This week am on the mood of writing about pets and animals.After all, they are part of our daily lives. Thanks to digital media, there are myriads of options of being able to reveal what is happening almost anywhere to almost anyone that is interested, within minutes of it happening and thanks to the new generation of animal rights activists, animal producers are afraid for the future as it will no longer be business as usual.Today’s ability of animal welfare supporters to instantly distribute upsetting footage online means that animal producers can no longer do anything that they would not be willing to invite someone off the street to view. The public are becoming arbiters of society’s animal welfare values.Today, the vanguards of animal protection are young activists who expose suffering to the public through their videos.Reliance on public emotional response means that only direct human mistreatment of animals awakens outrage.Animal suffering takes many guises, and it’s not just the deliberate maiming of animals in intensive piggeries or abattoirs.It is also the public’s new found power to change industry practices and responses to what is presented to us on media that embody what is in society’s best interests in the long term.
Obviously there is scope for activists to play on our emotions, such as by inducing horror at the sight of animals being slaughtered, but this may not be a bad thing, because our emotions have evolved to help us survive and avoid harmful events. A benign relationship with our animals is a prerequisite for a successful and caring society. However, to have a just and thriving society, we need much more than just primeval emotions and we also need reasoned thought, debate, and argument to organise the complex systems used to produce and manage animals. Animal protection organisations should support mandatory installation of CCTV, with release of the footage to independent agencies for analysis. It is usually government’s responsibility to prosecute.Online journalists’ reporting of animal abuse is sometimes bound by codes of ethics which may include not broadcasting footage that breaches confidence or was obtained by dishonest or unfair means, unless there is an over-riding public interest. However, the extent to which these are adhered to, particularly on the internet, is questionable.Other related issues include the extent to which those who have been secretly filmed can insist on anonymity or whether distortion or alteration of video footage is permissible, payment for services, the worth of third party reports of events witnessed and, most importantly, the responsibilities of those filmed and how they should respond.Human beings relationship to animals is a highly emotive topic with a large divergence of views. It has become a major societal issue, in part because of the recent intensification of livestock production systems.Such facts render the livestock industries highly susceptible to those with strong views about animal protection trying to expose what they believe to be wrong.