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A “minority of one”: Harrison and the FAWAC

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements book series (PSHSM)


This chapter analyses Harrison’s work on FAWAC and the committee’s wider impact. Agricultural officials had weighted FAWAC membership in favour of producer interests. Within the committee, there were significant tensions over how to define welfare and the status of ethological expertise. Officials, veterinary scientists, and agricultural interests favoured productivity-focused definitions of welfare and prioritised physiological measurements of stress and metabolic conversion. Harrison and other mostly female welfare representatives successfully resisted the passage of weak new welfare codes and called for an inclusion of ethological expertise and wider ethical considerations in FAWAC deliberations. The resulting stalemate between “scientific” and “ethical” factions soon led to a breakdown of FAWAC decision-making, a stagnation of British welfare reforms, and a polarisation of public welfare campaigning.

Installed in 1967, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (FAWAC) was supposed to provide authoritative welfare advice. Following corporatist principles, MAFF had staffed the committee with a mix of veterinary and agricultural experts as well as nominees representing producer and welfare interests. Although FAWAC was supposed to produce compromise solutions, its overall membership was strategically weighted to favour agricultural interests and—despite initial plans—included no ethologist. As MAFF discussions about Harrison’s nomination show (Chap. 7), the female welfare representatives had been chosen in the hope that they would not prove ‘cranky’ and generate public acceptance for FAWAC recommendations—neither hope was fulfilled.

Headed by Humphrey Robert Hewer, Professor of Zoology at Imperial College, FAWAC’s first task was to prepare welfare codes to accompany the 1968 Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. Although the codes were voluntary, they could be used to establish guilt in cruelty prosecutions brought against individual offenders. MAFF was also willing to consider statutory regulations governing the iron content of calf feeds and lighting provisions in sties as well as further regulations banning the bleeding of calves, the docking of cattle, and the docking of over three-day-old pigs without an anaesthetic.Footnote 1

Deciding on what to recommend proved divisive. From the beginning, FAWAC meetings were characterised by ideological clashes between agricultural and welfare representatives. Farming members blocked the adoption of recommendations from the Brambell Report, and welfarists criticised agricultural code proposals as insufficient.Footnote 2 Both sides refused to give way. Although FAWAC submitted code proposals to MAFF in September 1968,Footnote 3 the internal deadlock meant that many proposals remained vague. Reflecting the relative insignificance of domestic veal production, FAWAC agreed that “some of the husbandry methods involved in the production of ‘white’ veal are unacceptable on welfare grounds.”Footnote 4 However, the committee issued no comments on other controversial aspects of intensive production such as antibiotic use or ‘vice’ amongst pigs and poultry.Footnote 5 Instead, FAWAC called for more research. Writing to Labour’s Minister of Agriculture Cledwyn Hughes, FAWAC chairman Humphrey Hewer warned:

The Codes are dealing with issues of a highly controversial nature; and in a few instances the Committee did not feel able to go all the way with the findings of the Brambell Committee because of the practical consequences … Some members, therefore, while agreeing that the Codes could be submitted to you for your agreement to circulation, reserve the right to raise these particular Brambell recommendations again when the comments of external organisations and individuals are available and the Committee are in a better position to assess the likely consequences of implementation of the various recommendations in the Codes.Footnote 6

MAFF subsequently circulated FAWAC’s code proposals to about 140 organisations for comment before submitting a weakened version of the initial proposals to Parliament in October 1969.Footnote 7

Welfare campaigners were furious about the perceived weakening of key Brambell recommendations. In an extremely damaging move for FAWAC, four committee members publicly attacked the proposed codes. The dissenters were Joan Maynard from the National Union of Agricultural Workers, Dorothy Sidley from the Humane Slaughter Association, the RSPCA’s Irene Walsh, and Ruth Harrison. The four female campaigners expressed their “disappointment that some practices and systems have been considered acceptable which … we recognize must inevitably cause prolonged discomfort and probably mental suffering.”Footnote 8 Justifying her decision not to resign from FAWAC in protest, Harrison noted, “I think the committee has made a genuine effort to improve the welfare of animals, but they have not gone far enough.”Footnote 9

Former Brambell Committee members, including Rogers Brambell and W.H. Thorpe, also attacked the new codes. In June 1969, they criticised the codes for failing to adhere to central Brambell recommendations. The codes did not guarantee sufficient freedom of movement for an animal to turn around, groom itself, lie down, and stretch; ensure the provision of sufficient food, water, and flooring for an animal to feel secure on; or mandate suitable ventilation, inspection, and environmental emergency measures. Proposed stocking densities for fowl and turkeys were particularly shocking: “These densities defined in the Codes are a compromise on a compromise for which no case otherwise than commercial expediency exists.”Footnote 10

A follow-up letter to the Times by leading animal researchers was even more scathing. Signed by Julian Huxley, Jon R. Baker, James Fisher, Alister Hardy, Desmond Morris, Niko Tinbergen, J.W.S. Pringle, Peter Scott, O.L. Zangwill, and Laurence Weiskrantz, the letter doubted that the FAWAC’s codes could protect animals’ physical and emotional welfare: “As scientists familiar with the behaviour of animals we feel strongly, with the Brambell Committee, that every possible step must be taken to prevent” confinement that frustrates “major activities which make up its natural behaviour.”Footnote 11 Doing so would protect British animals and morals:

As citizens of a modern nation we are further convinced that the practice of keeping animals under severely frustrating conditions, with all the signs of incipient or full nervous disfunction similar to those of distress in ourselves, must have a numbing effect on the farmer’s own sensitivity. (…) children who grow up in a society in which distress in animals is recognized, yet tolerated or ignored, may well develop a generally callous attitude in later life. (…). In the long term the tolerance, by a civilized society, or cruelty to animals which is recognized as such seems to us to carry the danger of returning to the level of the barbarian to whom animals are things rather than fellow creatures.Footnote 12

Remarkably, the letter had not been drafted by Julian Huxley, who publicly appeared as its main author, but by Niko Tinbergen, who seemed to be abandoning his earlier refusal to publicly engage with animals’ affective states.Footnote 13

