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Animal Welfare and Animal Rights: an Examination of some Ethical Problems

Abstract

The spectacle of the relentless use and abuse of animals in various human enterprises led some human beings to formulate animal welfare policies and to offer philosophical arguments on the basis of which the humane treatment of animals could be defended rationally. According to the animal welfare concept, animals should be provided some comfort and freedom of movement in the period prior to the moment when they are killed. This concept emphasizes the physiological, psychological, and natural aspects of animal life with the focus on freedom. Ironically, however it is not concerned with the rights of animals; nor is it interested in their remaining alive. So, animals are least benefitted by such provisions, which is the major concern for those who defend animal rights. It seems dubious to demand comfort for a being in life, but not security for its actual life, since rights and freedom are essential for the maintenance of a normal life. This paper aims to (a) critically analyze the animal welfare system, which prioritizes only freedom; (b) to demonstrate how animal welfare is incomplete without animal rights and how they are closely related to each other; and (c) to bridge the gap between animal welfare and animal rights. The underlying principle of animal welfare concept is restricted by its anthropocentric framework with the result that the ethical element is missing. Mere ‘freedom’ is not sufficient for constituting an ideal animal welfare domain. In order to achieve real animal well-being, it is necessary to consider both the rights as well as the welfare of animals.

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Notes

  1. Though animal gestation, sow stalls, or battery crates are banned in certain developed countries like the United Kingdom, the countries under European Union, New Zealand but in countries such as China, India (though they implement higher welfare standards), etc. these stalls continue to exist.

  2. Human beings are rational, self-conscious autonomous beings. They are well aware of what is happening (good and bad) to them. They have intellectual capacity, ability to make judgments (ethical), and aesthetic sense which features distinguish them from other beings or things. However, even though they are endowed with these sophisticated qualities, still they are not entitled to exploit animals.

  3. Animal welfare as a formal discipline began with the Brambell Report issued by the British Government. Report of the Technical Committee to enquire into the welfare of animals kept under intensive livestock husbandry systems, 1965, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, UK.

  4. Although Tom Regan has jettisoned Peter Singer’s point, however, they both not only demand an ideal animal welfare policy, but also they both strongly support animal rights.

  5. Though there are other factors, such as anatomical and physiological similarities and evolutionary kinship, which entice humans to consider animals morally, however, the mental aspect is the vital one because the debate of animal ethics raised grounding on their suffering (mostly mental suffering). All sorts of cruelty against animals not only cause physical injuries, but also severe mental trauma, which can be easily observed from their behavior. Their physical wounds lead to their mental suffering. As long as humans are reluctant to recognize their pain and agony, it is not fair to say animals are considered morally only because there are anatomical and physiological similarities between humans and animals and that they are evolutionary kin of humans.

  6. While a large number of animal welfare policies have been made in various countries, in this paper I have discussed only a few of the initial ones.

  7. Farm Animal Welfare in Great Britain: Past, present and Future, Farm Animal Welfare Council, Noble House, London, October 2009, p. iii.

  8. Animal rights consist of many things such as right to life, right not to be subjected to suffering, and right to freedom (since animals want freedom impulsively) which cover all necessities such as staying alive, food, water, security from physical as well as mental injuries etc.. A distinction has been made between animal welfare and rights in academia (in both theory and practice), which treats ‘right’ and ‘freedom’ as two different concepts. I discuss ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ as two distinct concepts because I intend to show that animal welfare presupposes animal rights.

  9. Although Rousseau, Bentham and Singer and Cochrane have already tried to establish the moral status of animals through this means an attempt is made to prove the existence of animal rights on a different line.

  10. Humans depend on many living beings and non-living elements to sustain their lives such as trees and plants, water, other animals, and mineral resources.

  11. There are such cases where humans’ dependence on companion animals (some people emotionally dependent on their pet) is on a par with humans’ dependence on other humans.

  12. ‘A tree has life’ means that a tree is a living organism like humans and animals though it is different in many ways from both. It has also evolved along with the evolution of life on earth. Perhaps, this is the reason why Darwin’s evolutionary notion states that all lives are related and descended from a common ancestor: the birds and the banana, the fishes and the flowers. A tree needs water and food (fertilizer) to grow. It naturally produces oxygen, fruits, and flowers and possesses the capacity to reproduce. This is the reason why, perhaps, philosophers haven’t neglected to attribute intrinsic value to it. For instance, Arne Naess says, trees and ‘plant species should be saved because of their intrinsic value’ (Naess 1984).

  13. I use the term in order to express the idea that the constitutive features of trees are natural; similarly, the interests of trees are self-generated, whereas in the case of a car they are not.

  14. Rights of humans are different from animal rights, except some fundamental rights i.e., right to life and right to food,. Similarly, the concept of animals’ freedom needs to be understood in a different way.

  15. In certain circumstances rights of animals are emphasized over freedom because the freedom for animals will hardly mean anything without their right to life.

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Correspondence to Nibedita Priyadarshini Jena.

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Jena, N.P. Animal Welfare and Animal Rights: an Examination of some Ethical Problems. J Acad Ethics 15, 377–395 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10805-017-9282-1

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Keywords

  • Animals
  • Rights
  • Freedom
  • Welfare
  • Killing
  • Suffering
  • Cruelty
  • Dependency