For breakfast we eat eggs and for dinner we eat meat. Sometimes we eat both in the same meal. We wear our leather jackets and woollen scarves and buy tickets to attend the circus or visit the zoo. We keep our animals in cages and as children we ran into the local pet shops to beg our parents to buy us a puppy. These are all normal traits of the average human… but are our actions playing a part in restricting basic rights for animals?
Author Peter Singer explains in his book Animal Liberation that an important distinction to make when talking about animal rights is that the basic principle of equality does not require identical treatment, it requires equal consideration.
Jeremy Bentham, founder of the reforming utilitarian school of moral philosophy explains that when deciding on a being’s rights,
“The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’”
According to Bentham, the capacity for suffering is the vital characteristic that gives a being the right to equal consideration.
United States based company; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known by most simply as ‘PETA’ outlines the core issues when it comes to the lack of rights received by animals:
- Animals used for food
- Animals used for clothing
- Animals used for experimentation
- Animals used for entertainment
- Companion animals (who have been abused and/or do not have a home)
Johnathon Safran Foer wrote Eating Animals, described by Jeffrey Goldberg as an “eloquent exploration of something most sentient humans think about at some point in their lives: Just what exactly am I eating? Or more to the point, “Just who exactly am I eating?”.” Following the book’s release, Goldberg interviewed Safran Foer, who explained that in his research he visited some small farms, where the goodness of good farmers surprised him more than the badness of bad farmers. He looked at farms where the animals were treated better than his own dog and said it would be impossible to argue that they don’t have good lives… “they’re killed in the end, but our lives are destined for death also. We’re not getting killed, but there are slaughterhouses that kill these animals in ways that they don’t anticipate death or feel it.”
Later in their interview, Goldberg questions why eating beef is more humane than eating chicken. Safran Foer explains that it takes 220 chickens to make one cow, so looking in terms of individual suffering, that’s 220 lives vs. one.
Mark Bittman in his 2012 article ‘The Human Cost of Animal Suffering’, explains although initially thinking that the reasons not to eat meat were environmental and health related, he now sees that animal welfare should play a large part in this decision making. Bittman references Timothy Pachirat’s ‘Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialised Slaughter and the Politics of Sight’, and points out most of us would assume he is referring to the frequency with which we kill animals, however this is not the case, we kill more than 9 billion animals per year… the figure referred to the frequency in which one particular slaughter house in America kills cattle, approximately 2,500 per day. Pachirat shatters any belief we might hold about the system treating animals with decency, he explains the animals are seen as a ‘raw material’ and that the cattle were referred to as ‘beef’ even while still alive. This treatment of animals is pointed out by Bittman as ‘hardly consistent with our keeping of adored pets’. And isn’t that true, we love our cats and dogs, with some of us treating them like family, allowing them a spot at the dinner table, but here we are completely denying other animal’s rights completely and looking at them purely as pieces of meat.
Animal welfare agencies are non-government, not-for-profit agencies that reflect a range of views on animal welfare. All agencies accept some use of animals by humans, provided it can be justified and is humane. Animal welfare agencies have had to accept the need for negotiation and compromise as a means for achieving their ends. One of their biggest challenges in Australia are political resistance and economic constraints. (RSPCA Australia 2008).
The Government are much more attentive when listening to economic concerns, rather than ethical ones e.g. the rate of change can speed up significantly if there is a financial imperative in favour of improvements (RSPCA Australia 2008). Bidda Jones, RSPCA Australia Chief Scientist in her 2008 article ‘The Role of Animal Welfare Agencies in Improving Animal Welfare‘ points out that in their strive to achieve goals, animal welfare agencies find that; change is incremental, the increments are very small and frustratingly slow to be adopted, and there is little obvious progress towards achieving ultimate objectives. Current strategies provide evidence that a decade is not long enough to achieve any major goal in animal welfare.
In Australia the RSPCAs in some of the states provide animal welfare education for primary and secondary school students. An example of the RSPCA providing information are their newsletters produced in Victoria that inform on a range of welfare matters, such as; the dangers of leaving pets in hot cars, the live animal export trade and the tail docking of dogs for cosmetic purposes (which is now banned following a rigorous RSPCA campaign) (Eadie, 2011).
Despite being two of the largest animal welfare agencies known, PETA and the RSPCA do not always see eye to eye. A notable example of the RSPCA slamming the other agency was in 2014 when CEO Steve Coleman accused PETA of not being ‘fair dinkum’ about animal rights because they ignored legal channels that could punish the perpetrators in an animal cruelty case. The case in question included footage of animal abuse by sheep shearers with Coleman conveying his frustration over people not utilising the RSPCA as a body that can act on cruelty. PETA’s Campaign Coordinator, Claire Fryer hit back saying that there must have been a miscommunication, as the agency had submitted details of the investigation to RSPCA NSW; to which Coleman quoted that there had been no consultation or communication and that his agency became aware of the issue at the same time as the media.
Both organisations prioritise issues that they see as needing their attention the most. For the RSPCA issues such as dogs dying in hot cars, the need for puppy factory closures and hens deserving better are at the top of their list of issues. For PETA the use of animals for food, clothing, experimentation and entertainment are at their forefront. The RSPCA works for an immediate reaction, e.g. providing a number 1300 278 3589 (1800 CRUELTY) to be called for animals suffering by being left in hot cars. Those committing the crime could be fined $5,500 and if their animal dies from this suffering charges include $22,500 in fines and two years jail time. PETA has longer term expectations of results as reducing the amount of animals used for experimentation and entertainment etc cannot be achieved overnight.