Faced with this barrage of criticism,Footnote 14 FAWAC chairman Humphrey Hewer responded with his own letter to the Times. A close reading of the codes showed that they were not cruel but followed most Brambell recommendations—calves could turn around, docking was only permitted by surgeons following injury and disease, and the provision of bedding was recommended. Since Parliament had failed to pass mandatory welfare recommendations, the new voluntary codes were the best way forward and could be used to aid prosecutions: “I would have thought that animal welfarists would have welcomed the Codes and not obstructed them.”Footnote 15

Ahead of the first House of Lords debate on the FAWAC codes, Ruth Harrison increased public pressure for more stringent recommendations with an article in the Observer. Titled “Why Animals Need Freedom to Move,”Footnote 16 the full-page article portrayed conditions on factory farms:

Lay this copy of The Observer on the floor. That is the living space of five fully grown hens … Now open out two pages and lay them end to end. That is the living space (5ft by 2 ft) of a ‘white veal’ calf. Add another half page and you have the space allowed to a pregnant sow (2ft by 7ft).Footnote 17

Harrison also used a Gallup poll she had recently commissioned to insist that “the majority of farmers, the overwhelming mass of public opinion, … is urging that animals be allowed freedom of movement.”Footnote 18 According to Harrison, “the passage in ‘Animal Machines’ which angered agricultural spokesmen most was the one claiming that cruelty is acknowledged only when profitability ceases. Yet in essence this remains as true today as it was then.”Footnote 19 Although it was unrealistic to expect a complete return to the extensive systems praised in her book, it was necessary to “take an ethical stand that any codes must be amended so as to be at least equal to the minimum standards laid down by the Brambell Report.”Footnote 20 Government and consumers needed to encourage farmers to break the cycle of further intensification.

Public protest against the proposed welfare codes was successful. During stormy parliamentary debates, speakers accused FAWAC and MAFF of making inadequate provisions for flooring, space allowances, bedding, freedom of movement, surgical operations, and feeding.Footnote 21 An internal MAFF summary of resulting press coverage acknowledged, “a lot of critics made no bones about their view that [FAWAC] was composed of vested interests determined to see that welfare considerations did not interfere with economic aims.”Footnote 22 Under significant pressure in view of welfare protests (Chap. 9) and an upcoming critical report on agricultural antibiotic use,Footnote 23 Minister Hughes spontaneously undertook to resubmit contested elements of the codes to FAWACFootnote 24 and commissioned a welfare survey by the State Veterinary Service (SVS).Footnote 25

Both organisations reported back in 1970. Based on 4690 field visits revealing 36 cases of “unnecessary” suffering and pain, the SVS report was published in September 1970 and claimed that “the standard of stockmanship on intensive units is sound.”Footnote 26 FAWAC’s code review was altogether less smooth. Following the dissenters’ media campaign, two members had resigned in September 1969, and a further member did not wish to renew membership.Footnote 27 Wary of the hostile mood within FAWAC, Prof. Hewer warned MAFF that “the full Committee would find it difficult to draw up a view on the disputed points.”Footnote 28 In order to diffuse tensions and produce some kind of review, Hewer “proposed that two “drafting groups” should be set up to expand the respective opinions of the groups holding divergent views.”Footnote 29 The committee was thus split into two review groups. Reflecting an agro-industrial bias of Hewer and MAFF officials, the two FAWAC groups were initially referred to as ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ groups and later renamed ‘scientific’ and ‘ethical’ groups.Footnote 30

Amongst the practices to be reviewed by the two groups were withholding roughage, space standards for singly penned cattle, prolonged or continuous tethering, bedding requirements, and slatted floors for cattle. Another area of inquiry focused on sow stalls, the provision of bedding, and slatted floors for pigs. Reviewers also queried space allowances, spectacles, beak trimming, dubbing, and skip-a-day feeding for poultry. The two review groups would also assess the freedom to turn round and dim lighting for all animals.Footnote 31

At stake was not only the viability of FAWAC as an official body but also the relative weight that behavioural welfare indicators should have in its decision-making. Conflicts about the status of ethological expertise characterised both reviews from the beginning. Similar to later badger culling controversies, MAFF officials tended to discount research on ‘feelings’ and behaviour as ‘soft’ and anthropomorphic. Instead, they favoured traditional agricultural and veterinary expertise and ‘hard’ physiological evidence. The “epistemic rivalry”Footnote 32 between the animal health and ethological communities was made evident in FAWAC’s linguistic conflation of ‘ethics’ and ‘ethology,’ which were both considered beyond the purview of the ‘scientific/majority’ review.Footnote 33

Together with the RSPCA’s Mid-Wales secretary Irene Walsh, Ruth Harrison headed the four-person all-female ‘minority’ or ‘ethical’ group. Meeting for the first time on January 13, 1970, members regretted the majority group’s tendency to dismiss ethical and behavioural considerations and the biased way in which unpublished evidence had been used to draft the initial code proposals:

Ethical considerations and observational evidence by laymen were important and should be taken fully into account. The Group felt that the Advisory Committee, while not giving sufficient weight to the ethical approach, had nevertheless not been consistently scientific in its attitude. Some of its conclusions had been based on economic considerations rather than on science.Footnote 34

The ethical group specifically bemoaned the absence of an ethologist on FAWAC. This lack of ethological input and the industry bias of the majority group had been particularly glaring during a meeting with rumination experts in February 1969:

Originally the Advisory Committee intended to discourage white veal production. This was subsequently reversed largely on the basis of the opinions expressed by the visiting scientists. … Little evidence was available on the highly important behavioural implications of roughage denial. These had been largely ignored in reaching the final decision.Footnote 35

Similar problems had affected the drafting of poultry codes, which had legitimised dim lighting as a dubious corrective to behavioural problems and given the impression that “management is not a critical factor at all densities.”Footnote 36

The majority group disagreed. Including C. Graham of the Country Landowners’ Association, physiologist Morrell Draper of the Agricultural Research Council’s Poultry Research Centre, and veterinary researcher David Sainsbury, members of the group were sceptical of ‘soft’ behavioural welfare indicators. Instead, they favoured ‘hard’ physiological measures like protein metabolism as “the best available indicator of well-being.”Footnote 37 A refined version of the thrift argument, the protein metabolism theory assumed that inadequate welfare would disrupt protein synthesis and growth. It was thought that protein synthesis was a more accurate indicator of welfare than weight gain, which could also be caused by the accumulation of water and fat. Attacking the minority group’s ethical arguments, the majority group claimed:

