In the early 80s, when I was about 10 years old, I saw a documentary about the culling of seals in Canada. And the Greenpeace campaign against it. Until then I was convinced that adults knew what’s best for children, for themselves and for the society as a whole. That I could learn a lot from them. When I saw these barbaric practices of adults clubbing innocent baby seals for no other reason than for the vanity of adults who want to wear fur coats, I thought “OK, moral standards aren’t linked to an adult per se. I have to remember that while growing up one can lose connection with nature, with animals, with feelings of compassion and empathy.”
Since then I have been an advocate for animals.
There are numerous reasons to stop eating animals. In short: it’s better for our health, it’s better for the planet and it’s obviously better for the animals. In this day and age of advanced technology it seems irrational and ridiculous even, to have valuable vegetable protein first go through the stomach and intestines of an animal after which only 10% of useful protein remains. But for many people ‘delicious’ is the emotion for justifying killing animals for our food. Unfortunately, it’s the most commonly heard emotion for allowing animals to suffer their entire lives in order to satisfy people’s desire to eat more meat.
Although there are so many rational arguments to change our attitude towards animals and to stop or minimise the use of animals, the emotional arguments seem to be of overriding importance. And that’s amazing.
As a result of these emotions, the Netherlands has developed into the country with the densest population of cattle in the world. And into a country where millions of animals are mistreated and killed like live targets; objects that are there purely for our amusement and to satisfy our greed.
It is no surprise that the Netherlands was the first country in the world to have a Party for the Animals with seats in parliament.
I am sure you can imagine that the majority of the people mocked us for starting a party for animals. They made fun of us, they couldn’t believe their ears when they heard of our existence. I think it has something to do with the fear or believe that a party for the animals automatically betrays the human species, or threatens the social and economic order. The same fears that feminists encountered and still encounter in their struggle for women’s rights, or abolitionists during their fight against slavery. But there were also people, feminists, famous authors, intellectuals and opinion leaders, who saw us as the next emancipation movement. After the liberation of slaves, women, giving rights to children, the next logical step was to consider the interests of animals seriously. To look beyond the interests of our own species.
All these emotions of anger, hope, disbelief, sarcasm are very useful, I can assure you. It takes emotions to start a debate, to move people, to achieve social change. It immediately became evident that our strategy worked when we participated in the elections of January 2003. We got a lot of free publicity and overnight, other parties adopted animal welfare as an issue in their election programs and communications. Many other parties jumped on the bandwagon. They started to do more for animals as a result of our role as a “pacer or pacemaker in the marathon”. They realised that animal rights were becoming an increasingly important issue for the electorate.
Our breakthrough in 2006 gave a real drive to push even harder for our cause. Our tools vary, from participating in debates with Secretaries of Government Departments, to asking parliamentary questions, to proposing measures through petitions the parliament votes on. Like a ban on enriched cage systems for laying hens. An enriched cage is nothing more than a decorated battery cage. And we managed to get a larger budget for alternatives to animal experiments. The government has also provided a 6 million euro budget to stimulate the innovation on meat alternatives.
We push other, bigger political parties to start being more animal friendly: for example last year our two socialist parties started an initiative to ban fur farms in our country and this initiative got the majority of the votes. My impression is that this is an immediate, in some way opportunistic, reaction to our existence as a party.
By the way, at the beginning, most animal organisations feared that the Party for the Animals would be laughed off and meet an inglorious end. They believed that this would be detrimental to the struggle for animal rights. They were also petrified that their lobbyists would be taken less seriously if the party failed in their purpose. Fortunately, things are now changing. Increasingly more organisations are expressing their appreciation of the Party for the Animals and acknowledge the great opportunities that our initiative has to offer. An open door to the heart of the political arena.
However, still many people think that what we want is naive; bringing an end to live transports, the trade in wild species, the hunting and killing of wild and stray animals, animal testing experiments and factory farming… Many people believe that in actual fact a further intensification of cattle farming is necessary and will take place in order to feed the world. While other people think that such a radical change of direction that we are now facing, would take many generations. They are mistaken!
The world will change very quickly because we are facing so many concurrent crises which has never happened before. The way in which we have set up the economy has brought some of us enormous wealth, but is now threatening to bring about great damage. People come to realise that business as usual is no longer possible. There are companies and governments who think so, but it is not a coincidence that everywhere in the world there is a growing resistance coming from public society and individuals.
That means that these crises really can be a turning point. I am convinced that in order to change our way of life, to make it sustainable and led by principles of compassion, we have to shift our focus from being man centred to being planet centred. I am proud to be part of a movement that is the exponent of this new era. The time is ripe.
Throughout the world more and more Parties for the Animals are being set up. This makes me extremely proud and gives me great hope. There are parties for the animals at this moment in the US, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Luxemburg, Austria, Portugal, Turkey, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Sweden – and soon Finland.
And although it’s quit a paradigm shift we want to achieve, although it is ambitious and hard work with lots of counter force, we are on our way.
You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one! Good luck!
Co-founder, Party Leader and MP, Party for the Animals, The Netherlands
At the moment the Party for the Animals has 50 representatives: 18 seats in regional parliaments, 15 seats in parliaments for water management, 1 seat in 12 city councils, 2 seats in the National parliament, 2 seats in the Senate and 1 in the European parliament.