From Moral Issues that Divide Us and Applied Ethics: A Sourcebook


James Fieser


Copyright 2008

Updated: 1/1/2015



1. Overview

2. Animal Rights and Human Irresponsibility – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals




Every day we are intimately connected with animals. We eat animals for food, wear animal skins for clothes, own animals as pets, use animals for recreation, and experiment on animals to test drugs and consumer products. We are aware of this, yet we typically give little thought to the staggering number of animals that we use in these ways, and what the animals themselves might be experiencing as we use them for our purposes. While no non-human animal on this planet has the sophisticated rational abilities that we do, many, nevertheless, have mental capacities that enable them to experience pain, suffering and anxiety from our treatment of them. In this chapter we will look at some of the more controversial ways that society treats animals, and whether animals might have rights that protect them from our conduct towards them.




The underlying problem with many of the uses of animals is that they cause them to experience pain. Our first line of inquiry, then, is to determine which if any animals are capable of experiencing pain. Next we must look at the specific pain-producing ways in which we treat those animals.


Animal Consciousness and Pain

How do we know which if any animals have the conscious capacity to feel pain? There are many different animals out there with varying degrees of neurological complexity, from primitive ones like worms, to sophisticated ones like chimpanzees. How do we get inside the minds of any of these o know what they are experiencing? This points to a larger problem of how we know the mental experiences of any conscious creature, whether it is a human, an animal, or an alien from outerspace for that matter. The only mental experience that I can directly encounter is my own. If a rock falls on your foot, I cannot directly experience your thought process to know whether you are consciously feeling pain, and, so too if a rock falls on the foot of an animal. In fact, I can’t even say with complete certainty whether you or anyone else has a conscious mind at all since I can’t access anyone else’s mind directly. All I see is how you behave, but for all I know you are just an unconscious biological robot that is programmed to respond to certain stimulus, such as shouting “ouch” when a rock is dropped on your foot. This is what philosophers call the problem of other minds. Although the barrier between my mind and the minds of other people is a permanent one, there is nonetheless a partial solution to this problem. If there are enough physical and behavioral similarities between me and you, then I’m justified in inferring that you have mental experiences just like I do. The solution, then, is one based on analogy, which can be expressed as follows:


1. When a rock falls on my foot, I consciously experience pain.

2. Joe has physical and behavioral features that are similar to mine.

3. Therefore, when a rock falls on Joe’s foot, he consciously experiences pain.


Since Joe and I are members of the same species and essentially identical physiologically, it is reasonable for me to conclude that Joe’s mental experiences are essentially the same as mine.

            What, though, about animal consciousness and animal’s experiences of pain? We are different species and physiologically distinct in many important ways. But, while there may be dramatic differences between me and the animals, the same solution from analogy still applies. If there are relevant physiological and behavioral similarities between me and a cat it may be reasonable to conclude that the cat experiences pain the same way that I do. The more physical and behavioral features animals have in common with me, the more likely it is that they are conscious like me. Often we rely on the behavior of an animal to make the judgment call, such as if it limps, whimpers, or makes a recognizable facial expression of distress. These signs, though, are not always reliable since we can too easily read into these our own human experiences. A better test of whether an animal feels pain involves its physiology: the closer its biological pain mechanism is to that of humans, the more reasonable it is to assume that it experiences pain the way that we do. In humans, the experience of pain involves the presence of (1) pain receptors throughout our body, (2) neurological pain pathways within our brains, (3) natural painkillers that are released within the brain when pain increases, and (4) specific pain pathways to the association cortex, which gives the emotional aspect of pain.

            Which animals, then, have these pain mechanisms? Invertebrate animals, such as sea slugs, only have the first of these features, but lack the remaining ones which involve more sophisticated nervous systems. It appears, then, that their receptors operate as only stimulus-response reflex mechanisms, without involving any conscious experience of pain. The story is different with most vertebrate animals, though, particularly mammals, whose nervous systems are complex enough to support the first three of the above features, thereby implying that they consciously experience pain. As to emotional suffering, only a small number of mammals have an association cortex, and in smaller mammals such as mice it is virtually nonexistent. It is particularly prominent in chimpanzees and dolphins, which suggests that they might be capable of experiencing human-like suffering.


Factory Farming

In the U.S., over 10 billion animals are raised and killed each year for food—about 9 billion chickens, 250 million turkeys, 100 million pigs, 35 million cows. The vast majority of these are not raised on small family farms but, rather, in large agricultural facilities called factory farms, also known as Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The idea of factory farming originated in the 1920s with the discovery of vitamins A and D. When mixed with feed, farm animals were capable of growing without sunlight or exercise, which enabled them to be raised more efficiently in barns throughout the year. With population growth, and increases in meat eating, by the 1960s factory farming became widespread and today it dominates the meat production industry. The driving force behind factory farming is economics: it is cheaper to raise animals in a confined area using assembly-line methods than it is to manage them in larger and open areas. The meat industry is highly competitive, and to stay in business farmers need to adopt the most cost-effective methods of raising animals.