The problem [is] that ethical arguments introduced subjective considerations of how far the benefit of any doubt should be given to the animal and how far economic factors should be allowed to limit the translation of ethical principles into practice. The strictly scientific approach avoided or minimized these difficulties.Footnote 38

According to this view, there was no conclusive evidence necessitating an amendment of welfare codes for tethering, the provision of bedding, keeping animals on slats, or beak trimming to prevent vice. Discounting the ethological argumentation underpinning the Brambell Report, “[David] Sainsbury told of calves reared in Holland which had become so accustomed to a small pen that, even when given extra space, had not turned around.”Footnote 39 The group also rejected updating space requirements for battery hens and cattle.Footnote 40

Attempting to refute the protein metabolism argument, Ruth Harrison made various information requests through FAWAC’s secretariat. If the majority group was unwilling to accept ethical arguments, she would need further behavioural and physiological data to support an increasingly concrete concept of good welfare as a positive state encompassing more than the absence of pain and stress.Footnote 41 Most of Harrison’s initial information requests centred on determining haemoglobin levels in veal calves and traditionally reared calves to ascertain whether intensive veal production induced anaemia. Writing to FAWAC secretary H.B. Fawcett in February 1970, she complained about the lack of detail in expert reports, which had been sent to FAWAC members: “I do my best to worship at the altar of scientific evidence, but I must say that at times my faith is sorely tried!”Footnote 42 In his response, the supposedly neutral Fawcett doubted Harrison’s ability to interpret scientific evidence:

As regards worshipping at the altar of scientific evidence it is sometimes salutary to remember Bertrand Russell’s advice in his ‘essay on scepticism’. In this he suggested that the common man (that is you and me in this context) would be prudent if, when experts agreed, he did not hold the contrary opinion, and when experts disagreed he suspended his judgement.Footnote 43

Fawcett’s response failed to deter Harrison. In the following months and years, she was unique amongst FAWAC members regarding her high volume of information requests.Footnote 44 Unsurprisingly, this behaviour did not endear her with MAFF officials. Following further information requests by Harrison, a MAFF memo stated:

[Harrison] was ‘tactful enough’ [sic] to say that if her requests resulted in too much work or inconvenience not to hesitate to say no. Tactfully, I hope, I thanked her for encouraging us to say ‘no’ to her requests, but pointed out that normally we always try to assist anybody if we can do so.Footnote 45

Harrison’s steadfast refusal to accept (male) expert opinion without supporting data was impressive. However, her single-mindedness could also have a more problematic side. Her relentless pursuit of the goals set out in Animal Machines also meant that the self-characterised “loner”Footnote 46 was at times willing to cut corners and alienate allies if agendas diverged. In the case of FAWAC, Harrison began requesting information and trips without informing fellow minority group members. This behaviour did not go unnoticed by MAFF officials. When Harrison requested access to communications between experts and the majority group and asked for individual slaughterhouse tours, an official asked her “whether she was making her request on behalf of the Minority Group members—she hesitated and said that she understood Mrs Walsh had intended to make a similar request, otherwise she was speaking for herself.”Footnote 47 Another minute warned, “I do not think that we should become involved in helping one particular member without the knowledge of the group itself.”Footnote 48

While her tendency to act as a “minority of one”Footnote 49 cost Harrison support from fellow animal campaigners (Chap. 9), it was remarkably effective in the corporatist context of Whitehall politics. The 1969 media campaign against FAWAC’s code proposals had taught Harrison that thwarting weak consensus reports and instigating public pressure could be a useful way of countering pro-industry biases in official circles. The following years would see her employ this strategy again and again.

In the context of the 1970 FAWAC welfare code review, Harrison clashed with majority group members on issues ranging from the tethering of sows to the composition of animal feeds. Mentioned more than any other participant in FAWAC’s minutes, she systematically vetoed potential compromises between majority and minority views. When one of her main opponents, the dairy farmer W.A. Bigger, expressed opposition to the use of terms that “gave a false impression that members’ views were worlds apart” in April 1970, Ruth Harrison insisted “that there were satisfactory alternative methods and some producers were turning to them.”Footnote 50 Referring to Harrison, physiologist Morrell Draper warned “that the Minority Group’s reluctance to accept well-founded scientific opinion augured little hope of its acceptance of any opinion differing from its own.”Footnote 51

Ruth Harrison’s unwillingness to yield ground led to the publication of three separate FAWAC review documents: a majority report, a minority report, and a separate comment by Ruth Harrison.Footnote 52 The major point of contention remained whether animals’ behaviour and affective states deserved consideration. In their final report, the minority group opposed both the original FAWAC codes and protein metabolism as an absolute indicator of animal welfare:

We believe that it is essential to take ethical considerations fully into account; (…) the present codes set bare minimum standards. Indeed, in many cases they fail to make even a first step towards achieving the desired welfare objective.Footnote 53

Rejecting the “Brambell view that animals should be given the benefit of the doubt,”Footnote 54 the majority group countered that ethics and subjective feelings had no role in scientific standard-setting:

By avoiding subjective argument and the dangers of the anthropomorphic approach, [the scientific approach] provides the firmest available basis for reaching decisions on welfare issues.Footnote 55

In her separate comment, Ruth Harrison attacked FAWAC’s welfare record. According to Harrison, the majority group’s protein metabolism argument was discredited by the simple fact that technologies like antibiotics enabled animal growth even in adverse circumstances. By focusing only on acute pain and suffering, FAWAC was defining welfare as the absence of cruelty instead of setting out a positive vision of physical and mental well-being. “At every point,” FAWAC had legally “given the producer rather than the animal the benefit of the doubt”:

Although the codes are purely voluntary we have drafted them with the care of mandatory regulations. We have been afraid of excluding any single system or technique if it can be managed successfully by any one producer … What we have also tended to overlook is that just as non-compliance can tend to establish guilt, compliance can help to establish innocence, the standards set should be high enough to allow the definition in the Act to have some clear meaning.Footnote 56

