In light of Labour’s recent raft of animal welfare policies, Jay Staker, OULC member, argues that the Left should support eventually ending the consumption of meat and animal products.
Since the election of Jeremy Corbyn, not only has the Labour Party adopted some of the most radical economic policies seen for decades, but earlier this month it added a programme of truly progressive animal welfare reforms to its agenda. These policies include ending live exports for slaughter or fattening, the provision of subsidies to move away from intensive factory farming, an end to the badger cull, bans on imports of foie gras and fur products, mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses, and a ban on the ivory trade and wild animals in circuses. Adopting these policies is not only smart, given their general popularity, but for those of us on the left of politics, it is a moral imperative. The fact is, the Left cannot consider itself the champion of fairness, equality and rights if we leave the most oppressed and defenceless group in our society behind. Animals need a voice, and those on the Left are the only ones to give it to them.
But why should we, as advocates of left-wing politics, care about the suffering of non-human animals? These are mere brutes; they do not have interests, or if they do they are rightly subordinate to those of man. The irony of this kind of argument is that no-one who is both rational and compassionate, as members of the Left must strive to be, actually believes it. They would not for a moment argue that a man is justified in beating his pet puppy because his interests, as a human, outweigh those of a non-human animal. For those of us on the Left, the subjection of non-human animals relies on an Orwellian doublethink. Each day, we tell ourselves that eating animals is normal, that it is natural and necessary, while spending our days arguing that institutional racism is not normal, that gender inequality is not natural, and economic exploitation is not necessary. We recognise that race, wealth, sexuality, education and ability are not valid reasons for denying one happiness, freedom and fair treatment, and yet we deny these ends to some for belonging to a species other than our own (perhaps with exemptions for dogs and cats), as if this were any less arbitrary. We must remember that humans deserve rights in virtue of being sentient, because we feel and have interests and want to flourish, characteristics that do not stop at the borders of our species. Justice, freedom and fair treatment are universal ideals, and they cannot be denied to any who desire them.
Even if one is not convinced by this appeal to animal welfare, we know that the process of animal agriculture, from land clearing to the methane released by cows, is the cause of around 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming; that’s more than the emissions produced by all of the world’s transportation combined. And we know it is the world’s poor that will, and are, being hit first by the impact of climate change.
Our responsibility is only made greater by the fact that animal rights will only ever be brought about by the Left. As their very name suggests, the Conservatives will only ever seek to preserve the current system of economic relations, with the wealthy at the top, workers at the bottom, and non-human animals yet to make the list. The Tories sold out the public when they backtracked on their promise to ban wild animals in circuses, and again when they U-turned on outlawing the ivory trade. And had they not lost seats to Labour in the 2017 General Election, they would have sold us out again by reintroducing fox hunting. The Conservative Party will only ever protect the interests of those corporations that view animal welfare as a barrier to profits.
Labour’s new policies are certainly an excellent start toward improving animal welfare, but we know that the animal rights movement has a long way to go. And every day we delay, our atmosphere heats up and tens of billions of sentient beings are unjustly slaughtered. The only way to make progress is if we on the Left embrace our own values by reducing, and ultimately eliminating, our consumption of meat and animal products. We, as a progressive, reformist movement, must take hold of the debate, convince our representatives and fellow campaigners that this is an issue worth fighting for, and take our case to the country. Harold Wilson once said that the Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing. Being the defender of the oppressed is the raison d’être of the Labour Party, and when it forgets this, it betrays both itself and those it is meant to protect.