Why is it proving so hard to tackle industrial-scale animal cruelty, despite public revulsion?

What do all these types of animal cruelty in the UK have in common?

  • The badger cull
  • Feeble sentences for animal cruelty crimes
  • Animal circuses, zoos & aquariums
  • Hunting, shooting & raptor persecution
  • ‘Exotic’ pets & puppy mills
  • Animal experiments
  • Shocking abuse in abattoirs
  • Factory farming
  • The fur trade
  • The illegal trade in animal parts

The list goes on and on…..

The simple answer is that they flourish because the UK Government systematically dismisses animal welfare as an unwelcome hindrance to the powerful industries that harm animals. This goes beyond any specific politicians or parties – it is a deep-rooted situation that severely limits how much the animal protection movement can achieve.

Until now, animal organisations have largely overlooked this absolutely vital area of systemic government indifference to animals. Instead, they have focussed on tactics such as encouraging the public to change their behaviour, campaigning for industry to modify its treatment of animals or trying to lobby an indifferent government against specific forms of cruelty. These approaches do have a role and occasionally achieve impact on the margins. But real and lasting improvements require deeper reform at the heart of government to secure their protection in law, so that animals are not left vulnerable to the whims of market forces and individual choice.

It is essential that animal advocates develop their approach to start seriously tackling this underlying cause of animal abuse, otherwise the plight of animals will not be alleviated – as we can see right now in the list above. Lots of time, energy and money is being expended for frustratingly little progress.

Below are the reasons why government is sacrificing animal welfare – and the required targets for more effective animal advocacy:

  1. We suffer from serious flaws in our system of democracy. For starters, industry can increase its control by donating vast amounts of money to political parties and the government of the day. This is critical because it means the main political parties are geared, even subconsciously, to make policy that attracts corporate funding. Industry is also able to provide considerable technical expertise to the government and become embedded in key departments, enabling it to dictate policy. Most importantly, allowing industry to do what they want is seen as essential to economic growth, which the government considers an overall imperative. It does not consider animal welfare an imperative at any level.
  2. This is compounded by our first-past-the-post electoral system which leads parties to focus on a narrow range of issues relevant to a tiny proportion of voters, rather than representing the public’s wishes as a whole.1 As a result, animal protection is largely ignored during election campaigns despite widespread public concern, and therefore kept off the government agenda. These are major reasons why animals almost always lose out and will continue to do so until a paradigm shift in our government’s approach is achieved.
  3. The animal protection movement can never hope to match industry’s financial muscle – as far as the government is concerned we have only one potential weapon and that is public support for improving animal welfare.
  4. Unfortunately the movement cannot effectively translate this public desire into meaningful change because the political system is stacked against it – the government is not interested in genuinely reflecting public demand for better animal welfare because it is seen as in conflict with economic growth (see points 1 & 2). There is simply no receptor for animal welfare values in government.

Unless these deep problems are addressed, public demands for animal protection will carry on being dismissed and animals will continue to be mercilessly exploited. The CASJ is unique in its focus on these underlying problems that perpetuate animal cruelty on an industrial scale.


1. Hix S., Johnston R & McLean I (2010) ‘Choosing an Election System’, London: British Academy. (p113)