Peter Singer receives the award for “strategies to reduce animal suffering” in Berlin

I’m in Berlin right now, to give some seminars in an activist training course. Yesterday I attended an award ceremony for Peter Singer, who was the first recipient of the newly established Peter Singer award for strategies to reduce animal suffering. There had been a lot of rumour of big protests by organisations for the disabled and pro life organisations, but in the end that was all managable. Germany is notorious for anti Peter Singer sentiment.

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Peter Singer is one of my heroes, and one of the heroes of the animal rights movement, as well as a hero of shall we call it altruism in general. By the mere power of rational thinking, mixed with a healthy dose of compassion, this modest, soft spoken Australian┬áhas done more than almost anyone else to make the world think about not just animals, but what it means to lead a good, ethical life in general. I especially like that his theories about animal rights are only part of the bigger whole of ethical living in general – though of course it’s unfortunate that so many people are misinterpreting him, judge his views without reading him, or plainly don’t understand that it is almost the duty of a philosopher to think thoughts that may sometimes be disturbing to the mainstream.

Some things from the talks that Singer and others gave:

I was pleasantly suprised to hear Singer say (and confirm my own idea) that a vegan world is very well possible. He surprised me even more by saying it could take a very long time, like maybe fifty years. I wouldn’t consider that a very long time at all. He added that it might be less but he didn’t want to be so bold as to predict it would take less than 50 years.

About animal welfare versus animal rights, he said he believes it to be a false dichotomy. He said he doesn’t believe that reforms make meat more acceptable to people, and pointed out that it is *not* the case that people eat more meat in countries where there are more reforms. He says in such countries the problems of the industry have been more exposed and the awareness is bigger. I’m not entirely sure I follow this line of reasoning entirely, but I certainly do believe that animal welfare reforms are not in opposition to abolitionism.

Also present was in the line up of speakers before Singer (is it a German thing to have like eight speakers before the main event?) was Maneka Gandhi, lifelong animal activist and for the 7th time holding a minister position in the Indian government. A vegan herself, she stressed that whatever progress we are making in Western countries, they are making up for it in India: for every new vegan in Berlin there are a thousand vegetarians going back to meat in India. Still she is hopeful. She expects a lot especially from the research into and development of artificial meat, milk and eggs (she mentioned the new startup Muufri). I think she’s right and the importance of biotechnology for the vegan movement should not be underestimated).

European member of parliament Stephan Eck said he had learned from Singer to be bold sometimes and say things against everyone else. He told the audience that when representatives of the rabbit meat industry came to the European parliament, they complained that fourty percent of the businesses in their sector had already gone bankrupt. Stephan Eck, the spirit of Singer whispering in his ear, had taken the microphone and had said: “I promise you that I will do my utmost best to help bring down the remaining sixty percent.” We laughed as he said that there had been an applause at first, till what he had actually said had sunk in and one rabbit-farmer had called him a terrorist.

All in all, a good evening among like minded people. I am thankful for the likes of Peter Singer and others, who use their influence to make the world a better place for animals.