TWO Sundays ago Melbourne-based animal activist Christopher Delforce drew battlelines with Australia’s farming community when he published a map detailing the location of farming operations across Australia.
Here we give him a chance the explain his reasoning for such an attack.
You might not like it, nor agree with it, but this is it in his own words.
You've obviously caused furore within the farming industry, was that your intention and did the upset exceed expectations?
I knew that it would cause furore but I wouldn't say that was my intention.
These places have been operating without scrutiny or consumer awareness for decades; they depend entirely on their customers not knowing what they're doing behind closed doors. It's understandable that having their business practices forced into the spotlight in this way would upset them.
Everyday Australians are realising, for the first time, the enormous scale of this industry, and are are able to see for themselves just how "humane" it really is with routine practices like overcrowding, mutilation without anaesthetic, killing the 'useless' male chicks and calves in the egg and dairy industries, gas chambers in all major pig slaughterhouses, etc.
People are finally being given the other side of the story, beyond the industry's marketing imagery of happy animals rolling around in the grass and willfully giving up their lives, beyond the essentially meaningless buzzwords like "free range", "higher welfare", "humanely slaughtered".
Most businesses would be thrilled to get more exposure, animal agriculture is perhaps the only industry where exposure is harmful. If transparency is that frightening to them, perhaps they don't truly have a social licence to operate at all.
What do you do for a day job?
Do you spend much time in regional Australia and where do you call home?
I've travelled all over the country in an effort to understand these industries as best I can. I currently live in Melbourne.
Was there a particular event in your life that spurred you to pursue animal activism?
I've always known that, as someone born into a position of considerable opportunity and privilege, I have a moral obligation to do whatever I can to help those less fortunate than myself.
I volunteered for various poverty-relief organisations but consistently felt that there wasn't much I could personally contribute - that I wasn't doing enough - and that progress was too dependent on our government acting ethically and altruistically.
Animal rights began to stand out to me as a more effective way to spend my time and energy, as on a basic level, it's simply about raising awareness. When good people learn about the horrific reality of animal agriculture, they generally choose to no longer support it.
There's no reliance on government progressivism, no lobbying disinterested stakeholders, just good old-fashioned research and outreach. This industry may have billions of dollars behind it, but if it can be threatened by “information”, that's exciting to me.
Furthermore, given that animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change, forest destruction, water and crop usage, and general environmental degradation, I'm still achieving more for human rights and poverty alleviation than I was when tackling those issues directly.
Do you believe in people having pets?
I don't believe in breeding more dogs and cats when our shelters and pounds are overrun, and having to kill healthy but unwanted animals to make room for new ones who might have a higher chance of getting adopted.
As long as there are such large numbers of animals in need of homes, through no fault of their own, I think adopting them is a great thing to do. I do think it's irresponsible to give animals as gifts, or to treat them as anything other than a family member.
Birds or rabbits kept in tiny cages, dogs chained outside - these are not good lives. Getting a puppy and then abandoning them at the pound when they grow up and lose their cuteness, or when you decide you want a human baby instead . . . no dog deserves to die for that.
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On the timing of the release, was it simply because the map was ready, or were there specific reasons for the release date?
For many years our main focus has been the documentary 'Dominion', which covers the everyday, standard practices employed by modern farming and slaughtering facilities across Australia.
The work on that film didn't end with its release last year; there's been a lot of promotion, foreign language translations, general admin, etc.
The map had been a side project for those eight years, and in recent months I've finally been able to devote some solid time to getting it ready for a public release.
There's still a lot of work to be done on it - new features/functionality, international expansion, etc - but it came to a stage where it was more important to make it available as a public resource than to keep whittling away until it was 'perfect'.
Is the map part of a broader political campaign and possibly helpful to your personal political aspirations?
It's part of a broader push towards an environment where nobody can exploit or abuse animals for profit while claiming to their customers that it's done "humanely" and "ethically".
I want everyone to know what a factory farm is - what it looks like from outside and inside, how they operate - what a slaughterhouse gas chamber looks like, the huge numbers of deaths involved in the egg and dairy industries that aren't typically thought of as killing industries.
Only then can it be seen whether these facilities truly have any place in our society, whether they fit in with what it means to be Australian. Once we're at that point I might consider entering politics as a means of achieving more for other marginalised and oppressed groups who depend on government intervention.
If people listed on the map ask to be removed, will you remove them?
