First established in 1977 by a school teacher who hand made leaflets raising awareness of the horrors of vivisection, Animal Aid is now one of the UK’s largest animal rights groups. As they celebrate their 40th birthday, director Isobel Hutchinson discusses the issues facing animals today and the difference between animal welfare and animal rights.
Isobel, how does Animal Aid raise awareness of animal cruelty today amongst different audiences?
“Today, the way we get the message out is by social media (which is fantastic) but we also feel that campaigning on the ground is still really important to us. For a younger audience, social media is a really effective tool - it enables us to release undercover footage of our investigations for example. But, obviously, we recognise that not everyone uses it and so we do leafleting and hold events too. It’s a case of thinking about who your audience is and using a range of tools to maximise your effect. Whatever the generation, when people find out about the cruelty of the farming industry, for instance, they feel compelled to take action.”
What are the difficulties in challenging industries like farming?
“The industries that we oppose, like farming, are very large, powerful and well-funded, and they’re a big challenge to take on. So it’s really positive to see a big growth in vegan diets. There’s a huge amount of positive momentum even though we are tackling very challenging issues.”
You count among your successes the revision of jockey whip laws, the blockade of a primate-testing centre by Cambridge University and the commitment of supermarkets to put independently monitored CCTV in their slaughterhouses. What campaigns are you running currently that people can become involved with?
“A big thing for us this year is our Vegan Festival of Britain. We want people to get involved in ensuring the rise of veganism continues and so are encouraging people to arrange their own vegan events, small or large, and let us know about it so publicise it.
“The CCTV campaign is still ongoing and very important to us. We need a law that makes independent CCTV coverage of slaughterhouses mandatory. We’re also asking people to think about their legacies, and that if they leave money to a charity to make sure it’s a humane one. We are also working to raise awareness of the cruelty of events like the Grand National.”
You’re an organisation founded on animal rights, but your campaigns also concern animal welfare. Why does so much of your work focus on reducing cruelty in an industry that you ultimately want to be abolished?
We want to see an absolute end to all practices that exploit and abuse animals. That’s why we campaign for veganism which helps to reduce the demand for animal products and cruel industries. But we do realise that that’s not something that’s going to end overnight, so while we campaign to end cruel industries we’re also campaigning to reduce the suffering that goes on at the same time. That’s where the CCTV campaign comes in. Obviously, we want to see an end to slaughterhouses, but, in the meantime, we want to reduce the most gratuitous suffering.
And, finally, what can people do to reduce animal cruelty in their day-to-day lives?
“The single biggest thing people can do is to go vegan because that’s the quickest way to end animal suffering. Animal Aid can help people to do that by making it as easy as possible. As well as thinking about diet, it’s important to look at the products you are using to make sure that they are not tested on animals, and consider the charities you support, making sure they are not funding vivisection or testing. We provide resources to let people know about the humane charities they can donate to.”
Join the conversation: www.animalaid.org.uk