There is a lot of misunderstanding in relation to the meaning of "animal rights". It doesn't mean that animals deserve more rights than people or they have to be treated better than people. This paper will conduct a study on animal rights and what our society should pay attention to in regard to protecting animals.
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History of the animal rights movement
The first attempt to prevent acts of cruelty to animals became part of an important movement in England in the early nineteenth century. With the advancement of human rights movement, which included the movement for woman suffrage and the anti-slavery movement, the first anti-cruelty bill, was introduced in the British Parliament in 1800. In 1822, Richard Martin managed to pass an act in the House of Commons that prevented cruelty to larger domestic animals. And it was two years later that he founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in order to help enforce this law (Walls).
The animal rights movement was founded on benevolent sentiments toward animals. This issue was first touched upon by an English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who spoke about the suffering that animals have to go through when dealt with by men (Animal Rights: A History). However, the philosophical foundation for describing human relations with animals was still undeveloped. In the 1970s, the animal rights movement found its first profound intellectual expression in the work of philosopher Peter Singer, who published his book “Animal Liberation” in 1975 (Lin). Singer came back to the foundations of thinking given by Bentham and presented the case for animal rights based in the tradition of natural rights.
Since the advancement of the women's liberation and civil rights movements attracted more attention to human rights, it was anticipated that the principles of those rights would be developed by analogy when applied to animals. Groups for environment protection like the Sea Shepherd Society and Greenpeace drew attention to marine animals and other endangered species. Animal protection organizations working in coalitions had some significant victories in the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1980, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was founded as an active representative of the new movement targeted at defending the right of animals. PETA is the largest organization of the world that deals with animal rights protection. It has more than three million members and supporters (About PETA). PETA puts its efforts into areas, which are associated with the most intense animal suffering: laboratories, the entertainment industry, the clothing business and factory farms. PETA is also involved in a number of issues dealing with the cruel killing animals and birds as well as cruel treatment of domestic animals. PETA operates in through special events, research, public education, animal rescue, protest campaigns and other special events.
Together with more moderate campaigns to protect animals there is the so called Abolitionist Approach based on total termination of animal exploitation for food and for profit as well as brutal treatment of animals. The followers of this approach explain their motives by history examples taken from abolition of slavery. They assert that as race-based slavery in the USA was finally outlawed, the same should be done regarding animal exploitation. They debate that the refusal to support slavery in the nineteenth century should be expressed in the twenty first century by showing moral and legal opposition to the mistreatment of animals (Francione).
If the doctrine of animal rights were accepted, it would mean that the following would not be allowed (BBC: Animal Rights):
- No use of animals for hard labour
- No selective breeding for any reason other than the benefit of the animal
- No breeding and killing animals for food or clothes or medicine
- No zoos or use of animals in entertainment
- No experiments on animals
- No hunting
The supporters of the Abolitionist Approach draw their arguments from the ideas based on the case against sexism and racism. The term “speciesism” has come into practice by analogy with the above terms. It is explained as biased attitude in favor of one species members against others. The adherents of this approach refer to Thomas Jefferson and his statements made against racism and sexism (What is Animal Liberation?). In their opinion, “speciesists” function in the same way as racists, showing heartless attitude to animals whom they exploit for food and profit.
At the same time, the critics of animal right protection explain their views. Carl Cohen insists: "A right, properly understood, is a claim, or potential claim, that one party may exercise against another” (Cohen). He further develops his core argument that animals do not have any ability of free moral judgment. Therefore, they can not respond to any moral claims or exercise any right. They do not have any rights.
The critics of animal rights movement also state that human bodies require protein contained in animal and bird meats and in fish. They insist that the need of our organism in meats, minerals and vitamins is confirmed by North American health authorities. They assert that our bodies need animal meats to operate effectively (Powlesland).
Others insist that it is traditionally and legally incorrect to compare animal right movement principles to those of the women’s rights and slavery abolition movements. They say that the latter movements were initiated by oppressed individuals who strove for equality.
Regarding the above discussed issues it is important to note that the animal rights movement was organized with the noble intentions to protect animals from cruel treatment by men. As any other movement, it can take any direction and may go to its extremes. Thus, it is very important to ensure that all the adherents and opponents of this movement have the opportunity to present their ideas and retain their right to eat animal meats or abstain from eating them.