Respect for animals used for food is a value that is contained in religious texts throughout history. Jewish, Islamic and Christian texts spell out the importance of respect for animals and, in some cases, prescribe how they should be processed for food. Many of these beliefs are the philosophical cornerstones of federal animal welfare regulations and voluntary animal welfare programs developed by a variety of organizations.
In the 20th century, a new movement has gained ground in the United States: the animal rights movement. What is the difference between animal welfare and animal rights?
Those concerned about animal welfare work to ensure optimal care of animals and to minimize suffering. Generally speaking, while deeply committed to the care of animals, animal welfare advocates place a higher value on human life than on an animals. Most people who embrace the animal welfare philosophy believe that it is appropriate and healthy to consume meat for food, so long as meat is derived from animals raised and processed according to scientific standards of care and state and federal regulatory requirements.
Those who embrace animal rights believe that animals and people are equal and deserve the same rights. "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy" is one of the famous quotes attributed to one of the leaders of the modern animal rights movement. The orthodox animal rights philosophy rejects the use of animals for food, clothing, medical research or entertainment. Some of the most radical believe that keeping pets is immoral. Many animal rights activists are "vegans," meaning they eat only plant-based foods.
While the animal rights philosophy is one embraced by a tiny fraction of the American population, the movement has been successful in its fundraising efforts and monies donated to animal rights organizations has climbed steadily over the past several years. Some very violent animal rights organizations are classified as domestic terrorist organizations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
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