An ambitious scheme to make the pet trade more ethical in its approach has been met with scepticism by key players in the industry. That's the claim of Philippa Robinson, director of the recently formed Ethical Pet Industry Federation...
Since launching EPIC in April this year, Philippa has had a number of fact-finding meetings and conversations with organisations across the pet industry. Here are her findings...
"What is immediately apparent from those discussions is the high level of anxiety over ethics in the trade. In fact I would go as far to say that some key players in the industry fear the pet trade’s business models are incompatible with an ethical approach, full stop. This concerns them greatly.
"The strength of feeling on this is such that I now conclude the development of more solid ethical foundations for the industry is going to take a lot longer and be far more problematic than I had first hoped.
"However, I remain convinced the prize for navigating waters, even as difficult as these, is invaluable, both in terms of business benefit and, more importantly, animal welfare.
"EPIC is not about re-cycled packaging, living wages, or greener energy suppliers. Though, all those dimensions are integral to an ethical approach. For EPIC the ethical reality is more fundamental than even those important considerations. The ethical responsibilities falling on the pet trade run far deeper than they do in other sectors.
"This is an industry built on transactions that involve sentient creatures. Creatures that are entirely reliant on people for all their welfare needs. This sets the pet trade apart from all the rest. To some those distinct responsibilities present a burden, to EPIC they represent a privileged opportunity.
"My engagement with the industry thus far, has also revealed some good news. Many inside it understand the full extent of our ethical responsibilities and are eager for transformational change. But most don’t know where to start. I propose the industry must start its ethical journey with one thing and one thing only, the pet animals themselves. For that reason I am proposing 5 simple guiding principles for an ethical pet industry that places animal welfare at its heart.
- Not taking any animal from the wild for any reason whatsoever. There is simply no justification for such activity.
- Promoting only those species whose welfare needs and best interests can be quantifiably served by being kept as a pet in a domestic situation.
- Being proactively open to animal welfare science and readily adapting business practices in the light of new scientific insight.
- Work only with short and fully transparent supply chains for every species involved. Ideally the animal should be bred by a high welfare breeder who supplies directly to highly knowledgeable owners diligent in their duty of care, with NO intervening third party stages. The arguments for third party sales are so weak as to be risible.
- The cornerstone of the industry’s contribution to social responsibility should be (and borrowing heavily from Robert Reich in Supercapitalism) to keep out of animal welfare politics altogether.
"The fifth principle will be shunned by most agents in the industry. On matters of animal welfare our society must be guided and led by science, data, fact and inquiry. The science should inform our welfare policies and laws, not the vested interests of shareholders. Perhaps that should be principle number one. If it is a principle too far for commerce then at the very least large corporates should pledge to be transparent about their political activities and lobbying.
"I sympathise with those who fear an ethical business model in the pet trade may not be as lucrative as the current non-ethical approach. But my recent conversations revealed an industry reluctant to even put ethics on the agenda. I have no issue with a trade exploiting the joy, pleasure and benefits of pet ownership, it forms an important strand to our lives. But I do take issue with a trade whose dominant perspective is that of the monetisation of pets above other considerations.
"The trade owes it to all the animals who never ask to be kept as pets, but so stoically and obligingly go along with it, to put the animals’ best interests first. To that end my big plea to the trade is this: be cautious about signing up to EPIC’s guiding principles by all means, but please don’t shy away from debating and exploring them with us."
To support this important debate or to get in touch with EPIC here http://www.ethicalpettrade.co.uk/