Most of us consider ourselves animal lovers. We sign petitions against fireworks shows. We make sure our pets get all the right jabs and give them the right food for their age, size and health requirements. When they are tiny we nurse them with the greatest care and when they get old we comfort them, take care of them, and sometimes even hold their paw when they die.
But real animal welfare goes way beyond your backyard and even your neighbourhood. Sure, it starts there, but that's not where it ends.
You don't have to become a vegan or quit your job and join a Greenpeace boat in the Arctic to protect the orca. I'm talking about small changes you can make to your lifestyle that can make a big difference to animals all over the planet. By being more aware of the purchases you make and supporting companies that uses animal-friendly practices, you can be a lover of animals everywhere.
Products tested on animals
"You might be surprised how many people consider themselves to be animal lovers, yet they knowingly or unknowingly actually encourage or even promote cruelty," says Christine Kuch from the NSPCA. "I'm referring to the use of products that are tested on animals."
The animal rights organisation Beauty Without Cruelty estimates that annually approximately 150 million animals die in laboratories worldwide. "Many people only associate animal tests with the cosmetic industry," says Beauty Without Cruelty's Anne van Vliet. But in fact, a whole lot of different research is done on animals. "They are used in experiments on tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse, commercial products – such as household cleaners and the pharmaceutical industry, agriculture, toxicology, education and in many other ways. Animals are scalded, burnt, drowned, electrocuted, poisoned and killed, all in the name of science and often without the benefit of anaesthesia or analgesics."
But it's not only products that are tested on animals that are problematic; some products also contain animal products. For the animal lover it is important to ensure that these ingredients were obtained in a humane way. Beauty Without Cruelty has put together a "Black and White list" of manufacturers that practice animal-friendly methods, and those who don't. Mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 011 704 6367 to request the latest approved lists.
What can you do?
- Check labels carefully when shopping. Animal-friendly companies are usually very keen to advertise their goodwill and it should appear on the packaging. Be careful for products saying "The final product hasn't been tested on animals" which may mean that ingredients in the product were tested on animals.
- Request Beauty without Cruelty's "black and white list" and ensure you buy products that meet their high standard of approval.
What's the fuss over free range?
You have seen the free-range products on the shelves and you know it has something to do with roaming chickens, but you don't really understand what the fuss is all about.
Free-range chickens are allowed varying degrees of freedom to live or move outside, and free-range eggs are laid by hens living in such conditions.
Van Vliet describes 'regular' or factory farming as: "the cruel practice of cramming as many animals as possible into as small an area as possible to increase productivity at the least possible cost in labour and finance". Battery hens are housed in huge sheds that can hold up to 20,000 birds per shed, according to a Beauty without Cruelty report. They also claim that shortly after hatching, hens are de-beaked and de-toed.
In factory farming practices laying hens live in a space about the size of an A4-sheet of paper, claims the same report. "Before entering the system the chicks' beaks are cut off with a hot blade to stop them from pecking each other in frustration… Because of the cramped conditions and the wire cage flooring, battery hens often suffer from deformed legs and feet… the birds never see sunlight."
Broilers (that's chickens bred for meat products) have an even worse fate. "They are kept in the same conditions as the laying hens and are fed hormones and antibiotics to keep them disease-free and promote growth at an unnatural speed," says Van Vliet. "These birds are totally crippled as their bodies are too large for the forced-growth of their skeletons to support."
Although not so common in South Africa yet, other meats, such as pork are also available in the free-range variety.
What can you do?
-Look out for the free-range label on eggs, chicken and other meat products and pay the extra rand or two.
Dolphins are a common by-catch in tuna fisheries. However, fishing methods and equipment have been developed to reduce the chance of a dolphin being harmed in the tuna fishing process.
Companies using dolphin-safe methods will display a "dolphin-friendly" logo on their label.
What can you do?
Only buy tuna cans with the dolphin-safe label.
The real victims of fashion
According to Beauty Without Cruelty around 40 million animals are killed every year for their fur. "About two thirds of these are reared on fur farms and the rest are trapped in the wild. But over and above these numbers, millions more non-target animals die in traps and are discarded by the trapper because they are useless. These animals often include domestic cats and dogs," says Van Vliet.
Farming animals for their fur is not a humane practice either. Very often exotic animals, like the mink that needs hectares of space in its natural habitat, are kept in small enclosures. "…stress causes them to form neurotic behaviour patterns such as tail biting, self-mutilation, cannibalism and ear chewing."
Be on the look out for clothing, accessories and sometimes even toys with fur trimmings. These products also contribute greatly to the animal fur trade.
Leather is commonly used in South Africa. The meat industry provides a fair amount of leather, but when demand outstrips that, animals are slaughtered for their skins only.
Some things just work better in leather, but do you have to buy an all-leather handbag? The same goes for shoes, purses, jackets, and more.
What can you do?
- Don't buy fur garments.
- Don't buy fur trimmed clothing, accessories or toys.
- Don't buy all-leather products when there is a suitable alternative.
Don't be a litter bug
Litter is more than just unsightly or a blot on our landscape - it is dangerous. "The SPCA is frequently called out to rescue, assist or treat animals that have been trapped or injured by litter," explains Kuch. Common incidents include:
- Dogs' paws cut by broken glass in parks.
- Ducks and geese caught up in discarded fishing tackle or plastic litter.
- Small mammals "entering" discarded cans and being unable to "reverse" out.
"In one instance, it was by chance that personnel from the NSPCA noticed a donkey limping badly. Closer inspection showed that a tin can had become wedged on the animal’s hoof."
How we dispose of rubbish is a real issue for animal welfare. Some plastics take hundreds of years to break down and aluminium cans never disintegrate. So the dangers to animals can remain long after the item itself has been discarded.
What can you do?
- Don't litter.
- Try and recycle all non-degradable items, for example, plastic, glass and tin.
- Ensure that your rubbish is disposed of in the proper manner.
- Squash or cut open cartons or plastic bottles so that even if your rubbish ends up where it shouldn’t, these items are now animal-safe.
- The plastic loops that hold cans of drinks together are effectively traps, as animals and birds can easily become tangled up in them. Snipping the loops before throwing them away can easily solve this – the same can be said for elastic bands.
"We can all do our bit to help animals – one of the easiest ways to protect them from injury is to recycle whatever possible and to keep our eyes open for dangers to them caused by other people’s littering," concludes Kuch.
– (Wilma Stassen, Health24, October 2008)
- Last updated: June 2010