has no co-driver so this is also illegal.

    ‘The pigs will be in there for 32 hours, is that OK?’

    ‘They’re not in too bad condition. Not yet at least. They are probably over-crowded but it’s not awful.’

    I scan the pigs in the dark, eyes peer out at me. We decide to let this one go.

    Is that it?

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    Stranger and stranger

    The next morning we pull out at 8am to start the journey all over again and a remarkable coincidence happens. The same truck drives right past us. For the first time in my blog career a story takes a poetic turn.

    ‘He was lying about the ferry then?’ I ask

    ‘Of course’ says Julia, speeding up. ‘I have never had a coincidence like this happen. We shall wait till he gets into Italy and then we can call the police. The police in France are hopeless.’

    Julia is now deeply concerned that if the truck continues all the way to Sardinia then the pigs, who would have been left all night in the truck anyway, will be travelling well beyond the EU limit of hours. Lack of food, water and rest becomes a serious welfare threat.

    A few hours later when we reach Italy she calls up the local police and they intercept us on the motorway and pull the truck over.

    The truck loaded with hundreds of pigs

    The truck loaded with hundreds of pigs

    The police pull over the truck on the motorway just after we cross into Italy

    The police pull over the truck on the motorway just after we cross into Italy

    They take the driver (and pigs) to the police station where they summon the local vet. A woman arrives wearing hugely high heels, a sweeping silk scarf and a tight fitting dress. Is this what italian vets look like? With her consent  they slap a 9000Euro fine on the driver. It turns out he is breaking the law on the following counts:

    1) Over crowding of pigs

    2) Broken watering system

    3) Lack of food

    4) Lack of appropriate bedding

    5) No co-driver

    THIS MEANS THAT EVERY DRIVER WE HAVE STOPPED IS BREAKING THE LAW.

    And the most innocuous looking of all of them has just broken five. The driver then comes up to me and just as I’m expecting him to swing a punch he shakes my hand and smiles at me. I’m really confused now – a strangely sexy vet, some very animal-friendly police, a jovial but illegal driver who has just lost the money to build the extension to his house  being warm to me and 200 pigs waiting at a …. police station.

    Am I in a very dark comedy sketch?

    The pigs need water. The 600 litre holding tank that supplies the sprinkler system is totally empty and the driver only has a small watering can to fill it up. I watch as he pathetically tops up the system, can by can.

     

    The watering system runs out of juice

    The watering system runs out of juice

    How NOT to fill up a 600litre water tank when the pigs have run out of liquid.

    How NOT to fill up a 600litre water tank when the pigs have run out of liquid.

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    Unloading the pigs

    The problem now is how to unload the pigs. They need to be given rest and food.  This can’t be done anywhere. A dedicated, sanitised holding bay is needed. There are only a few places in Italy that can do it and we now have to drive another few million hours to find one. Give me coffee, let me buy a hat, let me read an email, sell me something, I NEED TO CONSUME. ANYTHING.

    We arrive at the unloading bay at some awful time in the night  and I watch the pigs being unloaded. I’m appalled. Even with Animals Angels watching and two policemen giving us an escort the unloading process is brutal. Pigs are pushed off the truck and a number fall at least 8 feet head first onto concrete. The unloading handler then kicks them to get up.

    Unloading the pigs late at night in a temporary rest area. The unloading is almost more stressful than the journey. 24 hours laters they are loaded up again for another journey

    Unloading the pigs late at night in a temporary rest area. The unloading is almost more stressful than the journey. 24 hours laters they are loaded up again for another journey

    Pigs in close captivity often fight. Wounds on the body are common, especially if they have to fight over limited water supplies

    Pigs in close captivity often fight. Wounds on the body are common, especially if they have to fight over limited water supplies

    And the inevitable tragic ending ... Shakespeare would have been proud. Only one pig died - either trampled to death or from sickness or stress. Transport companies are only prosecuted if it can be proved the pig was sick when loaded, not if it gets sick en route.