            In the process of cutting production costs, factory farming has been notoriously neglectful of animal welfare, and the main animals affected are cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens. The central problem is that an excessive number of animals are held in tightly confined areas, typically in metal buildings that allow no access to sunlight, fresh air, or vegetation, and prevent them from moving around or carrying out other normal behaviors. It is typical for feedlots to house thousands of cows, or egg-laying facilities to hold over a million chickens in small cages stacked several layers high. Many animals are so restricted that they cannot turn around to satisfy their natural inclinations of self-grooming. Within these tightly compressed areas, chickens often become aggressive and, to prevent them from pecking their neighbors, farmers clip off their beaks shortly after they are hatched. Diseases rapidly spread in such close and unsanitary living quarters, and to combat this antibiotics are mixed in with their feed. To maximize efficiency, animals are given growth hormones or specially bred to put on bulk, often to the point that their legs break under their weight. About 10% of factory farm animals die from disease, injury and stress, without ever making it to slaughterhouses. The enormous amounts of urine and feces from these animals is stored in large lagoons or sprayed on crops, which pollutes the air and contaminates groundwater.

            The principle products of factory farming are meat and dairy items. However, built into the economics of animal agriculture, all parts of slaughtered animals are used as ingredients in various consumer products, as described here regarding the rendered byproducts of slaughtered cows:


the blood of a slaughtered cow is used to manufacture plywood adhesives, fertilizer, fire extinguisher foam, and dyes.  Her fat helps make plastic, tires, crayons, cosmetics, lubricants, soaps, detergents, cough syrup, contraceptive jellies and creams, ink, shaving cream, fabric softeners, synthetic rubber, jet engine lubricants, textiles, corrosion inhibitors, and metal-machining lubricants.  Her collagen is found in pie crusts, yogurts, matches, bank notes, paper, and cardboard glue; her intestines are used in strings for musical instruments and racquets; her bones in charcoal ash for refining sugar, in ceramics, and cleaning and polishing compounds. [Steven M. Wise, Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights, (2002)].


The life spans of all factory-farmed animals are very short. While the normal life of a cow is 25 years, factory farm beef cattle are slaughtered at around age 1, and dairy cows at age 4. Pigs, which live to 15 years, are slaughtered at less than a year. Chickens, with a 7 year lifespan, are killed at 5 weeks for food and 2 years for egg-laying. As the egg-laying industry uses only hens, unwanted male chicks are killed as soon as they hatch—about 200 million a year—typically by being dropped alive into a grinding machine.


Animal Research

Over 25 million animals are killed each year in the US for animal testing. The specific type of animal used depends upon the type of test that’s performed. Around 90% of these are mice and rats, and about 1% (i.e., 250,000) are cats, dogs and primates. Other animals used in research are hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, sheep, horses and cows. There are three main purposes of animal testing. First is to advance scientific knowledge about animals themselves, such as their behavior and physiology. Second is to use animals as models for studying human diseases, such as viruses, and the effectiveness of human medicine. Third is to use animals as models for toxicity testing of drugs, food, cosmetics, and household chemicals; these experiments tell us whether a particular manufactured substance might be harmful or even lethal for humans. Almost all research animals are killed when the studies are complete.

            Inhumane treatment of laboratory animals can occur at every stage of their lives. There is distress from their early weaning, transporting them in unfamiliar and harsh conditions, housing them in cages for most of their lives, and restraining them during testing procedures – such as strapping a primate to a chair. Then there is the test procedure itself which involves administering a drug or chemical, or performing surgery. Toxicity tests are vivid examples. Suppose, for example, that a cosmetic company develops a new facial cream. To test for potential harm, researchers will apply the chemical agents in the cream to lab animals’ skin and eyes, feed it to them, and have them breathe its vapors. The chemical will be introduced in both low and high quantities to detect the point at which physiological problems might emerge. Specific problems might include skin rash, weight loss, nausea, pain, genetic damage, birth defects, organ failure, convulsions, coma, and death. Some animals will be subjected to long term exposure—about two years—to test for carcinogenicity. One particularly controversial toxicity experiment is the Draize test, which involves placing a substance directly into the eyes of a live, conscious animal, usually an albino rabbit. While some countries are phasing out this particular procedure, it is still practiced in the U.S.

            To help limit the harm done to animals in laboratory experiments, some researchers advocate what are known as the Three Rs of humane animal experimentation: replacement, reduction, and refinement. The original creators of this standard explain what each means here:


Replacement means the substitution for conscious living higher animals of insentient material. Reduction means reduction in the numbers of animals used to obtain information of a given amount and precision. Refinement means any decrease in the incidence or severity of inhumane procedures applied to those animals which still have to be used. [William Russell Rex Burch, The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique (1959), Ch. 4]


With replacement, alternative laboratory tests might involve experimenting only on parts of animals, such as isolated cells, tissues, or organs; they might also test invertebrates such as horseshoe crabs in place of vertebrates and mammals, or they might study vertebrates only during early stages of fetal development. Computer models of living organisms are also becoming an option. With reduction, one effort would be to eliminate unnecessary duplication of animal experiments, which often occur when researchers are unaware of or don’t have access to the data of earlier experiments. Researchers note that while needless redundancy should be eliminated, it is often important to replicate the same experiments as part of the scientific method whereby one researcher confirms the findings of another. With refinement, animal suffering can be reduced by giving them more natural environments and better anesthesia.


Animal Advocacy Groups

Numerous animal advocacy organizations have emerged which seek to improve animal conditions in one way or another. Perhaps the most famous of these are the Humane Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Slightly more radical is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which devotes most of its resources to opposing factory farming, animal research, the animal clothing industry, and the animal entertainment industry. Their website contains especially graphic videos of animal mistreatment within these industries. Some organizations have particularly narrow focuses. For example, the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) opposes animal testing with cosmetics and lists companies that have adopted their "Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals," thereby agreeing not to test on animals during any stage of product development.

