Animal Rights: The Past and The Future

Today, August 24th marks the 44th anniversary of the signing of the Animal Welfare Act.

It has been 44 years since the federal government first acknowledged in a very limited capacity that some treatment of some animals is unacceptable. The act set minimum standards for the treatment of animals in research, in transportation, for exhibition, and by dealers.

While the law is useful at times because it provides a legal basis for filing charges against people who mistreat some animals under some circumstances, it is mired in the same kinds of compromises and exceptions that we in the animal rights community are still fighting today. The law specifically excludes mice, birds, rats, cold blooded vertebrates and invertebrates, or any animal used for food.

These kinds of exceptions call to mind the passage from George Orwell’s Animal Farm when the pigs declare that “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

In the past 44 years the culture of the animal movement has changed, expanded, mutated, and split. While the idea of respecting animal lives and abstaining from various kinds of animal foods has been around for centuries, the modern animal rights movement is a uniquely 20th and 21st century phenomenon.

The word “vegan” itself wasn’t coined until the twentieth century. The seminal book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer was published after the enactment of the Animal Welfare Act as was the founding of the Animal Liberation Front. Most vegans living in the west rely heavily on animal food analogs such as soy milk and mock meats that require the food production technology of the 20th century to arrive en masse on grocery store shelves. How many vegans can credit their interest in animal rights to a website, a blog, or an online video?

I would never say that the Animal Welfare Act is a meaningful part of the animal rights movement, but rather that it marks a milestone. It was the first piece of legislation that sought to establish any sort of standard for the treatment of certain animals in certain circumstances. The simple fact that mistreatment of animals was even on the empathy radar of enough people to get this legislation passed is noteworthy.

The AWA has been amended and updated several times since it was first passed 44 years ago but there hasn’t been a real rethinking of the paradigm of humans vs animals, us vs them.

Going into the future, let us first rethink the past. Why would some animals be offered some protections while others are offered none? Why are the protections that we offer so sparse, so limited, and so laxly enforced? And the most important question of all is this: if we were to outlaw all forms of animal cruelty, could any animal industries continue to exist?

The truth is that they could not. There is no animal product, no animal exhibit, no animal test that doesn’t inherently violate the basic principle that animals deserve the right to live their natural existence without the interference of humans. Outlawing cruelty to animals would mean outlawing animal products outright. Which means that if you oppose animal cruelty, boycotting animal products entirely is the only logical course of action.

On the anniversary of the government’s failure to effect real change, I implore you to effect that real change in your own lives. Go vegan for yourselves, go vegan for the animals, go vegan for the planet.

Photo: ajagendorf25


Genoveva Martinez
Genoveva M M7 years ago

If we were closer to a cruelty-free world now than in 1966, we wouldn't be here signing petition to end it, for all kinds of animals.

Caroline L.
Caroline L7 years ago

Although I am vegan and an animal activist in every way possible, I must admit I do beleive there are ways to eat animals without cruelty. I do believe this sort of thing existed at one time. My cousins had a dairy farm in NY when I was young. The cows were treated kindly, hand milked with handheld machines, no hormones or physical abuses. My cousins loved those cows. But they were a small operation in a small local market. They lived very simply with a clapboard farmhouse and had 8 kids to work the farm, making food from scratch & all that. The cows grazed on real grass. This was a different time and place where individual farmers could make these choices. The animals, when slaughtered, were killed in a more human fashion by several people in the family and not put through a cold, industrial type slaughter. Now, I do not drink milk and think it's wrong for humans to drink it, God intended it for baby cows. But I think extra milk is ok to use by farm families for cheese, yogurt and other foods. I also think that all of nature was meant to consume other forms of nature, from lions eating wildebeasts to bears eating salmon and I believe we are a part of that plan, as well. But it's the way we do this that matters to me. (CONTINUED BELOW...)

Caroline L.
Caroline L7 years ago

(CONTINUED) I don't miss meat or milk and I do not feel a need to eat something that has died but many people want meat. I have friends & family who would consider it an enormous hardship to go without meat or cheese. For these people, it is not my place to judge; I love these people and tolerate them as much as they tolerate my veganism. And because so many will continue to eat meat, screaming at them is not the answer. We need a top down solution. As people become more aware of the cruelty on farms they are demanding more humane solutions. It is through this movement that those of us who care about animals can make the most difference. I just want to see the animals treated fairly and humanely. That should be what we work for, to end cruelty in the industry so that while the majority will still demand meat and milk, at least we can sleep at night knowing the animals, for the most part, are living more natural and peaceful lives.

James S.
james S7 years ago

Sarah - also, animal welfare would "move a lot further ahead" if people like you realized that all animals are the same - those animals you eat - you know, the ones you're "not too choosey" about - they feel pain, suffering and misery just like a dog would, like the one you're holding in your picture. You say you want animal rights, you eat them and then you claim that those who truly want animal rights are the ones hurting the cause. Next time you eat one of those animals you're not "so choosey" about - think about what kind of "life" it had, right up to the point where it was murdered (most likely in a brutal manner), just so that you could satisfy you're taste buds.

James S.
james S7 years ago

Sarah D - tried to PM you but you have blocked such actions. Interesting to read your page and see that you list "animal rights" as a cause. But then, you say you try to eat kosher meat, but "not too choosey". What exactly is your definition of animal rights? Supporting the enslavement and torture of them? Because that's exactly what you wrote. You spout off about vegan fanatics, but now I see why - you're extremely confused. Please try to excuse those fanatics for wanting to end the mass enslavement and torture of innocent and defenseless beings all so that some humans can satisfy their taste buds.

Sarah D.
Sarah D7 years ago

Animal Welfare would move a little further ahead if the fanatics didn't constantly try to force people to go vegan, twist and exaggerate facts and ommit information, compare eating meat to the Holocaust, try to deny their hypocrisy, and constantly spew stuff like "I hate humans" and "Humans are disgusting."

If anything, vegan fanaticism is hindering the Animal Welfare movement.

SANDRA R7 years ago

I would like to believe that animal welfare is improving! Thank you Mac!!

Shelley P.
Shelley Parsons7 years ago

To clara H. - I'm not really sure why you're subscribing to Care2. It sounds as though you're here to fight against something. Anyway, I have a quote that really speaks to me and expresses my point of view:

"The animals of the earth exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men." By Alice Walker

I've just really begun to question why it is that humans feel we're somehow superior to all other animals, and treat them in any way we see fit. Someone, somewhere long ago decided this was acceptable, and we've continued the tradition to the place we're at now on the issue of animal rights - which is horrific on every level.

In the end, we are the most cruel and greedy species of all, and I believe we could learn an awful lot from the "inferior" animal kingdom!

sherri p.
sherri pon7 years ago

I would like to believe that animal welfare is improving.

There is a correlation between animals abuse/welfare and abuse towards humans. Check it out. If everyoneone loved animals, would they be abused. I don't think so.

Since everyone is not going to love animals, laws need to be stricter.

Read Temple Grandin's book Animals Make Us Human. It is possible to treat animals more humanely.

Claudia C.
Claudia Cavallo7 years ago

I think things are a little better than years ago, Here in Italy many TV programs talk about their rights and there have been done many laws to protect them but there is still a lot more to do