You are in: Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights: A False Dichotomy

Conservative MP Simon Hart has recently accused the RSPCA of becoming an ‘animal rights group’ which is now a ‘shadow of its welfare origins’. While the reasons behind this accusation are interesting (if predictable), it is the nature of the accusation that intrigues me the most: the assumption that there is a basic difference and conflict between ‘animal rights’ on the one hand and ‘animal welfare’ on the other.

Of course, this assumption is not the sole preserve of this Tory MP. In fact, the idea that the dichotomy between animal rights and animal welfare is a meaningful and useful way of characterising those who strive to afford better protection for animals is commonplace.

However, I want to claim that the dichotomy is false – and that its prevalence in the discourse and thinking about animal protection is unhelpful. I believe that there is no fundamental distinction between animal welfare and animal rights, and that the animal protection movement should not divide itself in this way, nor let itself be divided in this way by others.

So how are animal welfare and animal rights usually distinguished?  It is normally stated that each holds a different view about the human use of animals. According to the established analysis, an animal welfare position sees nothing wrong with the human use of animals, so long as the animals are not caused unnecessary suffering by that use. An animal rights position, by contrast, objects to all human use and exploitation of animals irrespective of the suffering that it causes.

It is strange that these positions have come to be regarded as the two defining ideas of the animal protection movement. After all, neither has much plausibility as a coherent view about how we ought to treat animals. Furthermore, it is hard to find many individuals or groups campaigning for better animal protection who subscribe to either of these positions: for example, groups who describe themselves as rights based are, in reality, often active against the infliction of suffering.

In actual fact, most such individuals and groups hold the much more sensible view that some human uses of animals are perfectly legitimate, and some are totally unacceptable.

For example, most people think that keeping a domesticated cat as a pet is a perfectly permissible use of an animal. They also feel the same way about using dogs to guide the blind and assist the disabled. At the same time, most of us also think that using an elephant to demonstrate our prowess with a shotgun is a totally unacceptable use of an animal. We feel the same way about using rats and mice in harmful cosmetic tests.

My point is not that everyone is in agreement about every aspect of the human use of animals. That would be absurd.  Clearly animal protection campaigners hold differing views about all sorts of aspects of animal use. Such diversity is to be expected and is a welcome feature of any thriving social movement. My point is simply that there is not one group of campaigners whose activities reflect the belief that all uses of animals are illegitimate, and another who believes all are legitimate. The positions of animal protection thinkers and activists are far more nuanced.

Furthermore, these more nuanced and sophisticated positions are only sensible, and should really be of little surprise. After all, when it comes to the use of other humans, again the only plausible view is not black and white, but subtle and alive to context. For example, using a plumber to fix a radiator is clearly permissible, while locking him in the cellar so that he is available to use immediately for all our plumbing emergencies clearly is not!

As such, animal welfare and animal rights as traditionally understood, are neither coherent positions, nor a meaningful basis on which to divide up different thinkers and activists who campaign for better animal protection. So is there any place for these terms within the movement?

I believe that there is. But I believe that they are terms that can be used to demonstrate commonalities and unity amongst those fighting for animals.

For one, all of us who are interested in the plight and protection of animals are welfarists.  That is to say, what motivates those of us who fight for the cause of animals is the welfare of animals themselves. It is the fact that these creatures have lives of their own, which they can enjoy or endure, which makes us concerned for their plight. This concern for the suffering of all sentient, conscious, experiencing creatures distinguishes and unites the animal protection movement – and fundamentally it makes us all welfarists.

Furthermore, all of us within the movement are also committed to animal rights.  We all share the view that some uses and treatments of animals are totally unacceptable and ought to be outlawed. This necessarily entails a commitment to animal rights. Of course, we will have disagreements about what practices involving animals ought and ought not to be outlawed; and thus different views about the precise content of animal rights. But as discussed above, such disagreements are an inevitable part of any healthy movement. If we agree that there are some practices which are impermissible, and which ought to be prevented by the force of law for the sake of animals themselves, then we are all thereby committed to animal rights.