Referring to the majority group’s emphasis on scientific evidence, Harrison reminded members that both the Brambell Committee and FAWAC had been established because of the British public’s ethical concerns about animal welfare:

the fact that an animal has limbs should give it the right to use them, the fact that a bird has wings should give it the right to spread them, the fact that both are mobile should give them the right to turn round and the fact that they have eyes should give them the right to see.Footnote 57

The ongoing stalemate between FAWAC’s ‘ethical’ and ‘scientific’ factions meant that no consensus was reached regarding the prolonged tethering of cattle, slatted floors, bedding for cattle and pigs, sow stalls, space allowances for poultry, roughage for calves, and lighting in sties.Footnote 58 The only points both sides agreed upon were (1) that poultry blinkers and spectacles constituted a mutilation of the nasal septum and should be banned; (2) that the width of cattle pens should be equal to animals’ height so that animals could groom themselves, lie down, and fully extend their limbs; (3) that skip-a-day feeding systems were acceptable.Footnote 59

Fearing public reactions to another failure to update codes, many FAWAC members were reluctant to publish their deliberations.Footnote 60 Writing to Labour Minister of Agriculture Cledwyn Hughes ahead of the 1970 General Election, FAWAC Chairman Hewer reported that members feared it would be “difficult to ignore the public criticism (pressure would be a more apt term), to which [FAWAC] has already been subjected to some extent.”Footnote 61 Hewer recalled a recent FAWAC meeting with “a group of MP’s led by [Conservative MP and RSPCA Council member Frederick] Burden”:

In the event, although Mr. Burden and his colleagues provided no evidential support for their welfare opinions, I believe that the meeting served one useful purpose in that the MPs cannot claim that they have had no opportunity to express their views to us directly. I think, too, that my members, by exercising great restraint and reasonableness in the face of a good deal of provocation (sometimes bordering on rudeness), enhanced the status of the Committee.Footnote 62

However, Hewer’s protest was of no avail. Following pressure from the newly elected Conservative Minister of Agriculture, James Prior, the three FAWAC reports were published alongside the SVS report in late 1970.Footnote 63

Her success in blocking a compromise on welfare code revisions turned into a political victory for Ruth Harrison. Although Parliament eventually passed modified versions of the original codes (see Chap. 9), MPs’ criticism of the contradictory ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ reports led to an extension of FAWAC’s terms of reference to include all animals kept on agricultural land. FAWAC also began debating whether to recommend regulations banning the docking of cattle and the dewinging and castration of poultry.Footnote 64 Resulting ban recommendations were partially enacted as enforceable regulations in 1974.Footnote 65 Within FAWAC, Harrison also pushed for a greater role for behavioural expertise and managed to secure invitations for renowned researchers like Nikolaas Tinbergen and Ingvar EkesboFootnote 66 as well as a new working group on wing injuries in battery cages.Footnote 67

However, preventing FAWAC consensus on weak welfare codes was not the same as finding robust majorities for a sustained strengthening of codes. Despite Harrison’s efforts, the overall pace of FAWAC deliberations and of British welfare reforms remained glacial throughout the 1970s. In the rare cases that FAWAC members jointly expressed concern about new husbandry systems, it did not necessarily lead to MAFF preventing their introduction.Footnote 68 Meagre resources further hampered FAWAC’s work. Although its research sub-committee had been tasked with identifying animal welfare research priorities, FAWAC was unable to provide funds for any of the 30 resulting research questions.Footnote 69

MAFF was the main profiteer of FAWAC’s impasse. When pressed on welfare issues, Ministers referenced the uncertain “present state of scientific knowledge”Footnote 70 to fend off calls for statutory regulations. MAFF’s lack of engagement with welfare issues extended to its enforcement of already enacted codes. During the mid-1970s, it emerged that the limited existing welfare codes were not being observed on some farms and not adequately controlled by officials. Understaffed by ca. 20 per cent,Footnote 71 the SVS was failing to perform up to 75 per cent of its welfare duties.Footnote 72 In 1978, MAFF disclosed that between 1968 and 1977 it had initiated only 11 welfare prosecutions under the 1968 Bill.Footnote 73

While British welfare reform stagnated, other European states enacted ambitious new regulations. In 1972, West Germany passed a Protection of Animals Act, which mandated that any person keeping or supervising animals should give them adequate food and care suitable for their species. Explicitly referencing new concepts of welfare, the act also mandated that accommodation was to be provided according to an animal’s natural behaviour.Footnote 74 In Sweden, all animals had to be effectively stunned prior to slaughter, and strict rules governed the transport of live and pregnant animals since the early 1970s.Footnote 75 In Norway, the 1974 Animal Protection Act stated that animal’s “instincts and natural needs” should be taken into consideration to avoid unnecessary suffering.Footnote 76

Growing European market integration exerted pressure on Britain to accept common standards and join transnational welfare bodies. In November 1972—about one month ahead of Britain’s accession to the EEC—FAWAC was informed of a proposed Council of Europe Convention on Animal Welfare in Intensive Rearing, which had been debated at a meeting in Strasbourg.Footnote 77 The proposed convention would apply welfare standards based on physiological and behavioural parameters to farm animals throughout Europe and create a standing group on welfare at the European level. As official representatives of the UK, MAFF’s two FAWAC secretaries had been present at the Strasbourg meeting alongside Ruth Harrison, who had attended as an observer for the World Federation for the Protection of Animals (WFPA). Reporting on the meeting, Ruth Harrison was

agreeably surprised to note that most countries represented were prepared to take a flexible approach to [animal welfare]. She felt that we had much to learn from some European countries; Norway, for instance, had already introduced a series of regulations covering battery cages.Footnote 78

FAWAC received a draft of the proposed European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes in late 1974. Despite remaining vague, both the draft and the resulting 1976 Convention acknowledged the welfare principles set out in the 1965 Brambell Report: animals were to have freedom of movement appropriate to avoid “unnecessary suffering or damage.”Footnote 79 A tethered animal should have space “appropriate to its physiological and ethological needs in accordance with established experience and scientific knowledge.”Footnote 80 In indoor settings, the same definition of need would also govern the provision of lighting, temperature, humidity, air circulation, ventilation, and “other environmental conditions.”Footnote 81 Answering long-standing welfare criticism, animals were to be provided with food or liquid in a manner that would not cause “unnecessary suffering or damage.”Footnote 82 On farms, animals’ health and technical equipment were to be inspected by farmers at “intervals sufficient to avoid unnecessary suffering.”Footnote 83 On intensive farms this meant at least once a day.Footnote 84 Future animal welfare provisions were to be decided by a European standing committee on animal welfare.

