Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Fight For Animal Rights, Not Welfare ~ Katrina Fox

Birds in wooden cages

Imagine you’ve been kidnapped. You find yourself in a tiny cell, with other people, barely enough room to turn around.

At some point, after your captors have taken what they need from you while you’re alive, you’re aware that they plan to kill you. You’ve heard the terrified screams of fellow captives as they have been led to their death.

Some well-meaning campaigners who are aware of your plight are concerned about your welfare. They think your cell should be made a few inches bigger so they can comfort themselves with the fact that
before you were brutally murdered, you could at least stretch your legs out. Just.

Other activists - usually labelled ‘militant’ or ‘radical’ - are not interested in lobbying for your right to bigger cells; they want nothing short of the abolition of your exploitation.

Who would you rather have fighting your corner?

This is the reality facing billions of animals today. Last week on October 2 World Farm Animal Day was celebrated and October 4 was World Animal Day. In Australia this week it is Be Kind to Animals Week (October 1-7) while November 1 is World Vegan Day.

What better time to not only reflect on our treatment of animals but to challenge the assumption that we have a right to use them in the first place simply because they are not human. The following examples provide a
tiny snapshot of some of the atrocities inflicted on animals in Australia today:

- Battery hens’ beaks are cut off with a hot wire guillotine, an extremely painful process and many have great difficulty eating properly for the rest of their short lives. After their bodies are spent from constant egg laying
they are shackled upside down on a conveyor belt to await slaughter.
Male chicks born in battery operations are simply disposed of – usually by being shredded alive in a macerator.

- Dairy cows are forcibly inseminated and kept perpetually pregnant. When their calves (whom they carry for nine months, much like human mothers) are removed, they bellow with grief at the loss of their young. Milking
machines attached to the cow’s body result in painful infections of the teats such as mastitis. And, like battery hens, once the cow’s body can endure no more, she is shipped off to be slaughtered.

- Wild animals in zoos exhibit psychotic behaviours due to being forced into unnatural feeding patterns and existence in concrete prisons, while those in circuses spend long hours in small travelling cages, with the rest of the time being ‘rehearsed’ using cruel methods involving whips, spikes and electric prods.

And yet we hold ourselves up as a nation of so-called animal lovers.

In a previous article on Unleashed I wrote about carnism – the invisible ideology that allows people to eat some animals and treat others like a member of the family. Carnism is a sub-ideology of speciesism.
Coined by British psychologist Richard Ryder in 1973, speciesism is a form of discrimination that assigns rights and values based on species membership, with humans at the top of the hierarchy and non-humans at
the very bottom.

Speciesism is at play when we insult someone by calling them an animal. Historically such a strategy has been used by white colonialists to disempower and traumatise people of colour. And
while the experiences of different oppressed groups may vary, the tactics of the oppressor are often similar in that they position those they wish to dominate, exploit or abuse as ‘other’ or ‘less than’.

Animal rights advocacy is unlike other social justice campaigns because the oppressed group is unable to lobby on their own behalf. This throws up questions of animals’ sentience and intelligence, but even a cursory
look at the work of writers such as Jonathan Balcombe, former senior research scientist at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, reveals animals experience rich and complex emotional inner lives.

Sadly even people who stand up for equality and compassion in other areas have a blind spot when it comes to non-humans. It’s easier to brand animal rights activists as ‘mad’ or ‘extreme’, rather than acknowledge
that the food on your plate, or shoes on your feet are products of immense suffering - and eliminate them.

Let me be clear: this is not an attack on economically disadvantaged or Indigenous people for whom consuming animals or their by-products may be a necessity to survive. That said, global systems of food production - which exploit both animals and invariably people of colour - are in dire need of transformation so that it becomes cheaper to buy a bag of healthy, organic vegetables than a piece of rotting carcass.

But those who are in a position to make a choice about not consuming animal products should do so. The perception that veganism is a privileged lifestyle accessible only to the middle-classes is incorrect. Expensive ‘substitutes’ such as faux meat aside, it is more than possible to embrace veganism on even the tightest of budgets.

It’s time to reject speciesism and acknowledge that animals deserve rights - the right to live their lives free from exploitation by humans - not welfare reform that only serves to perpetuate and justify their oppression.

Katrina Fox is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of The Scavenger.

This article first appeared on the ABC's The Drum Unleashed site ~

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Comment by Tim Gier on October 17, 2010 at 23:32
While it is tempting to work for the reform of the systems of exploitation of animals, it is important to understand what is really in play in those kinds of reform.