In sum, then, I want to suggest that the animal protection movement should not divide itself – or let itself be divided – by the labels of ‘welfare’ or ‘rights’.  Rather, we must recognise that animal welfare and animal rights are worthy and compatible ideas.  Crucially, they are also the core beliefs which unite all those who strive for the better protection of our fellow animals.

Dr Alasdair Cochrane is Lecturer in Political Theory in the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield and a member of the CASJ’s research committee. He has recently published a book entitled ‘Animal Rights without Liberation’ (Columbia University Press).


21 Responses to Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights: A False Dichotomy

  1. Dr Dan Lyons says:

    Yes, talk of ‘animal welfare’ is meaningless unless the protection of such welfare is legally enshrined – i.e. animals have some rights to have their welfare protected. Most animals – i.e. those who suffer harm in agriculture and research – have very little legal protection in the UK, so Government rhetoric about respect for animal welfare is deeply misleading.

  2. Liz Carlton says:

    I do agree that all those interested in animal protection have welfare as a first concern. However I disagree that to consider some uses of animals as unacceptable means that all such people believe in animal rights.

    This argument strikes me rather like a suggestion that it might be quite Ok to keep a black woman as a slave to pick cotton but not in order to rape. That question has been dealt with in theory if still not yet in practice and we know that it is not simply a question of providing a slave with gloves so she doesn’t cut her hands.

    When we talk of human rights we mean those rights that are inalienable. Animals exist for themselves, not for our pleasure and any suggestion that they might do comes straight from the `man has dominion’ set of beliefs. So that to understand and accept animal rights is not an argument as to whether or not to keep a pet but an acceptance that animals have inalienable rights – and I joined CASJ because I believe it is those rights which need to be understood, catalogued and agreed upon.

    I see the welfare/rights debate rather as the recent and on going debate over gay marriage. Acceptance of a change in thinking takes time, and usually about 100 years to fully make the change. We would not have been able to change the law to accommodate gay marriage way back in 1967 – those who had campaigned for 50 odd years to stop consenting adults going to prison were still 45 years away from public acceptance of gay marriage. And so it will be for animal rights. But meanwhile, welfare is all we can provide.

    I am not a beaten wife but my right to live without fear of violence should not exist simply upon the goodwill of my husband.

    So I would say a lack of persecution is NOT the same as acceptance of a right. Welfare is a very different thing to a right.

    We must work with what we have whilst working towards our goal.

  3. Stacey says:

    I’m interested in how your argument would then categorise those who eat meat (particularly if they eat higher welfare such as Freedom Food) – given the large divide I witnessed when I worked in the sector over vegans/non-vegans I’d suggest that it would be very difficult for the two to be reconciled!

    Great that this blog exists – hopefully we can have some healthy discussion of the issues!

  4. John Bryant says:

    It is true that ‘rightists’ also support improved animal welfare, but the conflict between the two camps is because many ‘welfarists’ not only oppose the concept of a future without the human exploitation of animals, but actually seek to prevent it coming about.

    The RSPCA (of which I am a member because I support the reform of welfare) actively promotes, through its ‘Freedom Food’ scheme, the rearing and slaughter of millions of animals and birds for meat, milk and leather – none of which is necessary for human survival or health. ‘Freedom Food’ seeks to persuade the public that it is possible to have industrialised rearing, transportation and slaughter, and for all the animals to have a “happy life” and a “good death” – which is of course nonsense.
    The RSPCA has recently established a working relationship with Pets At Home, the biggest pet trader chain in the UK which sells millions of animals including foreign exotic species. The RSPCA’s idea is to improve welfare and responsibility in the pet industry and pet-owning public. But the result will be that pet ownership will become even more popular along with all its negative aspects of unwanted, strays, puppy-farming, feral cats, abuse and cruelty.

    In my first book, Fettered Kingdoms I likened the situation to that of the slave trade. I am sure there were some slave-owners who tried to improve the welfare of their slaves, if only to try and stave off abolition. What if they had devised a scheme called ‘Freedom Work’ with minimal codes and standards of welfare for all slaves? Would that have resulted in the postponement of abolition?

