Futurist sees animal rights principles going 'mainstream'

Futurist sees animal rights principles going 'mainstream'

Sep 01, 2001
By dvm360.com staff

Redwood Shores, Calif.-The animal rights movement is changing the way society views animals, according to an ethnofuturist, and in the next 20 years its increasing influence will become even more evident.

When you take away the extremism of the animal rights movement, certain ideas focused on improving the health and welfare of animals in society will "go mainstream," explains Lee Shupp.

Shupp's job is to sleuth out lasting consumer trends as strategic director and ethnofuturist with Cheskin Research, a consulting firm that has decidedly gone mainstream with a virtual Who's Who in corporate clientele such as Microsoft, AT&T, Nestle and Kodak. Ethnography is the study of culture through deep immersion into everyday life. If you understand consumer behavior, you can make products and services to meet those needs.

In an interview with DVM Newsmagazine, he says this new growing academic niche -called futures-could be looked at as part anthropology, part statistics, part behavioral observation and part psychology with a goal of predicting large-scale trends in the next 20 years.

Shupp explains that the specialty was born primarily from the military in order to predict future weapons systems. Now, with two college programs in the country spewing out futurists with specialties from a wide range of professional disciplines, the future is looking, well, clearer.

Present focus

Shupp's present focus is on technology and the Internet, and he simply ran into these macro animal trends while working in other areas.

To figure out what is happening mainstream, you have to wander into the fringe social movements of today, he explains.

"If you look at fringe movements over time, you start to see patterns. You take things like civil rights, women's suffrage or the environmental movements; they all started with a small group of very vocal people that most people thought were kind of nutty. They kept up the message, and it eventually spread mainstream."

Shupp adds, "I am seeing a lot of the same patterns with the animal rights movement." Shupp says the vote in San Francisco recently to change its legal language from pet owners to pet guardians is further proof that mainstreaming is starting to happen.

"It is a very different way of looking at the relationship between pets and people," he says.

Here are some other influencers cited by Shupp:

* Publicity of animal cruelty cases where abuse is involved is capturing national and international headlines.

* Pet spending has gone way up.

* Pets are getting Christmas presents; and they typically have stockings. What does that say about their status in a household?

* Family sizes are getting smaller in the United States, pets are replacing children as objects of strong emotional affection.

* Adoption centers already know that married and gay couples without children are perfect candidates for pet adoption.

* People are staying single longer, and there is a need for companionship. The average age for marriage is now in the late 20s.

* People have become more isolated in our society; that adds to the need for companionship.

* Pets are living longer, and he would guess more expensive surgeries are taking place today that would have never occurred 20 years ago.

Agriculture diverging

Shupp adds that the way our society is looking at animal agriculture is also changing. For example, Shupp says there are a growing number of restaurants that are actually promoting the environments in which these animals have been raised.

A bestseller, Fast Food Nation, takes a critical look at the way we are raising animals. Shupp's point: it is a bestseller.

"I saw on one menu, 'we only serve shell animals that are happy animals with an ocean view.' Now you are seeing Fast Food Nation hitting the bestseller list, and you can kind of see the cultural awareness getting much bigger," Shupp says.

He sees marketing of agriculture products with consumers really split. One side will target a mass-produced, really cheap food. The other segment will target premium agricultural products.