While the Council of Europe convention marked an important formalisation of Brambell welfare principles, its standing committee posed a direct challenge to FAWAC authority. Ahead of Britain’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention,Footnote 85 MAFF considered it “inadvisable to open a direct channel of communication between the Standing Committee”Footnote 86 and FAWAC. FAWAC’s role was downgraded to advise Ministers on policy lines for the Standing Committee, which met regularly between 1979 and 1998.Footnote 87

In addition to being superseded at the European level, FAWAC also faced growing domestic pressure. In October 1973, the New Scientist printed a series of reports on animal welfare in Britain. In his contribution, Tom Ewer, former member of the Brambell Committee and professor of animal husbandry at the University of Bristol, launched a scathing attack on FAWAC. According to Ewer, FAWAC and MAFF inaction had led to the abandonment of large parts of the Brambell Report:

We must all regret that the government, through FAWAC and the reports it has failed to write and publish, has dismally failed to reform and educate. The research has not been sponsored, nor the right questions asked, nor the relevant new information publicised. The advisory role that could be played by the state veterinarian, who has the right of entry, is grievously diminished because of acute undermanning; so even the great good our imperfect codes could achieve, is squandered.Footnote 88

Although Britons were fond of highlighting their “sensitive national conscience”Footnote 89 regarding animals, European partners were enacting far more progressive welfare regulations. The proposed Council of Europe Convention offered some chance for improvement. Hoping that Britain would “play a leading part in forming the important standing committee,” Ewer nonetheless doubted that “FAWAC is the appropriate national ‘advisory body’”Footnote 90 to provide relevant advice.

For Ruth Harrison, Britain’s adoption of the Council of Europe Convention posed a dilemma. Although she endorsed both the Convention and the Standing Committee, the displacement of FAWAC threatened to undermine her own access to Whitehall policy circles. Having played no small part in paralysing FAWAC,Footnote 91 she tried to salvage its reputation by calling on the committee’s ailing chairman to reinvigorate welfare reviews. Writing to Prof. Hewer in January 1974, she warned “that the Codes for which FAWAC is best known, are being widely disregarded and our position has become, on the face of it, embarrassing if not slightly ridiculous.”Footnote 92 Britain was already “lagging far behind other European countries.”Footnote 93 While it would be a “terrible pity if Britain has to take a back seat on the Council of Europe” Committee, it was even more worrying that the Minister of Agriculture did not seem to realise “how far we have fallen behind others.”Footnote 94 In a somewhat bizarre statement, Harrison assured Hewer that she was actively defending FAWAC against British and European critics:

I write in friendship, not in hostility, I have a good deal of faith in your knowledge and in the rest of the Committee. Please let us put all this to use in actually achieving a change on the farm. Let us be seen to be vigorous and active.Footnote 95

Harrison’s élan was not reciprocated. In February 1974, the terminally ill Hewer informed MAFF that there would be no new FAWAC measures prior to the appointment of a successor.Footnote 96 Referring to Hewer’s announcement and Harrison’s letter, a MAFF minute snidely remarked, “Mrs. Harrison’s difficulty over [defending FAWAC] is probably no greater than our difficulty in attempting to deal rationally with an emotional welfare lobby.”Footnote 97 This did not mean that MAFF officials were unconcerned about developments. Acknowledging his ministry’s failure to sponsor relevant research, MAFF’s veterinary assessor for the FAWAC warned, “when we get to the Standing Committee we from the UK will have very little to offer in the way of behavioural and welfare research as compared with the Germans, the Swedes and the Dutch.”Footnote 98 The UK’s backwardness regarding official welfare expertise was “now a matter of fact—not of opinion.”Footnote 99

Attempting to improve the international reputation of British farming, MAFF decided to revamp FAWAC. In May 1974, Prof. Richard John Harrison from Cambridge’s School of Anatomy took over chairmanship from Humphrey Hewer, who died later that month.Footnote 100 He soon proposed major reforms. Meeting MAFF officials in early 1975, Prof. Harrison criticised FAWAC for narrowly prioritising physiological data and announced a change of focus: “hitherto there had been too much emphasis on the negative aspects of welfare.”Footnote 101 If FAWAC was to make “a meaningful contribution to progress,”Footnote 102 a stronger emphasis would have to be placed on animal behaviour research. FAWAC work was also being hampered by the committee’s membership, which reflected industry and welfare interests rather than scientific expertise, as well as by slow information retrieval on the part of MAFF.Footnote 103

Although Prof. Harrison’s reform proposals took into account long-standing criticism by Ruth Harrison and her allies, distrust and dissatisfaction among FAWAC members remained high. Making frequent requests for field trips and information,Footnote 104 Ruth Harrison in particular continued to relentlessly pursue her strategy of avoiding consensus on ‘weak’ reforms. While this strategy was occasionally rewarded, as with the eventual revision of fowl codes for battery systems,Footnote 105 it did not win her friends. Indicating the degree of mutual distrust within FAWAC, Harrison tried to prevent the circulation of certain scientific papers amongst FAWAC membersFootnote 106 and privately asked MAFF for “curriculum vitas on FAWAC members”Footnote 107 in 1976. Forwarding her request to Prof. Harrison, MAFF official Arthur Foreman replied:

I should have thought that Members are generally adequately informed about each other’s interests, and where they are not they would be able by direct enquiry to elicit any further details they would like to have.Footnote 108

Almost ten years after the formation of FAWAC, Harrison’s determination to stymie the passage of weak welfare standards had thus produced mixed results. In a far cry from the moderate image she had originally crafted to convince MAFF to nominate her for FAWAC, Harrison had prevented the rubberstamping of industry-friendly codes and successfully pushed for FAWAC’s inclusion of behavioural expertise and an emerging focus on positive welfare. However, her actions also helped paralyse Britain’s foremost welfare committee and prevented the passage of even marginally improved codes for many farm animals. In the absence of significant official reform, debates over welfare standards moved from the ‘backstage’ of Whitehall committee rooms into the ‘frontstage’ of the public sphere. Mirroring a wider fraying of post-war corporatism, the 1970s were characterised by increasingly polarised public clashes over farm animal welfare between producers and campaigners—and between campaigners themselves. For Harrison, this transition would prove difficult. While MAFF officials and many members of FAWAC increasingly viewed her as a radical, younger activists considered her advocacy for gradualist reforms of intensive farming as too moderate.