  5. stephen f. eisenman says:

    In the name of consensus, I am afraid Dr. Cochrane simply hides beneath the rug what he calls “disagreements about what practices involving animals ought and ought not to be outlawed.” For example, should weor should we not spend scarce time and resources trying (in the US) to expand the size of battery cages instead of simply banning the practice or calling for an end to the killing and consumption of chicken? Should the HSUS forge alliances with pig farmers in the quest for better conditions for the animals, or should it instead advocate for veganism? Should protestors in the UK accept the humane “culling” of badgers or other animals deemed by some to be pests, or simply say no: all animal lives are precious? It simply will not do to claim consensus where one does not exist. The debate of course is not new — it dates back to the 18th Century and the ideological struggles between Bentham and the RSPCA on one side, and John Oswald, Joseph Ritson and other animal abolitionists on the other. The terms today are clarified — the sentience and even intelligence of animals is more clear — and changes in ecology, economics and social structure mandate a new relationship between humans and animals. In a two generations or less, meat eating will be as proscribed in polite circles as cigarette smoking is today, and much more expensive. But as with any other profound social movement, it is not enough to sit on the sidelines and watch the change come — we have to feed the movement. And healthy discussion and debate is the best fuel.

  6. mypipsranout says:

    I often feel frustrated by the division of animal welfare and rights as it is absolutely true that the both are interconnected. That being said the animal welfare debate has been tainted by exploitative industries using it to ‘humane wash’ their practices. Your average supermarket shopper my well be buying products they think they need for their health which have high animal welfare standards when in reality neither is true. But whilst I campaign for the rights of animals not to be used as food and despair at the rise of the humane meat myth, I would never stop campaigning or supporting attempts to make life easier for animals enduring such horrendous existences in the interim. I just hope the meat moderates who claim to care will open their eyes sooner rather than later and become vegan.

  7. Dr Sue Oliver says:

    While I agree that the animal rights / welfare dichotomy is a false one, my perception is that in recent decades, ‘animal rights’ lost credibility in the public eye through extremist actions. I wonder if other champions of animal protection (a good umbrella term)have perhaps aligned themselves with ‘animal welfare’ as the sanitised face of the movement, hence perpetuating and deepening the split. Both parties are fighting the same cause – they just approach it differently – sometimes radically so.

  8. siobhan o'sullivan says:

    I think the animal protection movement still has some way to go before perfecting its use of language. When I sit in meetings with people who factory farm and they tell me that ‘animal welfare is their number one priority’ I feel sympathetic towards those who wish to distance themselves from the language of animal welfare. However, I am also wary of those who profess a unflinching commitment to animal rights. In my view, fundamentalism is intellectually lazy. At some point we must all draw the line but the fundamentalist doesn’t care to think about why they do what they do and why it matters. For my part I have become so disenchanted with the debate that I try to avoid the language of rights and welfare all together.

  9. Angela Roberts says:

    We can campaign to improve conditions for the billions of animals being killed right now – most predictions are suggesting a rise in meat production (almost doubling by 2050 and driven by rising demand in developing countries, according to Worldwatch), and we have a chance of having impact. We can also act to increase awareness of veganism and animal rights at the same time in the hope of having future impact, they are not mutually exclusive. Most of the campaigners I know do just that and are apparently comfortable with this supposed dichotomy.

  10. Liz Carlton says:

    Yes this really is becoming a great place to blog on this subject.

    I agree with Dr Oliver that it is the previous instances of violence that has cause many in the main stream public to distance themselves from ARs. That violence put our cause back by at least 10 years and is not condoned by the majority of AR supporters.

    However although the frame has been made wrong by it – it doesn’t mean the argument is wrong. So perhaps we should concentrate on finding a new frame? Although `rights’ is understood by us all in the concept of human rights – what do others think?

    And it occurs to me that there are actually 3 tags and that it may not necessarily be true that all animal rights supporters are also concerned with animal welfare.

    The 3 tags are Conservation, Welfare and Rights:

    Conservationists I would suggest care for the survival of the species, not necessarily about individual welfare or rights. There are many conservationist who would happily place animals in zoos and many who also hunt.

