The web of life is complex and involves the unstable equilibrium of a multitude of distinct organisms that compete, cooperate, and since a million and a half years ago evolve side by side, adapting, accommodating themselves, becoming indispensable to each other, and inexorably transforming the physical environment little by little. As living beings, human beings are part of this web of life, depending on nonhuman beings. It is important to recognize that defending animal rights is also strive for human rights, preserve the ecosystem will guarantee human survival. The diligence for broader animal rights would bring transcendental benefits to the public health, sociology, and safety of individuals.
Humans from their earliest days created a supremacy relationship over other species. Such a hierarchy contributed to the exploitation of nature without any responsibility. The result of the human fallacy regarding the environment has generated a series of crises in biodiversity. The loss of natural habitat, the extinction of fauna and flora species, pollution, along with various factors leave the Earth in an emergency state. To push aside speciesism, to concretize the doctrine approached by animal rights activists, and to offer protection not only to men but to all species are essential actions that must be practiced for a better coexistence between beings and to recover the damage. Considering that every animal has rights, and ignorance and contempt of these rights have led and continue to lead humans to commit crimes against animals, against nature and even against themselves. To understand this topic it is necessary to know that animal law is defined as a set of rules and principles that establishes the fundamental rights of animals, which exist for their purposes and must have their rights recognized as well as humans.
Animal rights or movement in defense of these rights emerges as a fundamental activism to the protection of all living beings. As a means of achieving not only their fundamental rights such as life, liberty, and respect, curbing acts of violence, cruelty, and maltreatment. But also would preserve the environment and the ecosystem, preventing the extinction of multiple species. After checking the moral status of animals and the so-called welfare laws in general, it is briefly noted that the main human actions involving animals violate animal protection laws in various ways, making it clear that despite moral developments related with animals in history, they are still seen as property and they are simply ignored by society. Hence the importance of animal rights reform, according to Rich (2019), ‘the adoption of animal rights into legislation would mean that nonhuman animals could not be used for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation’ (para. 1). Philosophy, morals, ethics, and virtues, such as compassion and benevolence, are the essence of the animal rights movement, ruminating and arousing in humans the awareness for the rights of other species. The unfortunate idea of animal inferiority is retained in today’s society, which generates a disinterest in how animals feel. Nonhuman animals are capable of feeling pain, hunger, cold, and even if their language is not verified or understood, they can express feelings. Reinforcing the similarity between beings, according to Rich (2019), ‘activists say that the intelligence, compassion, suffering, and community values that are so treasured in humanity are evident in other animals as well’ (para. 16). Laws concomitant with morals and ethics must provide instruments to protect animals.
Over the years, nonhuman animals have been used for different human purposes, from food and traction to research and entertainment. This view led the world to adopt a strong anthropocentric position, which over time was reinforced by different authors. This position places man at the center of the universe, which is why the social evolution of rights has always been for humanity, leaving animals and the environment in the background. Although the history of humanity is based mostly on-premises that uphold human superiority, there have also been in the past thinkers who upheld the life of animals. The first to advocate for nonhuman animals were the philosophers Pitagoras, Voltaire, and Rousseau. Around the middle of the eighteenth century, a new animal advocate, Jeremy Bentham, emerged (Proquest staff, 2019, para. 1). Bentham argued that if rationality were the criterion, as argued, for example, by Aristotle and Descarte, many humans, including babies and disabled people, should also be treated as things. But despite his best efforts, his ideas were considered ridiculous until the late eighteenth century. The nineteenth century, however, comes with a marked growth in the interest of animal protection, especially in England. Scholars increasingly became concerned about the rights of the elderly, the needy, children and the mentally handicapped, extending these concerns to animals, as Bentham proposed. In this period several societies were born that aimed at the protection of animals. In 1822, according to the ProQuest staff, ‘Great Britain passes the Martin’s Act, the first law against cruelty to farm animals’ (para. 2). Animal rights awareness increased until the period after World War II when the treatment of animals began to worsen, the demand for animal products grew alarmingly, due to the acceleration of production aimed at fostering the consumption and feed the post-war countries. Along with the population explosion in the twentieth century, there was a change in the eating habits of the world’s population, increasing human consumption of meat, such as consumption that persists in growth. Animal rights awareness grows and animal protection institutions are created until 1966 when the US Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The first animal law is put into effect and other laws and amendments are made when, on October 12, 2010, in Suffolk, New York becomes the first county in the country to create an animal abuse record, being an example for other municipalities and even countries. In 2015, the FBI announces that starting from 2016 they will track animal cruelty cases. Maltreatment of animals in human entertainment venues was discovered and laws were created, on January 29, 2019, the most recent accomplishment of the cause of Animal Rights was in California, when it was banned pet stores that were selling not rescued animals. Despite all the exploration done in the past that persists to today, we can emphasize that there was a civilizing progress from the earliest to the present day, a better ecological awareness was being built as humans realized the destructive and irreparable consequences that were providing nature. The big challenge, however, is to reconcile economic and social development, which culminates in a derogatory and exploitative capitalism, with animal rights, as much of society still thinks this protection is not necessary, as such a position would make business impossible from large industries and businesses that base their activities on animal products.
