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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 4 September 2002 Issue

NON HUMAN RIGHTS
By ERIC SUNDQUIST

Florida voters will decide in November whether to amend the state's constitution to protect pigs.

Nearly a half-million Floridians signed petitions to get the measure on the ballot.

The amendment would combat so-called "factory farms," which confine thousands of pigs to cages so small that the animals cannot turn around. The measure would prohibit farmers from caging pregnant sows in this way, discouraging industrial-scale hog farms from setting up shop in the state. Voters will consider animal protections in other states as well. While Floridians vote on hogs, Oklahomans will decide whether to ban cockfighting, and Arkansas voters will consider making some forms of animal cruelty a felony.

Across the Atlantic, Germany amended its national constitution this year to protect "the natural foundations of life" for animals as well as people. Switzerland adopted a constitutional amendment in 1992 acknowledging animals as "beings" rather than things.

In short, the Western world, which not long ago ascribed the same moral value to animals as to plants or stones, is having a change of heart:

Thirty-seven states have made certain forms of cruelty to animals a felony; four such laws were enacted this year alone. Georgia's took effect in 2000 and resulted in its first conviction last year, when an Atlanta teenager pleaded guilty to dousing a dog with gasoline and setting it on fire.

Western religion has traditionally denied that animals have souls, but a plurality of Americans now apparently disagree. Forty-three percent say pets go to heaven, compared with 40 percent who say they don't and 17 percent who don't know, according to a 2001 ABCNews/Beliefnet poll.

In the '80s and '90s, protectionists' protests made fur-wearing controversial and pressured many companies into lessening or halting product testing on animals. With stricter federal controls, the number of animals used in research experiments also declined. Every Western country but the U.S. has stopped experimenting on chimpanzees, for example, and the practice is increasingly rare here.

Philosophers, who pretty much ignored the subject until the 1970s, have churned out innumerable books and articles weighing ethical issues relating to animals. These in turn have inspired political and personal action for "animal liberation," as Princeton professor Peter Singer's seminal 1975 book was titled.

Law schools have taken up the issue as well, with more than two dozen in the United States now offering animal-law courses.

Vegetarianism is in vogue. A 2002 Time magazine poll found that 10 million Americans are vegetarians.  Following the lead of many sit-down restaurants, Burger King this year rolled out its new veggie burger across the nation.

Animal protectionists can seem like extremists barely clinging to the fringe: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals cavort in silly costumes or in the nude, while activists from the Animal Liberation Front commit vandalism or worse.

Yet these antics belie the depth and seriousness of the change of heart on animals. PETA, for example, is dwarfed in size by the less flashy but arguably more effective Humane Society of the United States, whose mailing list of 7 million is larger than that of the National Rifle Association.

HSUS is behind many of the 21 pro-protection votes on citizen-sponsored, statewide ballot measures since 1990. (In contrast, there were only two such votes from 1930 to 1989.) The ballot measures, and the popular move among legislatures to increase criminal penalties for cruelty, reflect the growing belief that animals have intrinsic worth, and there are moral considerations in causing them to suffer.

Americans even seem to embrace the concept of legal rights for some animals. According to a 1999 Zogby poll for a chimp-advocacy group, 51 percent of Americans say chimps should have rights "similar to children with a guardian to look out for their interests," and 9 percent say they should have the same rights as adults.

THE FLORIDA AMENDMENT

Florida voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to include these words: "It shall be unlawful for any person to confine a pig during pregnancy in an enclosure, or to tether a pig during pregnancy, on a farm in such a way that she is prevented from turning around freely."

Protectionists are targeting gestation crates because they are "arguably the most inhumane method" of keeping livestock, said Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States.  Sows are confined in the 2-foot-wide cages for four-month stretches, for up to three years total during their lifetimes.  In contrast, veal calves are confined for about 15 weeks before they are killed.
 
Animals as automata

Why the sudden interest in the welfare -- and possible rights -- of animals?

Through much of Western history, despite occasional dissents from the likes of St. Francis of Assisi and English political philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the consensus was that humans could pretty much do what they pleased with animals. This was Aristotle's belief -- "animals exist for the sake of man" -- and that of most Christians and Jews, based in part on God's covenant with Noah -- "into your hand they are delivered."

In the 17th century, Enlightenment philosopher Rene Descartes argued that not only do animals lack souls, but they also lack thought and the ability to
suffer.

In the 19th century, however, Darwin's theory of evolution undermined Decartes' view of animals as automata -- though that realization has been slow to sink in. How could people descend from automatons? At what point did they suddenly begin to think, suffer and acquire souls?

More challenges came with findings that many animals have genetic makeups and nervous systems similar to ours. Now animal behavior research reveals that some animals can count, pass learned behavior to their young and even "speak" through sign language. The old view, that humans and animals are different kinds of beings, is harder to support.

Other factors have prompted the reconsideration of animals as well:

The civil rights movement broke the mindset that there were anything but arbitrary reasons to discriminate based on race. The women's movement did the same for gender discrimination, and later the gay-rights movement challenged the idea that sexual identity was grounds for mistreatment. Extending consideration to animals was, to some, a logical next step. Writes "The Color Purple" novelist Alice Walker, "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons.  They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men."