  1. 1.

    TNA MAF 369/272 Annex A—General Background, enclosed in: Storey to Mr Hann (13.03.1981), 3.

  2. 2.

    TNA MAF 369/272 Annex A—General Background, enclosed in: Storey to Mr Hann (13.03.1981), 4.

  3. 3.

    TNA MAF 369/272 Annex C—H.R. Hewer to Minister Cledwyn Hughes (06.09.1968), enclosed in: Storey to Mr Hann (13.03.1981).

  4. 4.

    TNA MAF 369/272 Annex C—H.R. Hewer to Minister Cledwyn Hughes (06.09.1968), enclosed in: Storey to Mr Hann (13.03.1981), 1; the proposed ban of intensive veal production was ultimately blocked by MAFF due to legal concerns about having to stop imports during a time when Britain was trying to join the EEC; TNA MAF 369/272 Annex B, enclosed in: Annex C—H.R. Hewer to Minister Cledwyn Hughes (06.09.1968), enclosed in: Storey to Mr Hann (13.03.1981).

  5. 5.

    TNA MAF 369/272 Annex C—H.R. Hewer to Minister Cledwyn Hughes (06.09.1968), enclosed in: Storey to Mr Hann (13.03.1981), 2–3.

  6. 6.

    TNA MAF 369/272 Annex C—H.R. Hewer to Minister Cledwyn Hughes (06.09.1968), enclosed in: Storey to Mr Hann (13.03.1981), 2.

  7. 7.

    TNA MAF 369/164 Animal Health Division II, FAWAC, Meeting with Professor Hewer on 14.08.1970, Note for Minister (05.08.1970), 1.

  8. 8.

    Leonard Amey, “Farming Notes. Factory farming code contention”, Times, 28.07.1969, 10.

  9. 9.

    J.W. Murray, “Woman writer protests over factory farming”, Observer, 29.06.1969, 3.

  10. 10.

    F.W. Rogers Brambell et al. “Codes For Factory Farming”, Times, 23.06.1969, 9.

  11. 11.

    Julian Huxley et al, “Factory Farming”, Times, 25.06.1969, 11.

  12. 12.

    Julian Huxley et al, “Factory Farming”, Times, 25.06.1969, 11.

  13. 13.

    Rice University, Julian Sorrell Huxley Papers, Julian Huxley to Nikolaas Tinbergen, 08.05.1969, Handwritten response Tinbergen.

  14. 14.

    See also F.W. Rogers Brambell, “Codes for Factory Farming Rules Without Force”, Times, 01.07.1969, 9; R.F. Seager [RSPCA], “Chance to act”, Times, 01.07.1969, 9.

  15. 15.

    H.R. Hewer, “Force in Codes for Factory Farming”, Times, 05.07.1969, 9.

  16. 16.

    Ruth Harrison, “Why Animals Need Freedom To Move”, Observer, 12.10.1969, 7.

  17. 17.

    Harrison, “Why Animals Need Freedom To Move”.

  18. 18.

    Harrison, “Why Animals Need Freedom To Move”.

  19. 19.

    Harrison, “Why Animals Need Freedom To Move”.

  20. 20.

    Harrison, “Why Animals Need Freedom To Move”.

  21. 21.

    TNA MAF 369/164 Press Notice MAFF, Animal Welfare—Welfare of Livestock, Notes for Editors (29.09.1970), 2; Woods, “Cruelty to Welfare,” 19–21.

  22. 22.

    TNA MAF 369/164 Animal Health Division—Meeting with Prof Hewer on 14.08.1970. Note for Minister (05.08.1970), 2.

  23. 23.

    Claas Kirchhelle, “Swann song: antibiotic regulation in British livestock production (1953–2006),” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 92/2 (2018), 317–350.

  24. 24.

    TNA MAF 369/272 Annex A—General Background, enclosed in: Storey to Mr Hann (13.03.1981), 5.

  25. 25.

    TNA MAF 369/164 Press Notice MAFF, Animal Welfare—Welfare of Livestock, Notes for Editors (29.09.1970), 2; TNA MAF 369/163/2 Cledwyn Hughes to Prof Hewer [04.12.1969].

  26. 26.

    TNA MAF 369/164 Press Notice MAFF, Animal Welfare—Welfare of Livestock, Notes for Editors (29.09.1970), 1.

  27. 27.

    TNA MAF 369/164 Animal Health Division Meeting with Professor Hewer on 14.08.1970—Note for Minister (05.08.1970), Appendix A.

  28. 28.

    TNA MAF 369/163/2 Note of meeting with Prof Hewer (30.10.1969).

  29. 29.

    TNA MAF 369/163/2 Note of meeting with Prof Hewer (30.10.1969).

  30. 30.

    TNA MAF 369/164 Letter from H.R. Hewer (21.08.1970); draft enclosed in: H.B. Fawcett to Ruth Harrison (30.11.1970).

  31. 31.

    TNA MAF 369/163/2 Cledwyn Hughes to Prof Hewer [04.12.1969].

  32. 32.

    Cassidy, Vermin, 227; for a fuller discussion of what Cassidy terms cultures of care see, 75–102; Robert Kirk has highlighted a similar neglect of ethological expertise by the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser Solly Zuckerman in the case of laboratory animals, Kirk, “Clinic and Laboratory,” 525–526.

  33. 33.

    I am indebted to Henry Buller for this observation.

