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

Climate change education in Indonesia

Posted on April 26th, 2013

Sorting through plastic garbage, an open dump on a school ground in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, November 2012

Sorting through plastic garbage, an open dump on a school ground in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, November 2012.

It has been quiet here of late. I have been working on the resource material for the UNESCO Green School Action Project for Climate Change Education. The pilot for this project is being conducted in Banjarmasin, the capital of the Province of South Kalimantan on Borneo in Indonesia. The outcome is a teachers’ guide for innovative classroom lessons for upper primary and lower secondary schools, that is for Years 5-8. The themes covered include biodiversity, forest, water, waste and energy.

The UNESCO Climate Change Education program is embedded in the international agenda for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). From academics and practitioners, there has been some considerable criticism of ESD. For once, sustainable development is considered an oxymoron and one of the main flaws of this concept is that it denies the natural environment and its inhabitants intrinsic value (for a more detailed critique see Selby in Gray-Donald and Selby 2008, 59-75). The far reaching and catastrophic consequences of climate change, its complexities and interconnectedness of human and natural systems confronts us with more urgency than ever to give equal consideration to human and non-human animals. In fact, giving non-human animals a voice will result in better outcomes for all. Developing as well as applying the teaching and learning resources for climate change education, it has to be a deliberate and conscious choice to incorporate both perspectives and I give some examples of trying to achieve this below.

The content of the themes has been organised in a way that helps the students to understand how we humans and all non-human animals depend on the natural world, how our lives are interlinked with the lives of non-human animals, why we need to protect the health, diversity and resilience of the natural world, how climate change threatens the bases of our life support systems and livelihoods, and how we contribute to climate change and the lack of resilience of the natural world. Teachers and students alike learn about the interrelationships between the five themes: Biodiversity, forest and our water sources are impacted on by climate change to a degree that the entire living and non-living environment, our natural support systems, and our livelihoods are under threat. In turn, the degradation of our natural support systems and the loss of their resilience make them increasingly vulnerable to climate change and reduce their ability to ameliorate the effects of this impact. Waste and pollution as a consequence of our current dominant ways of extracting, producing and consuming things contribute significantly to climate change and to the declining health of the natural environment and its inhabitants. Finally, the production and consumption of energy based on fossil fuels is recognised as the primary driver of climate change. As a consequence, climate change undermines social and environmental justice, environmental sustainability, and peace and security.

Most importantly, students are guided through a learning process that allows them to discover what it is they can do within their own lives, at school, at home and in their communities at large to protect and enhance the natural environment, the many steps they can take along the way toward zero-waste and zero-carbon emission lifestyles, and how to inspire and engage others to be part of this. The action projects can range from personal commitments in their day-to-day lives to larger and longer term activities involving their community.

Learning about waste on first sight does not seem as ‘sexy’ as learning about biodiversity or forest. And in the context of learning about climate change, we find that globally, the waste sector as such contributes comparatively little in a direct way, that is about 3-5% of greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through waste treatment and disposal. While this does not seem much, preventing waste in the first place and recovery of wastes avoids emissions in all other sectors of the economy. Importantly, it will also avoid and reduce toxic pollution. Zero waste approaches, but also waste reduction approaches will have big impacts in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the energy, forestry, agriculture, mining, transport and manufacturing sectors (UNEP 2010). This context adds a level of complexity to student learning which will train systems thinking skills.

Garbage in the wetlands of Monkey Island, South Kalimantan

Garbage in the wetlands of Monkey Island, South Kalimantan

In Indonesia, waste is a problem that really is ‘in your face’. Until 2008, there was no waste management law in place. Now, government statistics say that 50-60% of waste in municipalities is collected. But it is mostly deposited in open, gas emitting and leaching pits, and explosions and landslides after heavy rainfalls causing death, injury and toxic pollution are not uncommon. Collecting 50-60% also means there is a lot left to the communities to deal with themselves. While I was in Banjarmasin as part of this project, waste piles were to be seen by the side of every road and on some school grounds, at river banks and every other public outdoor space. Out on the Martapura River and on Monkey Island, waste washes up on the river banks and in the wetlands, and I watch people constantly drop their litter, even into the seemingly pristine forest creek. It’s just the normal thing to do.

What is interesting about learning and teaching about waste is that its impact on animals and the environment, and on us, are often very graphic and visually confronting and so become very tangible.

In my background research for the theme waste, I came across the work of Chris Jordan. Chris documented with photographs and on film what happens to the colony of albatrosses on Midway Atoll in the North Pacific Ocean. This atoll is more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent. The nesting chicks of this far-away part of the world are fed large amounts of plastic trash by their parents, who mistake it for food as they forage over the Pacific Ocean. Chris Jordan’s work visualises a clear link between our day-to-day actions and makes the consequences tangible.

MIDWAY : trailer : a film by Chris Jordan from Midway on Vimeo.

More than 300 pieces of plastic ingested by a sea turtle as documented by Australian Seabird Rescue, Ballina, in Northern NSW of Australia

Plastic ingested by a green sea turtle, Australian Seabird Rescue

In Australia, Australian Seabird Rescue documented such impact on sea turtles. Rochelle Ferris explains that “around 40% of the sea turtles we treat in our sea turtle hospital each year are suffering the effects of plastic ingestion in varying degrees. The most shocking case of plastic ingestion by a sea turtle we’ve seen washed up in June 2011. 317 pieces of plastic were retrieved from the digestive tract of the carcass.” She adds that turtles are found to have eaten most plastic items, but the most common items are soft plastics, such as plastic bags and lolly wrappers, and pieces of hard broken-down plastic. Rochelle concludes a report by ABC North Coast NSW saying that “if we do control this marine debris issue, I’ll be out of work. But I’d like to be doing something that doesn’t break my heart every day.”