    And to give us something more to discuss – there is a dilemma with keeping pets.

    Obviously a wild animal should never ever be kept as a pet. (how to write this definition now with so many snakes, spiders etc being kept?) but what about already domesticated animals?

    One the one hand, by allowing animals to be kept as pets we put them into the `cared about slave’ category and although we have legislation based upon notions of welfare and compassion this legislation tends only to be enforced after the cruelty has been committed. They are certainly taken from their mothers too early and treated to little concern for their needs over ours.

    However, it is the sharing of your home with an animal, especially from childhood, that makes us understand that these strange beings do have character, intelligence, humour, are sentient – and have rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of their own happiness.

    I wonder how much empathy for other species we would grow up with without the ability to know some of them as individuals?

    Which brings me to another difference between the 3 tags.

    To care about conservation may or may not include the other 2 tags – or may simply be about conserving what is enjoyable for a hedonistic reasons.

    To care about welfare supposes some degree of empathy, a connection of `heart’ `spirit, emotion’ but not necessarily an intellectual approach.

    To believe in rights, whether or not you care or even like animals, can be simply a matter of philosophy, intellectual thinking based on the science of evolution. It does not necessarily include welfare or even conservation.

    Most of us I think are supporters of all 3.

  11. Rob Buttrose says:

    If animals have any rights then surely they are the most basic ones : not to be made to suffer and not to be killed. These are also the basic human rights. In the human case, no one would criticise this view as “fundamentalist” so I am wondering we should so regard it in the case of animals. Of course, in some exceptional circumstances, rights, even basic rights, can be overridden, raising tricky questions of just when such overriding is permissible. Some cases, e.g. self-defence are clear cut, most others are not. However, saying animals cannot be made to suffer or be killed except in “exceptional circumstances”, in whatever reasonable way that is cashed out, is not the same as the welfarist notion of avoiding “unnecessary suffering” and “unnecessary death”. “Necessity” in the welfarist paradigm is necessity with respect to the achievement of human purposes in the animal use (e.g. eating meat, testing shampoos, investigating the brain, entertainment, etc.). In welfarism, an animal use is typically pre-judged as legitimate and not morally evaluated. It is enough that it serves some human purpose. The ethical question at issue then is confined to, given the use, how much suffering or death can be avoided. The rights view rejects this approach, claiming most of our uses of animals are illegitimate in not constituting the “exceptional circumstances” under which animals’ basic rights can be overridden.

  12. Dr Dan Lyons says:

    The thrust of the CASJ and this Animal Republic blog is on real-world social impacts on animals, so it is more ‘problem-driven’ rather than ‘theory-driven’. From this perspective, drawing neat philosophical distinctions between AW and AR is of limited relevance because that’s not how the world works on the whole. Humans are more social than rational/autonomous animals, and hence social environment – which emerges from wider power distributions in society – has the greatest influence on their behaviour. Therefore, psychologically and politically, AW and AR are overlapping zones on a continuum rather than completely coherent and separate ideologies.

    However, I think Rob Buttrose’s description of ‘welfarism’ inadvertently highlights a very important political point. It reflects the fact that powerful group interests who harm animals have hijacked the discourse of ‘welfare’ precisely to give themselves the freedom to carry on harming animals as they see fit – by weakening political pressure for independent regulation which would constrain their harmful actions.

    A more accurate definition of ‘welfarism’ – one that doesn’t implicitly adopt ‘animal harm’ groups’ discursive manipulation – doesn’t assume harmful uses are legitimate but rather seeks to at least represent animals’ interests in not suffering in a cost-benefit analysis. Furthermore, this is largely a political position rather than an abstract philosophical position, as it is a response to the fact that we live in a world where institutionalised practices and power structures reflect the more extreme ‘animal harm’ position which gives virtually no weight at all to animal interests when they clash with certain human interests. They have the power of incumbency.

