Kirby J

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Making an Impact

A new book on animal law was recently published and launched in Australia. Animal Law in Australia and New Zealand, by Deborah Cao – with chapters by Katrina Sharman and Steven White – is the latest book on animal law to be published in this part of the world.  I haven’t yet had a comprehensive read, but the book seems to be a good treatment of the laws governing animals in this part of the world – a much needed reference work that will allow people to continue critiquing the status quo.

The book was launched by Michael Kirby during the Voiceless Animal Law Lecture Series, featuring Joyce Tischler, of the Animal Legal Defence Fund.  I was particularly struck by his remarks, a section of which I’ve reproduced below (full text available at the Sydney Morning Herald):

A year ago I launched a book that changed my life. It was Animal Law in Australasia. After reading it, I immediately ceased eating meat.

For more than a year, I have eaten neither flesh nor fowl. My diet is vegetarian, with a little fish. After nearly 70 years as a carnivore, this was a big change in my habits and eating pleasures. My partner, Johan van Vloten, told friends: ”It’s another fad. He’ll get over it.” But I have not and will not.

The book contained too much information. I could no longer pretend I did not know how sentient animals were slaughtered. No longer could I trick my mind into believing that meat and chicken pieces, so neatly wrapped in plastic or beautifully served on white plates, were the impersonal products of sterile, clean supermarkets. I was distressed at my earlier indifference and indirect participation in a huge industry of corporatised killing of sentient creatures…

Most people in Australia and New Zealand never think about these issues. Eating meat and poultry has been part of their lives for generations. They feel no guilt because they take no part in the slaughter. When they think about it (which is rarely), they assume the law lays down basic standards…

Animal welfare law has been introduced in a journey that commenced with protection for companion animals; spread to a prohibition on senseless cruelty in sporting, circus and entertainment animals; and more recently has extended to the treatment of farm, exported and wild animals, and those in corporations and laboratories subjected to testing for human protection…

A growing body of university students, most in law faculties, are electing to undertake courses in animal welfare law. Already, such courses are offered in six Australian law schools. More are on the horizon. What not so long ago was regarded as an exotic topic of limited interest is now a fast-growing curriculum subject with a real legal dimension.

Why has this happened? Why has it happened now? In part, it is because writers such as Singer rekindled the ideas of earlier thoughtful observers and planted them in the mind of contemporary Australasia. In part, this has happened because cruelty to animals happens in our midst and, as a community, we are responsible for it.

All good stuff.  Kirby has been a real leader in this area, constantly speaking his mind on behalf of animals, getting good press coverage on the issues, and reminding people that animal law is no fad; thinking people can be convinced about the dangers of allowing the existing status quo to go unrestrained.

I must confess that on a personal note, the first sentence made me blush, at least a little bit.  I created Animal Law in Australasia for two purposes: (1) to get people to think about their own actions; and (2) to get the ball rolling on more advanced critique of how animals are treated in Australasia.  Kirby’s speech told me that both objectives were in the process of being realized, and that’s enough to keep a smile on my face all day.

Next week, I’m attending Animal Law week at the University of Otago as a guest speaker.  The first ever New Zealand chapter of the Animal Legal Defence Fund has put together a wonderful program of events intended to bring “animal law” to the masses and show how interesting the subject really is – and how important the issues are.  Just goes to show what can be done once a spark is lit – and how momentum for change in the legal community continues to grow.