Feature

A compassionate voice

Green Lifestyle

Dr Charlie Teo is a world-leading neurosurgeon in Australia, but he’s also a longstanding supporter of animal protection group Voiceless. We asked him why he thinks aligning our actions with our ethics is so important.

Dr Charlie Teo

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Why do you support the cause of Voiceless so ardently?

It just resonated with me I guess… I’ve always been an animal lover. Then I met Brian Sherman, over another issue, and he was wearing a plastic belt and plastic boots and he had a vegetarian meal, so I knew something was going on. I asked him about his philosophy, and he told me that he had a charity called Voiceless.

Brian never put any pressure on me to join, but when I Googled it, I liked what I read. They were giving a voice to animals that really had no voice – or were voiceless – and they were doing in a really smart way, they weren’t marginalising themselves or the community on the issue.

Voiceless are not advocating vegetarianism, or veganism. And they aren’t advocating not eating meat; they’re simply advocating something that’s humane. So, if you’re going to eat these animals and they’re sacrificing themselves for you, at least treat them humanely before you kill them – it’s not a big ask really.

Having been associated with Voiceless now for several years I just love the way they’re working at it slowly, bit-by-bit, step-by-step, and trying not to be one of those marginal groups. They’ve got very well established people on board; Supreme Court judges, actors, lawyers – people who give the organisation the credit it deserves, because it’s a very compromising charity that doesn’t advocate radicalism, but rather common sense.

What advice would you give to our readers who want to stop supporting factory farms, with the least amount of disruption to their everyday lifestyle?

That question is the essence of the charity because that’s exactly what we want to be able to create for people – a situation where they can be conscious about the way their food is being treated, but not having a huge impact on their life in terms of financial impact or socio-economic impact.

What we’re really lacking is legislation that allows us to be confident our food is being processed properly, that’s what we really need.

At this stage I think it’s very difficult for people to make a conscious decision to support non-cruelty to factory-farm animals and that’s what we want to change. We want to make it very easy for people to be able to go to Coles and Woolworths and go to a section that is truly endorsed, legislated free-range, and buy their food knowing that they’re buying a product that has treated their animals humanely.

There are some very terrible people out there, so what we need is a system where it’s legislated that people cannot call meat free range unless it is truly free range, following strict criteria. If those criteria are not met, and they’re advertising that it is free range, then they need to be subject to the harshest of penalties.

From your personal perspective, what actions do you take, and why?

From a personal perspective I must say that every time I pay a little bit extra to get free range, I wonder if it’s truly free range, or if I’m getting ripped off by the big multinational corporations. I ask myself if my little contribution really matters that much. So, if I’ve thought about these things, then there’s a good chance a lot of other people have thought about that as well.

Our family gets meat from Aussie Farmer’s Direct – it’s one of those companies that delivers to your door. Everything’s Australian, and all the meat is free range, and some organic, so that’s what we use.

The point I’d like to make is, if we all thought we couldn’t make a difference as individuals, then of course we’d never make a difference, so it’s all got to start with you. We can all make a difference just one person at a time. Together, we all have the power to create massive change. And Voiceless is there with you on this journey because we all feel that legislation needs changing to give people the confidence that they are eating humanely. At the moment, I think a lot of people, myself included, don’t have that confidence.

What actions do you suggest people take?

The problem is that we’re all eating way too much meat. We don’t need the amount of meat that we eat; we probably only need to have one meat meal a week and lots of vegetarians and vegans will tell you we don’t even need that.

But if you’re a meat eater then you probably only need about one meat dish a week, so to those that are raised on the idea that you need meat everyday, it’s absolutely wrong from a health perspective and from a medical perspective. You just don’t need that amount of protein and animal fats. The animal fats we require – that’s the saturated fats – can be gotten with around just one hamburger a week.

The more vegetarian restaurants you go to, the more you realise you don’t need meat. My family and I stayed with a friend in India recently. Of course most Indians are vegetarians and he made us four or five meals over a period of perhaps a week where my family had absolutely no idea they were vegetarian. My friend in India has a big fat Labrador dog, and they even feed their dog vegetarian meals.

There is often an ethical disjunct in society between knowledge and actions – how do you think we can help to align ethical understanding with actions in our current Australian society?

I guess there’s not a lot of kindness in the world, we’re all so busy, the world is so busy ripping people off and trying to get more money. People just don’t spend enough time thinking about things like thinking about where their food has come from.

You see the problem is we all think that we can’t make a difference. A lot of people think that if they stop eating meat it’s not going to make a difference, or if they start buying free range it won’t make a difference, because KFC and the other chicken places don’t go organic and free range. The problem is that feeling that you’re a little, insignificant pawn in this big world, and just because you go free range it won’t make a difference. But just imagine if we all felt that way? Then, we’d never make a difference, and nothing would change!

I must say it does take a bit of effort, and you are a little bit inconvenienced, but life wasn’t meant to be easy. And to make a difference to are going to have to make some sacrifices, so the sacrifices might be that you have to go without something that you love because it costs you that little bit extra or that you might have to travel a bit further to buy something – but I think it’s worth it.

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