The Power of One

The Christmas Calf – Image Credit: Lizzie, Kent Animal Defenders

The continued transport of live farm animals for further fattening and slaughter is one of the most inhumane activities in the agricultural industry. Each year, millions are transported, some for very long distances, often over thousands of miles. The trade is a worldwide phenomenon and Compassion in World Farming campaigns for it to be banned along with many other charities and organisations.

On 10th January, a tiny, unweaned calf born on Christmas Day (so identified by its large yellow ear tag) was spotted by Lizzie of Kent Animal Defenders; the calves had been loaded onto a lorry with 200 others in Annan, southwest Scotland. Delays en-route to Ramsgate in Kent, and then on a vessel that took 14 hours to cross the Channel, meant that the calves did not arrive at their destination, believed to be Spain, until 14th January.  The calves were forced to endure a journey of more than 100 hours and that little Christmas calf became the tragic symbol of animal suffering that lies behind the live export trade in sentient animals.

I was reminded that we often feel helpless as a single individual to bring about meaningful change, but that so often all it takes to raise the profile of a key issue is the act, conscious or not, of ‘one’.  News of that Christmas Calf and that sad little face, was covered by the national UK press and social media and reached many thousands around the world, prompting renewed calls for a ban on live exports.

Credit: Ken Balcomb / Center for Whale Research

There have been other examples too, where animals have become heroes or symbols bringing about a deep connection with the public. Who would have predicted that millions of viewers would connect so deeply with the plight of a dead pilot whale calf on Blue Planet II, sparking an international war of outrage on plastics?  Or more recently, the viral reaction on social media to Tahlequah, a 20-year-old Orca, also known as J35, who carried her dead calf for 17 days off the Pacific Northwest coast of America, in what researchers have described as a record-breaking “tour of grief”? Empathy can be a powerful force for good.

I feel honoured to continue the fight for farm animals in the footsteps of Peter Roberts, the dairy farmer, who bravely stuck his head above the parapet when established organisations refused to step in to combat the rise of factory farming. Over 50 years ago Peter set up Compassion in World Farming together with his wife Anna.

We are also incredibly fortunate to have many new, young eco-warriors taking to public platforms, calling upon older generations to live up to our responsibilities. An example of what these young people achieve, is Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old climate activist from Sweden who came to prominence around the world when she spoke so openly, honestly and bravely at COP24.  She started the first school strike for climate change outside the Swedish parliament building and, recently, challenged the very wealthy at Davos.  You may have seen the reports that 1,500 private planes flew into Davos, where the most pressing topic was climate breakdown. Greta received a standing ovation from the very audience she called to account.  It was inspiring.

We live in complex times, we can’t all be heroes, many of us don’t have the time, inclination or courage to stand up in front of others and speak our minds. However, I firmly believe that we all have the power to demonstrate our humanity, our love and compassion for the animals within our food system through our actions and the choices we make. Even the smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference.

So I urge you not to be daunted by what little you feel you can do, nor the small difference you perceive you can make, but to freely express that basic human value of empathy and whenever possible sign that petition, share messages of change on social media and speak openly amongst friends and work colleagues when you feel an injustice has been done.  Every single one of us has a voice and we all have the ability to support and energise other individuals or campaigns.  We may not lead, but we can certainly follow – there is tremendous power in collaboration, as well as power in ‘one’.

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