The Expert Series (1): Veganising Criminology

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» The Expert Series (1): Veganising Criminology

Today we launch The Expert Series - a collection of academic writing on veganism from members of our Research Advisory Committee. Part 1 - Veganising Criminology - comes from Dr Melanie Flynn from the University of Huddersfield.


Veganising Criminology: Crime, harm and victimisation from a vegan perspective

The Vegan Society define veganism as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose” [emphasis added].

I believe, therefore, that a vegan policy agenda should not focus just on consumption of animals for dietary and household provisions, but also on the effects of policies and practice, particularly amongst public sector and governmental organisations. Thus, institutional speciesism should also be challenged.

One area which remains firmly anthropocentric is crime policy. In particular, our construction and understanding of crime (what is controlled by the criminal law) is one that (at best) privileges the human victim, in the form of an individual or wider society. Indeed, in English law, a nonhuman animal cannot be recognised as a victim of a crime. Even when offences exist that specifically relate to controlling harm caused to nonhuman animals, such as causing unnecessary suffering (under the Animal Welfare Act 2006), these are seen (in the eyes of the law) as victimless crimes. To me this further devalues nonhuman animals, as do the often lenient sentences given for such offences. Legally, harming nonhuman animals does not seem to be viewed as a particularly serious matter.

In a paper I wrote with Professor Matthew Hall, an expert in victimology, we sought to challenge some of these issues, presenting an argument as to why victimology (and by extension, criminology) is speciesist. We also proposed an agenda for addressing this, so that nonhuman animals could – without getting into thorny debates regarding the legal provision of ‘rights’ – still be considered as victims, and responded to accordingly. As important as this is, however, here I would like to discuss a more concrete example, relating to one particular type of crime, and how as a vegan criminologist, my response to this might differ.

I have a particular interest in the relatively new field of green criminology. In very simple terms, this is a subdiscipline that is interested in understanding and responding to problems, from a criminological perspective, that might loosely be considered as harms against ‘the environment, humanity and other animals’. In particular, my focus is on harms to nonhuman animals, and much of my work to date has looked at illegal wildlife trade, such as considering how enforcement and sentencing for such offences might be improved. However, my main interest is in what would usually be termed crime prevention, particularly an approach known as situational crime prevention, which focuses on how people come across and recognise suitable crime opportunities (as well as how these opportunities form) and seeks to alter these. However, I have argued that a more critical approach needs to be taken, that seeks instead to devise interventions, and measure their effectiveness, not on the impact they have on crime but on harm. I see this as a natural extension, or rather reflection, of my veganism.

Harm is a broader, socially constructed concept, and although this can mean different things to different people, as a vegan adopting a species justice perspective this means interventions should only be considered appropriate and successful if they result in a reduction in harm to human and nonhuman animals (not simply because the number of legally identified crimes has decreased). To illustrate this further, I am going to discuss one (of potentially many) examples. One of the responses that has been proposed to reduce tiger poaching (to source Traditional Asian Medicines, TAMs) is farming; either of tigers themselves or ‘alternatives’ that are not endangered, such as rabbits. But why would such a proposal be made, when nonhuman animals would still be killed?

Most people and organisations with an interest in this field, conceptualise the problem from a predominantly anthropocentric, and certainly non-vegan, perspective. They may lament the pain and suffering of individual animals that have been targeted, but the fundamental problem – the thing that even makes this behaviour illegal in the first place – is the position of that species on the IUCN Red List and the consequent protection afforded it by being listed under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Thus the reason trade is banned (or strictly controlled) has nothing to do with the ethics of viewing nonhuman animals as commodities, or the suffering or death of any individual, but the impact this has on the vulnerability of that species to extinction.

