By Michael Barendse, Ed.D.Biographical Highlights
Henry Spira (1927-1998) was founder and early leader of Animal Rights International (ARI), an organization dedicated to protecting animals from inhumane treatment. Spira was a long time activist in the labor and civil rights movements. He became interested in the animal rights cause after reading “Animal Liberation” by Peter Singer in the mid 1970’s. He began to wonder “why we cuddle some animals and put a fork in others.” As his interest in humane treatment of animals grew, he came to see animals as “the most defenseless of all the world’s victims.” Spira’s commitment to animal rights grew out of that realization.
Henry Spira was born in Belgium in 1927. His family moved to Germany, England, Panama, and the United States before the beginning of World War II. At the age of 16 Spira left home and joined the Merchant Marine, where he served for the last two years of the war. When he returned to civilian life, Spira went to work in a General Motors assembly plant in Linden, NJ. He became active in politics at that time, often writing in militant newspapers. Spira was also an active participant in maritime union politics and the civil rights movement. Meanwhile, Spira attended Brooklyn College, graduating in 1958. He then went back to sea for several years. In 1966 he returned to New York, where he took a position teaching English in a Manhattan high school. He continued to work there until 1982, when he resigned to devote all of his time to the animal rights cause.
From 1982 until his death in 1998 Spira served as coordinator and leader of Animal Rights International. In that capacity he led several successful campaigns against the inhumane use of animals in scientific and product testing programs. Some of his early successes included bringing to an end the American Museum of Natural History’s research on the effect of mutilation on the sexual behavior of cats, and the campaign against the cosmetics industry’s use of the Draize Test, which blinded thousands of rabbits. Spira’s efforts in the area of the use of animals in testing came with the establishment of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins University. Spira was able to persuade the cosmetics industry to provide the initial funding for the center.
The success of Spira and ARI was largely the result of his use of tactics that multiplied his influence in confrontations with large corporations and government entities. He had a talent for the use of publicity and public pressure which amounted to a “force multiplier” in his battles with the cosmetics and food industries. His publicity of the Draize Test in The New York Times, “How many rabbits does Revlon blind for beauty’s sake?” generated more than thirty thousand outraged letters to Revlon, and the company quickly moved away from testing on live animals.
Following the successful campaigns against testing on live animals ARI began to focus on the mistreatment of farm animals. This new focus resulted in bans on such practices as face branding cattle and the hoisting of large animals by a hind leg during the slaughter process. A 1989 campaign against Perdue Farms is noteworthy. ARI and Spira generated a huge amount of publicity, including television reports and a New York Times Magazine article revealing the inhumane conditions in Perdue’s chicken houses. ARI continues to illuminate and try to end such practices where they are found.
Spira was a vegetarian, and one of his goals was to minimize the amount of inhumane treatment of animals by reducing the amount of meat consumption by humans. To that end he helped establish the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University. The center seeks to address the linkages between meat eating, factory farming, poor public health, world hunger, and environmental destruction.
Henry Spira and the ARI were the first to ever win an animal rights confrontation with a large corporate opponent. Spira demonstrated how the public could be enlisted to help pressure large corporations to change. Public relations campaigns aimed at provoking a response against animal cruelty on the part of large corporations were a major part of his strategy. He used public opinion as a sort of force multiplier in his confrontations with corporate adversaries. However, Spira preserved his and ARI’s credibility with the public by avoiding association with the more radical elements of the animal rights movement. He believed that violent and destructive tactics were a detriment to the cause because that behavior alienated too many potential supporters. He preferred to negotiate and even cooperate with his adversaries when possible in order to achieve his goals. Large numbers of animal rights organizations have since followed his lead, and the overall management of animals has become more humane as a result.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
Spira and ARI have been an important part of the animal rights movement since its beginnings. Since their initial success the movement has grown in both numbers and influence. Spira was able to persuade some of the movement’s adversaries to fund and support organizations such as the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing which are focused on solving some of the problems that the animal rights movement brought to light. ARI has worked with groups as diverse as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), The Humane Society of the United States, the American Antivivisection Society, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and Compassion in World Farming in pursuit of common goals.
Key Related Ideas
- Animal Welfare: the compassion and respect due animals as living, responsive beings. Animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and this is not to be left to the compassionate impulses of humans, but is an entitlement that must be protected under the law.
- Animal Rights: The idea that animals have endowed rights to humane treatment. The right to freedom from human inflicted pain. (http://encarta.msn/dictionary)
- Speciesism: To consider the interests of one’s own species as more important than the interests of another species merely on the grounds of membership in the species. (http://webster.edu/~corbetre/philosophy/animals/singer.html)
Important People Related to the Topic
- Temple Grandin: Grandin is an Associate Professor of Animal Science at the University of Colorado, and an expert in the field of livestock handling. She has designed humane handling chutes for many slaughterhouses in the United States. Dr. Grandin has also written extensively on the subject of animal rights and animal welfare. Her work has been recognized by the animal rights and animal welfare communities. Among the many awards she received for her work are the Founders Award from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in 1999 and the Proggy Award from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in 2004. She argues that, if animals are property, they need far more legal protection than non-living property like a hammer or a screwdriver. (http://www.grandin.com/welfare/animals.are.not.things.html)
- Peter Singer: Dr. Singer is a bioethicist at Princeton University. His book, Animal Liberation, (1975), provided the ideology on which Henry Spira based his ideas about animal rights. Singer argues that speciesism must be overcome in order to ensure humane treatment of non-human species.
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ( ASPCA) (http://www.aspca.com).
- Compassion in World Farming (http://www.ciwf.org).
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (http://www.peta-online.org).
- The World Animal Network (http://www.worldanimalnet.org).
Related Web Sites
- Animal Rights Institute at (http://www.ari-online.org) offers a great deal of information about ARI activities, and good background on Spira.
- BLTC Research at (http://www.animalrights.com) provides a portal to a vast amount of information surrounding the topic of humane treatment of animals.
- Compassion in World Farming at (http://www.ciwf.org) is a good source of information on the topic of humane treatment of agricultural animals.
- The World Animal Net at (http://www.worldanimalnet.org) is a great portal to information on this topic.
- The Johns Hopkins University Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at (http://caat.jhsph.edu/) has worked with scientists since 1981 to achieve the three R’s of humane science; replace live animals in experiments, reduce the number of animals in experiments and refine the experiments that are conducting with animal subjects eliminate pain and distress.
Bibliography and Internet Sources
- CIWF Vision. Accessed 24 February, 2008. http://www.ciwf.org.
- Barnaby J. Feder. “Henry Spira”. New York Times, September 15, 1998.
- Peter Singer. Animal Liberation. New York: HarperCollins Publishing, Inc., 2002. ISBN 0-380-71333-0.
- Henry Spira. Accessed February 24, 2008. http://www.ari-online.org/henry.html.
- Thirty Three Years of Measurable Change. Accessed February 24, 2008. http://www.ari-online.org/main.html.
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