In the Media –

Posted on January 31st, 2017

Sustainability, Welfare and Thoroughbred Racing on EponaTV


Following my talk in Stockholm at the Equine Cultures in Transition Conference, Julie Taylor from asked for an interview.

In the interview with her, while I was thinking through the issues we were discussing, I have (re-)discovered yet another overlap between the animal welfare and the sustainability debate. As she summarises in her intro:

“How our unacknowledged value systems muddle the debate”

“Sustainability” is something of a buzz word in the horse industries. But it means different things to different people, as does the word “welfare”. And until we each investigate and lay open our values regarding horses, we cannot have a meaningful debate about right and wrong, says University of Sydney’s Dr. Iris Bergman, whose research is mapping out exactly what divides horse welfare advocates and industry stake holders in the animal rights and welfare debate.

Last edited 17.8.2018: Link to interview updated due to migration of site

Equine Cultures in Transition Conference, Stockholm 2016

Posted on November 29th, 2016

Thoroughbred at the starting gate of a race, Iffezheim, 2015. Photo: Iris Bergmann

Thoroughbred at the starting gate of a race, Iffezheim, 2015. Photo: IB

I have attended the Conference “Equine Cultures in Transition – Human-horse relationships in theory and practice: changing concepts of interaction and ethics”, in Stockholm, 27-29 October 2016. The conference had been organised by the Centre for Studies in Practical Knowledge, and was held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry. Although it was not framed as such, this conference did make a valuable contribution to the range of questions that need to be addressed to advance the transition to a truly sustainable future, where sustainability extends to human-animal relationships. Viewed with that perspective in mind, the conference also demonstrated the seminal role of the social sciences and the humanities in advancing the sustainability transition.

This conference overall presented a rather holistic approach to human-animal relationships. Although the ongoing use of horses for human purposes was still in the foreground and approved, there was a lot of soul searching and questioning of our relationship with horses. The majority of the 60+ presenters were riders (leisure and competition riders), and therapists using horses. There apparently were also some who opposed riding horses (although I have not met one as far as I am aware). One of the therapists had decided to sell her therapy horses as her doubts about this practice had increased during the course of doing her PhD on this topic. (I would like to think she wished she could have been able to retire them at her place.)

I was most intrigued by individuals experimenting with more open, free-form human-horse relationships, where the aim is to facilitate the horse taking a leadership role in horse-human interactions, including in the practice of  horse riding.

In my talk, I presented preliminary results of the interview study of my project. I focused on the mental models of thoroughbred welfare held by industry participants and those held by representatives of animal protection organisations who engage with thoroughbred welfare in racing. I compared the mental models of welfare of these two groups and related them to conceptions of sustainability.

During the wrap-up of the conference, Lynda Birke (Universities of Chester and Glyndwr, UK) summarised the emerging themes as follows:

  • A desire for the horse’s voice to be heard with implications for methodological and ethical issues, and with an acknowledgment of the need for mixed-method approaches.
  • A search for ethical frameworks for our interaction with horses.
  • Accountability: The desire to make research matter, and being accountable to the subjects of the research – in terms of what is the impact on the horses, and humans, involved.

There was plenty of enthusiasm to continue with this conference stream under the same title, with the word going around that the next one might be held at Leeds, UK, in 2018.

Last edited 13.11.2018

Symposium on the Ethics and Business of Thoroughbred Racing held in Germany

Posted on January 27th, 2016

It is about a year ago that the German publisher “Hippiatrika” had invited me onto their conference board to contribute to the planning of the German Equine Veterinary Symposium in 2015. It is not often that ‘the industry’ reaches out to animal studies scholars and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to play a part in this event.

Hippiatrika holds their symposia on Equine Veterinary Medicine annually, and last year, the topic was “Business and Ethics of Racing and The Role of the Veterinarian” (Conference Brochure pdf 400KB). I had attended a seminar held by Racing Victoria of the same title in August 2014, and thus this seminar here in Victoria had unexpectedly provided inspiration across the globe to Germany.