    Given that is the current problem, and social change is path-dependent, the key to moving forward is to focus on welfare/suffering and the need for animals to be protected. Interestingly, that could be said to imply rights for animals, perhaps limited initially, to having their welfare protected or at least represented in policy processes. So, from a practical political perspective, rather than a purely philosophical perspective, AW and AR are certainly interconnected.

  13. Martin Ashby says:

    I agree with Liz, the term ‘animal rights’ still has negative connotations. In debates with hunters, meat eaters etc etc they often ask ‘are you animal rights or welfare’. I refuse to get drawn into this non-debate. I always says I am animal protection or an animal advocate. This stops the debate moving from the subject of animal abuse or use.
    Although I’m vegan myself we still have a duty to improve our treatment of those farm animals that will still be used. Don’t get side tracked I say.

  14. Mike Maas says:

    I am full of approval for Dan Lyons’ initiative and glad to see an academic writing the first contribution to this blog. With enough academics of sufficient distinction discussing this subject, perhaps our politicians will begin to pay heed.

  15. Liz Carlton says:

    Martin, I love your `animal advocate’ and I shall use that term in future, thanks.

    Dan, I understand that you want for `The thrust of the CASJ …to be on real-world social impacts… so it is more ‘problem-driven’ rather than ‘theory-driven’. And I am sorry to take yet another bite of this particular cherry but I just gotta say -:

    The problem IS the theory. Unless and until we can change the theory there will be no proper welfare. There is nothing abstract about it – animal harm will continue until animals are accorded rights.

    I am 100% with Stephen F Eisenman. We’ve been doing animal welfare since 1824. Richard Martin believed in animal rights and yet the RSPCA has only ever dealt with welfare. Forego the theory and deal with the practical -it’s been done before. (CIWF for example are doing an excellent job in highlighting suffering) But we need something new, something academic, something that changes minds at a level we cannot reach. And we ask you to do that for us.

    You say that social change is path dependant and that moving forward is dependent on welfare/suffering/ need for protection issues. Again I have to disagree. I believe that the road to change is via intelligence,self awareness and emotional issues and that will lead to a main stream acceptance of rights as undeniable – providing we don’t sell it short or allow a frustrated and violent minority to take it backwards again.

    I am not suggesting that we don’t continue to work for welfare – just that we accept that, as others have contended, it is an immediate necessity, a make do and mend and not a solution or the end goal. The time for AR acceptance is almost here and needs to be worked for – peacefully, intelligently, philosophically and practically. And the practical entails deciding what rights we would propose – since life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would seem to be problematic. Rob asks pertinent questions on this point.

    Yes, that will entail a philosophical debate but it will be worth the trouble.

  16. Dr Dan Lyons says:

    Liz, you do need ethical theory, of course – to determine what an ideal world would look like in terms of how we treat other animals, their ethical status etc. – but that is never enough on its own, as you need a practical strategy to change society in the direction of your ideal theory. There is no problem with the ideal theory – I’ve never come across a coherent rebuttal of the main anti-speciesist arguments. The problem is a practical one – how do we actually change things for the better for animals? To answer that we have to understand how social and political change can happen and the fact that philosophical arguments are only a small – if vital – part of change.

    Unfortunately it is a feature of all social movements – not just animal protection – that they spend too great a proportion of their time and energy going round and round in circles on abstract ideological arguments of little short/medium term practical relevance to the problem at hand. That’s probably driven by wishful thinking about how the world is and how change happens.

    For example ‘we’ – as in society as a whole – certainly haven’t been doing ‘animal welfare’ since 1824. If only! Overall, our treatment of animals is far worse and those practices are deeply entrenched. It reflects an ’animal use’ ideology where animal welfare is not even seriously considered, never mind protected, in the major industries that cause most animal harm. The RSPCA may be considered conservative compared with AR philosophy, but in reality they have always been radical compared to the status quo and dominant attitudes and practices towards animals.

    My explanation that social change is path-dependent is a fundamental fact about the way the world works and an essential insight for adequate social science. It doesn’t mean that social change is linear and entirely pre-determined. But it does mean that change is strongly influenced by how society has evolved up to this point, particularly where power inequalities are institutionalised. And at the moment we have very little power compared to the interests and practices that cause harm to animals.