When being confronted with such realities, it is important to work with the students on what can be done about this. For example, the learning process of the theme waste involves the treatment of four topics, with one to two activities under each topic.

Topic 1: What is Waste and why is it a Problem? Here, one of the activities involves leaving the classroom and conducting a waste survey of their school or their neighbourhood. The students will find out how waste affects their local environment. They will also learn that waste is produced along the chain of extracting, producing, distributing, consuming and disposing of things, and they will learn about plastics in the ocean as a specific problem and what can be done about it. Excellent resources that can be used for all age groups, young people as well as grown-ups, are the Story of Stuff with Annie Leonnard and My Plastic-free Life with Beth Terry.

Topic 2: Waste and Consumption. Under this topic, students will develop an understanding of the connection between consumerism and waste, the difference between needs and wants, and they will learn about the role of media and advertising as a driver of consumption.

Topic 3: Future Problem Solving for Zero Waste. The students are guided along a six-step process of the future-problem solving strategy to identify possible causes and effects of a growing open waste dump in the community. They identify what the main problems are, they develop potential solutions and an action plan to solve the problem.

Topic 4: Personal and Community Action for Zero Waste. Students develop action project plans and implement a project to bring about real change, no matter how big or small, whether it be a pledge for personal action or a community project to clean up a stretch of the river bank and educate and inform their community about the needs for action. Being involved in action projects, students potentially acquire skills in making better decisions and changing behaviour to avoid waste where possible, to reduce, reuse and recycle, skills in action competence, in inspiring and involving others, be it family members or friends or their wider community, they acquire the ability to practice alternative actions in order to avoid waste which in turn is expected to further strengthen their attitudes and values.

During my visit to Banjarmasin, UNESCO opened a new Teacher Training Centre as part of their Green School Program. For that occasion, schools participating in the program were invited to take part in a T-shirt design contest. From the 20 entries, the design that touched me most depicts a tree under which animals congregate – has a deliberate and conscious choice been made or was it intuition?

It was heartening to meet so many enthusiastic, optimistic and hopeful young teacher trainees hungry for knowledge, wanting to find out what people in other countries are doing and wanting to create a better future for their own. But I have also met some experienced teachers who feel very disillusioned and powerless in the face of the resource exploitation and lack of trust that the right thing is being done by their country, by the people, the animals and the environment as a whole. I hope the material has something in it to assist all of them, to find optimism and inspiration. The final manuscript will be in two parts and contains some 400 pages of resource material. I would love to hear how the teachers make use of it, how the students respond, what they get passionate about and what projects they come up with…

Teachers in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, during the presentation of their Green Schools T-shirts, voted on by all of those present during the opening of the new teacher training centre


Selby, David 2008. The Firm and Shaky Ground of Education for Sustainable Development. In James Gray-Donald and David Selby (Ed.), Green Frontiers – Environmental Educators Dancing Away from Mechanism, 59-75. Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Sense Publishers.

UNEP 2010. Waste and Climate Change – Global Trends and Strategy Framework. Division of Technology, Industry and Economics International Environmental Technology Centre. Osaka/Shiga.

Last edited 10.5.2013

Domesticity and Beyond: Living and Working with Animals – Symposium in Ontario

Posted on September 14th, 2012

Iris Bergmann, Interspecies CommunicationThe introduction to the event “DOMESTICITY AND BEYOND: Living and Working with Animals” is beautiful as it is evocative: “What do we owe the animals we live and work alongside…?” It is beautiful because just asking the question seems to open up the possibility of continuing, or creating anew, an ongoing relationship of living and working alongside animals, and of giving back and making up. But still, the answer is by far not clear whether we can or should, nor what nuances of possibilities there might be.

The first paragraph of the announcement in full:

“What do we owe the animals we live and work alongside, and those who are beyond our reach but inevitably affected by human decision-making? How can we move beyond the problem of harm to cultivate animal-human relationships in morally informed and politically effective ways? Human relationships with animals are pervasive and inevitable, and yet it is only recently that the animal ethics literature has begun to seriously address such questions. Moreover, past political efforts to address and rectify the exploitation of animals have been sorely ineffectual.”

Last edited 6.5.2016

Animals and Us – Course at the Schumacher College 18.-22.06.2012

Posted on April 7th, 2012

The ANIMALS AND US Course at the Schumacher College 18.-22. 06. 2012 is open for bookings.

Teachers: Jonathan Balcombe (videolink), Marc Bekoff (videolink), Richard Ryder, Rachel Hevesi and Satish Kumar


New research shows that animals have very rich cognitive lives. They are smart, emotional and have moral sentiments. What does this new evidence mean in terms of animal ethics, rights and welfare? How do we adjust our attitudes towards other animals from an individual and societal perspective? And what can we learn about our own species, struggling to move to a more sustainable future?

To investigate the history of our relationship with other animals from the days of cave painting through Ancient Egypt, the development of the great religions, the impact of the Black Death and the Renaissance, to the Enlightenment, the Victorians and the Animal Rights Movement of the twentieth century.

To gain new insights into the depth and range of experience that other animals have, and what these findings means in terms of our relationship with, and treatment of, non-human species.

To consider what we might learn from other animals in terms of compassion, simplicity, friendship and survival in a finite world.

To reflect on how you can join a growing social movement that recognises the rights of non-human animals and make simple changes in your daily and societal lives to bring about change.

“This course will allow you to expand your ‘compassion footprint’ and begin to re-wild your heart. It is a brilliant opportunity for non-scientists to learn about new advances in science which will eventually bring animals back into the fold.” Marc Bekoff

Black Flying Fox in rehabilitation in the Northern Rivers of NSW, Australia