Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Is Warhammer Vegan?

I had never considered the impact of the wargaming hobby on animals, so I thought I’d look in to it.

Tau enjoying a tofu & bean burrito (via http://destraudo.deviantart.com)

The two obvious places to start are paints and brushes.

In paints, ingredients from fish, bugs and cows can sneak in, like sepia ink, cochineal, ox gall, gelatin, shellac and bone char. There’s a few different brands of paints in my collection, and I asked the manufacturers about whether they contained animal ingredients.

Mike from Coat D'arms was the first to reply. He confirmed that all their ingredients are synthetic, and mentioned that they’d been asked several times before. It is nice to know that I’m not the only one who cares!

Alex Vallejo from Acrylicos Vallejo said that they had a company policy to avoid using animal ingredients when possible, but they do have a couple items in their Fine Arts and Acrylic Artists Colour ranges that use shellac and bone char due to the lack of synthetic substitutes. Fortunately, their model paints were free from squished bugs and burnt cow bones.

Alex also pointed out their policy on REACH, the EU regulation that is requiring every chemical to undergo safety tests. Valajeo has consulted with their major chemical suppliers and with only a few very rare exceptions, all the REACH tests on the ingredients they buy are done on dead tissue only.

Amy, who makes the MSP paints for Reaper Mini, said that she has never seen any animal-derived products in their bases or pigments. She also confirmed that, for Reaper’s models, the companies they work with use plastic resins, minerals, and inorganic chemicals only.

PrivateerPress said that all their Formula P3 paints are not tested animals and do not contain animal products.

Citadel was the only range that I didn't get a straight answer for. Games Workshop customer service said if I send them a list of the paints I want to use, they’d let me know if they contain animal products. It struck me as weird as this seems to be a question that these companies do get asked a lot, so I would have hoped that a company as big as Games Workshop would have answers ready. I didn't want to waste too much of their time listing off every paint in the range for an individual answer, so I just left it at that.

So far, things look really positive for anyone wanting to use paints without harming animals. But brushes are a bit of an issue.

On the side of fine hobby brushes, you’ll probably see that it is marked as “red sable”. Red sable fur comes from Siberian weasels, an animal that lives in Russia and China. I couldn’t find many sources on how these hairs are obtained. I emailed brush companies and even the fur industry’s press office. No answers. animalethics.org.uk was the only source of more information I could find. 

Apparently, these weasels are caught in leghold traps or snares, and the pelts are sold to the brushmakers who pluck and sort the hairs. For me, this is particularly worrying. Fur is nasty and I know I’m not alone in thinking so. An RSPCA survey in 2011 showed that 95% of British people would not wear real fur. And leghold traps are so cruel they were banned in England & Wales in the 1950s for being “too inhumane”. If something was so bad it was considered inhumane 60 years ago, you know it must be terrible. Further to that, Russia and China have minimal animal protection laws. In countries like Canada or Denmark, in theory, animals should not be left in traps for more than a day (they end up trying to chew their own leg off or dying in some other grisly way). China or Russia don’t have similar animal welfare standards.

It is bleak.

So, the solution: Are there any synthetic brushes that are up to the same standards? I’d love to hear thoughts on how well synthetic brushes hold up.

For my personal ethics, I’ll keep using my current set brushes for now. According to the Vegan Society, "Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals..." The words “as far as possible and practicable” stand out for me there. I don’t think compassionate people should opt out of the real world and move to a hippy commune or something. I think it is important to play an active role in non-vegan communities to demonstrate just how easy it is to live a cruelty-free lifestyle. So, for now, that means continuing to paint with fur brushes until I find a decent alternative, and I’ll also continue to advocate for animals by bringing delicious vegan snacks to game nights to impress friends.

From a bigger perspective, it would be great to ask companies to look in to their sourcing properly. Being the biggest name in wargaming, I’d love to know if Games Workshop knows where its fur comes from. And for them to adopt an official policy on trying to avoid animal products, like Vallejo has. And to know if the company has a stance on animal testing, including the compulsory REACH testing. If any animal-friendly Games Workshop shareholders are reading this, perhaps this is something you could help with.