            Another specialized group is the Great Ape Project, which aims to secure legal rights for large primates, which are the closest genetic relatives to human beings, and share many of our mental and emotional characteristics. Founded in 1993, the Project aims to take a census of all great apes worldwide, and, in the U.S., it seeks release of the 3,000 of them in captivity, almost half of which are used in biomedical research. The Project is lobbying the United Nations to enact a Declaration on Great Apes that includes the following:


We demand the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans. The community of equals is the moral community within which we accept certain basic moral principles or rights as governing our relations with each other and enforceable at law. Among these principles or rights are the following: 1. The Right to Life. . . 2. The Protection of Individual Liberty. . .  3. The Prohibition of Torture. . . . []


New Zealand has enacted a version of the Great Ape Declaration.

            Some animal advocacy groups advance their causes through illegal tactics and are classified as domestic terrorists by the U.S. government, often with the designation of “animal enterprise terrorism.” The most famous of these is the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), and their activist guidelines include the following:


1. To liberate animals from places of abuse, i.e. laboratories, factory farms, fur farms, etc, and place them in good homes where they may live out their natural lives, free from suffering.

2. To inflict economic damage to those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals.

3. To reveal the horror and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors, by performing non-violent direct actions and liberations.

4. To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human. []


ALF members have vandalized fur stores, slaughterhouses, meat shops, animal breeding facilities, fast-food restaurants and circuses. They have conducted raids on animal testing facilities, releasing animals and stealing research videos of animal experiments. They have sent letter bombs and firebombed buildings. All of these activities, they maintain, are in the interests of freeing animals from mistreatment and making it financially unprofitable for companies and research institutions to harm animals.


What People Think

The surveys below suggest that people in the U.S. are generally concerned about animal protection, but are not ready to make big sacrifices on behalf of animals when it conflicts with human interests (from, 5/8-11/08).


"Which of these statements comes closest to your view about the treatment of animals? Animals deserve the exact same rights as people to be free from harm and exploitation. Animals deserve some protection from harm and exploitation, but it is still appropriate to use them for the benefit of humans. OR, Animals don't need much protection from harm and exploitation since they are just animals."

Same Rights As People: 25

Some Protection: 72

They are Just Animals: 3

Unsure: 1  


"Here are some specific proposals concerning the treatment of animals. For each one, please say whether you strongly support this proposal, somewhat support it, somewhat oppose it, or strongly oppose this proposal.”


"Passing strict laws concerning the treatment of farm animals"

Strongly Support: 35

Somewhat Support: 29

Somewhat Oppose : 20

Strongly Oppose: 13

Unsure: 3


"Banning all product testing on laboratory animals"

Strongly Support: 15

Somewhat Support: 24

Somewhat Oppose: 31

Strongly Oppose: 28

Unsure: 2


"Banning sports that involve competition between animals, such as horse racing or dog racing"

Strongly Support: 16

Somewhat Support: 22

Somewhat Oppose: 25

Strongly Oppose: 34

Unsure: 3


"Banning all medical research on laboratory animals"

Strongly Support: 13

Somewhat Support: 22

Somewhat Oppose: 31

Strongly Oppose: 33

Unsure: 1


"Banning all types of hunting"

Strongly Support: 8

Somewhat Support: 13

Somewhat Oppose: 29

Strongly Oppose: 48

Unsure: 1



While animal science can tell us how closely animal physiology is to that of humans, and whether animals can experience pain and suffering like we do, science by itself cannot tell us whether animals have the same moral status that we have. This is a more philosophical issue that hinges on whether animals are moral persons in a way that human beings are. Humans are moral persons in the sense that we have a moral standing, moral worth and moral rights; others have moral duties towards us and must treat us in morally responsible ways. It is our moral personhood that enables us to say, for example, that it is wrong for others to assault, kidnap, torture or kill us. There are largely three ways of viewing the moral personhood of animals:



With each of these positions, the deciding factor involves what precisely the criterion is for moral personhood: what specific quality does an organism need to have in order to qualify as a moral person? There are a range of possible answers. Perhaps it is merely animal life itself, particularly through the inclinations and desires that most animals have to move about to acquire food, protect themselves or reproduce. Perhaps it is rudimentary consciousness of its surroundings, or sentience, that is, the capacity to experience pleasure or pain. Perhaps it is a higher cognitive faculty, such as rationality, self-awareness, speaking a complex language, or learning complex tasks. We’ll look at how the various possible criteria of personhood factor into the above three positions.


Clear Line Position

Until recently, philosophers throughout the history of Western civilization have typically taken the “clear line” position regarding the moral status of animals. In virtually every case the argument has been that animals lack a fundamental human-like mental quality that is necessary to give it personhood. Augustine (354–430) argued that the critical mental quality is rationality pure and simple, and since animals lack this, God permits humans to use animals as we see fit:


If when we say “Thou shalt not kill”, we do not understand this of the plants, since they have no sensation. Nor do we understand this of the irrational animals that fly, swim, walk, or creep, since they are dissociated from us by their lack of reason, and are therefore, by the just appointment of the Creator, subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses. [City of God, 1.20]


When denying that animals are rational, Augustine had in mind specific cognitive abilities, such as to do mathematics, draw logical deductions, and discover scientific and moral principles. He largely assumes that these are the criteria that confer moral worth, without explaining why this is so.

