Dr. Michael Fox: Animal Welfare Advocate

In this interview, Dr. Michael Fox indicts factory farm livestock operations from an ethical and public health perspective, and also discusses the origins of his commitment to animal welfare.

| January/February 1983

  • Dr Michael Fox - animal welfare - man with dog
    Dr. Michael Fox's commitment to animal welfare extends from livestock to lab animals to domestic pets.
    Photo by the MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff
  • Dr Michael Fox animal welfare - head shot
    Dr. Michael Fox.
  • Dr Michael Fox animal welfare - confined calf
    Veal calves are often confined from birth in cages that are too small to even turn around in, and fed nutritionally deficient diets.
    Human Society of the United States

  • Dr Michael Fox - animal welfare - man with dog
  • Dr Michael Fox animal welfare - head shot
  • Dr Michael Fox animal welfare - confined calf

It's been said that a man or woman can achieve almost instant unpopularity by simply taking a public moral stand on any issue. Now this truth may seem to reflect poorly on our society, but the public's tendency to distrust righteous crusaders is probably a healthy one by and large; it's all too easy for a man or woman to use a moral position as a justification for infringing upon someone else's rights. However, although Dr. Michael Fox's cause is, indeed, based upon morality — and might, indeed, occasionally threaten our conceptions of ourselves and of how we relate to the other creatures that share this planet — we think you'll find his views worth exploring.

Dr. Fox, you see, is one of the foremost spokespersons of the "animal welfare" movement. Specifically, he is an active crusader against modern intensive livestock production practices, which he believes are not only cruel to the animals that feed us but also dehumanizing to the men and women who become caught in the economic traps created by "factory farming."

Director of the Institute for the Study of Animal Problems (the scientific arm of the Humane Society of the United States), veterinarian, ethologist, and author of scores of books and articles on animal behavior and care (including the popular Understanding Your Dog and Understanding Your Cat, as well as the widely syndicated "Animal Doctor" newspaper column), Dr. Fox is not a man whose views can be dismissed lightly. And since farm animal welfare — as was recently noted in a major agribusiness publication — will be "the issue of the 1980's and it isn't going to go away," we decided to give you, our readers, a chance to meet one of the movement's most active representatives to help you form your own opinions on this controversial subject.

So MOTHER EARTH NEWS paid a visit to Dr. Fox's Washington, D.C. office, and the resulting conversation appears here in edited form. We think it makes for interesting reading. Though there will probably be few of you who find yourselves agreeing with everything that the man stands for, we think that fewer still will not be moved by at least some of what he has to say.

PLOWBOY: Dr. Fox, your efforts on behalf of farm and laboratory animals have earned you the enmity of agribusiness firms, biomedical researchers, the Parity Foundation, and the USDA. As we've talked, though, I've noticed that you don't seem much shaken by all the pressure that's being brought to bear on you, and I can only assume that you're able to keep your composure because your feelings on the question of animal rights are deeply rooted.

FOX: Very much so. In fact, you might say that many of my closest childhood companions and confidants were animals. Even during the periods when my family was without a resident pet, I found that I was able to easily establish friendly relationships with the neighborhood's stray dogs. I think my ambition has always been to be a healer and rescuer too, and I know that my parents strongly encouraged me to work toward achieving that goal.

Strangely enough, I believe that I also owe a lot to a small pond that was one of my first playgrounds, because by studying that body of water — by watching it change through the seasons and through the life cycles of its residents — I formed a crude concept of ecology, and began to glimpse the fact that all things are somehow marvelously interconnected.

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