    The reason we’ve started off on this topic is to improve understanding within animal protection – and among some philosophers – of the need to factor in social reality when we are thinking about how to take effective political action for animals. It’s when you do that that the AW/AR dichotomy largely disappears.

    The harsh reality is that ‘animal welfare’ – defined as a political system that would give the wellbeing/interests of animals significant consideration in utilitarian decision-making processes – would be a revolutionary step forward for the UK and the world. So, unfortunately, the time for AR acceptance is not ‘almost here’ – is not even on the horizon. Humans and our society are nowhere near as rational, principled as we’d like to think.

  17. Tom says:

    Good post. I’ve always felt that animal welfare is an ambiguous concept, and that the rights/welfare distinction is usually an unhelpful way of thinking about animal protection. What I’ve noticed is that the dichotomy is used to justify certain kinds of unnecessary abuse and hold back progress on animal protection. For example, ‘enriched’ cages cause tremendous suffering to chickens, but the industry promotes this as a progressive development that reduces suffering compared to the standard battery cage. The moral case against the technology is very strong and has nothing to do with rights vs welfare: the problem is that ‘welfare’ is used in a certain context to justify the continuation of an inhumane practice. Any legitimate science of animal husbandry would condemn battery cages outright, but instead modest reform is marketed as being in the interest of animals. If the industry really cared about animal suffering and welfare (not animal science) had been at the heart of policy making, then the cages would have been abolished.

    Animal rights is an even more ambiguous concept. It’s used in a political sense to mean any advocacy on behalf of animals, whereas usually measures have nothing to do with animal rights in the technical sense. Going back to my uni days, I was taught that a deontological ‘Right’ is a claim that a being has an entitlement that can’t be traded off against the interests of others. In the case of animals this would mean that they have an inalienable claim for example to life, and it would be immoral for us to kill the animal no matter what the consequences. This is such an extravagant argument, and I seriously doubt whether many people involved in animal protection actually hold this view. However, the media and especially conservatives are apt to describe any welfare measure as part of the ‘animal rights’ agenda.

    It’s depressingly predictable that rights and welfare have been rendered meaningless by industries that want to maintain certain forms of abuse. If you say that you are opposed to fur farming because of its cruelty, they outrageously say that stacking them in cages is in the interest of their welfare. You respond that you’re opposed to the inherent cruelty of keeping them in cages and that this is an insult to their welfare, and they say that you’re making an Animal Rights argument that intrinsically opposes the use of animals for some purpose. The fact is that the rights/welfare distinction is an irrelevant distraction in many cases, and we should be opposed to certain practices because the benefit to us is so trivial compared to the immense suffering that’s caused.

  18. clarisse says:

    This post actually saved me I had to write an essay on: ‘animal welfare or animal rights which is the best approach?’ and I just couldn’t decide on my own view hence couldn’t come up to a conclusion until I read this. He is completely right! Thanks!!:)

  19. David Bowles says:

    There is no false dichotomy between animal welfare and animal rights but a real difference both in terms of how to achieve change and under what regulatory framework you are working. All organisations campaigning for improvements in animals work under an organisational framework i.e. a charity or not and this framework has very clear differentiation between animal welfare and rights based on the public interest test as confirmed by court cases. So the RSPCA is an animal welfare charity which has to work under the framework of the human benefit test and NAVS is an Animal rights organisation that can step outside this framework. This difference of course manifests itself most on research animal issues where the RSPCA cannot lobby for a ban on testing where there is a human benefit but can lobby and does for replacement and reduction of animals, and refinement of tests.

    The other difference is the wider public understanding of these terms -Simon Hart and others use the term animal rights as a pejorative insult and uses it as it has a wider recognition in this instance by the public. If organisations such as the RSPCA want to work for change to animal standards this context must be understood and applied or doors we find that are open now and allow us to work with industry could and probably would be closed shutting down the possibility to improve animal standards.

