Magazine article E Magazine

A Pragmatic Fighter for Animals: Henry Spira, 1927-1998

Magazine article E Magazine

A Pragmatic Fighter for Animals: Henry Spira, 1927-1998

Article excerpt

Henry Spira, who succumbed to esophageal cancer at his famously cluttered apartment in New York City September 12, was one of the world's most effective campaigners for animal rights. A loner who nonetheless built large coalitions. Spira confronted corporate; cruelty head-on and, through sheer persistence and a realistic sense of what was possible, usually triumphed.

Spira came to animal rights relatively late in his life, after a varied career as a merchant marine, factory worker, labor organizer and public high school teacher. But when he plunged into animal rights, after reading Peter Singer's Animal Liberation, it was with considerable fervor. In the 1970s, coalitions assembled by Spira and his letterhead group, Animal Rights International, ended feline mutilation experiments at the American Museum of Natural History, and largely eliminated the Draize eyed test, in which rabbits are blinded in cosmetic safety trials. Another campaign took on LD/50, product tests in which animals are exposed to increasingly higher levels of chemicals and drugs until 50 percent of them die.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Spira focused on farm animal issues. Through the Coalition for Non-Violent Food, which he founded Spira was instrumental in persuading the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to end the face branding of cattle. "Henry understood that social change happens in increments, but at the same time he maintained a long-term vision for a world in which animals are not harmed gratuitously," says Wayne Pacelle, a vice president of the Humane Society of the U.S., which worked with him on the USDA and other campaigns.

Kim Stallwood, editor of Animals Agenda magazine, notes that Spira's farm animal focus was essentially pragmatic. "What I most appreciated about Henry was his reminder that we should focus on the area where the greatest number of animals are abused' and that's factory farming," says Stallwood. …

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