            One of the more sophisticated defenders of the clear line position was French philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650), whose views hinge on the philosophical position called spirit-body dualism. According to Descartes, human beings are composed of two distinct types of substances: a physical body and a non-physical spirit-mind. Our physical bodies, he argued, are simply biological machines that follow strict biological laws of nature; our bodies are essentially robots without any capacity for conscious thought. Our spirit-minds, on the other hand, exist in a non-three-dimensional spirit realm and are responsible for our consciousness and reasoning. Our spirit-minds are connected to our robotic bodies at a point in the center of our brains, which enables us to control our movements of our bodies the way that a puppeteer controls a puppet. But animals, he argues, are composed only of one substance, namely, a physical body, and completely lack a spirit-mind. The bodies of animals behave purely mechanically with no conscious mental activity whatsoever. Descartes recognized that some animals occasionally appear to have rational abilities, as when we train dogs to perform clever tricks, but these are still just robotic activities that dog trainers program into them. But, he argued, the clearest proof that animals have no spirit-mind is that they are incapable of expressing themselves in any language:


it has never yet been observed that any animal has arrived at such a degree of perfection as to make use of a true language. That is to say, they have not been able to indicate to us by the voice, or by other signs anything which could be referred to thought alone, rather than to a movement of mere nature. For the word is the sole sign and the only certain mark of the presence of thought hidden and wrapped up in the body. [Letter to Henry Moore]


On Descartes’ view, then, not only are animals not rational, but, lacking a spirit-mind as they do, they are not even conscious and thus are incapable of experiencing pain. If an animal acts as if it’s in pain, it is only a reflexive action that is part of its biological programming. Descartes himself performed surgical experiments on live animals—a practice called vivisection—and his stance on animal pain provided a moral justification for vivisection in the centuries that followed.

            Another influential traditional philosopher who defended the clear-line position was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant agreed with philosophers before him that animals are mere things that lack self-consciousness and rationality. However, Kant cautioned against needlessly torturing animals, not for the animal's sake, but because this desensitizes people towards suffering which they may then inflict on another person. If I torture an animal, I’ll be more predisposed to act cruelly towards human beings. He writes,


Tender feelings towards dumb animals develop humane feelings towards mankind. In England butchers and doctors do not sit on a jury because they are accustomed to the sight of death and hardened. Vivisectionists, who use living animals for their experiments, certainly act cruelly, although their aim is praiseworthy, and they can justify their cruelty, since animals must be regarded as man’s instruments; but any such cruelty for sport cannot be justified. [Lectures on Ethics]


On Kant’s view, then, the moral obligation that we have regarding animals is not directly towards the animals themselves, but, rather, indirectly towards human interests alone.

            From our contemporary perspective there are serious problems with the clear line position on the moral status of animals. Scientists today reject Descartes’ view of spirit-body dualism and instead hold that human consciousness is purely a function of biological brain activity. Thus, if animal brains are sufficiently similar to ours, it is reasonable to assume that those animals are also conscious and capable of feeling pain. Recent animal studies also suggest that animals show many signs of rationality that we thought were previously only reserved for humans. Many animals have sophisticated communication, and chimpanzees that were taught sign language have vocabularies of over 200 words, about the level of a two or three year old human. Many animals have impressive problem solving skills and can use rocks or sticks as tools. If rationality is the litmus test of moral personhood, as Augustine, Descartes and Kant assume, then some animals might pass that test, perhaps even near the level of some humans.


Equality Position

Again, the equality position is that human and many non-human animals have an equal status as moral persons and no distinctions can be drawn between their moral worth. It is unlikely that anyone has seriously held the position that all animals, including single-celled ones such as amoebas, have an equal moral status with humans. Rather, defenders of the equality position identify a class of animals that exhibit a particular criterion of personhood, such as vertebrates or mammals, and recognize them as having the same moral worth as us. The religion of Janism, originating in India around 500 BCE, is representative of this view, as one of their scriptures states, “all breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away” (Akaranga Sutra, 1.4.1). Even insects and worms have moral worth, and Jain believers often wear masks over their faces to keep from accidentally inhaling flies, and they sweep the bugs paths in front of themselves with brooms. Their underlying rationale is that human souls may be reincarnated in the bodies of animals, and thus the reverence that we show towards human life extends to these creatures as well.

            Even in Western civilization there are indications that ancient thinkers held to the equality position, as described in the following:


Not only men of moderate abilities, but even first-rate sages and philosophers, such as Pythagoras and Empedocles, declare that all kinds of living creatures have a right to the same justice. They declare that unpardonable penalties loom over those who have done violence to any animal whatsoever. It is, therefore, a crime to injure an animal, and the perpetrator of such crime. [Cicero, Republic, 3]


But, like Jainism, these schools of thought require a religious-like commitment that would not come easily to people outside of those traditions. In more recent times, English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was the first philosopher to suggest a more secular justification for the equality view. There are two components to Bentham’s position. The first is his view that the criterion of personhood is sentience, that is, the capacity to experience pleasure and pain. He writes, “The question is not, can they reason? nor, can they talk? but, can they suffer?” (Principles of Morals and Legislation, Chapter 17.1). According to Bentham, many animals have that capacity, and because of that they have a moral standing. The second part of Bentham’s position is his view of utilitarianism, that is, morally right actions are those that bring about the most pleasure for the most people. When determining whether an action is right or wrong, we should tally the amount of pleasure and pain our actions cause. Since animals experience pleasure and pain, then we must factor their interests into the equation. We rarely take into account the interests of animals when we make moral decisions. However, according to Bentham, we should, and perhaps someday animals will have rights like we do: “The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny” (ibid).