A confronting 2003 campaign by PETA that debated human’s use of animals for food likened our treatment of animals to the Nazi’s treatment of Jews with the slogan ‘Holocaust on Your Plate’. PETA designed posters reading ‘Baby Butchers’, ‘’Walking Skeletons’ and ‘To Animals. All People Are Nazis’. Each of the posters featured comparison shots of animals in slaughterhouses, starving animals and animals behind caged windows to the Jews in concentration camps, starved and behind wired fences. This attempt at eliciting an emotional response from the public on one hand may have offended and upset, but on the other was able to portray a raw and harsh reality of the suffering that animals face at the hands of humans. Another attempt made by PETA was in Manitoba, Canada where a male on a bus beheaded a fellow passenger, with the agency comparing the incident to the slaughter of animals.
Manitoba… An innocent young victim’s throat is cut… his struggles and cries are ignored… the man with the knife shows know emotion… the victim is slaughtered and his head cut off… his flesh is eaten. It’s Still Going On!
To this agency, it appears nothing is off limits when it comes to confronting audiences with brutal truths, but this technique that instils fear does what it intends to in terms of creating a greater awareness and causing people to question the status quo.
PETA is not alone in confronting campaigns and appeals, with the RSCPA in Western Australia last month (May, 2017) launching ‘20for20’, asking Western Australian’s to each donate $20 to increase the number of inspectors, investigating cruelty reports across the entire state to 20. At this point in time, with only 11 inspectors it is impossible to respond to each of the 6,300 cruelty reports each year in a timely manner. Amanda Smith, the Chief Inspector of RSPCA WA explains that inspectors often attend the call-outs but that they’re just ‘too late’. “Those instances are very distressing; particularly for the attending Inspector, but it’s the sad reality of the challenges we face at present.” In Western Australia, RSPCA Inspectors enforce the Animal Welfare Act (2002).
Despite everything being done by animal welfare agencies to improve animal rights and reduce animal suffering, the issue is still very apparent and is in no way become non-existent. The greatest thing that they can do is to continue to create awareness, not everyone is going to want to give up eating meat, not everyone is going to want to stop wearing furs and most certainly not everyone is going to want to stop watching animals in entertainment formats. But if these agencies continue to promote these issues, continue to campaign to reduce the suffering and mistreatment… then that’s certainly a promising start.
PETA have a ‘Victories and Accomplishments’ page on their website that allows access to their success stories. With 4+ accomplishments each month over the last three months alone, it isn’t difficult to see that their small steps are achieving big results. Their most recent victory was bringing attention to Wells Fargo that the Iditarod (a cruel an abusive race that has killed more than 150 dogs since it began) had seen 5 dogs die in the event in less than a week. Following this, Wells Fargo worked swiftly to end their association with the Iditarod.
Although access to information of RSPCA’s success stories is not as readily available, a quick search results in a number of articles listing the good deeds done by the agency. An ABC News article explains that a 2016 ‘clear the shelter’ campaign, which was a three day, NSW wide event resulted in a record number of 596 animal adoptions, with animals being sold for a small price of $29. 2017 quickly broke this record number with 753 animals adopted over the three-day period in February.
Bittman, M 2012, ‘The Human Cost of Animal Suffering’, The New York Times, online, accessed 25 May 2017, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/the-human-cost-of-animal-suffering/?hp#
Brown, E 2014, ‘RSPCA says PETA is not ‘fair dinkum’’, ABC News, online, accessed 21 May 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2014-07-17/rspca-on-peta/5603440
Eadie, E N 2011, Education for Animal Welfare, Berlin Heidelberg: Springer
Goldberg, J 2009, ‘Johnathon Safran Foer on the Morality or Vegetarianism’, The Atlantic, online, accessed 25 May 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2009/12/jonathan-safran-foer-on-the-morality-of-vegetarianism/31686/
Hoh, A 2017, ‘RSPCA adoption campaign finds hundreds of new homes for NSW animals’, ABC News, online, accessed 30 May 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-27/rspca-record-adoption-weekend-nsw-lovesick-greyhounds/8306204
Jones, B 2008, ‘The Role of Animal Welfare Agencies in Improving Animal Welfare’, RSPCA, online, accessed 3 May 2017, http://www.australiananimalwelfare.com.au/app/webroot/files/upload/files/The%20role%20of%20animal%20welfare%20agencies%20in%20improving%20animal%20welfare.pdf
PETA, 2017, Why Animal Rights?, PETA, online, accessed 3 May 2017, http://www.peta.org/about-peta/why-peta/why-animal-rights/
RSPCA, 2017, ‘RSPCA WA launches confronting appeal to get more inspectors on WA Roads’, RSPCA WA, online, accessed 20 May 2017, https://www.rspcawa.asn.au/news/2017-05-08-rspca-wa-launches-confronting-appeal-to-get-more-inspectors-on-wa-roads
Sharp, G 2008, ‘PETA’s ‘Holocaust on Your Plate’ Campaign’, The Society Pages, online, accessed 21 May 2017, https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/05/05/petas-holocaust-on-your-plate-campaign/