Animal Rights International:
An Historical Note and Tribute to Henry Spira

Animal Rights International is no longer an active organization. This website pays tribute to its founder and his achievements.

ARI was the first organization in the modern era to achieve an animal rights victory; it became one of the most successful in bringing about genuine structural change

ARI grew around a simple concept: making the public aware of animal suffering is not enough. By turning words into action, real change is possible and animal suffering can be measurably reduced.

henry and calf.jpgARI was founded in 1974 by the late Henry Spira, after he attended a course on "Animal Liberation" given by Peter Singer at New York University. At that time decades of loud protest by animal protectionists had achieved nothing. In fact, the numbers of animals used in research during the previous 50 years had climbed steadily from thousands into the tens of millions. If a modern animal rights movement was to grow and move forward, a victory was a fundamental and psychological necessity.

The Lab Animal Campaigns

The new group targeted a series of experiments which were taking place at New York's American Museum of Natural History. The experiments involved mutilating cats and then observing their sexual behavior.

The idea of an animal rights group challenging an institution like the American Museum of Natural History was so unusual that museum officials spurned attempts to discuss the matter or even consider alternative viewpoints from other scientists. After an innovative, twenty-month campaign, the formerly arrogant museum shut down the labs and the nightmare for 60 cats was over. The new animal rights movement had its first victory.

ARI continued to launch effective campaigns. One of them led to the repeal of New York State's notorious Pound Seizure Law which allowed researchers to requisition dogs, cat's and other animals from shelters for use in experiments. In the late seventies ARI set its sights on a much larger lab animal issue and launched a campaign to abolish the Draize test. Widely used by cosmetics companies and others at the time, the 35 year old test measured the harshness of chemicals, including caustic substances such as oven cleaner, by observing the damage inflicted when put in the eyes of conscious rabbits.

Blind for Beautys SakeARI approached the cosmetics industry flagship, Revlon, with a modest proposal to develop alternatives for this cruel and unnecessary test. When Revlon stalled on the proposal, ARI placed the issue before the public. Full page ads in the New York Times and elsewhere asked "How Many Rabbits Does Revlon Blind for Beauty's Sake?" The campaign generated more than thirty thousand letters from an outraged public and Revlon moved swiftly to fund the development of non-animal alternatives. So did Avon and many other cosmetics companies. Research programs for alternatives were set up at Rockefeller and Johns Hopkins Universities and elsewhere. Today, the cosmetics industry has embraced non-animal testing and products are commonly "cruelty free".

The success of the Draize campaign gave ARI and its coalitions sufficient credibility to take on an even bigger issue-the LD50 death test. The classic procedure, involving millions of animals each year in the US alone, determines the toxicity of any substance from window cleaner to hair spray by finding the amount that will kill half of 40 to 200 animals. Many scientists considered it unproductive and wasteful. After lobbying, persuasion and some pressure by ARI, corporations and organizations began to reject the classic LD50. By 1983, the Director of the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) wrote to ARI saying that the classic LD50 "is now an anachronism...the NTP does not use the LD50."

ARI continued to campaign for animals used in laboratories. In 1999 ARI ran full page ads in the Washington Times and elsewhere urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to join the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in finally dropping the classic LD50 death test. OECD, whose membership includes 30 industrialized countries, had been trying to eliminate the LD50 test from its testing requirements but couldn't, because the US through the EPA was blocking it. Several weeks later the EPA conceded and withdrew its opposition acknowledging ARI's ads as a factor in the decision. ARI's combination of working with leading scientists and regulators while, at the same time, pressuring the corporate sector made it possible, within a decade, for the new discipline of in-vitro (non-animal) toxicology to enter the scientific mainstream. The resulting reductions in lab animal use have been estimated to be as high as 60 percent.

The Farm Animal Campaigns

Photo by David McEneryIn the late eighties, noting that 95 percent of all animal suffering involves farm animals, ARI broadened its focus to address the institutionalized abuse of billions of animals factory farmed in the US each year. A 1989 Campaign against Perdue Farms' treatment of broiler chickens, factory workers and the environment resulted in enormous publicity and generated dozens of related television and print reports including a major article in the New York Times Magazine. Another campaign targeted the shackling and hoisting of large animals during slaughter. This painful practice involved hoisting animals weighing several hundred pounds by a shackle attached to a hind leg. Over a period of two and a half years, major meat slaughter facilities were persuaded to install upright restrainer technology with the result that shackling and hoisting is now all but phased out in the US.

In 1994 ARI launched a campaign to halt the US government's plan to expand its program of branding cattle imported from Mexico on the face. Full page ads in the New York Times and other major news-papers resulted in more than 12,000 letters to the Secretary of Agriculture and over a thousand phone calls to his office in two days. Within a year the USDA abolished all face branding of animals in the US.

ARI sought to reduce animal suffering by reducing the consumption of animal products, as well as by refining animal agriculture methods. In 1996, in an effort to broaden the scope of this philosophy, ARI approached the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health with a proposal for a center to address and solve problems created by the close linkages between meat-eating, factory farming and such social ills as poor public health, world hunger and environmental destruction. In 1997, Johns Hopkins created The Center for a Livable Future which brings an interdisciplinary approach to these and other problems. The center has become a credible voice in making the argument for a diet low in animal products.

After Henry Spira’s death in 1998, and Peter Singer's move to the United States in 1999, Singer became president of ARI. Unfortunately his other commitments (he is professor of bioethics at Princeton University) made it impossible for him to put in the time necessary for running a successful organization. Other members of the board were in a similar position. In addition, the board felt that to a large extent, other organizations were now using the methods of campaigning pioneered by Henry Spira, and it was difficult for ARI to have a distinctive role. In 2010 the board therefore decided to dissolve ARI, and distribute its remaining assets to more active organizations working for animals.

For more information on Henry Spira and ARI:

  Ethics Into Action is Peter Singer's biography of ARI founder Henry Spira and how a lifetime of activist experience translated the philsophy set out in Animal Liberation into the first animal rights victories of the modern era including the phasing out of the Draize rabbit-blinding test and the ending of the classic LD-50 death test. To obtain a copy, click here.