If they can provide evidence that they are no longer breeding, killing or otherwise exploiting animals for profit, I'll happily update their listing to 'closed'. If they are still operating and wish to continue doing so in secrecy, that is not a request I will respect; this is not opt-in transparency.
Do you support illegal activities (ie. trespass) to gather intelligence for your cause?
I don't encourage or elicit anyone to trespass, but I'm aware that in most cases it's the only way to allow consumers to see inside these places for themselves, and that most people would agree that jumping a fence to film animal cruelty is a lesser crime than the animal cruelty itself.
Footage captured by trespass has enabled national conversations about animal welfare and rights, that would otherwise never have been possible, such as the greyhound live baiting scandal, Wally's Piggery, slaughterhouse gas chambers (called 'humane' by the industry for over 20 years until footage was captured), the maceration of male chicks in Australia's largest hatchery for the egg industry, and numerous slaughterhouse exposés. Consumers have a right to know what they're paying for when they purchase animal products, regardless of how damaging that knowledge may be to the industry.
Some people on social media have suggested your behaviour is akin to bullying, what do you say to that?
I think that cutting piglets' and lamb's tails off without pain relief, slamming piglets' heads into the concrete if they're not growing fast enough, confining pigs and hens to tiny cages for weeks, months or years at a time, sending millions of male chicks into an industrial blender because they won't ever be able to lay eggs, selectively breeding broiler/meat chickens to grow unnaturally large and unnaturally fast to the point that their legs can't support their body weight, taking newborn calves from their mothers (who can be seen chasing the trailers as they're driven away, and are known to grieve for weeks) and killing all of the males because they'll never be able to produce milk, so that the milk intended for those calves can be sold for human consumption, forcefully inserting semen into cows, pigs and turkeys to keep them continually pregnant, sending animals to horrific brutal deaths at a fraction of their natural lifespans, herding them into an agonising carbon dioxide gas chamber, or shooting a metal rod into their skull, or shoving an electric probe into the back of their heads, and then cutting open their throats even if they're still conscious . . . to name just a few of the legal, daily occurrences in these places . . . I think all of that is much more akin to bullying than simply calling those places out for doing so.
Not to mention the often graphically-described threats of harm and murder openly directed towards myself and other peaceful, non-violent activists.
In the case of people moving about covertly on farms, What about the legal biosecurity requirements farmers - and visitors to their farms - are expected to adhere to?
It's important to note that biosecurity is a problem inherent to the keeping of tens or hundreds of thousands of animals in close confinement, often in filthy conditions highly susceptible to the proliferation of disease. Flies, maggots, mosquitoes, birds, and rats all come and go freely.
In smaller flocks, you can manage disease through individual vet care, but of course in the factory farming industry, individual vet care is impossible, and it's not uncommon to have hundreds of animals (to use broiler chicken farms as an example) dying on an average day - just considered the cost of doing business.
There has not been a single documented case of activists bringing in outside diseases to factory farms. It's also important to note that it's not the deaths of animals that farmers are concerned about, as death is the intention and entire point of farming them; it's the loss of profit that concerns them.
In saying that, one of the key considerations is to not move between different farms within a short time period, especially while wearing the same clothing.
Single-use protective gear over boots, hands and clothing, disposed of responsibly, is an easy way to minimise biosecurity risk. Some farms place tubs of disinfectant at the entrances to their sheds, for workers to step into before entering.
Have you ever approached farmers and asked to discuss their farming pracices with them?
While there are notable cases of farmers having a change of heart and converting their farms to sanctuaries, this is not an area we've explored much to date. I think there's a high level of cognitive dissonance felt by many farmers, where they hate sending the animals to slaughter, or where they can recognise the anguish felt by cows - highly maternal animals - when their calves are taken, but there's otherwise little incentive for them to change something they've being doing their whole lives, often in a line of multiple generations.
I think that resources aimed at assisting farmers to transition to more sustainable, ethical means of income are going to be a necessity, but ultimately this will be most effective from a government level, e.g. ending subsidies and bail-outs for animal industries and instead incentivising plant farming, renewable energy, etc, and for that to happen we first need to see a shift in consumer demand.
Do you believe that there are any farmers who undertake best animal welfare practises?