Environmentalists popularized the notion that it is wrong for humans to thoughtlessly exploit the world. Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" of 1962 contained parallel themes of concern for the environment for animals: "As man proceeds toward his announced goal of the conquest of nature, he has written a depressing record of destruction, directed not only against the earth he inhabits but also against the life that shares it with him."

Animal protectionists effectively publicized some ugly incidents involving use of animals. After receiving photos of animals suffering in dog-dealer and laboratory facilities, Life magazine published the 1966 article "Concentration Camps for Dogs." Later that year, Congress passed the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act. In 1984, PETA distributed a videotape showing researchers at the University of Pennsylvania inflicting head injuries on monkeys. The following year Congress strengthened the Animal Welfare Act, requiring that research institutions establish committees, with nonaffiliated members, to review protocols involving some species of animals.

Some suffering acceptable?

In response, ethicists, philosophers and theologians have begun to reappraise their views. From a conservative Christian perspective, for example, evangelist J.R. Hyland argues that Jesus' "cleansing of the Temple" was not an attack on the financial practices of the money-changers, as it's usually seen, but on the animal sacrifices the money-changers were facilitating.

Probably most influential have been the arguments of secular philosophers, notably Peter Singer, whose "Animal Liberation" has sold more than 500,000 copies and continues to be reprinted.

Humans' mental superiority is no defense for what some are now calling "speciesism," he argues. If it were, then it would be all right to discount the pain of people without full mental abilities -- infants or the mentally retarded, say -- and to perform painful experiments on them.

"What we must do is bring nonhuman animals within our sphere of moral concern and cease to treat their lives as expendable for whatever trivial purposes we may have," Singer wrote.

Tom Regan, a philosopher at North Carolina State University, denies that Singer's "welfarist" framework amounts to liberation at all. Singer's view, he says, "permits utilizing other animals for human purposes, even if this means (and it always does) that most of these animals will experience pain, frustration and other harms, and even if it means, as it almost always does, that these animals will have their lives terminated prematurely."

Regan holds that animals, like people, must not be used as means to ends -- they have rights, not just interests to be balanced. Regan would abolish the use of animals for food, experiments or nearly any other purpose, a position echoed by PETA in its slogan, "Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment."

Legal personhood for chimps

ANDY KING/ Associated Press
Amanda, an orangutan at a St.Paul, Minn., zoo, works on a painting in her cage. Orangutans are among the animals that clearly qualify for the granting of legal personhood, protectionists say.

Protectionists, inspired by the ethical arguments of both Singer and Regan, have advanced various arguments for establishing legal rights for animals. One lawyer who commands attention inside and outside the movement, through two popular books and an association with primate researcher Jane Goodall, is Stephen Wise, who teaches at Harvard and Vermont law schools.

Wise points out that children and the mentally ill are viewed as persons with rights, but not all the rights of a competent adult. He argues that some animals also deserve legal personhood with proportional rights. Animals wouldn't be able to vote, but they might have rights to liberty or bodily integrity.

Humans, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins clearly qualify for the granting of legal personhood, Wise argues in his 2002 book "Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights." African gray parrots and African elephants may also qualify under a more expansive interpretation.

"It takes a while for these ideas to get a toehold in the legal system," Wise said in an interview. "If you've never seen these arguments before, they can seem strange."

He says that chimpanzees may get rights first, because of their high intelligence and low commercial value. They might be assigned legal guardians, much as parentless children are.

"Once that happens," he says, "there will be a paradigm shift. I predict there will be a gradual extension of rights."

'Factory farms'

Until animals are accorded formal rights, protectionists continue to tackle one welfare issue at a time.

Though the last two decades have seen tougher anti-cruelty laws and restrictions on animal research, American agriculture remains largely exempt. In general, pigs and cows have less protection than lab rats and mice, even though pigs are considered at least as intelligent as dogs. Federal law governs some aspects of transportation and slaughter of livestock, but the industry has fought off almost all efforts to set standards for the actual raising of animals.

"There is essentially no regulation of the way animals are housed and kept," complains Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States.

As a result, millions of animals spend their lives on "factory farms," confined in cages so small that they can barely move.

The European Union has taken steps to curtail or ban such practices as raising veal calves in small crates, keeping chickens nearly immobile in "battery cages," and holding pregnant sows in "gestation crates." Florida's ballot initiative addresses the latter; if it passes, it would be the only statewide ban on such cages.

It is opposed by agriculture. Doing away with intensive agricultural practices, argues Joe Miller of the American Farm Bureau, would result in one of two outcomes: "starvation, or higher prices." Miller acknowledges that hogs in gestation crates and other tightly caged animals cannot move enough to turn around, but that has some humane benefits as well as economic ones, he says: The animals are, for example, protected from predators and disease.

The numbers of animals involved in American agriculture are huge -- some 8 billion are killed each year, according to the Humane Society. In comparison, hunters kill an estimated 100 million, researchers perhaps 20 million.

At such a mass scale, it may be hard to focus on individual animals. But that's the task protectionists have set for themselves. Says the Humane Society: "All of the animals we refer to as 'farm animals' have unique personalities. They're fascinating creatures with the ability to love, form friendships, mourn, get angry and show a variety of other emotions. They're deserving of our respect, our compassion and our gratitude for what they give us."

And maybe more legal protection, too.

source staff: myrebadog@worldnet.att.net

Return to Animals in Print 4 Sep 2002 Issue

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