    And the inevitable tragic ending … Shakespeare would have been proud. Only one pig died – either trampled to death or from sickness or stress. Transport companies are only prosecuted if it can be proved the pig was sick when loaded, not if it gets sick en route.

    And then finally  there is one pig that won’t come out. Asleep? The handler climbs into the truck and drags it out. It emerges from the darkness, face contorted, its eyes already black and bulging, it’s body rigid.

    It has been dead already some hours. I’m not allowed to take a picture but when the police are not looking I snap this one. What sort of hell killed it?

    ‘Perhaps it was trampled, perhaps it fell ill’ says Julia. ‘We have no idea but this is sadly normal’

    This was the first and last pig truck I saw. It’s story told me everything: pigs that are crammed into deadly conditions, trucks that are breaking the laws at every turn and only the most dedicated of individuals able to make the slightest different to a vast trade that sees thousands of animals spend their final hours in pain.

    Don’t eat chorizo, don’t eat parma ham, don’t eat Danish bacon…unless it is certified organic.

    In the next blog I will tell you why as I go back to Britain to go to every major supermarket chain to see where their pork products come from

     

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  • DAY 380: WATCH ME WATCHING ‘EARTHLINGS’. HAVE A LOOK AT SOMEONE LOOKING AT SUFFERING

    Oct 10 2013
    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    For those of you who don’t know, the documentary ‘Earthlings’ is the movie that turns people to vegetarianism.

    And it’s not about Jamie Oliver making a quinoa salad.

    It shows, without blinking, the unadorned horror of the many ways in which humans are capable of abusing their power over animals – farming, vivisection, hunting, pet ownership…the list is far too long to bear and the scenes portrayed too gory to look at directly for any length of time.

    I’ve been promising but failing to watch this film for weeks.  The reasons were obvious – I didn’t want to face it.  But now I have.

    I wanted to share something of this with you without forcing the images upon you. So rather than write about it, I thought I’d film myself watching it. Some of these portraits look contrived but I can assure you I was far too distressed to care about the camera. You are watching pain that is once removed.

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    What is the point of watching ‘Earthlings’ if it’s so awful?

    No doubt it would be possible to make a movie of the awful way some human’s treat humans. Or the way animals eat animals.  Surely this is a sort of extremist shock tactic that doesn’t help a reasonable debate on animal rights.

    In some ways that is true. Plenty of slaughter houses are not as awful as those shown in graphic detail here.

    But when you consider that two the key reason why animals suffer so much at the hands of humans is because of the twin effects of IGNORANCE and DENIAL then a short sharp shock of reality is eminently justifiable.

    In one scene it shows how cattle who collapse after days of transport in India have raw chilli rubbed into their eyes to get them up. If that doesn’t work they break their tails.In some ways the movie is as brutal on the viewer – this is a movie to open people’s eyes. Not nice, but effective.

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    Two lessons.

    Two main feelings from watching (other than horror)

    1) UTTER ASTONISHMENT at the way humans can separate from animals. The DISCONNECT was grand-canyon-esque. A man cuts the head off a living dolphin, another saws into a fully conscious cow….how?

    2) A SENSE OF CERTAINTY that for those of us that care it is our absolute duty to KNOW.

    If you have any compassion for animals then you owe it to yourself as much as to the animals to at least educate yourself as to what is happening. You don’t need to watch the movie or see any gore but you need to at least give your heart a chance to connect to the misery that you might be able to help. You can then choose to act or not. But you cannot go through life not knowing.

    If you have the strength, please watch Earthlings for free:

    Watch the movie 

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  • DAY 379: BADGER CULL FAILS SO THEY EXTEND BADGER CULL

    Oct 09 2013
    The time is up - after a self-imposed six weeks the cull has failed to reach the required numnbers of badgers to be judged effective. So the government is going to extend it. Fair?

    The time is up – after a self-imposed six weeks the cull has failed to reach the required numnbers of badgers to be judged effective. So the government is going to extend it. Fair?