The Hippiatrika Symposium was held in English, with participants and presenters coming from Germany, Ireland, the UK, France, The Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. It took place in Baden-Baden, Germany, 28-30 August 2015, and coincided with the races in Iffezheim.

I had been invited to give two talks. The first talk focussed on sustainability as a framework for thoroughbred protection, and the second one on the welfare model espoused by the thoroughbred racing industry, as it emerges from a content analysis of industry websites. The first talk is based on my paper published in the Hippiatrika journal “Pferdeheilkunde”. “Pferdeheilkunde” is the peer-reviewed journal of the Equine Medical Section of the German Veterinary Association. The publisher kindly allowed me to make the article available (pdf 130KB). Abstracts of most of the other talks of the event in Germany are published in the same issue of the journal.

Last edited 16.9.2016

Thoroughbred Welfare and Sustainability at Minding Animals 3

Posted on December 31st, 2014

Bay at a jumpsrace at Bendigo, Australia, 2014

At a jumps race at Bendigo, Australia, 2014

In only 13 days, I will be travelling to Delhi to present a paper at MAC3, the Minding Animals Conference 2015, titled Thoroughbred racing and the sustainability of welfare concepts.

For most of its existence, the thoroughbred racing industry has taken the thoroughbreds and the public for granted. Thoroughbreds die on racetracks and in training and death is accepted as part of the business model of thoroughbred racing. As veteran Australian horse trainer O’Connor states in 2014:

We lose one occasionally, that’s a fact and it can’t be helped. They lose the occasional horse on the flat.

Racing Victoria (2010) is known to have set key performance indicators in the past that included an acceptable death rate for jumps racing. Apart from death, thoroughbreds are exposed to a great number of other serious welfare issues which are an inherent part of training and racing in competition.

The industry claims commitment to welfare but fails to convince in light of recent undercover investigations (NYT 2012), ongoing controversy, reviews and hearings. Social acceptance of certain uses of animals and abusive ways of animal treatment and handling are waning. Accordingly, horse welfare in thoroughbred racing has been identified as a growing concern for the public so much so that it is considered a reason contributing to its decline (The Jockey Club 2011 pdf).

Some racing jurisdictions have moved beyond the stage of seeing the protection of thoroughbreds as part of an extremist agenda. Voices from within the racing industry call for a culture change. Weisbord (2014) puts the urgency for the industry to act most poignantly:

This isn’t the time for a measured response. This isn’t the time for model rules. This isn’t the time to shoot the messenger, and it’s not a time for band aids. This is a time for a radical change of the way we do business. We cannot come at this with a pop bottle rocket. This is the time for shock and awe. […] While we’re at it, let’s lose the whips, too.

Change is afoot, however, there is controversy over what constitutes welfare and what is good for the horse. This situation has been labeled the “horse welfare war”. The question arises what kind of welfare paradigm will prevail over time.

In my presentation, I will discuss welfare paradigms applied to thoroughbred racehorses, whether these models can be considered sustainable, and what constitutes a sustainable welfare concept.

Presentation proposal accepted: Institute of Critical Animal Studies Oceania conference in Melbourne 26-27.4.2014

Posted on March 11th, 2014

This is what my presentation is about:

Sustainability and Animal Protection: How do they intersect, where do they collide?

Parts of the animal protection movement are skeptical of the concept of sustainability. This skepticism is justified in part due to the anthropocentric focus of the mainstream sustainability movement, coupled with a concern of measuring societal well-being primarily in economic value terms, and the pursuit of an economic model that continues to adhere to the growth paradigm. After all, it is these three overriding dimensions that inherently push non-human animals toward the margins (and over the edge) of societal concern, include them only in objectified form and perpetuate their exploitation for economic benefit in most abhorrent ways. However, this characterises only a part of the sustainability movement and there is potential for a deep alliance between sustainability and animal protection to advance both.

