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Animal Welfare Vs. Animal Rights


An important distinction to make when dealing with animal issues is the difference between animal welfare and animal rights. After learning the difference between the two philosophies, it is easier to distinguish between organizations that directly help animals and those who wish to end the use of animals.

Animal Welfare: based on principles of humane care and use. Organizations who support animal welfare principles seek to improve the treatment and well-being of animals. Supporting animal welfare premises means believing humans have the right to use animals, but along with that right comes the responsibility to provide proper and humane care and treatment.

Animal Rights: organizations that support animal rights philosophies seek to end the use and ownership of animals. Animal rights organizations seek to abolish by law: the raising of farm animals for food and clothing, rodeos, circuses, zoos, hunting, trapping, fishing, the use of animals in lifesaving biomedical research, the use of animals in education and the breeding of pets.



Most people today would agree that, while we use animals in many ways, we have a responsibility to avoid inflicting unnecessary suffering on any creature.

This ethic has been promoted over the past century by animal-welfare societies. By working with governments and industry they have contributed to steadily improving standards for the treatment of animals we use - whether it be stricter regulations governing the transport and slaughter of domestic livestock, or guidelines for the care of animals used in laboratory research.

Recently, new types of organizations purporting to protect animals have emerged. They call their philosophy "Animal Rights". Its fundamental thesis is: we shouldn't use animals for any purpose at all - not for food, or medical research - or even for pets.

This doctrine has been spelled out succinctly by Ingrid Newkirk, president of the Washington-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a group which has often acted as spokespeople for the underground Animal Liberation Front: Animal liberationists do not separate out the human animal, so 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. They're all mammals. - Toronto Star, 28 December 1986.

Some have tried to carry this philosophy to its logical conclusion: they follow a strict vegetarian diet; they attempt to use no animal products whatsoever, including many vaccines and medicines; they keep no household pets.

Others have realized that this ideal raises a host of paradoxes for which it provides no answers.

For example:

Do all animals have "rights", or is this standing reserved for creatures we find attractive? Will rats and cockroaches be afforded equal status? What about tse-tse flies and the smallpox virus? If so, our world will soon be full of "wildlife". Rats can produce up to twelve litters of eight to ten young each year - and begin breeding at three months old. But if rats are not to have "rights", who then decides which species are included, and by what criteria?

With a little thought it becomes obvious that an extreme Animal Rights position is completely unrealistic. Unfortunately, people spending most of their time in cities have little opportunity to seriously evaluate these questions. Those of us who "gather" our food in supermarkets do not, personally, have to procure meat or protect the fruits and field crops we need to survive. We are unaware of wildlife management problems - or may choose to ignore them. Thus we are especially susceptible to emotional and simplistic rhetoric about animals and nature.

Animal Rights activists are not interested in the complicated task of gradually improving standards which regulate our use of domestic and wild animals. They ignore the real difficulties of balancing human needs with the habitat and other requirements of wildlife. Instead, they merely repeat that "exploitation" is wrong and that all use of animals should somehow suddenly cease.