    The badger cull has officially ended. It has failed to meet its target.

    After six weeks of shooting the government has been unable to kill the number of badgers they said was needed to be sure the cull was effective in the time they said was required to be sure it was efficient.

    So they are applying to extend the period AND they are claiming they should lower their target.

    Hang on a minute…..

    Now I know how Alex Ferguson felt when the referee wouldn’t blow the whistle. If someone can explain to me why this isn’t making up the rules of a game as you play it please write to me.

    I have, as yet on this year, not felt as angry by politics as I have today. What a load of dunces.

    If you remember, the government wanted to kill 70% of the badgers in the Somerset cull zone, representing over 2000 badgers, to be sure they would wipe out enough of the supposed TB threat without killing the whole population (as that would not be nice).

    They have killed 850, around 40% of their target. This is terrible news but also good news. The protests have worked, the shooting has failed, many badgers have been saved.

    The reason for the six week limit was to stop the ‘peturbation effect’. If you kill over a long period the badgers flee and spread any bTB further, making the shooting counter-productive.

    Now they want another three weeks.

    This quote from the original DEFRA site :

    Defra has taken advice from a group of independent scientists and they advised that limiting culling to a period of up to 6 weeks would be likely to reduce any adverse effects of non-simultaneous culling.

    After culling in the pilot areas has finished, we will need to evaluate the results of the monitoring in order to take a decision on whether further licences can be considered.

    Sorry…. DEFRA have ‘taken advice’ from scientists?

    What about advice from the 10 year, £50 million independent scientific study that concluded  that  the cull would not work and that it was ‘crazy’ (Lord Krebs himself, the eminent scientist in charge)???

    DEFRA have now said – which is very handy for their shooters – that they think there are less badgers in the area than originally thought. Which means it will be easier to judge their cull a success.

    OK…so they have failed to judge the number of badgers, failed to kill the required amount in the required time and failed to listen to the science. Oh go on, have another try.

    This is like playing football with a mean older brother. He trips over his own shoe laces on the half way line, claims he should have a penalty, fails to score (depsite his younger brother being keeper and only 2 years old) and then demands another penalty because he saw a badger moving behind the goal.

    IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT.

    On top of this the government are refusing to declare how many of the dead badgers had bTB. It would be quite nice to know, and surely very informative to know,  that at least some of the badgers killed had the disease that was supposedly  causing the cattle problems.

    Amazingly, when Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was asked if he had “moved the goalposts” by claiming the cull was a success he responded:

    “The badgers moved the goalposts. We’re dealing with a wild animal, subject to the vagaries of the weather and disease and breeding patterns.”

    Really? You didn’t know badgers were wild. You didn’t account for ‘weather’? Or even disease – when that is what you are trying to manage? How long can he avoid admitting he was told to do this by Uncle David and Uncle David was told to do this by the National Farmer’s Union and the National Farmer’s Union were told to do it by their farmers who want a knee-jerk reaction to a  problem that can be solved in FAR better ways.

    Don’t let this continue. Write to your MP to express your views. 

    Simply ask what they are going to do about it. And if they say it’s a fair cull, pass them on to me.

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  • DAY 373 (over-running): DID I KILL A COW WITH MY THERMOS?

    Oct 07 2013

    badger-2_2653801b

    At midnight I set out in a 4×4 to look for more badger shooting with one of the key activists in the anti-badger cull movement. He is known simply as Jay. Two others join us as well.

    Jay is tall, slender, dry-humoured and charismatic in a way I can’t figure out.  He has spearheaded much of the anti-cull movement but wears his experience lightly.

