Last year a farmer called Andrew Campbell wrote about the bigger picture of how we, as a society, look at animals and introduced to the debate comments made by Crystal Mackay the Executive Director of Farm & Food Care in Ontario. We have always said that we support animal welfare and not animal rights as are demanded by the absolutist pressure groups, which argue against leather.

Ms Mackay argues that it is not so clear cut. That there is a spectrum that runs between dogs at the one end and say snails at the other. The dog fits closer to the animal rights end where “we believe they should have every good fortune we as humans have” while the snail, or perhaps a shrimp, is closer to the other. Between them sit the animals, which we class as livestock and use for meat, and, of course leather. In schools it is normal to dissect frogs as part of the teaching of biology: where does this stand on the spectrum?

The difficulty here lies in the arbitrary nature of all this. In some parts of the world dogs are eaten which is repulsive to many elsewhere. Yet until the 70s and 80s dog skins were tanned in the West and through the 1940s they were a major material used in motor cycling gauntlets.

The point that was being made by the Princess Royal came as the result of horses that had been kept as pets being abandoned when owners found them too expensive to maintain. If horses had a value, she argued, then they could be sold and would be looked after properly. Without doubt the increase in the number of animals that become pets creates a lot of unexpected problems. People who oppose wind farms often argue that they are a danger to birds, but many of those people keep cats and cats kill far more birds than wind farms. Is the love of cats displayed by the endless cat photographs on Instagram really a healthy obsession in our complex and difficult world?

And if we treat animals as pets and others still view them as part of an industry, which then goes underground. This is the case with dogs in Asia where we are seeing horrendous videos from Thailand and China of dogs whose skins will end as leather. It is not altogether different in India where religious views on the sacred cow (a point that is disputed by D N Jha in The Myth of the Holy Cow) lead to cattle being badly treated and slaughtered in terrible conditions.

We need to get away from irrational sentimental views, and some weak religious ones, and put animal welfare of all types of animals – pets, livestock and wildlife – at the top of the agenda. 

Mike Redwood

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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