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Legal Slavery in the 21st Century

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The Problem: Animals as Property and Commodities

Nonhuman animals are legal property and economic commodities. As a matter of both legal theory and practice, owners of property are protected by property rights, which are among the strongest of rights in Anglo-American law; while the nonhuman animals owned as economic commodities are ostensibly protected by welfare laws, which are routinely violated and rarely enforced.

In his 1995 book Animals, Property, and the Law, legal scholar and philosopher Gary Francione calls this approach to animal protection legal welfarism, of which Francione identifies four “basic and interrelated components.” (APL, p.26)

  • Legal welfarism maintains that animals are property.
  • Such property status justifies the treatment of animals exclusively as means to human ends.
  • Animal use is deemed “necessary” whenever that use is part of a generally accepted social institution.
  • “Cruelty” is defined exclusively as use that either frustrates, or fails to facilitate, animal exploitation.

Because nonhuman animals are not only human property, but also economic commodities, cost-efficiency in raising and slaughtering them (by the billions) is considered one of the most important factors when determining which practices facilitate exploitation. That is to say, if an industry practice, no matter how cruel, reduces the costs of production, such a practice is fully allowed and protected by the legal property rights of owners.

The upshot of legal welfarism is that we weigh even the slightest economic interests of owners, which we protect with powerful rights, against the crucial interests of nonhuman animals, which are protected with no rights. Considering the enormously competitive economic pressure to deliver the least expensive animal products to an ever-increasing public demand, it is no wonder that our society’s legal welfarism approach to animal protection has failed miserably to protect nonhuman animals from extreme cruelty. And it’s no wonder that the animal welfare movement has been unable to create any meaningful change.


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9:04AM PST on Dec 12, 2013

Thanks so much for sharing.

If you'd like to do more, please sign my petition for slavery-free chocolate:

10:26AM PDT on Sep 30, 2011

Thank you for contributing a relevant post Robyn and for referring to me as being of the "younger" generation. You anger is well noted.

4:15AM PDT on Sep 30, 2011

I thought canines lived in packs, not flocks. And the Lycaon Pictus is strange one in the Canine world. Those are the best of the wild canines. they don't fight over food like the wolf, wolves get bitchy when feeding.

4:00AM PDT on Sep 30, 2011

To Brianna K:

Why does everything have "to rock" these days? Is this the descriptive language you learn in school? Rock on, you rock, you rock my world, rock those jeans .. and then there's the neverending "awesome" .. you use either one or both together constantly. Do you have such limited lives? I guess you do. I don't know how "awesome" came into use but "rock" must have come from the media to sell their products. Aren't younger generations supposed to rebel against their parents and grandparents. But we still have the 60s mentality and we've had it ever since then, since the "youthquake". And is "I'm like" for "I think" finally on its way out? I'd like to say goodbye to rock and awesome too. Read some good books, they might make you a bit smarter. Maybe.

3:03AM PDT on Sep 30, 2011

Thanks for posting this. Wish the whole world would just go vegan.

6:08PM PDT on Sep 20, 2011

thank you for the post

1:13AM PDT on Aug 21, 2011

Angel, your articles always rock :) Thank you

1:12AM PDT on Aug 21, 2011

5:01AM PDT on Aug 13, 2011

Yes, MD L., many species put us to shame in the parenting department, but if one actually spends some time observing them instead of merely reacting to internet propaganta sites and blogs, they might be a bit more realistic. You mentioned Army Ants...........ever watch them on the march? anything and EVERYTHING goes when they move. Anything in their path is dismantled and destroyed. Chimps are brutal and bloody when battling over territory and position.

I've raised horses for decades. Observing a mare with a foal in a pasture situation is a good education. My now 24-yr-old mare had one offspring. She, herself, was a pushy filly, and her dam was not a good Mother. Her Mother tolerated anything, but that wasn't always a good thing. Suede, when she foaled, had a stud colt, who demanded to be nursed when HE wanted to be. Suede put him in his place and told HIM when it was acceptable or not. He matured to be a well-adjusted stallion (now 17 years old) and who respects autority from everyone. He certainly was never a slave, just understands his "place" in the hiarchy.

3:08PM PDT on Aug 12, 2011

Actually, humans take pretty darn good care of their offspring on average, easily one of the best parents in the world, if not the best. Certain intelligent and social species like elephants, dolphins, crows and whales come close, but there are also plenty of animals that will happily eat their own offspring (or the offspring of the their own species), or prevent the weaker ones from getting enough food. Wild canines are generally very good parents, but they also have strict pecking orders, and only the strongest members of the are generally allowed to breed at all, and they get the most nutritious portions of kills such as the liver and other organs. The weaker members of the pack are often malnourished, and if food is scarce they may well starve. Of course we do the same. Still, despite the wars and classes/pecking order, on average humans do take better care of their own than any other species I can think of at the moment.

Chimps and ants are the only other species I can think of that practice anything like warfare. As far as infant mortality rates and likelihood of dying by violence we are ahead of all or almost all other species. We are likely the most brutal and destructive to other species though, and we can be very vicious with each other at times. Our intelligence and tool making ability allow us to do everything in extreme.

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