To further outline this argument, it is helpful to consider the different conceptualisations of sustainability and their historic roots. In short, we can differentiate between sustainability steeped in deep ecology and systems thinking at one end of a continuum, and the concept of sustainable development somewhat short of its original meaning reflected in the Brundtland report at the other end. In a simplified model, animal protection concerns are placed high on the agenda at the sustainability end of this continuum, and lowest at the sustainable development end. Moreover, the relationship between animal protection and sustainability is complicated based on the existence of a variety of different ethical foundations for sustainability thought as well as animal protection thought.

The concept of sustainable development, rather than sustainability, has been widely adopted by governments, academics and activists, to the detriment of animal protection. In order to illustrate this point, I focus the next part of the discussion on the model of the Green Economy. The Green Economy is an economic model to advance sustainable development and is built in particular on concepts of justice, efficiency, ecosystem services and growth. I outline how these concepts relate to animal protection issues, and how non-human animals are included and excluded from the sustainability transition under this model. It comes apparent, that under the Green Economy, and under the concept of sustainable development in general, sustainability and animal protection are in many ways played out against each other. I present critical examples of how these antagonistic forces come to bear in specific ways in the Asia-Pacific Region.

In the final part of this presentation, I give special consideration to the justice dimension as a normative concern that has significantly shaped advancements in sustainability thinking, as well as in the animal protection discourse. I conclude by carving out this common ground and by applying the spectrum of ecojustice, distributive, participatory and restorative justice to both, animal protection and sustainability.

Slide presentation pdf 0.7MB

Institute for Critical Animal Studies Oceania 2014 Conference.

Last edited 16.5.2014

The Last Lioness

Posted on September 21st, 2013

The Last Lioness. A Book about death. Photograph of two dummies - a lioness and a male mannequin with bags in safari colours, window display of a designer fashion store in Vienna, with reflections of the street, cars, advertising display.

Image: Iris Bergmann. Title: The Last Lioness. 2013

This is one of my contributions to A Book About Death / Australia, shown at the Tweed River Art Gallery, New South Wales, Australia, 18 October – 24 November 2013.

About ABAD Australia

The Australian exhibition is the 27th exhibition of A Book About Death. Paris based artist Matthew Rose instigated the first A Book About Death exhibition in 2009 in New York. Five hundred artists submitted five hundred copies of their artwork to the exhibition in the Emily Harvey Gallery.

On the opening night people came with plastic bags and collected the free artworks and so were able to create their own (unbound) book about death. Many people then went on to exhibit their collections at other galleries and so the exhibition grew into an international phenomena with artists curating their own exhibitions and calling for new artworks to be created for the new exhibitions.


Last edited 4.5.2017

Minding Animals 3: New Delhi, India, 13-20 January 2015

Posted on August 12th, 2013

Raj Panjwani, India 's leading animal advocate - Keynote address at Minding Animals 2, Utrecht 4 July 2012

The third Minding Animals Conference will be held in New Delhi, India, 13-20 January 2015:

Building Bridges Between the Natural and Social Sciences, the Humanities and Wildlife Protection.

The host for the conference will be the Wildlife Trust of India, in collaboration with Jawaharlal
Nehru University (JNU)
. The conference will be held at JNU and other locations in New Delhi.
Call for Abstracts will open in early 2014.

Both photographs in this post: Raj Panjwani, India’s leading animal advocate and animal rights lawyer, presenting his keynote address at Minding Animals 2, Utrecht 4 July 2012

ICAS Oceania: Critical Animal Studies Conference 2013 – Podcasts

Posted on August 12th, 2013

On 6 July 2013, ICAS Oceania held their first critical animal studies conference at the University of Canberra, Australia.

Podcasts of the one-day conference can be found here. Themes of the conference included Education and Animals, Film and Literature, Taking action, Approaches to change, Animals and Law.

Of particular interest in the current political Australian context is Professor Steve Garlick who gave a presentation under the theme Approaches to change. His talk was entitled Environmental Sustainability, Cognitive Justice and the Kangaroo. Steve is the founder, first and current president of the Animal Justice Party. The AJP will be standing candidates at the next Federal Election in Australia on 7 September 2013.

