Sunday, October 28, 2007

Animal Rights or Animal Welfare?

I've been taking an informal poll.
I'm asking everyone I know, "Do you support animal rights?"
Everyone wavers a bit at first - unsure of where I'm going.
They want to know, "What do you mean?"
I respond with, "You know, animal rights."
"Well, yes," they all say.

Wrong answer.

Too many of us do not know the difference between animal rights and animal welfare. My surveyed friends, all wool-wearing, meat-eating, leather-sporting, zoo-going, pet-owning animal lovers, thought I was talking about animal welfare. The difference between rights and welfare may seem frivolously semantic, but I assure you, it is not. The difference is so important because organizations like Farm Sanctuary (FS), Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are counting on a majority of their contributors and supporters to be ignorant of that difference. FS and HSUS do not want you to know what "animals rights" really means.

Those who believe that animals can contribute to human welfare (by providing food, fiber, work, companionship, entertainment, or by serving for biomedical research or education) believe that humans have moral obligations to protect the welfare or provide for the well-being of animals.

Animal rights philosophy is diametrically opposed to the concept of animal welfare. The animal rights philosophy is opposed to any use of animals, holding that animals should have the same "rights" as humans.

Despite the public's rejection of animal rights as determined by evaluating its own use of animals, animal rights philosophy is a dominant factor in popular culture. This disconnect is caused in part because many people, like the friends I surveyed, don't understand the true beliefs and goals of the animal rights movement.


The animal rights philosophy is radical, abolitionist, emotional, and uninformed.

The philosophy argues that there is no morally relevant difference between humans and other animals. In the words of Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA, "There is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." Michael Fox, of HSUS has said, "The life of an ant and the life of my child should be accorded equal respect." (Okay, I'm feeling sorry for this man's poor kid.)

Proponents of animal rights reject all animal use, all traditional relationships with animals, no matter how humane. They support laws and regulations which prohibit the the use of animals as in the raising of livestock for food and clothing, petting zoos, hunting, life saving medical research, circuses, pet-ownership, rodeos, and even in disability assistance like the use of seeing-eye dogs.

When the interests of humans and animals come in conflict, animal rights advocates put animals first. PETA founder, Newkirk said, "Even if animal research produced a cure for AIDS, we'd be against it." (It bears noting here that advances in human medicine arrived at through animal research usually carry an equivalent benefit to veterinary medicine. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and other animal welfare groups monitor conditions in laboratories and support legislation for humane conditions, but do not call for an end to laboratory research on animals.)

Animal rights supporters believe that violence, misinformation, and publicity stunts are valid uses of funding donated to their tax-exempt organizations for the purpose of helping animals. Arson, vandalism, and assault are common tactics used by underground animal rights groups to further the cause. Groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which have been classified as terrorist by the FBI, routinely use criminal activities.


Animal welfare philosophy is moderate, revisionist, reasoned, and informed.

Because we recognize that some animals are capable of having interests or suffering, we have evolved culturally to respect those interests. Those who love, respect, use and raise animals believe that humans can and should interact with animals in a variety of ways, but that the interaction should include provisions for the proper care for all animals involved.

Animal welfare, as defined by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) describes animal welfare as a human responsibility that encompasses all aspects of animal well-being, including proper housing, management, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care, humane handling, and, when necessary, humane euthanasia. Animal welfare also means that animals experience no unnecessary suffering in providing for human needs.

Animal welfare groups use scientific evidence (see my sidebar links on animal welfare aspects of foie gras production) in which to base animal care and handling guidelines.

Animal welfare makes sense for animal raisers. Farm animals are raised in an environment that reduces stress and recognizes the science-based behavioral, physiological, and psychological needs of each species. An animal held in an environment that creates undue stress will not thrive, reducing productivity for the farmer. Farmers know that cared-for livestock animals produce more and better products. The same is true for biomedical work, disability services, and animal entertainment.

A Shared Earth

The animal welfare philosophy recognizes the interdependence of life between animals, humans, and our shared environment. Its belief in stewardship of species and individual animals embraces a human connection to the Earth through interaction with animals.

The animal rights philosophy separates the destiny of humans from the destiny of animals while the movement shows it cares nothing for the Earth. Barbara Biel, animal rights activist, said, "The animal rights movement is not concerned about species extinction. An elephant is no more or less important than a cow, just as a dolphin is no more important than a tuna...In fact, many animal rights advocates would argue that it is better for the chimpanzee to become extinct than to be exploited continually in laboratories, zoos, and circuses."

