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Animal Rights vs. Animal Welfare: Which Side Are You On?

Animal Rights vs. Animal Welfare: Which Side Are You On?

The animal protection movement is divided: animal rights vs animal welfare.

Although often falling on the same side of an argument, there is a fundamental difference between these two ideologies. But what exactly is it?

This statement, from American philosopher Tom Regan, sums it up perfectly:

“Animal rights advocates are campaigning for no cages, while animal welfarists are campaigning for bigger cages.”

Animal Welfare

Animal welfarists focus on the treatment of nonhuman animals by promoting and supporting welfare reforms in efforts to make animal treatment more humane, single issue campaigns such as foie gras and fur, and compassionate consumption through the endorsement of grass fed beef and cage free eggs. Some animal welfarists believe that these measures will eventually lead to the abolition of animal use, whilst others do not see animal use as inherently wrong as long as suffering of the animals is eliminated or greatly reduced. Animal welfarists’ end goal is to ensure humane treatment.

Animal Rights

Animal rights activists on the other hand reject all forms of animal use and fight in the corner of the abolitionist approach regarding veganism as the moral baseline. They believe that it is morally wrong to use and exploit animals for any means, regardless of how that animal was treated. The animal rights approach is centered around the philosophy that nonhuman animals are conscious beings that have interests of their own and those interests are deserving of our respect. Therefore they should not be treated as machines, objects or economic units, and all institutions that commodify animals for human benefit should be abolished.

Photo Credit: Compassion in World Farming via Compfight cc

Incremental Progress

From a welfarists’ point of view, working towards welfare reforms such as cage free conditions for hens or group housing for sows is making incremental progress for animals. Decreasing suffering for those animals involved is what welfarists strive for. If you put yourself in the animals’ place — for example, suffering from lifelong immobility caused by living in tiny gestation crates and ammonia burns from rubbing against the bars and lying in excrement — you would appreciate better conditions too. Albeit, improved conditions may not be the ideal or optimum answer, but they do decrease suffering and they do make a difference to the animals experiencing this abuse now. Many welfarists welcome each reform as a step towards liberation. With each reform, society will begin to recognize that animals have interests that matter, and in turn may rethink killing, eating and using them.

All Or Nothing

The all or nothing animal rights approach is often categorized as ‘fanatical.’ Those who oppose this standpoint argue that veganism is too extreme and that we can in fact be morally conscious carnivores and still care about animals. For an abolitionist, this is contradictory and the promotion of ‘happy’ animal products and animal welfare measures does little, if anything, to protect animal interests. By pushing for animal welfare measures, continued animal use is encouraged, as the public are made to feel better about their exploitative decisions and discharge their moral obligations with no intent to end animal use in their own lives. Animal rights supporters also reject the notion of single issue campaigns in favor of vegan and abolitionist education. With every passing second and cent spent on advocating the idea that there is a right way to exploit animals or on campaigns that only address single issues, they contest that we are not vying for meaningful change.

Photo Credit: andjohan via Compfight cc

So the question is: which approach is the most effective? Is it possible that one could support both animal rights and animal welfare? That one can strive for abolition whilst still supporting single issue campaigns and welfare reforms?

Should we go for broke with all or nothing campaigns, or should we endorse incremental measures?

Which side are you on..?

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1337 comments

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4:53PM PST on Nov 7, 2014

ANIMALS DO NOT BELONG IN CAGES, BUT AT THE SAME TIME THEY NEED TO BE PROTECTED...BOTH

4:38AM PDT on Oct 30, 2014

Animal Rights vs. Animal Welfare: Which Side Are You On?

BOTH!
One does not have to be instead of the other

4:14PM PDT on Oct 6, 2014

There are a variety of different positions to take on this topic.

Trevor H mentioned two unsubstantiated issues by saying: "...a difficult transition from meat for those whose taste addiction takes them to vegetarianism and the next transition to vegan."

