Cruelty Toward Animals Demands Our ActionPosted by Nicole Pallotta, ALDF's Animal Law Program Student Liaison on December 19, 2011
A society’s values to an extent are codified
in its laws and regulations, which is why we have criminal animal
cruelty laws — because we agree that cruelty to animals is wrong.
Although there may not be a consensus on what exactly constitutes cruelty, we tend to know it when we see it.
Starting from this hopefully uncontroversial common
ground, let’s take a look at what laws exist to protect the greatest
number of animals used by humans: farmed animals. Leaving aside the
moral and ethical questions about what and whom we should eat, the world
in which we live is one where billions of animals are killed for food
each year, and I think everyone can agree that these animals should be
protected from cruelty and abuse and not made to suffer.
Yet, the sad fact is that although they make up the
vast majority of animals used in our society, there are very few laws
protecting farmed animals (New law school program unleashes animal rights, Nov. 24).
Most people are surprised to learn that farmed
animals have virtually no legal protections. Leaving aside the lack of
enforcement issue (a formidable problem in itself), let’s just look at
what laws are on the books. The two federal laws that cover farmed
animals, the 28-Hour Law and the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter
Act, apply only to transport and slaughter.
The Animal Welfare Act regulates the use of farmed
animals only in the realm of biomedical research; it does not apply to
animals used for food. There are zero federal laws governing the
conditions in which farmed animals are raised.
That’s the federal level; what about state law?
Individual states do have their own animal cruelty statutes. However,
farmed animals are typically excluded from criminal animal cruelty laws,
as most have provisions that exempt agricultural practices. Sadly, and
counter-intuitively, the largest group of animals exploited for human
gain receives the least amount of protection under animal cruelty laws.
On the positive side, a few states have passed
legislation (most through citizen-initiated ballot measures) gradually
phasing out some of the most egregious intensive confinement practices
over several years. A more disturbing trend is the recent spate of
“ag-gag” bills that would make it a crime to photograph a farm and also
criminalize any group distributing video footage or photos of a farm.
This brings us to the issue of knowing cruelty when
we see it. Well, first we have to see it, and this legislation would
neatly circumvent that issue (not to mention the First Amendment). As
agricultural practices have become more industrialized and intensive
(more animals in smaller spaces), farmed animals have been moved
indoors, into darkness, and out of public view. And now the meat
industry is trying to pass laws to prevent the public from ever seeing
what happens to animals before they end up in the food supply.
This is wrong. The trend should be toward greater transparency, not less.
It is easy to feel helpless when you see how
animals on modern farms are treated and realize there are no legal
remedies. Despite opponents’ insistence that advocates carefully edit
videos taken from within factory farms and slaughterhouses, the steady
stream of stomach-churning footage emerging from these facilities shows
us a different and sadder picture, one where cruelty and abuse is
“business as usual.”
How I wish this footage were not real, that it was
somehow doctored to look worse than it is. I would sleep better at
night. I do not want this to be the way animals are treated. Many of us
who choose a vegan diet do so as one small way to not directly support
Despite opponents’ attempts to paint animal
advocates with the same distorted brush, there exists a plethora of
different views on philosophy, tactics, strategy and long-term goals
within the broad animal protection movement. Anti-animal protection
activists also claim the animal rights movement has an “all or nothing”
agenda, but this is a distortion as well, just as we don’t have to make
the false choice between being compassionate toward humans or animals.
We can do both. Activists who launched the British
and American humane movements of the 19th century (which spawned the
modern animal rights movement) were also key players in the child
welfare movement. Like children, animals cannot organize or speak for
themselves in the political arena; they are completely powerless, which
places them at our mercy. Let’s not close our hearts and minds to them.
Between an abolitionist (absolute hands-off)
approach and a world in which we can do whatever we want to animals in
the name of profit and convenience, there is plenty of work to be done.
Please sign Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Animal Bill of Rights and speak out for animals.