"What do you mean
by 'animal rights'?"
Animal rights means that animals deserve certain kinds of consideration-consideration
of what is in their own best interests regardless of whether they are cute,
useful to humans, or an endangered species and regardless of whether any
human cares about them at all (just as a mentally-challenged human has rights
even if he or she is not cute or useful or even if everyone dislikes him
or her). It means recognizing that animals are not ours to use-for food,
clothing, entertainment, or experimentation.
"What is the difference between 'animal rights'
and 'animal welfare'?"
Animal welfare theories accept that animals have interests but allow these
interests to be traded away as long as there are some human benefits that
are thought to justify that sacrifice.
Animal rights means that animals, like humans, have interests that cannot
be sacrificed or traded away just because it might benefit others. However,
the rights position does not hold that rights are absolute; an animal's
rights, just like those of humans, must be limited, and rights can certainly
Animal rights means that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing,
entertainment, or experimentation. Animal welfare allows these uses as long
as "humane" guidelines are followed.
"What rights should animals have?"
Animals have the right to equal consideration of their interests. For instance,
a dog most certainly has an interest in not having pain inflicted on him
or her unnecessarily. We therefore are obliged to take that interest into
consideration and respect the dog's right not to have pain unnecessarily
inflicted upon him or her.
However, animals don't always have the same rights as humans, because
their interests are not always the same as ours and some rights would be
irrelevant to animals' lives. For instance, a dog doesn't have an interest
in voting and therefore doesn't have the right to vote, since that right
would be as meaningless to a dog as it is to a child.
"Where do you draw the line?"
The renowned humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, who accomplished so much for
both humans and animals in his lifetime, would take time to stoop and move
a worm from hot pavement to cool earth. Aware of the problems and responsibilities
an expanded ethic brings with it, he said we each must "live daily
from judgment to judgment, deciding each case as it arises, as wisely and
mercifully as we can."
We can't stop all suffering, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't stop
any. In today's world of virtually unlimited choices, there are usually
"kinder, gentler" ways for most of us to feed, clothe, entertain,
and educate ourselves than by killing animals.
"What about plants?"
There is currently no reason to believe that plants experience pain, devoid
as they are of central nervous systems, nerve endings, and brains. It is
theorized that the main reason animals have the ability to experience pain
is as a form of self-protection. If you touch something that hurts and could
possibly injure you, you will learn from the pain it produces to leave it
alone in the future. Since plants cannot locomote and do not have the need
to learn to avoid certain things, this sensation would be superfluous.
Plants are completely different physiologically from mammals. Unlike
animals' body parts, many perennial plants, fruits, and vegetables can be
harvested over and over again without resulting in the death of the plant
If one is concerned about the impact of vegetable agriculture on the
environment, a vegetarian diet is still preferable to a meat-based one,
since the vast majority of grains and legumes raised today are used as feed
for cattle. By eating vegetables directly, rather than eating animals such
as cows who must consume 16 pounds of vegetation in order to convert them
into 1 pound of flesh, one is saving many more plants' lives (and destroying
"It's fine for you to believe in animal rights,
but you shouldn't tell other people what to do." Now you are telling
me what to do!"
Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but freedom of thought does
not always imply freedom of action. You are free to believe whatever you
want as long as you don't hurt others. You may believe that animals should
be killed, that black people should be enslaved, or that women should be
beaten, but you don't always have the right to put your beliefs into practice.
As for telling people what to do, society exists so that there will be
rules governing people's behavior. The very nature of reform movements is
to tell others what to do-don't use humans as slaves, don't sexually harass
women, etc.-and all movements initially encounter opposition from peoplewho
want to go on doing the criticized behavior.
"Animals don't reason, don't understand rights,
and don't always respect our rights, so why should we apply our ideas of
morality to them?"
Because an animal's inability to understand and adhere to our rules is as
irrelevant as a child's or a person with a developmental disability's inability
to do so. Animals are not usually capable of choosing to change their behavior,
but human beings have the intelligence to choose between behavior that hurts
others and behavior that doesn't.
"Where does the animal rights movement stand
There are people on both sides of the abortion issue in the animal rights
movement, just as there are people on both sides of animal rights issues
in the pro-life movement. And just as the pro-life movement has no official
position on animal rights, neither does the animal rights movement have
an official position on abortion.
"It's almost impossible to avoid using all
animal products; if you're still causing animal suffering without realizing
it, what's the point?"
It is impossible to live your life without causing some harm; we've all
accidentally stepped on ants or breathed in gnats, but that doesn't mean
we should intentionally cause unnecessary harm. Just because you might accidentally
hit someone with your car is no reason to run someone over on purpose.
"What about all the customs, traditions, and
jobs that depend on using animals?"
The invention of the automobile, the abolition of slavery, and the end of
World War II also necessitated job retraining and restructuring. This is
simply an ingredient in all social progress-not a reason to deter progress.
