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Animal welfare debate moves to a specious level

- Sunday, February 23, 2014

Animal welfare for farm animals is an issue that generates impassioned and emotional debates, and it is often difficult to separate the emotional attachment that some people have for individual animals from the broader issues associated with managing large numbers of farm animals that are raised to meet consumer demand for food.

The extent of the emotionalism that is being introduced into this debate and the shifting intellectual framework that is being applied to support these emotive positions was recently expounded at length in an opinion piece posted on the ABC's The Drum opinion website

The piece essentially argued that humans are engaging in 'speciesism' when they seek to justify the slaughter animals and consumption of animal products by saying 'they're only animals". The piece then explains the emergence of the concept of speciesism.

"The term was coined by psychologist Richard Ryder in 1970 and refers to a prejudice similar to sexism or racism in that the treatment of individuals is determined by their membership of a particular group. Just as less value is placed on certain people based on their sex, gender, race, sexual orientation or other defining characteristic, so too are animals afforded even less consideration and moral worth based on the fact they are a species other than human."

The author argued "Our excuses for speciesism range from "they're not as intelligent as us therefore are not deserving of moral consideration" and "other animals eat other animals so why shouldn't we?" to "animals are accidently harmed in the making of everything" and "plants are sentient too and we eat those"

She further argued "Those who rail against the concept of speciesism often accuse its proponents of anthropomorphism (falsely projecting human qualities onto animals). Yet the sentience and complex emotional lives of animals has been well documented."

The ultimate objective in developing the concept of speciesism as something akin to sexism or racism is to apply the concept to animal welfare and animal rights debates, ultimately to the conclusion that livestock industries that exploit animals cannot be morally justified, and should all be banned.

There are a wide range of logical and moral arguments to the effect that the concept of speciesism is badly flawed, and not appropriate as a basis for framing laws and regulations associated with animal welfare. For example, if speciesism is a valid concept and no species have rights to exploit other species, then it is not just humans but in fact every other species on the planet that is guilty of speciesism. The lion that kills and eats an antelope is just as guilty as the dolphin that eats another fish, or the herbivore that consumes a plant or the bird that eats an insect. 

While those involved in the livestock industries might dismiss speciesism as a concept dreamed up by deranged extremists, the risk is that by dismissing these concepts out of hand rather than engaging in debates, the concepts gain some credibility and acceptance. They then gradually become part of the logical framework underpinning the formulation of animal welfare standards by governments, and perhaps even more importantly by commercial entities such as supermarket retailers.

It is already evident that concepts such as 'speciesism' and 'sentience' are starting to gain traction in the broader community debates that are occurring about these issues, and unless the livestock industries seriously engage in all levels of these debates, these concepts will become accepted as a logical basis for framing regulations and standards that will render Australian livestock industries uncompetitive.

Lynda H commented on 30-Jul-2015 05:31 PM
The concept of animal rights is a serious threat to animal agriculture, pet keeping and breeding, zoos and human physical and mental health. I agree completely that animal agriculture MUST be more transparent and welcoming of questions. People are exposed to PeTA films and become traumatised by them, believing them to be representative of all animal agriculture.

I'm surprised nobody else has commented: this is a very important topic.

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