THE animal rights activist group Voiceless claims Bob Carr, the new Foreign Minister and former NSW Premier, as one of its Councillors. Also on the Council is Ken Henry, former Federal Treasury Secretary and now a special advisor to Julia Gillard.
Voiceless was established in 2004, it says, to “improve the lives of animals harmed by factory farming and the kangaroo industry in Australia". Its Council is described as “an influential group of supporters representing the breadth of Australian society".
Many regard Voiceless, like the RSPCA, as the moderate voice in the animal rights debate, unlike organisations such as PETA and several members of Animals Australia. It prefers to negotiate quietly rather than engage in high-profile publicity stunts.
As a result, quite a few companies are prepared to engage with Voiceless while shunning the others. The chicken meat company Inghams is one of them.
What is not well understood is that the agenda of Voiceless is actually no different from that of the radicals. The only difference is the tactics it uses.
The roles of good cop – bad cop are widely used in the world of animal rights and environmental activism. One takes a radical or extremist position including stunts designed to publicly embarrass, while the other adopts a more conciliatory tone.
Industry regularly falls for this ploy. Indeed, many companies pay protection money to the moderates in the form of “accreditation”, which results in the radical groups moving on to harass someone else. Behind the scenes, money flows from the moderates to the radicals.
Voiceless is perceived as moderate because it claims to take a “measured and factual approach” to animal protection. But a look at its campaign information shows an agenda that is neither measured nor factual, but based on myths and a determination to impose its own values.
As mentioned, one of its main targets is so-called “factory farming” of pigs and poultry. It defines chicken factory farms as aiming “to produce the most amount of meat in the shortest time and for the least cost – an approach that is fundamentally at odds with chicken welfare.”
What this shows is that Voiceless regards profit-oriented production of affordable meat and eggs as fundamentally wrong. This does not mean it is anti-business, although there is an element of that, or that it is racist, although those who benefit most from affordable food are not white and middle class like Voiceless supporters.
Similarly, it does not signify genuine concern for the welfare of chickens or pigs, which are enormously better off on farms than in the wild. Rather, like a lot of those involved in animal rights activism, it reflects ideological opposition to the use of animals by humans.
This is further shown by the fact that the founders of Voiceless prefer a vegan diet, as do those who run PETA and Animal Liberation. In addition, the organisation provides grants to groups with vegetarian and vegan orientation.
Given that, it is no surprise that some of the “facts” it offers to promote its issues are not factual at all. In some cases there is a straightforward rejection of science; for example, gains in chicken growth rates are described as “freakish” rather than a reflection of the work of intelligent, hard-working geneticists. In others there are statements about the management of animals that are ridiculously out of date, were disproved long ago or are major distortions.
The same goes for its opposition to the kangaroo industry. Among various false statements and distortions, Voiceless even claims that “current research indicates that kangaroos do not exist in abundance or pest proportions”. After 20 years of annual aerial surveys to support sustainable harvesting, that is simply not true.
But today’s issues are not really the point. Even if pig and poultry farming and the kangaroo industry were closed down tomorrow, the campaign would move on to other livestock sectors. Ultimately, raising lambs would be deemed unacceptable even if they each had a warm coat and were tucked into bed at night.
The involvement of people like Bob Carr gives Voiceless a veneer of respectability. Its corporate supporters, including juice company Nudie, perform the same function.
Whether they share the group’s ideological position on the use of animals is not clear. Although Carr’s public writings betray serious ignorance about livestock farming and the use of modern technology, he may have been misled by Voiceless and is simply a softie who mistakenly thinks he is supporting animal welfare.
The problem is, animal welfare is now an international issue. The EU is attempting to use trade agreements to impose its welfare standards on the rest of the world, most of which are based on the rights agenda of groups similar to Voiceless. And then there is the live export of livestock, on which Australia’s recent international diplomacy has been seriously inadequate.
If Bob Carr continues to be influenced by Voiceless, as Foreign Minister he is in a position to cause serious damage to Australian agriculture.
David Leyonhjelm is an agribusiness consultant with Baron Strategic Services. He may be contacted at email@example.com