Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights
It’s hard to find anyone who wouldn’t agree that caring for animals responsibly is the right thing to do. Who isn’t saddened by TV commercials that show animals abused and neglected? But many people don’t realize the difference between animal rights and animal welfare. Animal rights adherents believe that animals should not be used for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation. Animal welfarists believe these are acceptable uses as long as “humane” guidelines are followed that strive to prevent pain and suffering.
Approaches to humane animal care and handling are rooted in many religious traditions. People of the Jewish faith follow Old Testament rules guiding how to eat “Kosher.” Muslims follow rules in the Koran that guide them how to eat “Halal.” Christians generally follow New Testament guidelines, but some Christian faiths, like Seventh Day Adventist, restrict consumption of pork and encourage reduction or elimination of all meat consumption.
While there may be differences in the details, there is a theme that permeates all religious traditions: respecting and appreciating animals from which we derive food and preventing unnecessary pain and suffering. Even laws and regulations that govern animal handling in meat plants are rooted in the ethical principles embodied in these religious traditions.
Animal Welfare in Different Human Cultures, Traditions and Religious Faith, Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Science, 2012.
Activism at the Altar: Use of Religion in the Animal Rights Debate - Dr. Wes Jamison, Associate Professor of Public Relations, Palm Beach Atlantic University; Dr. Paul Copan, Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University; Dr. Walter Kaiser, President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Old Testament and Ethics, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit, May 5 - 6, 2016, Arlington, Virginia.
Groups who oppose the consumption of meat often use undercover video footage shot on farms and in plants to raise concerns among the public. There is no question that some of these videos have captured practices that were inhumane; however, the videos often are edited to eliminate the full context and persuade the public of a farmer’s or plant owner’s guilt. For example, if a pig bit another pig (a natural tendency among pigs) and caused an injury, an undercover video might choose to focus on the injury and use alarming narration to stir concern while omitting any remedies to treat the wound and prevent such harm in the future.
In a famous case in Washington State in 2001, an animal rights groups released edited video to the media alleging problems in a local cattle slaughter plant. The state investigated the case for 11 months and obtained an unedited version of the video. The Office of the Attorney General stated in a press release about the investigation’s findings that “the short videotape appears to have been edited to delete footage showing that…employees promptly corrected several ‘bad acts.’"
Increasingly, farms and meat packing plants are using their own video systems to routinely monitor barns and animal areas to watch for any problems. Some plants use a remote video monitoring company called Arrowsight that views videos in key plant areas continuously and conducts audits of key animal welfare measures remotely. When a problem occurs, the remote video auditing company alerts plant management immediately so corrective actions can be taken.
Animal Agriculture Alliance: Don’t Believe Everything You See: The Truth About Undercover Videos