            Bentham never fully developed his sentience-based view of animal rights, and in fact his only discussion of the subject appears in a footnote. The task of expanding on Bentham’s view was taken up by contemporary Australian philosopher Peter Singer (b. 1946). According to Singer, utilitarianism offers a clear standard of equality that applies to all sentient creatures: the interests of every sentient being affected by an action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like interests of any other being. When we fail to give the interests of animals the same weight as those of humans, we are engaged in an act of prejudice and bigotry against animals that is analogous to the prejudice that underlies racism or sexism. Singer calls this speciesism:


It is on this basis [of equality of rights] that the case against racism and the case against sexism must both ultimately rest; and it is in accordance with this principle that the attitude that we may call “speciesism,” by analogy with racism, must also be condemned. Speciesism—the word is not an attractive one, but I can think of no better term—is a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species. . . . If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his or her own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans for the same purpose? [Animal Liberation, Preface]


According to Singer, we show speciesism and thereby wrongly discriminate against animals when we eat them for food or submit them to cruel experiments, neither of which we would permit with our own species.

            Another recent defender of the equality position is American philosopher Tom Regan (b. 1938). Rather than select sentience as the criterion of personhood, as Bentham and Singer do, Regan focuses on a broader cognitive ability that he calls being the subject of a life. He describes this here:


we are each of us the experiencing subject of a life, a conscious creature having an individual welfare that has importance to us whatever our usefulness to others. We want and prefer things, believe and feel things, recall and expect things. And all these dimensions of our life including our pleasure and pain, our enjoyment and suffering, our satisfaction and frustration, our continued existence or our untimely death -- all make a difference to the quality of our life as lived, as experienced, by us as individuals. [“The Case for Animal Rights” (1989)]


While the above list of mental qualities includes sentience, what is important, for Regan, is that there is a subject, or an “I” behind the preferences, beliefs and feelings that we have. It’s this larger ability to view the world through our first-person perspective that gives us inherent worth. For Regan, many animals also have this capacity. Consequently, “as the same is true of those animals that concern us (the ones that are eaten and trapped, for example), they too must be viewed as the experiencing subjects of a life, with inherent value of their own” (ibid).

            The biggest problem with the equality position is that animal species vary enormously in their cognitive abilities, and it seems arbitrary to set a single cognitive threshold to differentiate those animals which have a moral standing from those that don’t. Singer himself sets that dividing line at sentience: an organism’s capacity to experience pleasure and pain. Thus he groups together snakes, fish and chickens in the same moral community as chimpanzees and even humans. And, if we fail to include some sentient animal species within the moral community, we are speciesists. Regan sets a different dividing line, namely, having a first-person perspective of the world, and this may not necessarily include snakes, fish and chickens. There are subtle cognitive differences from one animal species to another, and, rather than having a single dividing line of moral worth, it makes more sense to have several cognitive thresholds which designate different levels of moral worth. That brings us to the third position, that of the sliding scale.


Sliding Scale Position

Again, the sliding scale position regarding the moral status of animals is that there is a spectrum of moral worth among animals where humans are at the top, on down to the lowest animal forms at the bottom. There are major differences in the cognitive abilities of various animals, and, accordingly, a spectrum of mental criteria of personhood confers differing degrees of moral worth to different animals. At the bottom end would be mere animal life inclination to move around, which even worms and other invertebrates have. Next would be consciousness of one’s surroundings and sentience, which fish and birds have. Next would be rationality and self-awareness, which higher animals such as dogs, cats and pigs have. Next would be higher rational functions that Chimps exhibit, and finally the highest rational functions that humans have. While all animals have some level of inherent worth, the more intelligent animals have it to a higher degree and thus have a stronger set of moral rights than less intelligent animals do.

            The advantage of the sliding scale view is that it acknowledges that all animals have at least some moral worth (unlike the clear line position) while at the same time recognizes that there are cognitive differences that impact a thing’s moral status (unlike the equality view). How, though, might such a sliding scale proportion moral worth to cognitive ability? At the very low end we might say that animals that are completely unconscious animals might be entitled to have us protect their species from extinction. Since they are unconscious, it would make little difference whether one survived rather than another, but it would be appropriate to acknowledge their species’ successful struggle for existence so far. Higher up on the scale, animals that are sentient would have the rudimentary right to be free from unnecessary suffering. This would require the elimination of cruel practices within factory farming and animal experimentation. Higher still, animals that are self-aware and have a sense of personal identity might have a right to life that would prohibit us from killing them for food or research. The highest non-human animals, such as chimpanzees, have a great capacity for emotional suffering, and for that reason might be entitled to a life in a well-maintained and protected habitat. That is, we might go beyond our basic duty to avoid killing them and more actively ensure that they remain alive and healthy within their natural environments, free of predators as much as possible.

