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..?

Photo Credit: revnev


H M6 months ago

The problem with an "all or nothing" approach is you have to be able to deal with the consequences of not getting anything.

Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

Basic rights to be respected

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Mary B.
Mary B2 years ago

carol c..... could you please state why you think polyester is eco friendly when it is derived from petroleum products ?

Gerald L.
Gerald L3 years ago

contd; All your vegan substitutes to natural By-products of animals are an ECOLOGICAL travesty. Demonizing wool, making money from honey while pollinating your well proclaimed Dairy substitute Almond Milk which uses 3,500 FOOD MILES to reach my local grocer, while cow & goat dairy are produced 12 miles of my home. In California there are 2,500 square miles of Almond trees requiring that Pollinator Bee's be trucked from every corner of the Continent before the blossoms bloom.

Gayle can you admit more animals are poisoned, chopped up, maimed and eaten by predators when farmers plow, till, spray herbicides & dessicants before harvesting Soya beans, rice, grains etc. than a Ruminant grazing on grass in sub-marginal land that cannot be used for cropping.

At this point before bragging about your higher evolved state maybe ponder positive & negative aspects of alternatives before bragging about being more enlightened.

Gerald L.
Gerald L3 years ago

@ Gayle J. THE SMARTER MATURE MORE EVOLVED VEGAN @ 8:07pm PST on Dec 17, 2014
The human race at this point in time is just too immature to be able to quit eating animals. People who don't like the vegan lifestyle are the ignorant, fearful people who don't like being told what to do by people who are smarter than them.

At this point in our extremely slow evolution, I think we need both the welfarists to at the very least try to make the conditions a bit more humane and we also need the activists to educate people on just how much animals suffer for their dinner plate. Hopefully factory farms will go out of business within the next 100 years. I wish it would be sooner, but human greed and ignorance is just too powerful at this point in time.

FROM an ignorant, immature, fearful, less evolved omnivore that would be over-joyed if CAFO'S & FEEDLOT's went out of business in the next 10 years to allow small family farm based operations to transition to supplying HUMAN needs for animal protein, and lest I forget for the PET's of VEGAN's also.

And to counter your higher evolved fantasy, any vegan substitute, footwear, fabrics, wannabe soy bacon or tofurkey use copious amounts more of Petrochemicals, Carbon Inputs, Farm Machinery, Environmental degradation from Oil Wells, Chemical Plants, Man-made Fertilizers, Clearcut Forests needed to produce Bamboo & Rayon fabric using the Neurotoxin Carbon Disulphide injuring workers AND possibly wearers of.

All your vegan

Danielle Esau
Dani Elle3 years ago

Animal welfare is pointless and a joke. Slaves didn't fight to be kept semi-owned. It's either total liberation or keep fighting. There is nothing in the middle. We don't tell bullies to only bully certain days of the week or tell racists to say racist things three times a day instead of five. With welfare they are all needlessly killed in the end so why stop there? They have a right to their lives, that's all that matters.

Glennis Whitney
Glennis W3 years ago

All creatures small or large should be treated humanely, they all need our love and care.

Lisa Zarafonetis
Lisa Zarafonetis3 years ago

Im personally striving towards Animal Rights myself.

Angev GERIDONI3 years ago

PETROPOLIS : now you can help the sanctuary that is home to farm animals, victims of exploitation, of abuse, and all kinds of cruelty. Some comes from Pétropolis some from other places around this city. Today there are 150 lucky animals, please give, for keeping them and to rescue other ones : ♥ Fairy sanctuary - or - ♥ Doe

Thank you for sharing