Knowing that a proposal that treats animals as objects, as beings that are bound to serve human ideologies and which ignores the inherent and biological right of any living being to life, cannot be accepted by today’s society. Animal rights activists claim that religious sacrifices and slaughter by specific religions cause unnecessary suffering to animals. As found by Siegal (2018), ‘Observant Jews and Muslims follow religious laws that dictate that they eat the meat of animals that have been slaughtered according to strict rules, including that the animals are conscious and healthy when their throats are cut’ (para. 5). Slaughter rituals, which set specific standards for animal consumption, are commonly practiced in Judaism and Islam even currently. Unfortunately, religious intolerance persists in our society, believers are segregated and oppressed every day, which makes an understanding between animal rights activists and practitioners of these religious rituals difficult. As stated by Moshe Kantor, the president of the Jewish Congress, through research by Siegal (2018):
Some of those who try and ban our customs are in essence trying to make Europe uncomfortable for Jews because the essence and centrality of our life are our ancient traditions, and if our customs are not welcome nor are our communities (para. 14).
Speaking of two sides that suffer discrimination and neglect, an agreement must be made that respects the rights of religious freedom and the rights of animals. Certainly, the industrial slaughter that leads the animal to stressful conditions when in a single row watch, one after another, being slaughtered until its turn comes, needs to be commented and disapproved.
The raising of animals for food purposes is often related to cases of maltreatment in which animals live in deplorable conditions. In the United States, the largest meat producer in the world, millions of chickens are locked in ‘battery cages,’ which are overcrowded and have no room for birds to spread their wings. The situation of pigs is no different, millions of breeding sows are confined to ‘gestation cells’, which are individual metal stalls where females cannot even turn around. Animal cruelty situations as unanesthetized amputation and burns on the animal’s skin. Forced crossbreeding between breeding animals and the abrupt separation of young from their mothers. As pointed out by Bennett (2014), ‘undercover investigations at industrial farms have revealed that animals are often not properly anesthetized when undergoing physical procedures or during the slaughtering process’ (p. 533). Also, livestock activity impacts the environment, emitting large amounts of methane, nitrous and ammonia gases into the atmosphere from animal feces and deforestation of pastures. Considering the high water consumption to keep meat production, we can conclude according to Bennett (2014) that, ‘The pollution from factory farms, which is largely exemplified from many environmental laws, leads to contaminated land, air, and water, and damages the surrounding natural ecosystems. , the animals found within them, and are as sensitive to climate change’ (p. 538).
The link between men and animals is very old. Over time, the domestic animal acquired the status of a family member. However, due to this proximity, there are a large number of cases of maltreatment: abandonment, neglect, beatings, mutilations, burns, wildlife trafficking, zoophilia, breeding, illegal hunting, recreational use of animals and among others. Although much of society is more aware of animal status, the crime of mistreatment is still considered to be of lesser potential for offense. Grigen’s (2019) study found the following:
Since the mid-1970s, numerous studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology have demonstrated that people who abuse animals are often—although not always—also dangerous to other people. Serial killers, mass murderers, sexual homicide perpetrators, serial rapists, and arsonists often have childhood histories of animal abuse. Perpetrators of more common forms of violence, such as child abuse, spouse abuse, and elder abuse, also tend to be abusive toward animals. (para. 9)
Animal abuse and crimes against humans are more likely to occur when individuals realize that the benefits of their actions outweigh the harms, thought generated by the impunity of these acts. Unfortunately, it is clear that although some cases of animal maltreatment reach wide repercussions through the media, these offenses are still more leniently tolerated by law and society in comparison with other transgressions, clearly reinforcing the anthropocentric perspective. According to Grigen (2019), ‘Historically, the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of animal abuse were considered as low priorities in the US criminal justice system (para. 14). It is possible, then, to start thinking also of biocentric criminologies, where all living beings should be considered for their value in themselves and not for their usefulness or ability to serve humans.
Opposition against rights states that the ability to think like a human is an arbitrary criterion for rights. This thinking is wrong because if rights come from the ability to think, then some humans (babies and the mentally disabled) should not have rights. Another argument is that animals cannot have rights because they have no duties. But all animals have at least one purpose in life, even a tick, a bloodsucking plague, is bird food. Those white birds standing over the cattle are not confusing the cow with an Uber driver! They are eating the ticks that help them do their job, which is to drop the seeds into the ground that will eventually become plants. Hawks eat carrion, sharks rid the ocean of overcrowded species, bees are necessary for the health of our crops. Animals play important roles in maintaining balance in nature, which is often unknown to people.
Humans should consider the nonhuman animal as a being worthy of respect and rights while being able to suffer and have an interest in their welfare. The coexistence relationship between humans and other animal species on the planet is currently beneficial only to humans. Since the creation of the world, nonhuman animals have been used for different human purposes, from food and traction to research and entertainment. The other animal species were arbitrarily excluded from the protection of ethics, being subjected to slavery and exploitation without rights. Human thinking about animals has improved over the years, but while animal rights supporters are born, animals continue to be abused and mistreated by humans. It is necessary to stimulate learning about animal rights and encourage cultural changes in the relationship with such special beings. Despite technological advances that have facilitated communication and information, much of the population is still restricted to old beliefs and common sense, showing that one of today’s biggest challenges is achieving awareness.
- Rich, A. K. & Wagner, G. (2019). Animal rights: An overview. Points of View. Retrieved from EBSCOhost
- Proquest Staff. (2019). Animal rights timeline. Sirs Timeline. Retrieved from ProQuest.com
- Siegal, Nina. (January 1, 2018). Butchering laws pit religion against animal rights. The New York Times. Retrieved from ProQuest.com
- Bennett, E. (2014). Animal agriculture laws on the chopping block: Comparing the United States and Brazil. Pace Environmental Law Review, 531- 563. Retrieved from EBSCOhost
- Girgen, J. (2019). Animal abuse. Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved from EBSCOhost