First of all, most vegetarians do not transition to veganism. Many of them prefer to keep their dietary options open, such as having eggs, cheese, yogurt, organic milk and honey in their diet, not permitted in the vegan diet. Vegans comprise three percent of the world's population and while there will be an increase in their numbers (as there will be an increase in the numbers of vegetarians and omnivores), it is not logical to conclude that people will all transition from omnivore, then to vegetarian and then take the final step to becoming vegan. That sounds like wishful thinking on the part of some people. Not to mention the illogical words of 'taste addiction.' Eating meat is not an 'addiction', (except for those on the Meat Temperance Prohibition Union) and there are no Meat Addiction Centres in the world, nor are there even Cheese Addiction Centres. A lot of people who eat meat avoid factory farmed meat and are involved in animal welfare.

11:15AM PDT on Oct 4, 2014

Both positions will inevitably help as will bring a much larger support, for most people coming to support either side is an incremental feeling of what is unjust as much as a difficult transition from meat for those whose taste addiction takes them to vegetarianism and the next transition to vegan.

10:47AM PDT on Oct 4, 2014

I see no reason why i can't be for both.

1:44PM PDT on Sep 18, 2014

Animal rights.

6:03AM PDT on Oct 2, 2013

Suba G said: “For example if I knew the earth would be destroyed by a meteor in a month or less, would I not relieve the pain of an injured animal; feed a hungry person; or adopt a stray cat today? No, I’d absolutely continue to do all those things, because I’d much rather they be free from pain & hunger for whatever short time left. It makes a huge difference to the individuals who suffer.”

An excellent response, Suba G.

11:07AM PDT on Sep 23, 2013

Thanks Dale O for that great summation, and acknowledging the possibility of plants being sentient.

I wish to address one point you mentioned: “If I weren’t somewhat of an optimist I might get up every morning thinking of the utter futility of the future and of continued human existence itself.”

I have been presented with variations of this argument quite a few times. For example, many say that seeing the cruelty of humankind could make them feel depressed/hopeless about the future, resulting in apathy or inactivity.

My response is that: Any help we extend to others here & now has NOTHING to do with the future, but everything to do with relieving the pain & suffering of individuals at this moment. There are animals who are abused/abandoned/injured; people who are homeless/hungry; children being victimized etc. In many places on earth (such as the Southern US) these things happen in front of our eyes , and the need for help is painfully evident. To every single individual we help, it makes a world of difference here & now.

For example if I knew the earth would be destroyed by a meteor in a month or less, would I not relieve the pain of an injured animal; feed a hungry person; or adopt a stray cat TODAY? No, I’d absolutely continue to do all those things, because I’d much rather they be free from pain & hunger for whatever short time left. It makes a huge difference to the individuals who suffer.

10:53PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

Linda S mentions that: “The so-called radical/extreme groups” are useful in that their very presence allows us to discuss and think about issues. I’m not exactly sure where she stands as she labels them “so-called radical/extreme groups” or perhaps she means that some of what they say has a point. She says: “Animals are sentient beings whose right to life and welfare should be respected.”

It’s true that animals are sentient but I’m not sure what she means by “their right to life must be respected.” Is she saying that all farm animals brought into the world must be given legal rights so that they can’t be used as food animals and sold as meat? Of course, many farm animals are alive only because they are raised as food or dairy and such animals wouldn’t be alive if they were not part of the food chain. If they are given rights and can’t be legally killed, then aside from India and a few other places, cows/chickens, etc., would no longer be bred and would cease to exist in the long run.

10:52PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

There are even some animal rights people who take a view that having pets should be illegal such as cats, dogs, hamsters/other pets. Some believe that no animal should exist as pets and all breeding of cats and dogs should cease. They would close down pet stores that sell pets. While certainly adoption is preferred given the surplus of homeless pets that presently fill so many shelters, it seems unlikely that people breeding Siamese cats or poodles will give it up.
Certainly puppy/kitty mills should be abolished where animals are endless cogs in a wheel of profit, made to reproduce ceaselessly with no rest, often stuck in cages with horrific and squalid living conditions. These animals are often diseased and produce weak, ill offspring to be sold as pedigreed lookalikes in pet stores. This is a life of pure enslavement to a profit motive with no benefit to the animals that are used as breeding stock. Profit is the entire driving force for their miserable existence. Finding a shelter cat or dog is preferable to purchasing those from a puppy mills as such purchases simply perpetuates the cycle.

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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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