In the July-August issue of Foreign Affairs, I wrote a long-form essay, “The Long Road to Animal Welfare,” that tracks our movement’s unmistakable progress in recent years, and attempts to explain how much of it has happened. I’ve written at prior times on this blog that, at this stage in the development of our movement, it’s typically three steps forward and one step back. We are winning far more often than we are losing. And even in the cases where we don’t prevail, we keep pounding away and typically break through.
The signs of our progress are unmistakable. Just this year, Ringling Bros. announced that it will phase out the use of elephants in traveling acts. Last month, Walmart announced a new policy, the Five Freedoms of Farm Animal Welfare, that will in the future govern its procurement practices for animal products – an enormous announcement given the scale of the company’s sales. This year’s seal hunt in Canada had one of the lowest kill totals in the last 30 years. Last Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, responding to an HSUS petition, listed all chimpanzees, including captives, as endangered, completing a decades-long campaign to eliminate a controversial “spit listing” designation in 1990. Not long ago, China announced that it intends to phase out the trade in ivory. And last year, of course, we saw South Dakota become the 50th state in the U.S. with felony-level penalties for animal cruelty – establishing a baseline legal framework throughout our nation against animal cruelty
Inevitably, there is a backlash to our accelerating progress from special interests who profit from exploitation. Whether it’s ag-gag laws, or amending state constitutions to make qualifying ballot measures more difficult, or front groups conducting brand attacks, there are constant reminders that we are still in a fight and that we can’t let up.
But the markers of dramatic change and moral progress are all around us. As I wrote in the piece, there is no reason why our society cannot combine moral agency with technological and social innovation to eliminate cruelty to animals as an ordinary part of life. And when we have done so, we are likely to wonder why it took so long and what all the fuss was about.