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“Rethinking Animals”: From Animal Trafficking to Global Security

By: Alexandra Farina

Thinking Animals United’s annual animals rights summit, “Rethinking Animals,” ran from September 13th to the 15th in partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (ifaw) and Compassion in World Farming. Panel topics ranged from the economic impact of animal farming to the threat animal trafficking poses to global security. The mission of the summit was to emphasize the sentience of animals and the implications this humanizing ethos has for how the industry should be reformed. It is self-evident that the state of our environment is in a precarious position, but, throughout the summit, there was a veritable sense of hope among the attendees and presenters. Certainly, none of the panelists expressed that they had any false sense of security about the state of our planet; however, as the moderator of the “Challenges to Global Security” panel, Sara Walker, introduced the speakers, she emphasized that large corporations are jumping on the trend of “social good” and asserted that key players in the environmental scene are taking advantage of this slow shift, urging the attendees to continue to do the same. 

Walker stressed the point, however, that we are at a tipping point, and, if we don’t act quickly, the stressors generated by large corporations and supported by lax environmental policy will continue to endanger and extinguish our animal populations, and this eradication has far-reaching implications into other corners of the environmental fight. Our environment is strained, our resources are depleted, and our consumption rate is dangerously excessive. Three panelists endeavored to answer the question of what we can do to stop such degeneration and when and how we are going to do it. 

The “Challenges to Global Security” panel was amongst one of the more impactful panels I attended on the Saturday of the summit. The panelists were made up of three female powerhouses in the environmentalist world: Lindsay Moran, a former CIA operative that now conducts undercover investigations to bust animal trafficking organizations, Lydelle Joubert, an expert on global piracy and anti-piracy, and Rachel Dreskin, the Executive Director at Compassion in World Farming, which was a sponsor of the summit. These three panelists, especially Moran, extolled how the negative impact of the mistreatment of animals extends beyond being morally corrupt and can be connected to larger patterns of general crime and threats to global security. 

Moran kicked off the panel with an analysis of how animal trafficking intersects with other forms of corruption and crime, including human trafficking and terrorism. She expressed that the demonization of traffickers, such as ivory poachers, does not pierce the main issue that allows the mistreatment and illegal trafficking of animals. It is not the poachers themselves that should be demonized for the work they do, although they should be held accountable for their crimes. Rather, corruption in governments that turn a blind eye to the activity of poachers, not just in the countries in which poaching is rampant, is to blame. Lax regulatory policy, combined with the true root of the problem, rampant poverty and lack of choice, undergirds the problem of animal trafficking. Moran emphasized that human trafficking, terrorism, and poaching all overlap as they use the same or similar physical routes of transport, and the money trails of these corrupt business activities follow the same patterns. These illegal activities arise in part to the poverty and desperation of the people involved, aided and abetted by corrupt government officials. The other two panelists emphasized the same economic-driven patterns in the presentations they gave. 

Joubert, a woman who has researched the patterns of piracy on fishing vessels, comes to the conclusion that lack of economic opportunity leads to desperate over-fishing, as well as maritime robbery. She cited that there have been 189 incidents of piracy from the months of January to August of 2019. Piracy on the local level has to do with the dire state of the local economy. During fishing season, fishermen fish for long hours and to excessive extents. As the fish are depleted already, regardless of over-fishing, the season is not sustainable, exacerbating instances of robbery because of poverty. Again, it becomes clear that the effects of climate change, the economy, and crime are all interconnected and impossible to extricate from one another.

While Joubert and Moran focused on the international, Rachel Dreskin’s presentation centered around the domestic issue of factory farming. However, her presentation also centered around the impact of economy on the mistreatment of animals. She explained that post World War II, food scarcity became more of an issue, and there was a national movement to create more supply through raising caged animals rather than having them raised free-range. Dreskin made the assertion that factory farming is one of the greatest forms of exploitation of animals because it contributes and catalyzes into climate disaster. Due to the work of meat and dairy lobbyists and misleading advertisements, it seems to me that there is an overwhelming misconception that factory farming makes better use of land and makes the meat industry more efficient. However, Dreskin debunks the assumption, stating that by keeping animals in cages and removing them from the land, we must then also use even more land space to grow the grain for feed. She shared with the audience members that for every 100 calories factory farmers put into raising the animals, they get back just 17-30 calories from the animals slaughtered. She warns that factory farming contributes to pollution, eventual antibiotic resistance and is the second largest contributor to the rising carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere. Dreskin emphasizes the economic advantages of moving away from factory farming, giving hope to the listeners that the relationship between the treatment of animals and the economy can be positive. 

It became clear throughout this panel and summit that treating climate change and threats to our environment and legal systems as an intersectional issue is integral to changing the environmental landscape. We must act swiftly, but we must also act conscientiously and efficiently. We must focus on the root of so many of these issues: poverty, weak regulation, and the power of large industries that have the finances capable of perverting the narrative and distracting from these issues. Summits such as “Rethinking Animals” that draw layman as well as industry specialists are essential to rewriting the propaganda-like efforts of meat, dairy, and agriculture, educating and inspiring individuals to work towards resolving climate change in the most effective and informed way possible. 

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