            In animal rights discussions, the sliding scale position is sometimes attacked by defenders of the equality position on the grounds that if we adopt a sliding scale of moral worth, then this would lead us to assign less worth to humans that are mentally deficient. It’s wrong to devalue the moral standing of mentally deficient humans, so it is also wrong to do that with animals. However, defenders of the sliding scale position have a response. There is a long standing principle in moral philosophy that what matters are the attributes pertaining to human beings generally, not the irregularities that appear in an isolated person. Aquinas states this succinctly: “in human acts the line of natural rightness is not drawn to suit the accidental variety of the individual, but the properties common to the whole species” (Summa Contra Gentiles, 3.122). There are any number of differences that we can find between one individual human and another—differences in strength, intelligence, sociability—but none of these alter one’s fundamental moral standing. Morality is essentially a one-size-fits-all phenomenon for humans, and it applies equally to all members of the human species, even those who are mentally deficient.  The sliding scale position also extends this reasoning to the various animal species at their respective levels of cognitive complexity. The individual members of animal species at the low end of the cognitive spectrum have a uniformly lower moral standing, and those at the higher end have a uniformly higher moral standing.



As with most countries around the world, in the U.S. animals have the legal status of property, and have no direct legal standing in their own right as legal persons—the way, for example, that individual people or corporations do. With much of the property we own, such as refrigerators and can openers, we can do with them as we please. Our treatment of the animals we own, though, is regulated by law, some federal, and some state. While many of the laws attempt to safeguard the wellbeing of animals, much of the time they strike a middle ground between the interests of the animals and the financial interests of the owners, such as factory farms, research labs and pet owners. Activist groups that seek to improve the laws protecting animals are of two sorts. First, animal welfare advocates seek to maintain the legal status of animals as property and their current uses as food and in research, while encouraging reforms on behalf of animals. Second, animal rights advocates seek legal personhood status for animals, which would have the practical effect of enabling animal advocacy groups to sue to protect the interests of animals directly.


Federal Animal Laws

U.S. laws that govern the use of animals exist on both the federal level, applying to the nation at large, and the state level, applying to just those jurisdictions. Three federal laws are particularly noteworthy. First, the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act, enacted in 1958, regulates how animals can be killed for food, with the aim of preventing the needless suffering of animals and also to improve working conditions for people in the slaughtering industry. The heart of the act is its description of how livestock are to be killed: “all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut.” Over the years, though, the Act has been criticized on several grounds. First, for decades there was poor enforcement of the laws since inspectors often did not have legal access to the killing floors within the slaughterhouses themselves. Without the ability to directly view the procedures, they could not detect violations. In 2002 Congress attempted to address this deficiency by enacting a resolution that would “ensure” the enforcement of the slaughter act. Second, the Act focuses only on how agricultural animals are put to death, not on how they are raised, and, as animal rights advocates charge, animals endure widespread suffering and neglect in overcrowded factory farm settings. Third, the Act pertains to only cattle, pigs, and sheep, but not other animals commonly slaughtered, particularly chicken, turkey, and fish, which together comprise over 99% of the animals killed for food in the U.S.

            The second law is the Animal Welfare Act, signed into law in 1966, which aims to protect animals used in scientific research by restricting the procedures that can be performed on them. The Act is accompanied by a detailed and regularly updated set of regulations that provide guidelines for researchers. The regulations that pertain directly to animal pain during experiments are the following:


(i) Procedures involving animals will avoid or minimize discomfort, distress, and pain to the animals . . . (iii) The principal investigator has provided written assurance that the activities do not unnecessarily duplicate previous experiments; (iv) Procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to the animals will: (A) Be performed with appropriate sedatives, analgesics or anesthetics, unless withholding such agents is justified for scientific reasons, in writing, by the principal investigator and will continue for only the necessary period of time. . . (v) Animals that would otherwise experience severe or chronic pain or distress that cannot be relieved will be painlessly euthanized at the end of the procedure or, if appropriate, during the procedure; (vi) The animals' living conditions will be appropriate for their species . . . and contribute to their health and comfort. [AWA Code of Federal Regulations, 2.31]


The guidelines above attempt to address many of the concerns of animal rights advocates, such as minimizing suffering, avoiding duplication, providing adequate care and living conditions. However, there is great latitude within the guidelines that allow researchers to perform painful experiments on conscious animals, and the minimum standards set for adequate care and living conditions may be too low.

            The third law is the recent Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (2006), which aims to protect companies from vandalism by animal activist groups. A similar law was enacted in 1992, called the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, but animal research and agricultural companies successfully lobbied Congress to strengthen the law and classify offenders as terrorists. The law specifically targets any action that “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise, or any real or personal property of a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.” While the law is primarily geared to punish animal activists who cause property damage, its broad wording could be applied to non-violent protestors if their activities result in a loss of profits. Opponents of the Act charge that this seriously undermines animal activists’ legitimate right to protest, as one critic states here:


That clause, “loss of profits,” would sweep in not only property crimes, but legal activity like protests, boycotts, investigations, media campaigning, and whistleblowing. It would also include campaigns of non-violent civil disobedience, like blocking entrances to a laboratory where controversial animal testing is taking place. Those aren't acts of terrorism. They are effective activism. Businesses exist to make money, and if activists want to change a business practice, they must make that practice unprofitable. [William Potter, U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (2006)]


            Other federal animal laws deal with the creation of wildlife management programs, protection of marine mammals and migratory birds, and prohibitions against animal fighting. One federal law, the “Companion Animals Federal Pet Protection Act,” requires that pet shelters wait a period of five days before selling unclaimed pets. The purpose of the Act, it explains, “is to prevent animals from being stolen and purchased from humane societies in order to use the animals for scientific testing or illegal purposes (such as fighting, etc.).” About 50,000 dogs and 100,000 cats each year are purchased from animal shelters for use in animal testing. The waiting period gives owners a chance to retrieve their lost pets before they might meet with that fate. In spite of this law, pets continue to be stolen by research animal dealers. In one investigation a dealer stated "I know a few boys that go into rich neighborhoods. . . they get some of them rich people's dogs and they don't even know what happened to 'em." Another dealer admitted, "Well, let's face it, it's not legal, you know. I took stolen dogs to him . . . I think well -- that could be a child's dog. You know -- that could be a pet, ya know. . . Hey, a buck's a buck" (U.S. House Agriculture committee hearing, Review of the Welfare of Animals in Agriculture, 2007).