  34. 34.

    TNA MAF 369/163/2 Draft—FAWAC—Re-Examination of Disputed Points in Codes. Minority Drafting Group. Record of the Group’s first meeting (13.01.1970), 1–2.

  35. 35.

    TNA MAF 369/163/2 Draft—FAWAC—Re-Examination of Disputed Points in Codes. Minority Drafting Group. Record of the Group’s first meeting (13.01.1970), 3.

  36. 36.

    TNA MAF 369/163/2 Draft—FAWAC—Re-Examination of Disputed Points in Codes. Minority Drafting Group. Record of the Group’s first meeting (13.01.1970), 5.

  37. 37.

    TNA MAF 369/163/2 FAWAC. Majority Group. Notes of first meeting to consider disputed points (04.02.1970), 1.

  38. 38.

    TNA MAF 369/163/2 FAWAC. Majority Group. Notes of first meeting to consider disputed points (04.02.1970), 3.

  39. 39.

    TNA MAF 369/163/2 FAWAC. Majority Group. Notes of first meeting to consider disputed points (04.02.1970), 7.

  40. 40.

    TNA MAF 369/163/2 FAWAC. Majority Group, Notes of second meeting to consider disputed points (23.02.1970), 2.

  41. 41.

    TNA 369/163/2 H.B. Fawcett to Ruth Harrison (19.01.1970); Broom, “Ruth Harrison’s later writings and animal welfare work”.

  42. 42.

    TNA 369/163/2 Ruth Harrison to H.B. Fawcett (04.02.1970), enclosed in: H.B. Fawcett to Ruth Harrison (05.02.1970).

  43. 43.

    TNA MAF 369/163/2 H.B. Fawcett to Ruth Harrison (05.02.1970).

  44. 44.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 D.J. Kotulanski to Miss B.F. Moore (21.05.1970); Minute [handwritten] Kotulanski to Mr Goaten (01.04.1970); Minute [handwritten] Mr Foreman (21.05.1970).

  45. 45.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 Minute [illegible, handwritten] to Mr Foreman (15.05.1970), 2.

  46. 46.

    Kendall, “Ruth and the Ruthless,” 21.

  47. 47.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 Minute [handwritten] to Mr Foreman (15.05.1970), 1.

  48. 48.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 Minute Mr Foreman to Mr Fawcett (15.05.1970).

  49. 49.

    Oral History Interview Marian Stamp Dawkins (01.07.2014).

  50. 50.

    TNA MAF 369/80 Draft, Minutes of the Seventh Meeting of the Committee (22.04.1970), 15.

  51. 51.

    TNA MAF 369/80 Draft, Minutes of the Seventh Meeting of the Committee (22.04.1970), 18.

  52. 52.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 FAWAC, Re-Examination of Disputed Recommendations in Welfare Codes. To Be Read in Conjunction with Report by Minority Group—Author Ruth Harrison.

  53. 53.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 FAWAC Re-Examination of Disputed Recommendations in Welfare Codes, Office Note, Report by Minority Group, 1.

  54. 54.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 FAWAC Re-Examination of Disputed Recommendations in Welfare Codes, Office Note, Report by Majority Group, 14.

  55. 55.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 FAWAC Re-Examination of Disputed Recommendations in Welfare Codes, Office Note, Report by Majority Group, 2–3.

  56. 56.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 FAWAC, Re-Examination of Disputed Recommendations in Welfare Codes. To Be Read in Conjunction with Report by Minority Group—Author Ruth Harrison, 3.

  57. 57.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 FAWAC, Re-Examination of Disputed Recommendations in Welfare Codes. To Be Read in Conjunction with Report by Minority Group—Author Ruth Harrison, 4.

  58. 58.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 FAWAC Re-Examination of Disputed Recommendations in Welfare Codes, Office Note, Report by Minority Group, 10.

  59. 59.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 Draft, Re-Examination of Disputed Recommendations in Welfare Codes. Points Upon Which the Whole Committee Is Agreed.

  60. 60.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 H.R. Hewer to Rt. Hon. Cledwyn Hughes (04.05.1970), 1.

  61. 61.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 H.R. Hewer to Rt. Hon. Cledwyn Hughes (04.05.1970), 2.

  62. 62.

    TNA MAF 369/163/1 H.R. Hewer to Rt. Hon. Cledwyn Hughes (04.05.1970), 2.

  63. 63.

    TNA MAF 369/164 H.B. Fawcett to Ruth Harrison (30.11.1970); Letter from H.R. Hewer (21.08.1970); Minute A.C. Sparks to Mr Murphy (14.08.1970); Woods, “Cruelty to Welfare,” 20.

  64. 64.

    TNA MAF 369/80 (180) Draft, Minutes of the Eighth Meeting of the Committee (10.02.1971), 3–6; Woods, “Cruelty to Welfare,” 21.

  65. 65.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Draft Statutory Instruments 1974, Animal Prevention of Cruelty. The Welfare of Livestock (Cattle and Poultry) Regulations 1974; TNA MAF 369/272 House of Commons Agriculture Committee—Replies to Questions Enclosed With Dr Jack’s Letter of 03.02.1981 to Mr Shillito, 4.

  66. 66.

    TNA MAF 369/80 (180) Draft, Minutes of the Eighth Meeting of the Committee (10.02.1971), 10; TNA MAF 369/206 Annex B to AWC/74/Mins 2.

  67. 67.

    TNA MAF 369/80 (180) Draft, Minutes of the Eighth Meeting of the Committee (10.02.1971), 5 and 12–13.

  68. 68.

    TNA MAF 369/204 MAFF, Welfare of Livestock. Animal Welfare. Early Weaning and Cage Rearing of Piglets (24.08.1973).

  69. 69.

    TNA MAF 369/204 FAWAC Minutes of 10th Meeting (22.11.1972), 10.

  70. 70.

    TNA MAF 369/204 MAFF—Priority Written Question No. 25 (20.06.1974); Woods, “Cruelty to Welfare,” 21.

  71. 71.

    TNA MAF 369/208 MAFF Press Notice—Parliamentary Secretary Speaks At BVA Congress (15.09.1975).

