Andrew Tyler became Director of Animal Aid in January 1995 – a role he fulfilled until his retirement in
September 2016. Here is his take on the Society’s evolution.
The industries at the heart of animal exploitation were taken by surprise in the very early years of animal rights activism (from the early 1970s). So much was concealed from the public about everyday abuse, that merely revealing it shocked people and undermined those systems – whether it be hunting, pig farming, or smoking experiments on beagle dogs.
Then came the fightback by the guilty parties. What looked to the average person like cruelty, they insisted, wasn’t. And they went about ‘proving’ their point with long, elaborate and deceitful ‘justifications’. But animal activism grew stronger, and so the next phase of the fightback was to characterise any talk of fundamental change in human beings’ relationship with animals as ‘extremism’, which is a short hop from terrorism … and some of that mud stuck.
By the early to mid 1990s, an urgent task for us at Animal Aid was to help restore the reputation and credibility of animal rights. It was often being said that our claims of systematic abuse by, for instance, the farming industry, were high on emotion and short on fact. And that when we did publish facts they couldn’t be trusted.
Our answer was to go to the heart of where the abuse and exploitation were starkly evident and could not be credibly denied. Employing a first class lead investigator, we conducted undercover filming at livestock markets, farms, slaughterhouses, on pheasant shoots, ‘game farms’, racecourses, in a horse vivisection establishment and more.
Investigation at York Wold Pig Pro farms February 2016.
Warning: contains upsetting scenes
The resulting dossiers and reports had above all to pass strict tests of accuracy, clarity and believability. When animal suffering was described it was done without hype. Reality was bad enough without overcooking our retelling of it. In short, when a new Animal Aid report was published, we wanted the assumption to be that it could be trusted. Building the credibility we enjoy today was slow, as was developing links with national and regional journalists – both print and broadcast. The same was the case with parliamentarians and government officials. Politicking is often a frustrating and dispiriting business but it’s an important part of the mix.
While all this heady media and political activity was going on, it was essential we didn’t retreat from our animal rights principles. Despite the mud thrown at it we wouldn’t shrink from using the term animal rights, or in declaring that our goal was an end to all animal exploitation, which meant a diet free from animal flesh and secretions, an end to vivisection, commercial horseracing, the ‘sport shooting’ of animals, wildlife culls and so on. Vegan Month was launched in November 2007 to give extra momentum to our long-standing promotion of the-animal-free diet. Then came the Great Vegan Challenge, followed by the Great Vegan University Challenge.
We had by then developed two major new ongoing campaigns: the aforementioned anti-horse racing and shooting initiatives. To give them the credibility they needed we took on experts to guide our way. A peerless example is our horse racing consultant Dene Stansall.
For my own part, if I was going to criticise publicly the various forms of entrenched animal abuse, I knew that my voice would carry more weight if I continued gaining direct, close-up experience of those systems. (I’d already had a good amount through my past life as a journalist.) And so, I made dozens of covert visits to ‘livestock’ markets and, less frequently because access is more difficult, to farms, animal research labs, a horse ‘knackers’ yard, pig and chicken killing factories, zoos and the like.
While all that is described above has been and will continue to be critically important, it is our relationship with grassroots campaigners that is paramount. The movement for animal rights can have no real purchase without the commitment and hard work of local activists. We know that all too well at Animal Aid. And we thank them for it.