Meet the Man Making it Possible to Vote with Compassion
Mark Pearson is the Executive Director of Animal Liberation and the Vice President of the Animal Justice Party. Mark works tirelessly to improve conditions for the animals in Australia and his passion, enthusiasm and international approach is very effective and contagious!
How did you first become aware of animal welfare issues?
My family were always considerate to animals, so I had an extra feeling of compassion from the beginning. For example, when my father and I went fishing and we would catch a fish, I remember him telling me to cut off the fishes head and to not let him suffocate just because he is not screaming. So this made me think.
Then at the end of the drought around 1981, while I was walking in a National Park, there was a furious storm brewing. As I was walking back, the rain was coming and I watched these cows in a neighbouring paddock, throwing their legs back and forth, dancing. As if in celebration of the change they must have known was coming. That was when the penny dropped. (Check out the blog with a great video of cows "dancing")
Then I started to learn and understand about factory farming. I read books and then I rang up some piggeries, battery farms and abattoirs. This was before these issues were being splashed around in the media and I said,
" I just read a book about these things I can’t see because no-one has their door open but I would like to see what goes on" Eventually they said yes. They talked to me then, not anymore! After walking out of the second abattoir I thought,
"I cannot be a participant in this violence anymore" and I became a vegetarian.
What has been your most successful campaigns in the past?
Interestingly both of the most effective campaigns have gained success from going over seas and the pressure from the muscle of the international scene is what brought about the change. It was not talking to Australian politicians or industry-we had already tried and it's like talking to a wall.
1. The phasing out of mulesing. This is the operation of mutilation done to 30 million lambs a year, where they cut the flesh off the backsides without any pain relief. I took some pictures of the procedure and the animals and sent it around the world, starting a boycott Australian wool campaign.
Pressure from retailers then forced the wool industry to start to breed out the wrinkles of the sheep to make it resistant to fly strike. Pain relief is almost to be mandated now while the procedure is being phased out.
On the back of that, equally as important, farm animals got an understanding that they experience pain, even if they don’t express it the same as a cat or dog would, they actually feel the same and this is being accepted. Now tail docking and castration will have to have pain relief. There is a revolution in the sense that now this industry, that has been ruthless to farm animals and considered them machines, now has to consider them sentient and most farmers are willing to take this on board.
If a wool grower refuses to administer pain relief when it is cheap (42 cents per lamb),available and 75% of wool growers are doing it, we have to question the psyche of the person. Are they someone who would harm other living beings? Should these 25% not have their contract to sell wool?
Wool growers doing the right thing don’t want the disgrace, embarrassment and bad name that the Australian wool industry has internationally due to the acute and chronic pain caused to the sheep by mulesing without pain relief.
Retailers are now listening to their buyers. They want to know what is the consumer thinking about now? When I was in London in a meeting with the wool industry, the senior executive for Armani, whom sells wool suits for over $3000 each, had the Australian wool producers trying to convince him that mulesing was necessary. He was shaking his head saying,
"No, no, no. I'm a business man. Beautiful soft wool for my suit — bleeding animal. It does not work. Fix it or I will go to Argentina." He wants customers and doesn't want Armani associated with blood.
There are over 150 retailers that refuse to use wool from lambs that have been mulesed or had no pain relief including Hugo Boss, Timberland and H &M.
2. Russian ban to kangaroo meat imports. We did tests and got documentation on the lack of hygiene standards and the high contamination rate of kangaroo meat and took it to the EU and Russia. Russia, who was the largest consumer, taking 70% of the meat then banned the import. It has shaken an industry to its knee and despite what they say, they are still there. It has had a major impact stopping kangaroos getting shot that otherwise would have, although we still have a long way to go on these campaigns.
What are 3 effective ways to affect change for the better?
1. If you have a particular view, then live it and be an example of that. When you are interacting with people they can see it's what you're living. It's in the fibre of your body, your life and the way you view the world.
2. Don't be intimidated by the people who think they are in a position of power or authority. The reasons the abusers get away with most of what they do, is that they quickly learn how to intimidate people. They think they can do what they want without considering the impact upon other sentient beings and the environment. When I came to understand this it was like water off a ducks back as far as I was concerned. I became in a stronger position to turn around their abusive positions.
3. Look after yourself. The oppressed-the animals, children, environment- need people defending them to last the long haul. There is no point being intense and driving your being to hard. You need to get out and enjoy; listen to the opera, go to the beach, get into nature, see concerts and look after yourself, that way you can stay the distance for what ever the platform is needed to bring about change in what ever area you are focused on.
Underpinning the above answers; seize the day. What you do with your life now matters. There is no point waiting around thinking things will change in the future. That notion is a mistake. The future is now.
What do you think are the 3 main issues in Australia right now?
- Live export. You have an industry that is being so aggressively supported by the government even though 87% of the Australian population are strongly against it. I'm not talking about just animal rights activists, it is the people on the street, businessmen, farmers-most people you talk to are disgusted with it. It shall fall, with time.
- Factory farming Especially if we are talking about the most animals being effected and the amount of concern about it. The shift with Coles and Woolworths wanting to get out of being seen to support the worst practises of intensive farming shows the industry just can't talk their way out of it. How can you defend having a bird with less space than an A4 piece of paper for its whole life? Most people give the animal the benefit of the doubt and thats what is going to force this industry to change as it is in Europe.
- Wildlife. Industries have demonised wildlife, such as dingos and kangaroos, in order to make them a commercial enterprise. We are slowly dispelling the myth that they can be protected on one hand and hunted on the other. Australia has the worst extinction rate of wildlife.
Tell me about the Animal Justice Party and your hopes for it?
I am very optimistic about the Animal Justice Party, as are some Senior Advisors from the Keating Government because of the growing interest in Animal welfare issues in Australia.
When you look at the comparison to the Dutch Party for Animals, they didn't get in for the first election but in the second election they did and now they have 4 people in government in Holland. We actually got a higher percentage then they did in our first year last year, from voters from a varied demographic. The markers are that we will get in at some stage. We are registered to be in the election for NSW next year.
Our platform is clear, if there is an Animal Justice Representative in parliament and they have to go and vote on an issue, you apply the principles of compassion and consideration to the question. We would strike against anything that would try and uphold an abusive or oppressive. We will put in policies on the key issues that have nothing to do with animals.
It is a key issue party but it is a multifaceted.
What are some ways to help bring awareness to the public on animal welfare?
- ABC , Sarah Ferguson from Four Corners said to me "Animals is the new black". Watching footage on TV shows, documentaries, videos, websites. Moving vision with a well thought out narration is one of the most powerful and compelling instrument to cause change in a person.
- There a wide variety of informative books to read. 'Betrayal of Trust' by Tom Ragen is particularly moving.
- Encouraging people to observe animals in nature and put aside all the condition thoughts and watch quietly. Something will hit you. Even in the city you can do it down the street watching birds while you're having your coffee.