    ‘Are you the leader of all this?’ I ask

    ‘The spokesperson I suppose. Not the leader. Hierarchies get very very messy. People do their own thing around here.’ He pulls a large black hood over his head as we drive out of the camp . ‘If we get stopped by the police only the driver needs to speak. We are doing nothing wrong’

    stop the cull

    Life in prison

    But Jay has done things wrong – at least in the eyes of the police. He has been in jail twice for activism – once for rescuing a beagle from scientific research and once for blocking a motorway  to make an animal rights protest. At the latter event another activist almost died and it led him to drop his protesting for a while. The incident was not Jay’s fault but it affected him deeply.

    He is clearly not the aggressive knee-jerk militant  people might assume. Although the dark hoodie doesn’t help.

    ‘I’ve been to boarding school, I’ve been in the army and I’ve been in prison. Prison was the easiest of all of them. In boarding school you wonder ‘why has someone put me here?’ In the army you wonder ‘why have I put myself here?’. In prison it’s a clear choice’

    I’m impressed by this in a way I shouldn’t tell my wife. The deeper I go into the horror of the misery we inflict upon animals the more reasonable it seems to take actions that  go against laws described by people who probably don’t hold animals in moral regard.

    Beagles being rescued from animal testing.

    Beagles being rescued from animal testing.

    ‘I’m prepared to go to prison for a year’ says Jay. ‘If you aren’t prepared to do that then you are hampered. You can only be so effective’. I ponder this for a while. The driver puts a deep melodic rap  on the sound system and the mood seems to plunge into a dark intensity.

    A short while later we drop Jay at another location where he will stay on lookout on the road in the darkness and we continue.

    Shooting convoy

    As we turn down a small lane a green landrover pulls out in front of us

    ‘Follow that!’ says one of the activists. Then another landrover  pulls out behind us too. ‘Jesus, we are in a convoy!’  I assume this is a BAD thing and want to panic but apparently it is GOOD. In the darkness, each driver may think we are the other and so show us their shoot location.

    The convoy snakes through ever narrowing lanes until the driver in front realises what is happening and speeds up. We race to keep up with him until he turns sharply into a farm lane. We come to a sharp stop and before I can work out what is happening one of the activists then jumps out carrying heavy duty locks. There are two farm gates at the start of the farm and he pulls them closed and  padlocks them shut. The landrovers the turn around and come back.

    Surely we should leave?  The activist stands his ground and shines a torch directly at them. For a moment the landrovers face us and we face them. Then they turn away. They are  locked into their location and we message others to come down and sab any shooting.  ‘They won’t be going anywhere tonight”

    ‘Let’s get out of here’ says our driver quickly. In the rush I  drop my bag which contains a  thermosflask full of coffee and it smashes over my expensive fleece inside. I throw the thermos flask into a bush.

    ‘Let’s go, but don’t leave any evidence’

    Oh crap, my thermos. It must have my fingerprints on it! I quickly run into the bush. It’s hot and soaking. What do I do with it? I take a run and lob it in a field of cows – as if that will somehow exonerate me.

    SOMERSET NEWS: BADGER CULL TAKES NOSEDIVE AS PROTESTER KILLS COW WITH THERMOS FLASK.

    We drive off at high speed and pick up Jay.

     

    _62842805_badger_reuters

    Did we save any badgers?

    Who knows – probably not.

    But then again if everyone did as Jay and the other activists are doing, if everyone was out in the hills keeping an eye on the unscrupulous shooting/trapping it would be IMPOSSIBLE to kill many badgers. The dedication of the activists is vital

    And now it seems that the badger cull might well fail and leave unorganic egg all over ministers’ faces.

    And talking of ministers and bravery…in my next blog I’ll report my trip to parliament and my visit to one Conservative who stood up against her own party to say the badger cull was wrong. Not so easy.

    How much political integrity is behind the badger cull?

    Can we rely on politicians to push forward animal rights in any way at all? (and seriously, I’ m NOT knee-jerk anti politicians at all)

    Will the badger cull fail because of Jay and his merry vegans? If it does we could be talking tens of thousands of badgers saved. RESULT.