State and International Animal Laws

While federal U.S. animal laws govern many aspects of animal treatment, there is no comprehensive federal law that deals with animal cruelty: each state must enact its own cruelty laws, and all 50 states have indeed done so. The state laws are only criminal, and not civil, which means that animal owners—individuals or companies—cannot be sued for cruelty, but only criminally punished. While cruelty to animals can be a felony offense in most states, offenders are most often prosecuted for lesser misdemeanor charges. A good example of a state animal cruelty law is the following from California:


every person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal, is guilty of an offense punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, or, alternatively, by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment. . . . Every person [is also guilty of a punishable offense] who overdrives, overloads, drives when overloaded, overworks, tortures, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, drink, or shelter, cruelly beats, mutilates, or cruelly kills any animal. [California penal code sect. 597]


In addition to the above general law against animal cruelty, California has dozens of more specific laws that regulate animal hunting, fishing, trapping, breeding, training, impounding, poisoning, euthanizing and slaughtering. Some laws are geared towards specific animals, such as those prohibiting the abuse of elephants, dog fighting, or the sale of dog and cat pelts.

            Countries around the world face the same animal-related problems that we do and thus devise their own policies, many of which are more liberal than ours. Germany has granted legal rights to animals. A farm animal welfare organization that advises the British government has devised a list of “five freedoms” for animals:


1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst—by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.

2. Freedom from Discomfort—by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease—by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.

4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior—by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.

5. Freedom from Fear and Distress—by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.


Many European countries have adopted a Pet Protection Treaty, which aims to protect pets against unnecessary pain, suffering, distress, and abandonment.

            But Switzerland has enacted what are perhaps the most animal-friendly laws to date. A 1992 law mandates that animals be recognized as beings, not things, and a more recent 2008 law extends to them a range of unique protections. Social animals, such as hamsters and parrots, cannot be kept in cages by themselves. Fishermen cannot use live bait and are prohibited from catching then releasing fish – essentially fishing for sport rather than food. Live goldfish cannot be flushed down the toilet and owners of aquariums must light them in a way that maintains a natural cycle of day and night. New dog owners are required to take a course on how to best meet the needs of their pet.



The Conservative Position

The conservative position on the topic of the moral status of animals is that humans have a moral standing that is superior to that of animals, which justifies our use of them. Animals have no moral rights— and should have no legal rights—and animal pain is justified when it brings about a human good. The main arguments for the conservative position are these.

            1. Animals are here for our use: As part of the natural order of things, animals exist for human benefit, and we can use them as we see fit. As the dominant species on this planet, all living things are under our complete authority. A criticism of this argument is that might does not make right. Merely having power over something does not entitle one to harm, torture or exploit it. A king can’t line up and shoot his subjects just because he dominates them. We even recognize this with inanimate objects such as national treasures and irreplaceable works of art. If a museum owns the Mona Lisa, that does not give the museum the moral authority to destroy it. So too with animals: dominance over animals in and of itself does not justify us in doing what we want to them.

            2. Animal use is necessary. Use of animals is a matter of human survival, and that surpasses any other consideration we may have towards them. We biologically depend on animals for food, and we culturally depend on animals for scientific advancement and safe consumer products. In a perfect world we might give more consideration to animal interests, but as things stand, our use of them is a necessity. A criticism of this argument is that, while animal use may have been necessary for human survival in previous eras, it is no longer true today. We don’t need animals for food, clothing and labor. We no longer need them for scientific research and consumer product testing. We keep using animals for these purposes since that’s the way we’ve always done it, but that doesn’t mean that it is still necessary.

            3. Human interests have greater importance: Human interests are more important than those of animals, and thus outweigh them. There is a qualitative difference between the lives that humans lead and those that animals do. Unlike animals, we have an appreciation of cultural advancement; we have capacities for art, music, scientific exploration, historical knowledge. Every action we perform as humans is set against this backdrop of superior human interests, which overshadows the more brutish interests of animals. A criticism of this argument is that trivial human interests do not outweigh important animal interests. My desire for a tasty hamburger does not outweigh the interests of a cow to continue to remain alive. My interest in wearing alluring cosmetics does not outweigh the interests of lab animals to be free from painful toxicity tests. I may have the aesthetic capacity to appreciate fancy clothes, but that doesn’t justify me in skinning an animal for that purpose. In most cases, the specific interests that we have when using animals are quite trivial when compared to the animals’ interests to remain alive and not experience pain.


The Liberal Position

The liberal position regarding animals is that many of them have moral personhood, and thus qualify for both moral and legal rights. Thus, most human uses of these animals are not morally justified, and animal pain is never justifiable even if it leads to a human good. The main arguments for the liberal position are these.

