Geronimo the alpaca has shown us how much the British care about animals – and how much the British don’t care about animals.
This particular creature has been condemned to death after he twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis. The Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs [Defra] is expected to shoot him this week. Geronimo has received a tidal wave of support. Yesterday there was a demonstration outside the Defra office in Westminster calling for him to be spared, and campaigners have vowed to form a human shield around Geronimo if euthanisers dare show up at his farm in Gloucestershire.
The groundswell of support has moved beyond animal rights campaigners. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on Boris Johnson to halt Geronimo’s execution, and newspapers have featured him on their front pages. The actress Joanna Lumley and the prime minister’s father have also called for mercy.
As a vegan and animal liberationist I hope Geronimo is spared, but I can’t help but notice the double standards when meat eaters get upset and angry about Geronimo but not the plight of other animals that are enslaved and killed to produce the meat they eat every day.
Why do people cry about one animal being killed but not the 70 billion that are killed worldwide by the meat industry every year? The old saying that “one death is a tragedy but a million deaths is a statistic” is part of the answer. We can relate to an individual with a name and a face more than a number on a page.
But when it comes to the industrial slaughter of unfathomable numbers of innocent creatures, there’s something else going on. Lots of meat eaters think of themselves as animal lovers and don’t reflect on the moral gymnastics they have to perform. Pet owners tremble in the waiting room at the vet’s, unable to bear the idea of their beloved cat or dog suffering for even a moment, but then happily pay to eat the dead bodies of animals who knew only suffering during their horribly curtailed lives and terrifying deaths.
Meat eaters criticise those in the Far East who eat dog meat, even as they themselves eat pigs, cows and sheep. People take their kids to petting zoos to see the cute animals and then buy them chicken nuggets from the cafe. People get angry about dogs left in hot cars during heatwaves, but pay to eat chunks of other animals who were driven alive for hundreds of miles in cramped, scorching trucks.
There are so many examples of this hypocrisy and at the heart of it all is speciesism: the idea that some animal species have more moral rights than others.
To vegans, the double standards are obvious. We don’t want to harm or exploit any animal. So it can be tempting to get on our (plant-based) high horses, and I know I certainly have in the past. But cognitive dissonance is a universal human failing, so rather than sneer at meat-eating supporters of Geronimo I would rather we met on this common ground we have found.
You know that feeling you get when you imagine someone killing poor Geronimo? It’s horrible, isn’t it? Vegans feel that same solidarity with all animals. We feel the same outrage you feel about Geronimo’s treatment, but for us it’s about every innocent creature that’s being hurt and exploited and killed – billions and billions of Geronimos who don’t even have names but whose lives still matter. We care about them all. So if you are not being “judgemental” or “boring” to stand up for one alpaca, perhaps we’re not being “judgemental” or “boring” when we stand up for all animals?
Every so often, the plight of an individual animal captures everyone’s hearts, whether it’s a sad whale at an amusement park, a cow that has cleverly escaped from a slaughterhouse or an alpaca that has been condemned to death. All compassion for animals is great, but focusing on one or two condemned animals from time to time means we forget the millions of other animals that are killed each day and never get a mention in the news. Outlier stories distract the public from what really goes on day to day. Everyone who buys meat or dairy – or bets on horse racing – is paying for the routine abuse and exploitation of animals.
I’m happy to see so many people supporting Geronimo and I hope he is saved. I also think it would be great if people used this moment to notice the way their own lifestyles are causing other animals to suffer and die. If public support for Geronimo saves his life, that will be a huge achievement. Beyond that, I hope the meat eaters who’ve backed him will keep going and stand up for more and more animals. I want us to live in a more compassionate world where animals are our friends, not food.
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