     

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  • DAY 370 (over-running!): INTO THE FOREST OF CONFUSION WITH A DOMINATRIX

    Oct 03 2013

    night_sky

    It’s fitting that the badger cull is being played out in the dark of night because not an awful lot of people seem to know what is going on.

    The police hang around in carparks not entirely sure who is an activist and who is out for a drink, the badger cullers have no clear idea of the exact population count of those pesky black and white things and the activists, for all their dedication, don’t really know where the shooting is happening.

    But no one must be more confused than the badgers. Out they go for a worm and bang! they’re dead. It’s all painless though, so not to worry.

    I’m down in Somerset, sleeping in a tent by day (sweaty) and snooping through cull zone woods by night with a pair of children’s night vision googles.  I live off rice cakes and minimal dairy products – not out of conviction but because I’m  nervous of being ousted by the other vegans in ‘Camp Badger’. Apparently someone was kicked out  because they came in eating a bacon sandwich. It may be hearsay but I wear my leather belt close to my chest – just like Simon Cowell.

    Dominatrix

    The activists are a colourful and very friendly bunch from varying backgrounds. On my first night I find myself in a car with a number of females, one who is a recovering heroin addict, another who is a computer sales person by the day and a dominatrix by night. She is very gentle and polite.

    Her phone beeps occasionally. ‘Wank tax’ she explains. One of her clients pays her phone credit every time he masturbates.

    Vegan porn

    Vegan porn

     

    ‘Do you force them to do stuff?’

    ‘Of course!  I’ve forced one to go vegetarian.  He’s lost 2 stone and loving it. He sends me photos of the cheese counter at Tesco’s and calls it ‘Vegan Porn”

    This is one way to convert the world. Should my book fail to be published I can always get out the whip. Not leather of course.

     

    Strange beauty

    It’s an odd experience because at night everywhere in the cull zone is silent, dark and undeniably romantic. Glades, streams, forested hills glisten in moonlight.

    This is not an obvious battle ground.

    But the ‘shooters’ use infra red and silencers. Which is frankly not fair. The protestors use waterproof maps, marker pens, mobile phones and  dedication.  Police vehicles are everywhere. They are apparently  ‘independent’, here to protect both sides, but there is a strong sense in the camp that they are against the protestors.

    ‘Someone in this camp is a police officer in disguise! ‘  shouts one person at Camp Badger when I arrive. ‘It’s bloody obvious’.

    Am I the police officer?

    As the sun goes down at the end of the day the badgers begin to stir - some woods in Somerset full of badger setts

    As the sun goes down at the end of the day the badgers begin to stir – some woods in Somerset full of badger setts

     

    Camp Badger resides in an umarked field hidden at the end of winding lanes and looks like a small eco-festival that has been abandoned by the musicians – tents are sprawled across a fields, fires are smoldering, it’s rather silent. This is the HQ of operations – but there are less people here than I would have thought.

    The strategy is disruption.

    If shooting is discovered then high pitched whistles are sounded. By law, shooters cannot fire if people are present. If badger traps are found they are dismantled, if active badger setts (homes) are found they are watched over ta night by someone who is prepared to get wet and sodden.

    Despite the confusion, the dedication of the ‘sabs’ seems to be paying off. Protestors have stopped shoots, cages have been dismantled and reports are coming in that the government has shot only hundreds, not thousands of badgers.

    People can be divided into two groups: the law-abiding and the not-so-law-abiding, generally along older/middleclass and younger/left-wing lines. The former go on long walks in big groups with high viz jackets looking for injured badgers. They come back at midnight. The latter go out in smaller groups to ‘sab’ and disrupt activity. They dress in dark clothing and walk through private woods and come back at 5am.

    On the first night I go for long walks and drive around with my female companions. Not a badger in sight. I feel very much like I belong to the first group. But on the next night it is much, much more adventurous. I join the sabs….

     

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  • DAY 362: VIDEO: STRANGE FEELINGS ON EXITING A SLAUGHTERHOUSE

    Sep 26 2013

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  • DAY 356: PAIN IS YOUR FRIEND. GO HIT YOURSELF WITH A HAMMER

    Sep 20 2013
    What a happy pig!!!! Don't let appearances fool you

    What a happy pig!!!!