The Institute for Critical Animal Studies, ICAS, has currently seven regional offices: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America and Oceania. A summary of the aim and beliefs of ICAS can be found in their document Introducing Critical Animal Studies [pdf]. There they write:

The aim of the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS) is to provide a space for the development of a “critical” approach to animal studies, one which perceives that relations between human and nonhuman animals are now at a point of crisis which implicates the planet as a whole.

The term critical animal studies (CAS) has emerged from within animal rights and liberation academics and activists. They differentiate themselves from animal studies which they also refer to as “mainstream animal studies”. They regard the burgeoning field of animal studies as being “strangely detached from the dire plight of nonhuman animals, human beings, and the Earth.” They acknowledge that “scholars working in animal studies have made significant contributions to our understanding of the historical, sociological, and philosophical aspects of human/nonhuman animal relations.” But they argue that the animal studies approach has limitations and does not truly confront the most inhumane practices of animal exploitation such as can be found in industrial animal agriculture, vivisection and carnivorist lifestyles. They believe that the mainstream approach, in purporting to be objective, in fact supports animal exploitation. They argue that it is an illusion that “theory is disinterested or writing and research is nonpolitical”. Therefore, one of their interests is to expose the values and political commitments inherent in mainstream animal studies. Critical animals studies scholars seek an interdisciplinary collaborative approach including perspectives they believe are generally ignored by animal studies such as political economy. They align themselves with other struggles against any form of oppression and hierarchy, including struggles against racism, sexism, speciesism and militarism. They argue that all endeavours to overcome any form of exploitation of humans, nonhuman animals and the Earth are inseparable, referring to Martin Luther King Jr. who proclaimed that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

To fulfill their mission, ICAS has four programs:

1. Development – creating projects, initiatives, organisations, groups and academic departments and programs.
2. Scholarship – publishing position papers, journals, books and hosting forums such as conferences and lectures.
3. Advocacy – activism, outreach, publicity and networking.
4. Education – formal workshops, training, courses and classes.

They have developed a 3 part strategy addressing ecology, humans and nonhumans through holistic, intersectional and interdependent theory and activism:

Holistic – including all life and elements
Intersectional – acknowledging differing identities amongst all life and elements
Interdependent – respecting that all life and elements need one another

Institute of Critical Animal Studies Strategy

ICAS Strategy

Last edited 15.9.2013

Voiceless panel: How much is cheap meat really costing us?

Posted on May 23rd, 2013

Voiceless the animal protection institute - How much is cheap meat really costing us?

To advance the public debate on matters of eating animals, Voiceless presents a discussion about the cost of meat via a new online platform. The teaser is the provocative question How much is cheap meat really costing us?

To provide some background to the issues first, The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG, former High Court Judge and now Patron of Voiceless, provides a summary of the true cost of cheap meat to our health, to the environment and to the animals raised for human and animal consumption. He then puts forward the fundamental question in terms of cost that we all must ask ourselves: What is the social and moral cost of subjecting other species to suffering and death in almost unfathomable numbers?

Five panelists are invited to comment on the following five points and present their case in individually recorded video sessions:

1. On what basis is it right for humans to own other sentient, living beings?

2. There are numerous laws that protect our pets from being mistreated. Why is it legal to treat animals raised for food with such cruelty and what changes should be made?

3. How does Australia compare to other first world countries as an ethical nation?

4. Change needs to come from industry, consumers and government. What will galvanise these groups and what do you see as the tipping point?

5. What did you see or learn that had the biggest impact on you personally and how do you channel your desire to take action?

The panelists include animal lawyer Antoine F. Goetschel; economist Dr Ken Henry AC; Director of Feather and Bone Laura Dalrymple; Leader of the Opposition, NSW Legislative Council The Hon. Luke Foley MLC; and author and academic Dr Deirdre Wicks.

Last edited 24.5.2013