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Animal Rights and Welfare

  • 05 Oct 2023

Throughout history, animals have served various purposes in human societies, from providing food to being used for their skin. Despite thousands of years of evolution, animals continue to be exploited for human interests. However, as civilisations have advanced, so has awareness surrounding animal welfare and rights, leading to the development of structured legal frameworks and ethical considerations regarding our treatment of animals.

The Ethical and Philosophical Foundations of Animal Rights and Welfare

Animal welfare and animal rights are pivotal concepts when it comes to the treatment of animals. Animal welfare revolves around ensuring how well an animal copes with its environment and living conditions. On the other hand, animal rights emphasise the intrinsic worth of animals and argue against their exploitation for human purposes. The Five Freedoms, encompassing freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express normal behaviour, and freedom from fear and distress, are key components of animal welfare.

Animal welfare scientists assess various aspects of an animal's well-being, both in terms of the animal itself and its living environment. In contrast, animal rights proponents assert that animals possess inherent worth that extends beyond their utility to humans, advocating for improved conditions and the fulfillment of basic needs. They argue against the use of animals for human purposes, including food, clothing, experimentation, or entertainment. While animal welfare adopts a fact-based approach, animal rights operate within ethical and legal frameworks with a philosophical orientation.

Although both animal welfare and animal rights aim to enhance the treatment of animals, they differ fundamentally in their underlying philosophies. The moral status of animals has been a subject of debate for centuries, leading to various ethical theories. These theories can be categorised into indirect theories, direct but unequal theories, and moral equality theories, each offering distinct perspectives on animals' moral standing.

The Legal and Policy Dimensions of Animal Rights and Welfare

In India, the Constitution enshrines the protection of animals as a fundamental duty. Two central-level legislations, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, have been established to ensure animal welfare. The former prohibits cruelty to animals and prescribes penalties for violations, while the latter regulates hunting, poaching, and wildlife trade. At the state level, legislation such as the Assam Cattle Preservation Act 2021 focuses on cattle protection and cow slaughter prohibition.

Animal rights advocates in India have been advocating for stronger legal safeguards for animals. The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), established in 1962 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, plays a vital role in promoting animal welfare, policy drafting, and legal proceedings related to animal rights.

Challenges persist in achieving uniformity in animal welfare legislation worldwide, with varying degrees of protection for animals in different countries. Additionally, human-centric rights frameworks can hinder the development of global animal law. Ambiguities in legal judgements and difficulties in enforcement further complicate the matter. Nevertheless, legal frameworks are essential for monitoring and enforcing animal welfare standards in industries that rely on animal products.

While India has enacted laws to safeguard animals, significant strides are needed to ensure their welfare and rights. Animal rights activists continue to advocate for stronger legal protections for animals.

The Impact of Human Activities on Animal Welfare

Human activities exert a profound influence on animal welfare, particularly on wild animals. The detrimental effects of human actions, such as habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change, are well-documented and can lead to reduced fitness, diminished survival prospects, and even local extinctions among wildlife. Furthermore, humans often keep wild animals in captivity for various purposes, including food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment, resulting in deliberate harm through practices like slaughter, pest control, hunting, and toxicology testing.

Animal experimentation, a common practice in scientific research, poses numerous welfare risks. These risks encompass issues related to housing, nutrition, social interactions, handling procedures, interventions, and the ultimate fate of the animals involved. Such experiments can lead to pain, fear, physical injury, disease, anxiety, and distress, resulting in suffering and compromised normal functioning.

The pet trade involves the buying and selling of animals as pets, which raises concerns about animal welfare, human and animal health, conservation, and the introduction of invasive species. These issues can lead to health problems and behavioral disturbances in the animals involved.

Efforts must be made to ensure humane treatment in animal research and appropriate conditions for animals traded as pets. The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) founded in 1986 at the University of Oxford has proposed strategies using the ‘Conservative Quartet Research’ to reduce human-induced harm to wild animals.

The Role of Technology in Promoting Animal Rights and Welfare

Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and precision agriculture, have the potential to enhance animal welfare by improving the well-being of livestock and addressing concerns related to animal treatment.

AI can monitor animal behaviour, detect early signs of illness, and trigger timely interventions. For example, AI-powered cameras can identify changes in an animal's behaviour, signaling potential illness or injury. Precision agriculture helps farmers optimise feed for the farm animals and water management, reduce stress on the animal husbandry used in farming. Digital technologies like blockchain can ensure transparency and accountability in the food supply chain by tracking the ethical sourcing of food products.

Emerging technologies like AI, precision agriculture, and blockchain hold promise for revolutionising animal husbandry and enhancing livestock well-being. However, it is crucial to employ these technologies ethically and responsibly to prevent unintended consequences.

Social Movements for Animal Rights and Welfare

The Animal Rights movement in India, beginning from the inception of the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1861, has played a pivotal role in raising awareness about animal welfare issues and driving significant changes in laws protecting animals from cruelty and abuse. This social movement aims to erase the rigid moral and legal divide between human and non-human animals, end the classification of animals as property, and eliminate their use in industries such as research, food production, clothing, and entertainment. The movement's goal is to create a more equitable world in which animals are treated with kindness, understanding, and respect.

Traditionally, Indian religions place a high value on animals. Early Hindu texts endorse ahimsa (non-killing/injury), with the Vedic religion eschewing animal sacrifices. Many Hindu texts emphasise vegetarianism as essential for moksha (liberation of the soul), and Brahmins, the priestly class, traditionally adhere to vegetarian diets. Hindus believe that animals serve as friends or vehicles of the gods and, as such, are considered sacred. Jainism and Buddhism also prioritise compassion and non-killing. Indian laws regulate slaughterhouses, animal performances, animal transportation, and experimentation on animals.

Conclusion

Significant progress has been made in raising awareness and improving the treatment of animals in economic, social, and digital domains. However, there are still gaps in implementing practices that enhance animal welfare laws and promote a sense of responsibility among citizens and societies at large. Addressing these challenges requires collective action and initiatives from all sectors of society.

Links:

  1. AS-662-W Animal welfare and animal rights: Ethics, science and explanations (purdue.edu)
  2. What’s the Difference Between Animal Rights and Animal Welfare? | World Animal Protection
  3. Theories on Animals and Ethics | Office of the Vice President for Research (uchc.edu)
  4. Welfare laws for animals and their rights in the Indian context - Legal Articles - Free Law
  5. Global Animal Law: What It Is and Why We Need It | Transnational Environmental Law | Cambridge Core
  6. Though Well-Intentioned, Courts' Recognition of Rights for Animals Is Legally Problematic (thewire.in)
  7. Four types of activities that affect animals: implications for animal welfare science and animal ethics philosophy | Animal Welfare | Cambridge Core
  8. Welfare of Animals Used in Scientific Testing and Research - UFAW
  9. Exotic pet trade report EG general version final.pdf (eurogroupforanimals.org)
  10. AgriEngineering | Free Full-Text | The Significance and Ethics of Digital Livestock Farming (mdpi.com)
  11. Using the power of AI, new open-source tool simplifies animal behavior analysis (phys.org)
  12. The livestock farming digital transformation: implementation of new and emerging technologies using artificial intelligence | Animal Health Research Reviews | Cambridge Core
  13. Unpacking The Ethics And Goals Of The Animal Rights Movement (worldanimalfoundation.org)
  14. Animal Welfare Legislation in India – Its History (strawindia.org)

Tanmaya Kshirsagar

Tanmaya Kshirsagar is an artist, writer and musician. She works with UN Women as a Youth Ambassador and her work has found a place on platforms like Times of India, Indian Review, Women's Web and Medium to name a few.

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