Of course, but at the end of the day, they still send animals to a brutal and unnecessary death at a slaughterhouse. There's no humane, ethical way to kill someone who wants to live; there's always fear, there's always pain, there's always suffering. It's easier than ever for us to live happily and healthily without harming animals, so there's no valid excuse to continue breeding animals for the purpose of killing them.
Are you seeking legislative change to remove animals from the human food chain, or just better animal welfare outcomes?
In the short term we're seeking greater consumer awareness and industry transparency, but ultimately we're seeking a conversation over whether we have a moral right to exploit and abuse other beings simply because we see them as inferior to, or weaker than, ourselves.
That superiority complex has seen awful atrocities committed throughout history, and rather than repeating those mistakes over and over, I think we should be looking to move forward as a species. We ought to be protecting and empowering the vulnerable, not simply using and discarding them for our own short-sighted ends.
Do you think people the majority of Australians are ready to abandon meat from their diet?
If they knew the inherent cruelty involved, the environmental damage and the detrimental effects on their own health, then yes, absolutely.
As our population grows, and as temperatures continue to rise to the predicted point of no return 11-12 years from now, we're going to need to switch to more sustainable ways of feeding people. We can't continue to waste vast amounts of water, crops, electricity and land for relatively tiny amounts of meat, dairy and eggs.
For example, it takes upwards of 15,000 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef compared to only 2,500 litres to produce 1 kilogram of white rice, and much less for most fruit and vegetables.
There are obviously large areas of Australia that are currently engaged in animal based agriculture that could never be used to grow crop, what would you suggest it be used for?
Vast amounts of arid land unsuitable for cropping are largely inefficient for feeding animals, and that land is often further degraded by grazing.
That land could be used for renewable energy such as solar or wind farms, or returned to Aboriginal ownership and control. Much of the land used for grazing was once forest/woodland or grassland, and could be replanted (or simply allowed to regrow without regular clearing or burning) to offset carbon emissions.
For example, over the last two decades about nine million hectares of land in Queensland was cleared. And 93 per cent of the clearing was to establish pasture for livestock grazing. Most of the land cleared was old growth forest, while the rest was regrowth, which can be regularly cleared every three to six years. Two thirds of crop production for domestic markets are consumed as animal feed; those crops would be much more efficiently used to feed humans.
Factory farms are obviously very different to grazing animals on open pastures or rangelands, what's wrong with running cattle or sheep on open pastures?
Those pastures usually require the clearing of forest/woodland or grassland, which could be restored to offset carbon emissions.
The methane produced by those animals is a devastating catalyst for global warming. And of course, all those animals are sent to slaughterhouses and brutally killed when we could simply not breed them in the first place.
What would be your ideal world? How do you perceive we would feed the nation when water for crops is so scarce as it is?
As mentioned earlier, two-thirds of the crops we grow in Austraia are fed to animals to be turned into relatively tiny amounts of meat, and vast amounts of water are wasted when that water could be used much more efficiently to grow fruits, vegetables, grains etc. The effects of animal agriculture on climate change serve to exacerbate drought conditions when that land could be used for carbon farming instead.
Should you actually achieve the change you are working for, what do you suggest should happen to the livestock currently living on farms?
The change would not happen overnight. Gradually, as demand lowers, the rates of breeding livestock for farming would also lower.
What about the people whose livelihoods depend on animal husbandry?
Many have successfully switched to farming plants/crops instead. Increased government incentives and subsidies for plant farmers would go a long way to assist this.
Ultimately though, money does not excuse valid concerns of ethics, environment and human health. Jobs have come and gone throughout history as society progresses. We don't see this kind of vitriolic outcry over Netflix pushing out traditional broadcasters or video stores, or Spotify lowering sales of physical CDs, or Wix taking sales from web designers. We all need to be able to adapt to change/progress.
Obviously the Sydney Royal Show would no longer exist were it not for animals, do you think the loss of such an institution would be a good thing for society?
I haven't been to the Sydney Royal Show, but I do know that there are plenty of cruelty-free attractions that public events/festivals can utilise as an alternative to promoting the commodification of animals. Families just want to go and have a fun day out, if an exhibit showcasing a fairytale farm is replaced with a ride, nobody's going to realise or care.
It has been suggested your use of Google Maps may contravene Google's Terms of Service, has there been specific permission sought for your particular use of Google Maps?
The map is legal, complies with Google's Terms of Service and Australia's privacy laws, and is here to stay. Animal farmers are just going to have to get used to this new level of transparency.