When this is considered, the proposal to farm captively bred animals or to ‘use’ nonhuman animals that are numerous and not (currently) vulnerable to extinction, makes ‘sense’. If we assume that tackling demand is not possible, or not effective, then a ready supply to satisfy this demand that does not negatively impact upon the vulnerability to extinction is viable. It also fits the popular economic, or rational choice, model of offending. Simply, from this perspective, crimes are seen to be committed when the rewards of offending are greater than the effort required and the risks of being caught, challenged or sanctioned. If illicit supplies are replaced by legal, farmed supplies, then the potential rewards (profits) to poachers and illegal traders will be significantly reduced. Applying an alternative mechanism, the same individuals may turn to this legal trade instead. In both cases, the chances of endangered nonhuman animals being poached are much lower.

However, if we instead take a species justice perspective, the issue of illegal trade in endangered species becomes one that is problematic not just because of the status of the species, but because nonhuman animals are understood to posses some sort of ‘rights’ to be left free from interference, to not be harmed by human action and to not be discriminated against or othered by virtue of the species to which they belong (i.e. one that is not human). Now, our views on the harms of ‘illegal’ trade in endangered species expand, because they are not focused only on anthropocentric notions of what humans get out of ‘protecting’ a whole species, but also the need to limit the harm, pain and suffering of, and even the interference with, individual nonhuman animals. When this is the case, it becomes harder to see the ‘logic’ of alternative supplies as a form of prevention. Yes, crime is reduced, but that is no longer our aim, because this is now to reduce harm.

Of course, within such a perspective, we may apply different views of what we mean by species justice or ‘animal rights’ (for example welfarist versus abolitionist notions), but if we return to that definition of veganism – to exclude all forms of exploitation or cruelty for any purpose – then we can approach this with greater clarity about what is ethically acceptable when trying to reduce harm. As a vegan I see the farming of any nonhuman animal to save wild (endangered) tigers as still responsible for significant harm. When the problem of trade in endangered species is viewed from this perspective, then, responses that simply displace the harm to other nonhuman animals (either in captivity or of a different species) cannot be seen as effective, in just the same way that more traditional measures (such as installing CCTV cameras) have been criticised for potentially just displacing crime to other locations, times or victims.

From my vegan perspective, then, appropriate responses will be ones that seek to alter opportunities to commit crime (harm) without simply shifting this to others, so I advocate such approaches as controlling use of logging roads (that may provide easy access and egress to poachers), compensation schemes when elephants destroy crops (to remove the ‘provocation’ to carry out revenge killings) and, outside the realm of situational measures, work with indigenous communities to facilitate alternatives to wildlife crime (such as sustainable and ethical tourism). What I don’t support are trophy hunting, unregulated wildlife trade, farming (fur, bear bile, tigers) or captive breeding programmes.

As criminologists, we know that the most effective way to reduce a crime is to legalise the proscribed behaviour. If there is no law against it, there is no crime! Yet, of course, this is not what we advocate (in most situations) because the behaviours in question (such as stealing, hitting people, bullying) remain harmful. Our primary endeavour is to research, understand and challenge notions of crime and harm, and to propose how to reduce these. If we do so from a species justice perspective, then I believe that criminology (and wider social policy) can be veganised.

Selected References

Bierne, P. & South, N. (Eds.) (2013). Issues in Green Criminology. London: Routledge.

Damania, R. & Bulte, E.H. (2001). The economics of captive breeding and endangered species conservation. CIES Working Paper No. 0139.

Flynn, M. (2017). Sentencing Wildlife Trade Offences in England and Wales. Godalming: WWF-UK. Available at

Flynn, M. & Hall, M. (2017). The case for a victimology of nonhuman animal harms. Contemporary Justice Review, 20/3: 299-318.

Wellsmith, M. (2011). Wildlife Crime: The problems of enforcement. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 17/2: 125-48.

Wellsmith, M. (2010). The applicability of  crime prevention to problems of environmental harm: A consideration of illicit trade in endangered species. In R. White. Ed. Global Environmental Harm: Criminological Perspectives. Cullompton: Willan, pp132-49.


The views expressed by our Research News contributors are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.

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