It's fair to say that the British public are split on a number of things. But if there's one thing that unites us, it's our love of animals.
We treat our pets like family, some of us treat them even better. We feed and bathe them, play with them when they're down and look after them when they are unwell. We walk them when we would rather stay in bed, and sometimes let them climb into bed with us. They inspire us to collectively donate millions of pounds to animal charities each year.
But as a nation of animal lovers, we do have a bit of a blind spot. Amidst the outpouring of affection we give to dogs, cats and budgies, the miserable fate of equally lovable animals is ignored. I'm talking about the pigs, chickens, lambs and cows - all of which share one or more of the qualities we ascribe to our pets. Many of these farm animals endure lives of physical and psychological suffering that is only ended by their untimely deaths. Treated as nothing more than units of profit, their evolutionary needs literally never see the light of day.
But it doesn't have to be this way and there are many ways that we can help.
I'm not going to suggest everyone becomes a vegetarian or vegan. As impactful as that would be, I understand that for most people, going plant-based is currently a bridge too far. Fortunately, there are other, more accessible ways to help.
As consumers, every time we buy a piece of meat or a box of eggs, we have a choice over the degree of suffering we are endorsing. Buying anything other than organic eggs for example, will mean we are endorsing a great deal of suffering for laying hens. Often these hens are caged and unable to pursue the behaviours they are naturally motivated to perform. They invariably suffer physical injuries such as twisted and broken claws, creating significant pain and distress.
We also have a choice when going to restaurants, hotels or food wholesalers. At the time of writing, Wimpy still use caged hens (although they have agreed in principle to review this practice), whereas McDonalds do not. So if you feel the urge to buy fast food, then you may want to choose the latter over the former (If you're not going to a veggie Pret, that is!). It's not just about our individual food choices though - another way we can help is by targeting the companies responsible for unethical treatment in the first place.
Of course, in our time-sensitive lives, researching ethical brands or tackling the corporations isn't always feasible. Which is why I'm delighted there are organisations that will do it for us. Animal welfare charities such as The Humane League (just launched in the UK), Compassion in World Farming and Animal Aid make it their mission to research and campaign so we don't have to. By supporting them either via petitions, volunteering or donations we can help improve the lives of millions of animals. From my involvement in each, they really do make a difference.
In recent history, social change has invariably been inspired by the masses. The civil rights movement, universal suffrage and gay rights each happened when the people rose up and objected to the injustices in front of them.
I dream of a time when change comes for farm animals. By making ethical choices and supporting the organisations that campaign for them, our nation of animal lovers can make this dream a reality.
(Photo courtesy of The Humane League)