START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
3,030,884 people care about Animal Welfare

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..?

Read more: , , , , , ,

Photo Credit: revnev

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it


+ add your own
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.

10:51PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

I agree with Linda S regarding her statement of:

“Life is not kind or fair in that every living thing must kill or destroy some other living thing to survive. We can only choose to cause the least amount of pain and suffering we can.”

I’m not sure if this position accepts that farm animals can be raised as food sources if perhaps factory farms are severely regulated and prevented from caging and maltreating animals and feeding them GMO’s, injecting them with growth hormones and antibiotics. Or the preferable small farm operation which is more humane, raising animals on a small scale. Certainly its environment is more spacious, natural and pasture fed which creates a quality existence. For the most part, farm animals are not bred or raised unless they are either eaten in future or kept as dairy or other uses such as wool.

10:51PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

If the basic structure of the factory farm can’t be changed by the implementation of stricter legislation, outlaw them and enforce organic farming. Linda S mentions that: “I suspect science will prove someday that plants too are much more aware then we are able to perceive. Life is not kind or fair in that every living thing must kill or destroy some other living thing to survive. We can only choose to cause the least amount of pain and suffering we can.”

It’s interesting about what she says about plants as many vegans and vegetarians get annoyed if omnivores mention that plants perhaps have levels of intelligence and should be respected. One is often met with resentment and the ‘well, my carrot doesn’t scream when on the cutting board,’ saying that since animals have the ability to experience pain with a CNS, they can’t accept that plants can feel anything remotely like pain feeling insulted at the very mention that perhaps plants have an ability to feel. They often discount any idea that plants are somehow on the same level as an animal. Jain vegans hold a special reverence for the treatment of all plants.

10:50PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

Vegans believe that by eating only plants they are preventing the suffering of animals and if they are challenged in this assumption, some get very defensive and label those with such ideas as ludicrous and sometimes even ‘unbalanced.’
Often saying, ‘well, omnivores are twice as bad as they inflict twice as much suffering by eating both’. I won’t dismiss the idea of plants being ‘sentient’ in some way out of hand as mammals are only part of what makes up life on the planet and to summarily dismiss alternate life entities as not worthy of even respect seems to diminish our capacity to accept that we are not the only valid life forms alive. Omnivores and even vegetarians are accused of ‘speciesism’ but by ignoring any notion that plants have any possibilities of ‘sentience’ is also practicing the very ‘speciesism’ that vegans are so fond of accusing the rest of us of practicing. If we had to follow the same belief regarding plants, then it would be difficult to survive as all life must survive by eating other organic entities in some form or other.

10:49PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

Obviously, the only thing one can do is treat all that we eat with respect and if one rejects eating animals, it’s a choice as is the eating of cheese/dairy, meat and honey or drinking milk. All one can do is to treat all food sources with the utmost care and respect and to provide for a quality life until the time the food source is to be used, ensuring as much as is humanly possible that death is immediate, quick with as little suffering as is possible.
Vegans will state that plants possess no sentience but given our present limitation to understand other life forms that’s debatable. Obviously to the human mind plants can never be the same as mammals but there is the consideration that as organic entities they may well possess qualities that we can’t even begin to comprehend and the same goes for the human brain, other animals as well as plants.

10:49PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

We sometimes do use anthropomorphism in regard to both plants and animals but we haven’t yet explored everything about every species on the planet let alone understand the entire scope and capacity of the human brain. We understand physical much more than though, spirituality, energy forces of the mind both human and other species be they mammals or plants, etc.

10:48PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

Suba G mentioned that humanity is the biggest ‘cancer/virus, an infestation/invasive species,’ causing the horrific suffering of not only ourselves but all other entities that we share the planet with. She observed that if humanity had never existed “the sheer volume of suffering would be far less.” She recognized however that in the event of no humans ‘infesting’ the planet that: “…there’d still be suffering of course, considering nature is almost as cruel as man” and that “nature has a way of balancing itself.”

This is true of course as Nature can have the effect of taking a sledge hammer to open and thus pulverize a tiny nut or if deer are starving to death as perhaps in one year their predators perished in massive wildfires while more deer had escaped…Nature will ‘balance it out’ by having deer starve to death in a long prolonged period of suffering. Some will survive to live again but for those who don’t survive, the death is a long and cruel torment.

add your comment

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

ads keep care2 free

Recent Comments from Causes

Bill Eagle says it all. In a country that tries to pride itself on its justice how can someone be arrested…

The Monsanto plonkers need to stop bullying the world. Thanks for the post.

Paul B , You can believe what you want. You are telling the same stories Republicans have been telling…

meet our writers

Judy Molland An award-winning writer and teacher, Judy Molland is also an avid hiker, backpacker, and nature... more
Story idea? Want to blog? Contact the editors!

more from causes

Animal Welfare

Causes Canada

Causes UK


Civil Rights


Endangered Wildlife

Environment & Wildlife

Global Development

Global Warming

Health Policy

Human Rights

LGBT rights


Real Food

Trailblazers For Good

Women's Rights

Select names from your address book   |   Help

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.