The rest of us don't strive to save endangered species, wilderness preserves, or coral reefs because they have rights. Rather, we place value in these rare systems because our own moral laws teach us to protect our environment.

Animal welfare supporters work to enrich and celebrate human/animal interactions in an atmosphere of concern for animal well-being; animal rights proponents work for the day when human life will be impoverished because we can no longer enjoy the company of non-human animals.

For more information, read:

Animal Rights versus Animal Welfare

Animal Rights, Animal Welfare: Which Is It?


Liver Lover said...

Thanks for making these distinctions between rights and welfare.

Sometimes I get the sinking feeling that people are too willing to buy a party line--any one. There are so many available to us now, who has the time to think critically for themselves before subscribing to one? Animal rights...that sounds good, let's get into that. I pity this generation of young people that think they are eating well and thinking clearly. They are so obviously being manipulated by PeTA, Farm Sanctuary, HSUS, and the rest of their multi-million-dollar animal-rights-incorporated ilk.

If animal rights activists showed up on the doorstep with a bible, preaching about how to treat animals, I bet most of us would politely close the door. And then shake our heads and wonder why some people are so driven to proselytize. The animal rights agenda is no different or better than any other doctrine shoved down our throats. And they are a lot less polite than the Jehovah's Witnesses that show up at my house!

What is it that makes us abandon our senses and our place in the food chain? Is it the images of the cute little fluffy animals and the tender emotions of guilt? Or Pamela Anderson, Alicia Silverstone, etc. and their pathetic, sexy campaigns? For more on that, check out this bold take on what PeTA does for the human animal:

And now, go eat some meat. Go to your local farmers market, find a local farm, buy humanely raised, grass fed, pastured and well-tended animals. Find a purveyor online who can supply this type of meat if you can't find a farmer. Know your food sources, support the local foodshed, don't opt out of it entirely with soy-in-everything, factory-made stuff from Whole Foods. Go traditional, use your teeth--it's what we are designed for! Look your dinner in the eye, and feel good about participating in the food chain.

Anonymous said...

Honey, it's amazing how many of your links lead us to websites that are run by groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom. The folks behind the CCF are lobbyists for the tobacco and alcohol industry. How are we supposed to believe anything that is said by them?

I don't even know why I'm responding to this. You're never going to change your mind, and your going to continue to write your blogs and fill the minds of people who don't know better with your mindless, unresearched garbage.

Lizzie Vonhurst said...

To Anonymous: Well, of course you chose to remain anonymous. I challenge you to come again with an identity. I also challenge you to do the research you accuse me of not having done.

I do rely on The Center for Consumer Freedom a great deal, you're right. I think it is important to be educated about the misleading tactics perpetuated by animal rights organizations. I know who pays for the CCF and I accept it. The CCF perfoms a service for those of us whose budgets can't compare to animal rights organizations.

HSUS, for exmaple, has a huge budget, bankrolled by citizens who think they are supporting their local animal shelter. Most people don't realize they're giving money to a lobbying organization intent on total animal liberation, which has nothing at all to do with shelters or caring for animals.

So, those of us who support animal welfare over animal rights, those of us who support the freedom of choice when it comes to our dinner plates, do not have the same financial resources as the heinously misleading animal rights organizations. We rely on Activist Cash to help us tell our side of the story.

Did you know that Phillip Morris often funds addiction research? Do you think the doctors who are trying to learn about and prevent tabacco addiction shouldn't take the money? I am in a similar position.

Besides, while I don't smoke and drink, I certainly believe I should have the right to. Outlawing one thing after another really isn't the answer to our problems in this country.

BTW, "Honey" - that's a nice touch. It's like we're buddies. I like it. No kidding. I think we could learn a lot from each other. The point here is to look at the issue from all sides. It is important to be educated before making decisions about animal rights. I link people to Activist Cash because I doubt they know that side of the story.

I would encourage you to see if you can visit a farm. I have visited a foie gras farm and what I saw there was not even close to cruel. The animals were treated with respect and kindness. Have you ever been to a farm? Try it!

Anonymous said...

Yes, and people don't sweep their houses and throw out the trash when they know they are going to have visitors. Nice try.

Anonymous said...

He/she is a shill... How desperate can they get? A "college student" from an "East Coast University" who is also a pro "foie gras" activist.. Give me strength.. I have never even heard of a college student who ate foie gras let alone set up blogs campaigning about it... Oh, and he/she "supports the troops too".. Nice touch. Kinda like Walmart hanging out the flag. You can dress it up any way you want...

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