An Evening With The Humane League

On Monday (~Feb 2017) I attended an event held by The Humane League (THL) in London. I'd not heard of this relatively small group that is based in the US but which has a pretty much worldwide presence, either directly themselves or through partners

In essence, they spend their efforts largely on eliminating caged hen farming (and other practices within that industry), starting in America and spreading this across the globe. Two things struck about them:

i. Philosophy

THL take the view that they cannot stop consumption of and testing on animals by humans, at least not in the short term. Instead the goal is to reduce suffering of animals during this process as much as possible. Based on this they have targeted chicken farming given the volumes of animals consumed - which is at least an order of magnitude more than sheep, cattle and pigs.

This clearly sits uneasily with many people and my initial reaction to this philosophy is to balk at it. However, the fact of the matter is that we will not stop the consumption of animals right now, or in the short term, so anything we can do to move towards that goal, especially on the scale of 100m's of animals, is clearly a positive thing.

My only concern is that we set a comfortable normal which is "as long as they're treated well, then consuming animals is ok". We know humans have created massive cognitive dissonance barriers when it comes to processing the fact that meat is murder. I think THL's message lands right on the sweet spot that allows humans to validate their actions by proxy through tacit approval by someone like the THL.

Again, any reduction in suffering is good, but the fact of the matter is that consumption of anmials and animal cruelty is wrong. Just like apartheid was wrong, or the holocaust, or modern slavery etc, this custom of ours is wrong and we must always a make it clear that it's unacceptable in ANY form, with anything short of that being a nothing but a concession to industry. 

ii. Campaign Tactics

What THL have achieved is pretty impressive. If you measure 'success' on the impact of animal suffering as: reduction in level of suffering x volume of animals impacted, then THL have done that.

What impressed me the most was their tactics though. They have managed to turn public opinion so dramatically on very large international corporations to the point that they and their corresponding industry bodies have caved in to their demands. By their own admission they are starting at the lower hanging fruit, middling on the zeitgeist of current sentiment, but it's no small feat to turn public corporations into the headwinds of higher costs.

Their approach is a highly focused media campaign, with foot soldiers only doing the activism on the ground once the public imagination has been captured via the media / social media. They relentlessly target one corporation (and perhaps more importantly, some of it's biggest customers) until they cave in. Then they approach their competitor to inform them that they're next. Of course the competitor caves in rapidly. Divide and conquer at it's best.

It's far more effective than the broad based, and often ineffectual, attacks on industry as a whole. THL have achieved some impressive results and bigger promises from the industry (hmm, big corporates promising things....?), and it seems clear that some of the mainstream charitable / activism organisations, which seem quite antiquated in comparison, can take a lesson or two for them.

In summary, THL is a very effective organisation that is achieving pretty hard results with high impact, but I find it hard to throw my weight entirely behind a philosophy that is about reduction (appeasement?) rather than prevention.  I just cannot get past the fear that it's simply going to normalise the slaughter of billions of animals.


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by Peter Birrell