In the first place, all such reforms of which I am aware are reforms that take effect sometime in the future - so nonhumans who are suffering today will continue to suffer today, and more individuals will suffer in the same ways tomorrow. In the second place, nearly all such reform measures do not prohibit the use of any particular form of exploitation, they merely change the ways in which others can be exploited. So, "welfare" reforms don't stop chicken producers from confining, abusing and killing chickens at all, those reforms just describe and codify the accepted ways of confining, abusing and killing. Thirdly, most reform measures do not apply equally to all exploiters. For example, exploiters who already use a particular method of exploitation are not required to replace that method until such time as they would need to buy new equipment or upgrade facilities. So, if a chicken factory is built today and would last 15 years with its brand new battery cages, then it can use those battery cages for the next 15 years, regardless of any legislation enacted tomorrow to limit the use of new battery cages. Fourthly, when the general public, who profess by large majorities to "care about animals", read that animal exploiters are now using kinder and gentler methods of exploitation, that public is going to assume that other animals are being well-treated. Therefore, the general public will have less reason to stop eating and otherwise using nonhumans. This can be seen to be true by the positive response in the market to "Freedom Food" chicken in Great Britain and the success of "cage-free" eggs generally.

So-called "welfare" reforms do not improve the lives of animals who are currently living and they reinforce the overall problem rather than working to solve it. I know that it is counter-intuitive; we want it to be true that "welfare" reforms are a good thing. But they aren't and those supportive of animal rights should not be supportive of reforming the systems of exploitation. Animal rights supporters should work to abolish the systems of exploitation, full stop.
Comment by Kate✯GO VEGAN+NOBODY GETS HURT Ⓥ on October 17, 2010 at 23:18
Hello Stephanie. You seem very confused. Perhaps you and a lot more animals would benefit greatly from you spending the time to educate yourself about how welfarist reforms are impeding the end of nonhuman animal slavery. I think you embarass yourself by making personal attacks on people whom I expect are doing a lot more to help animals than you are. Please try harder.
Comment by Stephanie Dyer on October 17, 2010 at 22:58
and Carolyn I hope Tammy wasn't attacking you when she made a very nasty comment about being vegetarian at least you put time into running a chat group old Tams doesn't do a damn thing oh and I believe vegetarians should be commended after all people have to start somewhere so not a good idea to bag those who are vego you should prob commend them otherwise they will be turned away and never become vegan......xxxxxx oh and Tam hun i suggest you also befriend yourself from Animals Australia who I work on campaings with as they are also a group who works hard to improve animal welfare darls, i shall be sure to let them know what your view is on animal welfare next time you say you want to help them when you are actually working against them, do you realise that animals aust is an animal welfare group???????, you do don't you?????.....go paint your nails hun oh and dont respond your a twit babe.....
Comment by Stephanie Dyer on October 17, 2010 at 22:51
yes id expect that from an online activist who attends the odd demo but wont get her hands dirty..kisses to you Tamster, so glad i wasted my time visiting you etc when you had cancer hun...NOT..your an online libber hun too scared to actually get ya weeee little fingers dirty.....
Comment by Carolyn Bailey on October 17, 2010 at 22:21
I appreciate you circulating this excellent essay, Stephanie. We believe it's an important essay in that it quite clearly articulates the differences between animal welfare and rights. It also notes some of the problematic and confusing aspects of animal welfare.

The "likes of you"? I'm not really sure what you mean by that. Do you think the world will stop eating "meet" while you remind the world that eating animal flesh is acceptable, as long as we keep those other animals in cages a little larger, treat them a little kinder, while still deeming it acceptable to use them as we please?

I'm interested to hear how you plan on stopping the commodification of all other animals, while advocating for orgs such as PeTA, who also advocate for welfare and regulation of animal use.

Do you believe other animals have "RIGHTS", Stephanie, or do you believe other animals are the property of humans and may be used accordingly?

Stephanie, the world will only stop eating dead animals and their secretions when people begin to understand that by regulating their treatment, you are being complicit in the continued commodification and exploitation of these other animals. No matter how hard you want to believe you are being a hero, you're not.
Comment by Tammy McLeod on October 17, 2010 at 22:12
Unfathomable how some would rather make their cages bigger. But then again, you would expect that from a vegetarian...
Comment by Stephanie Dyer on October 17, 2010 at 20:37
just forwarded this article to every animal rights/welfare group i know...sure it shall interest them....
Comment by Stephanie Dyer on October 17, 2010 at 20:25
id rather have the likes of me fighting in their corner.....when the world stops eating meet then we shall not have to fight at all until then ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? doubt you have an answer...
Comment by Kate✯GO VEGAN+NOBODY GETS HURT Ⓥ on October 16, 2010 at 11:55
Hi. I hope everyone reads this. I think it's brilliant.

Well done to Katrina for writing it.

Thanks Carolyn for posting it here.


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