    Growing up in a well-off white family in London has meant that I’ve led a fairly pain-free life. 

    I’ve benefited from other people dying in wars to protect my right to watch TV in peace, from early pioneers that crashed planes so that I might fly to France on holiday and from bold medical advances that helped retrieve the candle I pushed up my nose as a child. 

    Someone else picked up the poisonous mushroom and tasted it so I wouldn’t have to.  

    In the next blog I’m going to tell you about going undercover into a slaughterhouse. Sometimes it’s important to reconnect with pain. And yet at the same time I can’t think of anything more horrific. There will be no photos and the experience may surprise you.

    I don’t have a lot of pains in my life. Telling a joke at a dinner party that no-one finds funny, perhaps. Stubbing my toe on my eco fridge/freezer. Oh, and  being fairly close to suicide after suffering bouts of vile depression. I almost forgot that one.

    Sometimes I wonder if the latter and the former are related.

    Perhaps the deep grinding pain inside is related to a lack of feeling on the surface. We  get depressed when we close off from pains that otherwise might ….make us live more openly.

    A really happy white middle class family

    A nice white middle class family

    Most of us are desperate to avoid pain.  Understandable.

    And yet pain teaches us that when we are holding a kitchen knife there is a point where the carrot stops and our finger starts. And those people that suffer the surreal illness of not being able to feel pain, far from living in a blissful dream, can die from eating their own tongues or consuming salads made of ladies fingers (and I don’t mean ochra).

    The mass cruelty we are inflicting on animals is largely possible, because, like those that suffer from not being able to suffer, we have become anesthetized to the horror. The anaesthetic in question is a potent mix of marketing, ignorance, distance and really cute photos of cows in green fields. And as we become more liberal – nay, compassionate even – the anaesthetic has to be become more powerful still to prevent a connection occurring between human (i.e consumer) and animal (i.e consumed).

     

    This truck that I saw in Spain is a rare of example of when the marketing anaesthetic wears off. Is it just me or is the mother flapping some scary flesh in her child's face? And why are they SO pale??

    This truck that I saw in Spain is a rare of example of when  meat marketing goes wrong. Is it just me or is the mother taunting the child with a floppy pig’s ear?  And why does the dad look so pale and so PSYCHOTIC?

    Imagine showing a caring liberal mother what is REALLY in the meat she feeds her child. Imagine them serving an eye ball or a penis…or a full tongue.

    We are a society that is eating it’s own tongue.  We are killing so many animals I find it hard to believe it can’t leave some scars on our own flesh that one day we MUST feel.

    But pain not only teaches us how to look after ourselves – where the carrot stops and our fingers start – but also how to look after others. When we feel pain we have a chance to connect to other’s that have felt the same – or worse.

    I’m far more compassionate to those that suffer depression from having stuck my toe (or whole being) in that acidic water. This doesn’t mean that to understand the suffering of pigs in gestation crates we have to place ourselves in a small cage and crap on the floor but it DOES mean that we should pay attention to the small pains in our life and use them as a springboard to action for those that might feel far greater pains.

    The other day I sat in the dentist’s chair and felt the long needle go through my palette . Once it was some way inside me he wiggled the needle a little as if to find a softer patch and then pushed in deeper. For the next 30 minutes he shook my head from side to side trying to get out a wisdom tooth that was so ingrown that his steely pliers were useless. Although I was numb I still felt my mouth being stretched back, my head getting knocked, and the pull of his metal tools. I spent this time trying to think about the pain of the animals that have it so much worse than me and a curious thing happened – my pain all but went away.

    THAT’S BECAUSE YOU WERE ANAESTHETISED MARTIN!

    pain, wonderful pain

    pain, wonderful pain

    Yes, but no. I would have been unconscious if I wasn’t. But something curious was going on.