    Finally animal welfare advocates of which I am one, believe it is best to get incremental change to a situation to improve welfare such as a slight improvement in a law or an increase in people buying higher welfare meat. Animal rights advocates tend to desire complete change in one go such as an outright ban and dismiss incremental change as either not good enough or even selling out.

    Although the differences are important it is also important to have these different positions. It is up to people, legislators and industry to choose at what level they wish to set their animal standards and a healthy debate on how we get progress is vital to ensure progress occurs. The RSPCA has been advocating and achieving progress on animals for 191 years and will continue to do so for the benefit of animals and within its regulatory framework.

  20. Alasdair Cochrane says:

    David – yes, you are right in that the framework supports the dichotomy. And groups self-identify according to that dichotomy.

    But the aim of my original post was to challenge the dichotomy: to say that it’s logically, philosophically and politically incoherent. And it’s also pernicious: dividing groups unnecessarily and permitting easy name-calling from those who wish to defend the status quo.

    Of course, it might legitimately be asked why we ought to question it, given its entrenchment in the regulatory framework and amongst campaigners. Well, as for the framework, it will change over time, and we should seek to shape it to make it better. As for the latter, groups need to realise that the dichotomy derives from political institutions that can be changed, and that their attention ought to be focused (in part) on realising such structural change.

  21. Angela Roberts says:

    As a campaigner, with 25 years’ experience – I believe the welfare versus rights debate is divisive and unhelpful.

    David Bowles notes that groups such as NAVS can campaign for the abolition of animal experiments – but in reality they don’t actually do much of that – in fact most work/campaigns by most groups and organisations can be classed as ‘welfare’ or campaigning for incremental changes – the banning of animal experiments is not yet on the agenda in any meaningful way so it makes sense to work on improvements when and where this becomes possible.

    In this way the differences can be seen as a logical progression along the same path rather than welfare versus rights as ultimate and opposing goals.

    The other problem I have with these classifications is that the terms have been captured by industries (and their defenders) that harm & kill animals. David points out that Simon Hart (former Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance) uses the term ‘animal rights’ as a pejorative term – but when Simon does this he isn’t thinking about animal rights in the sense of legal rights to protect the interests of animals and ensure their welfare, instead he’s using the behaviour of a very small number of ‘extreme’ activists in a deliberate attempt to discredit the whole animal protection movement.

    Similarly when industry representatives talk about animal welfare – they don’t really mean genuine protection of animals’ interests, they are instead, using the term to give the (often false) impression that the animals they use and/or kill have had nice lives. In reality most people would disagree with their assessments of suitable welfare.

    On the other hand, it is true that the term ‘animal rights’ has come to be strongly associated with extremism. Many of my colleagues at different organisations have, like me, swapped to using the term animal protection – not because some of us don’t believe that animals should have legal rights to protect them from harm – but because we realise it creates an unhelpful impression that can hinder our attempts to create positive change. Having recently stood (unsuccessfully) for election to the RSPCA council and been hounded and door-stopped by reactionary elements of the national press I can understand the RSPCA being very keen to distance themselves from anything seen as contentious (they have been subjected to a monstering in the media for a good few years now). And these organs do worry that animals interests being properly protected by legal rights is a threat to their freedom to behave cruelly toward animals – see Paul Dacre’s (Daily Mail editor) links to shooting for instance:

    “The Langwell Estate near Ullapool in Scotland offers grouse shooting, deer stalking and other opportunities to blow away wildlife. Its lodge rents for £4250 per week in high season, according to websites advertising it. In 2012, the estate received about £250,000 (€300,408) in EU agricultural subsidies. The estate’s owner? Britain’s best-paid editor… Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail! ” (from Private Eye)

    Even more puzzling is the fact that the term ‘welfare’ is also used as a pejorative insult by self-titled ‘abolitionists’ who believe that improving the welfare of animals in the short term will delay or derail their inevitable claim to legal rights.

    For some the divide is ideological and driven by a desire to be seen as such, for others it’s a way of framing the debate in the public mind. For me though it’s simply not useful, I’ll support incremental measures where I can and I will also push the debate towards genuine protection of animals’ interests whenever I can.

    As an animal advocate I refuse to be pigeonholed!

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