Dr Nik Taylor, a Flinders University sociologist specialising in the emerging field of human/animal relations, posed the question in a wide-ranging interview with Flinders Indaily that covered live exports and the links between human and animal abuse.
“Our daily lives are filled with animals in way or another, whether it’s wearing them, eating them or going home to them at night,” Dr Taylor, managing editor of the journal Society & Animals, said.
“Without them, we’d be bereft of a lot of things – and I don’t just mean your burger tonight,” she said.
Human relationships with other animals are “tremendously ambiguous”, Dr Taylor said, citing the media and public response to last year’s ABC Four Corners program on live exports as an example.
“People were brought face-to-face with that ambiguity and where it leads – it showed us how those live animals become beef on our plate. That ambivalence and ambiguity were suddenly removed because people were faced with the absolute horror of what we do do under mass farming practices.
“The public outcry was very racialised. The fact is those breaches of animal welfare are endemic to mass production – they have to be because mass production is about speed and efficiency – and they happen in the US, in Britain and in Australia.”
The anecdotal evidence that meat consumption in Australian plummeted after the screening of the program supports Dr Taylor’s own research that people do respond to animal violence and abuse.
“We conducted surveys in Queensland, asking people what they thought about penalties for animal abuse. Over 80 per cent said they weren’t strong enough and many of them were supportive of a jail term or severe fines,” she said.
“The criminal justice system seems to have fallen behind public sentiment on this.”
Dr Taylor said she was surprised by the findings of another survey in which 63 per cent of respondents said they believed there was a link between animal abuse and human abuse – supporting the growing evidence from worldwide research.
“People are taking this issue seriously. The question is: how do you translate that to a concern for animals?
“Humans hold all the cards in human/animal relationships and we are not afraid to exploit them as commodities and to use and abuse them at will for our own purposes, without consideration for what they give back, for what they are and what they do.
“Either we stop doing that – or at least just stop to think.”