"Don't animal rights activists commit 'terrorist'
The animal rights movement is nonviolent. One of the central beliefs shared
by most animal rights people is rejection of harm to any animal, human or
otherwise. However, any large movement is going to have factions that believe
in the use of force.
"How can you justify spending your time on
animals when there are so many people who need help?"
There are very serious problems in the world that deserve our attention;
cruelty to animals is one of them. We should try to alleviate suffering
wherever we can. Helping animals is not any more or less important than
helping human beings-they are both important. Animal suffering and human
suffering are interconnected.
"Most animals used for food, fur, or experiments
are bred for that purpose."
Being bred for a certain purpose does not change an animal's biological
capacity to feel pain and fear.
"God put animals here for us to use; the Bible
gives us dominion over animals."
Dominion is not the same as tyranny. The Queen of England has "dominion"
over her subjects, but that doesn't mean she can eat them, wear them, or
experiment on them. If we have dominion over animals, surely it is to protect
them, not to use them for our own ends. There is nothing in the Bible that
would justify our modern-day policies and programs that desecrate the environment,
destroy entire species of wildlife, and inflict torment and death on billions
of animals every year. The Bible imparts a reverence for life; a loving
God could not help but be appalled at the way animals are being treated.
"Wasn't Hitler in favor of animal rights?"
Although the Nazis purported to pass an anti-vivisection bill, they did
not. In fact, they were required by law to first perform their experiments
on animals before carrying them out on humans. Experiments on humans did
not replace animal experiments; on the contrary, animal experiments made
them possible. John Vyvyan in The Dark Face of Science summed it up correctly:
"The experiments made on prisoners were many and diverse, but they
had one thing in common: All were in continuation of or complementary to
experiments on animals. In every instance, this antecedent scientific literature
is mentioned in the evidence; and at Buchenwald and Auschwitz concentration
camps, human and animal experiments were carried out simultaneously as parts
of a single programme."
However, even if this weren't the case, the merits of an idea cannot
be determined by the character of its proponents. If Hitler believed in
evolution, does that mean we should not believe in evolution? What if Gandhi
also believed in evolution-how would we reconcile the two? An idea must
be judged on its own merits.
"Animals in cages on factory farms or in laboratories
don't suffer that much because they've never known anything else."
To be prevented from performing the most basic instinctual behaviors causes
tremendous suffering. Even animals caged since birth feel the need to move
around, groom themselves, stretch their limbs or wings, and exercise. Herd
animals and flock animals become distressed when they are made to live in
isolation or when they are put in groups too large for them to be able to
recognize other members. In addition, all confined animals suffer from intense
boredom-some so severely that it can lead to self-mutilation or other self-destructive
"If animal exploitation were wrong, it would
Legality is no guarantee of morality. Who does and doesn't have legal rights
is determined merely by the opinion of today's legislators. The law changes
as public opinion or political motivations change, but ethics are not so
arbitrary. Look at some of the other things that have at one time been legal
in the U.S.-child labor, human slavery, the oppression of women.
"Have you ever been to a slaughterhouse/vivisection
No, but enough people have filmed inside and written about what goes on
in these places to tell the story. You do not need to experience the abuse
of animals close up to be able to criticize it any more than you need to
personally experience rape or child abuse to criticize those. No one will
ever be witness to all the suffering in the world, but that doesn't mean
we shouldn't try to stop it.
"Animals are not as intelligent or advanced
If possessing superior intelligence does not entitle one human to abuse
another human for his or her purposes, why should it entitle humans to abuse
There are animals who are unquestionably more intelligent, creative,
aware, communicative, and able to use language than some humans, as in the
case of a chimpanzee compared to a human infant or a person with a severe
developmental disability. Should the more intelligent animals have rights
and the less intelligent humans be denied rights?
"Conditions on factory farms or fur farms
are no worse than in the wild, where animals die of starvation, disease,
or predation. At least the animals on factory farms are fed and protected."
This argument was used to claim that black people were better off as slaves
on plantations than as free men and women. The same could also be said of
people in prison, yet prison is considered one of society's harshest punishments.
Animals on factory farms suffer so much that it is inconceivable that
they could be worse off in the wild. The wild isn't "wild" to
the animals who live there; it's their home. There they have their freedom
and can engage in their natural activities. The fact that they might suffer
in the wild is no reason to ensure that they suffer in captivity.
"Vegetarianism is a personal choice. Don't
try to force it on everyone else."
From a moral standpoint, actions that harm others are not matters of personal
choice. Murder, child abuse, and cruelty to animals are all immoral. Our
society now encourages meat-eating and the cruelties of factory farming,
but history teaches that society also once encouraged slavery, child labor,
and many other practices now universally recognized as wrong.
"Animals kill other animals for food, so why
Most of the animals who kill for food could not survive if they didn't.
That is not the case for us. We are better off not eating meat. Many other
animals are vegetarians, including some of our closest primate relatives.
"The animals have to die sometime."
Humans do, too, but that doesn't give you the right to kill them or to cause
them a lifetime of suffering.
"Farmers have to treat their animals well,
or they won't produce as much milk or lay as many eggs."