    Experiencing pain can be a chance to connect. I think that we should pay closer attention to our own pain. And I certainly think we should be more aware of it in animals.  I don’t mean to say you should hit yourself with a hammer but perhaps next time you feel pain use it as a means to get closer to the suffering of those that can’t avoid it so easily.

    Going into a slaughter house, is for me, a little like concentrating on the needle as it pushes into my skin. In a curious way, I need to feel it. And yet at the same time, the more I see of this horror the more I feel a darkness welling up inside me as if my own depression is threatening to rise up again.

    But for now I want to go into the suffering a little deeper.

     

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  • DAY 336: I HAVE A DREAM… THAT ONE DAY BADGERS WILL NOT BE SHOT

    Aug 29 2013

    martin-luther-king

    Does this blog title belittle Martin Luther King’s speech?

    Perhaps. Perhaps not.

    A while ago I mentioned to an animal rights activist that I found some of the people involved in the various marches against animal abuse a little…how can I say, full on. Sometimes hard to bear

    ‘Be careful what you say.’

    ‘Why?’

    ‘It could damage the movement’

    It never really occurred to me that animal rights is a movement. I suppose it is.  But still, it was a strange realisation to me.

    Spanish animal rights campaigners gather in Madrid

    Spanish animal rights campaigners gather in Madrid

    Animal rights. As worthy as human rights?

    With the recent coverage of  the anniversary of Martin Luther Kings ‘I have a dream’ speech it occurred to me more than ever that animal rights – more so than animal welfare – is a global movement for change with parallels to so many other human rights movements history

    Yet as soon as we make comparisons between animal right and human rights- whether to the emancipation of women, blacks or jews – we  provoke outrage. ‘How dare you compare the treatment of black slaves to animals!’ ‘How dare you refer to the killing of factory animals as a ‘holocaust’!’ and so on.

    But this controversy rests entirely on the deep assumption that animals are of less moral worth than humans. And you can’t argue against animal rights by assuming that they are inferior in the first place. It was not so long ago that the arguments for women’s emancipation met with similar derision on the basis that ‘if they give women the vote they’ll give animals the vote next’.The painful fact is that specieism – the valuing of one species over another, ie.humans over animals, for no other reason than due to the furriness of their skin – is essentially no different from racism or sexism.

     

    Peter Singer, philosopher on animal rights

    Peter Singer, philosopher on animal rights

    Peter Singer – a hero of mine,  but reluctantly so

    I’ve made a point throughout this year of giving logic and reason the passenger seat whilst letting my heart take the wheel.  Hence the sometimes bumpy ride off track. Nevertheless I have (reluctantly) been deeply impressed by the so called ‘bible’ of animal rights ‘Animal Liberation’ by Peter Singer in whcih he argues for animals’ moral consideration from a purely logical point of view.

    He makes one powerful point that has burnt a painful hole in my mind. He argues that you cannot be against racism and also eat meat without being morally and logically inconsistent.

    Wow. Swallow that with your bacon.

    Singer argues that we should attribute moral worth to all sentient beings not according to intelligence, strength or beauty  – if we did we might let all the unintelligent, weak, ugly people die whichcould include slaughtering a fair number of disabled people (see…look how riled you are) – but rather we should attribute moral worth according to whether that individual can suffer. It is equally wrong to cause unnecessary pain to a white man as it is to a black woman, an asian child or a frog.

    If the frog in that list stands out, you have to ask yourself why. Probably because you instinctively consider the frog as fundamentally different category of moral concern. Singer urges that the perceived moral divide between species is as illusory as it was between women and men a hunded years ago or between black and whites some fifty years ago in segregated America. It can and should be crossed.

    So if you watched the Martin Luther King coverage with a sense of ‘thank goodness we don’t have that any more’. I’m afraid we still do. The divide between man and animal is just as bad, if not worse, than that between blacks and whites a few decades ago.

    We all need to dream that one day it will change

     

     

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