What a wonderful question!! This is a very complicated issue, that can sound like picking hairs for people who aren’t intimately familiar with the animal care industry.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll use one example for each side of the argument. AZA will represent the side of animal welfare, and PETA will represent the side of animal rights, because both are very visible members of each ideology. I will also try to tag anything that is my personal interpretation, and keep most of this discussion balanced.
To start off, try to imagine all human interaction with animals on a scale from 0 to 10. At the 10 end, we have no regard for animal health or care, hurting and killing animals with complete disregard. At the 0 end, we have no interaction with animals, not killing them or even using byproducts. If the 0 end sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the ideal of most vegans. I’ll try to use this as a reference when describing where each group lies.
Another thing I want to point out is that both groups have a common interest, which is treating animals fairly and humanely, and trying to achieve the most optimum standard of living for each.
Animal rights groups like PETA look to aim for that “0” end of the scale. The ultimate goal of animal rights groups is a complete dissolution of any industry that interacts with animals, from rodeos, and circuses, to zoos, farms, and even pets. From the Animal Welfare Council’s website:
Animal Rights is a philosophical view that animals have rights similar or the same as humans. True animal rights proponents believe that humans do not have the right to use animals at all. Animal rights proponents wish to ban all use of animals by humans.
Animal rights proponents support laws and regulations that would prohibit rodeos, horse racing, circuses, hunting, life-saving medical research using animals, raising of livestock for food, petting zoos, marine parks , breeding of purebred pets and any use of animals for industry, entertainment, sport or recreation.
Now, again, I totally understand why people support animal rights groups. It is true that animals can and do get abused for the profit of humans, and some of the treatment they get would never be allowed on another human. This is the linchpin of the Animal Rights argument. Animals should have the same rights as humans and treated accordingly. Now, let’s look at Animal Welfare.
Groups that focus on Animal Welfare, such as AZA, define welfare thusly:
Animal Welfare refers to an animal’s collective physical, mental, and emotional states over a period of time, and is measured on a continuum from good to poor.
Explanation: An animal typically experiences good welfare when healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, able to develop and express species-typical relationships, behaviors, and cognitive abilities, and not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, or distress. Because physical, mental, and emotional states may be dependent on one another and can vary from day to day, it is important to consider these states in combination with one another over time to provide an assessment of an animal’s overall welfare status.
To use my straight line measurement from above, Animal Welfare falls closer to the “5” area of the spectrum. Animal Welfare groups do not make a blanket statement that all human interaction with animals is bad, but they do maintain standards to ensure that animals are not being abused or taken advantage of for the profit of a human. Welfare groups like AZA support zoos and animal research, among other things, but only in that they are held to high standards created to ensure optimal animal welfare.
They also use measurements that are as scientific as possible to assess the status of an animal. This can be done by measuring hormones like cortisol, testosterone, and dopamine through blood tests, by observing and comparing animal behavior, monitoring eating amounts and patterns, or even the presence of breeding activity and successful childrearing behavior. More unscientific methods depend on the regular keepers of the animals, and when they notice that something feels ‘off’ in an animal’s routine.
I hope that comes off as non-biased as I meant it to. I do understand the heart of most people behind the Animal Rights groups. And it really is hard to say no when you’re asked if you’re against the mistreatment of animals.
(Here begins my opinion) That being said, I truly believe that Animal Rights does more harm than good. Very regularly, groups like PETA and the Animal Liberation Front use violence, threats, and other terroristic tactics to achieve their ends (thejunglenook can back me up on this.). If you do research on PETA, you will find that many of the animals they “rescue” from shelters are killed. They prefer animals to be dead than be in human care.
I support animal welfare for two main reasons. One, we cannot be naive and think that we can unentwine our human lives with those of the animals we share the world with. Two, I believe that keeping animals in captivity is helpful both for the science we can learn from keeping them (normal ranges of size, food, hormone ranges, gestations, etc), and for their educational use. I and others have written extensively about the impact of seeing animals in person to help the general public gain a connection to an animal they would otherwise care little about.
I have also found that many times, decisions made by animal rights groups are selfish, human decisions. These are decisions that feel good for us to make, like “let the animal be free in the wild!” or “don’t let these poor animals get poked and prodded, look how sad they are”. A focus on animal welfare means that we look past that. Animals may not be released because there is no wild for them to return to, because the animal has been raised by humans and is unequipped to handle the wild, or because it is part of an essential breeding program. Seeing an animal be handled by vets, or even euthanized, is truly for the benefit of the animal. Just like you don’t like going to the doctor, animals don’t, either, but it is for their own good. Short term pain for long term benefit. And euthanasia is used when an animal’s quality of life has dropped below welfare standards, and there is no other option except to let the animal die a drawn-out death.
So when I post #animal welfare #not animal rights, that’s what I mean. I support the scientific support of the good health of the animal, not what my gut tells me “feels good”.