Animals on factory farms do not gain weight, lay eggs, and produce milk
because they are comfortable, content, or well cared for, but rather because
they have been manipulated specifically to do these things through genetics,
medications, hormones, and management techniques. In addition, animals raised
for food today are slaughtered at extremely young ages, usually before disease
and misery have decimated them.
Such huge numbers of animals are raised for food that it is less expensive
for farmers to absorb some losses than it is to provide humane conditions.
"What will we do with all those chickens,
cows, and pigs if everyone becomes a vegetarian?"
It's unrealistic to expect that everyone will stop eating animals overnight.
As the demand for meat decreases, the number of animals bred will decrease.
Farmers will stop breeding so many animals and will turn to other types
of agriculture. When there are fewer of these animals, they will be able
to live more natural lives.
"If everyone turned vegetarian, it would be
worse for the animals because so many of them would not even be born."
Life on factory farms is so miserable that it is hard to see how we are
doing animals a favor by bringing them into that type of existence, confining
them, tormenting them, and then slaughtering them.
"If everyone switches to vegetables and grains,
will there be enough to eat?"
Yes. We feed so much grain to animals in order to fatten them up for consumption
that if we all became vegetarians, we could produce enough food to feed
the entire world. In the U.S., animals are fed more than 80 percent of the
corn we grow and more than 95 percent of the oats. The world's cattle alone
consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people-more
than the entire human population on Earth.
"Don't humans have to eat meat to stay healthy?"
Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Dietetic Association
have endorsed vegetarian diets. Studies have also shown that vegetarians
have stronger immune systems than meat-eaters and that meat-eaters are almost
twice as likely to die of heart disease, 60 percent more likely to die of
cancer, and 30 percent more likely to die of other diseases. The consumption
of meat and dairy products has been conclusively linked with diabetes, arthritis,
osteoporosis, clogged arteries, obesity, asthma, and impotence.
"Eating meat is natural. It's been going on
for thousands of years. Our bodies are designed that way."
Actually, human bodies are better suited for a vegetarian diet. Carnivorous
animals have long, curved fangs, claws, and a short digestive tract. Humans
have flat, flexible nails and our so-called "canine" teeth are
minuscule compared to those of carnivores, and even compared to vegetarian
primates like gorillas and orangutans. Our tiny canine teeth are better
suited to biting into fruits than tearing through tough hides. We have flat
molarsand a long digestive tract suited to a diet of vegetables, fruits,
and grains. Eating meat is hazardous to our health; it contributes to heart
disease, cancer, and many other health problems.
"What's wrong with drinking milk? Don't dairy
cows need to be milked?"
In order for a cow to produce milk, she must have a calf. "Dairy cows"
are impregnated every year in order to keep up a steady supply of milk.
In the natural order of things, the cow's calf would drink her milk (eliminating
her need to milked by humans). But dairy cows' babies are taken away within
a day or two of birth so that humans can have the milk nature intended for
their calves. Female dairy calves may be slaughtered immediately or raised
to be future dairy cows. Male dairy calves are confined for 16 weeks in
tiny veal crates too small for them even to turn around in.
The current high demand for dairy products requires that cows be pushed
beyond their natural limits, genetically engineered and fed growth hormones
in order to produce huge quantities of milk. Even the few farmers who choose
not to raise animals intensively must both eliminate the calf (who would
otherwise drink the milk) and eventually send the mother off to slaughter
after her milk production wanes.
"I know a vegetarian who is unhealthy."
There are healthy and unhealthy vegetarians. But doctors agree that vegetarians
who eat a varied, low-fat diet stand a much better chance of living longer,
healthier lives than their meat-eating counterparts.
"I didn't kill the animal."
No, but you hired the killer. Whenever you purchase meat, that means that
the killing was done for you and you paid for it.
"If you were starving on a boat at sea, and
there were an animal on the boat, would you eat the animal?"
I don't know. Humans will go to extremes to save their own lives, even if
it means hurting someone innocent. (People have even killed and eaten other
people in such situations.) This example, however, isn't relevant to our
daily choices. For most of us, there is no emergency and no excuse to kill
animals for food.
"It's okay to eat eggs because chickens lay
them naturally. The eggs we buy in the supermarket are sterile and not unborn
This is true, but the real cruelty of egg production lies in the treatment
of the "laying hens" themselves, who are perhaps the most abused
of all factory-farmed animals. Each egg from today's factory farms represents
22 hours of misery for a hen packed in a cage the size of a filing cabinet
drawer with up to five other chickens. Cages are stacked many tiers high,
and feces from cages above fall onto the chickens below. Hens become lame
and develop osteoporosis from forced immobility and calcium lost to produce
egg shells. Some birds' feet grow around the wire cage floors; they starve
to death because they are unable to reach the food trough. At just two years
old, most hens are "spent" and they are sent to the slaughterhouse.
Egg-laying hatcheries don't have any use for male chicks; they are killed
by suffocation, decapitation, crushing, or are ground up alive.
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