  72. 72.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Ruth Harrison to Professor Hewer (13.01.1974); Minute G.B. Taylor to J.N. Jotcham (20.02.1974); TNA MAF 369/222 PQ 5032. MAFF—Parliamentary Question (13.12.1977).

  73. 73.

    TNA MAF 369/240 PQ 5801. MAFF—Parliamentary Question (05.05.1978).

  74. 74.

    FACT Files, MD, FACT Publications & Publicity Material, Ruth Harrison, ‘Introduction’, Proceedings of Workshop sponsored by FACT and the UFAW: Behavioural needs of Farm Animals, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 19 (1988), 342.

  75. 75.

    Ingvar Ekesbo, “The Swedish Approach,” in Council Of Europe (ed.), Animal Welfare (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2006), 185–86.

  76. 76.

    Kristin Asdal and Tone Druglitrø, “Modifying the Biopolitical Collective: The law as a moral technology,” in Kristin Asdal, Tone Druglitrø, Steve Hinchliffe (eds.), Humans, Animals and Biopolitics (London: Routledge, 2016), 66–84.

  77. 77.

    TNA MAF 369/204 FAWAC Minutes of 10th Meeting (22.11.1972), 9.

  78. 78.

    TNA MAF 369/204 FAWAC Minutes of 10th Meeting (22.11.1972), 9; on the further development of Norwegian reforms leading up to initial welfare upgrades in 1982 see Kristian Bjørkdahl, “When the Battery Cage Came to Norway: The Historical Path of an Agro-Industrial Artifact,” in Kristian Bjørkdahl and Tone Druglitrø (eds), Animal Housing and Human-Animal Relations (London: Routledge, 2016), 55–78.

  79. 79.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Appendix I—Draft European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes (EXP/An(74)4; Annex to AWC/74/10), 2.

  80. 80.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Appendix I—Draft European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes (EXP/An(74)4; Annex to AWC/74/10), 2.

  81. 81.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Appendix I—Draft European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes (EXP/An(74)4; Annex to AWC/74/10), 2.

  82. 82.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Appendix I—Draft European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes (EXP/An(74)4; Annex to AWC/74/10), 3; the word “damage” was later replaced with injury; “European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes (Strasbourg, 10.03.1976)”, [17.12.2014].

  83. 83.

    European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes (Strasbourg, 10.03.1976).

  84. 84.

    This requirement was not covered by Britain’s 1968 Agricultural (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act; TNA MAF 369/215 A. Foreman to FAWAC (03.05.1976).

  85. 85.

    TNA MAF 369/215 A. Foreman to FAWAC (03.05.1976).

  86. 86.

    TNA MAF 369/217 FAWAC, Minutes of 15th Meeting (22.06.1976), 6–7.

  87. 87.

    TNA MAF 369/240 FAWAC, 18th Meeting (08.02.1979), 2.

  88. 88.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Tom Ewer, “Farm animals in the law”, New Science (18.10.1973), 179, enclosed in: Minute A. Foreman to FAWAC (08.11.1973).

  89. 89.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Tom Ewer, “Farm animals in the law”, New Science (18.10.1973), 179, enclosed in: Minute A. Foreman to FAWAC (08.11.1973).

  90. 90.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Tom Ewer, “Farm animals in the law”, New Science (18.10.1973), 179, enclosed in: Minute A. Foreman to FAWAC (08.11.1973).

  91. 91.

    Tristram Beresford, “Export of livestock”, Times, 28.03.1973, 19.

  92. 92.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Ruth Harrison to Prof Hewer (13.01.1974).

  93. 93.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Ruth Harrison to Prof Hewer (13.01.1974).

  94. 94.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Ruth Harrison to Prof Hewer (13.01.1974).

  95. 95.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Ruth Harrison to Prof Hewer (13.01.1974).

  96. 96.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Prof Hewer to John [Jotcham] (17.02.1974).

  97. 97.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Minute J.N. Jotcham to G.B. Taylor (18.02.1974).

  98. 98.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Minute G.B. Taylor to J.N. Jotcham (20.02.1974).

  99. 99.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Minute G.B. Taylor to J.N. Jotcham (20.02.1974).

  100. 100.

    TNA MAF 369/204 Minute A. Foreman to FAWAC (16.05.1974);

    TNA MAF 369/204 Minute A. Foreman to FAWAC (31.05.1974).

  101. 101.

    TNA MAF 369/206 A. Foreman, ‘Note of Meeting with Professor Harrison—06.02.1975’ (10.02.1975).

  102. 102.

    TNA MAF 369/206 A. Foreman, ‘Note of Meeting with Professor Harrison—06.02.1975’ (10.02.1975).

  103. 103.

    TNA MAF 369/208 A. Foreman, ‘FAWAC. Meeting 25.11.1975, Supplement to Chairman’s Brief (20.11.1975); TNA MAF 369/215 FAWAC, Minutes of the Fourteenth Meeting of the Committee (25.11.1975), 5–6.

  104. 104.

    TNA MAF 369/208 FAWAC, Minutes of 13th Meeting (08.05.1975), 3 & 8; TNA MAF 369/215 FAWAC, Minutes of 14th Meeting of the Committee (25.11.1975), 3 & 7; TNA MAF 369/215 Minute WT Jackson to A. Foreman (12.05.1976); FAWAC General Purposes Sub-Committee, Extract from Minutes of Third Meeting (12.05.1976).

  105. 105.

    TNA MAF 369/272 Background to Question 6, enclosed in: Handwritten list of questions and answers to enquiry by House of Commons Agriculture Committee, 3–4.

  106. 106.

    TNA MAF 369/215 Minute [illegible] to A. Foreman (08.06.1976).

  107. 107.

    TNA MAF 369/215 A. Foreman to Ruth Harrison (18.06.1976), 2, enclosed in: A. Foreman to Professor Harrison (18.06.1976), 2.

  108. 108.

    TNA MAF 369/215 A. Foreman to Ruth Harrison (18.06.1976), 2, enclosed in: A. Foreman to Professor Harrison (18.06.1976), 2.

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Kirchhelle, C. (2021). A “minority of one”: Harrison and the FAWAC. In: Bearing Witness. Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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