            1. Some animals are self-aware. Higher animals, such as dogs, cats, pigs, and chimps, have higher mental capacities of self-awareness that give them their own desires, preferences, and sense of identity. This capacity qualifies them for personhood, which in turn, means that they have rights to pursue their preferences, just as we humans have rights to pursue ours. A criticism of this argument is that few animals have higher mental abilities that compare to those of humans. Maybe the great apes and large sea mammals have brain structures that give them human-like self-awareness, but that might be it. While animals like dogs, cats and pigs have impressive mental abilities, they do not necessarily rise to the level that would give them human-like moral or legal rights.

            2. Many animals are sentient. Vertebrate animals, from fish on up to humans, have nervous systems that enable them to consciously experience pain. This capacity qualifies them for personhood, and implies that they have the right not to be inflicted with pain. Virtually all of the uses that we make of animals—for food, clothing, research, entertainment—subjects animals to pain, and is thus unjustifiable. A criticism of this argument is that not all vertebrates perceive pain in the same way, and how they do depends on the size and structure of their brains. Compare, for example, the level of conscious sentience of a minnow fish with that of a chimp. The two may be so far apart that, even if we granted personhood to a chimp, the minnow’s sentience might be to too insubstantial to warrant it having personhood status. Thus, if there is no uniform experience of sentience from one creature to another, then there is no uniform standard of personhood which they all have.

            3. Humans are traditionally speciesists. We have a longstanding bias in favor of our own species, which prevents us from seeing the moral worth of animals. Throughout history we’ve defined notions of rationality, personal identity, dignity, and moral worth in terms of our human experience. We’ve largely ignored the sophisticated capacities of animals to communicate with each other and solve problems. The more we learn about animals, though, the more we can see important cognitive similarities with those of humans. The traditional bias that we’ve had against the moral status of animals is grounded in ignorance and unfounded stereotypes, in much the way that racial and gender bias are. A criticism of this argument is that we have good reason to view species differently, but no good reason to view races and genders differently. For example, there are no dissimilarities with the cognitive abilities of races, which thus makes racial bias unjustified. But even our most impartial understanding of animals reveals enormous gaps between their cognitive abilities and ours, which justifies us in giving them a different status.


A Middle Position

Throughout the animal rights debate, it is easy to find areas of compromise on both sides. On the one hand, we know so much more about animal physiology and cognition now than in previous centuries that the traditional clear-line distinction between the moral worth of animals and humans must be rejected. On the other hand, science tells us that there are significant differences between the cognitive abilities of animals and humans, and even between animals themselves; thus, it seems untenable to hold that humans and all animals have equal moral worth. The sliding scale position on the moral worth of animals is a reasonable compromise, and it has the benefit of relying directly on what science tells us about the differing cognitive capacities of animals. The greater is their capacity for sentience and self-awareness, the greater is their moral worth. The challenge, though, is altering animal laws and business practices in ways that would reflect the differing degrees of moral worth of animals. It would be easy enough to accept the Great Ape Declaration, as New Zealand already has. It would also be easy enough to at least cut back on animal testing in the ways suggested by the Three Rs of humane animal experimentation. Meat consumption could be dramatically reduced (even if only for reasons of health), and factory farming techniques could be eliminated, as some European countries are doing. Other areas of animal welfare, though, may be more tricky to regulate—such as with hunting, fishing and pet ownership—and may require time for society to acclimate to animal-friendly restrictions.






Animal Rights and Human Irresponsibility

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals


With nearly one million members, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is the largest animal rights organization today. Their guiding principle is that “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment.” The organization was founded in 1980 by two animal rights advocates who were inspired by Peter Singer’s influential book Animal Liberation. Since its inception, PETA has gained fame for its undercover investigations of animal abuse in laboratories and food production facilities; videos of many of these atrocities are posted on their website. Through their efforts, research and food production facilities have been either shut down or forced to modify policies because of animal mistreatment.

            In the selection below, which is in a question and answer format, PETA defends animal interests on a range of issues. Defending the notion of animal rights, they maintain that Animals should have the right to equal consideration of their interests, for example, they should have the right not to have pain unnecessarily inflicted on them. Experimenting on animals in the name of scientific research, they argue, has no real benefit, and other experimental techniques are more effective than animal testing. Animals unnecessarily suffer in the production of leather, wool, fur and down; for this reason, they maintain, we should not purchase these products. Responsible pet owners should spay and neuter their dogs and cats and allow them outdoors only when walking them on leashes. Zoos, horse races, circuses and rodeos all routinely mistreat animals. Hunting and fishing are not necessary for human survival and these practices cause great animal suffering. A vegetarian diet, they argue, will reduce animal suffering and on the whole is much healthier than a meat-eating diet.



Whether you’re a staunch animal rights advocate, an activist who’s just getting started, or a complete skeptic, you can use these answers to help clarify your understanding of the animal rights movement. The responses presented here are by no means the only answers to these frequently asked questions. They are simply intended to provoke you to think about common assumptions and to serve as a resource as you formulate your own opinions.

            “What do you mean by ‘animal rights’?” People who support animal rights believe that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other purpose and that animals deserve consideration of their best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or endangered and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all (just as a mentally challenged human has rights even if he or she is not cute or useful and even if everyone dislikes him or her).

            “What rights should animals have?” Animals should have the right to equal consideration of their interests. For instance, a dog most certainly has an interest in not having pain inflicted on him or her unnecessarily. We are, therefore, obliged to take that interest into consideration and to respect the dog’s right not to have pain unnecessarily inflicted upon him or her. However, animals don’t always have the same rights as humans because their interests are not always the same as ours, and some rights would be irrelevant to animals. For instance, a dog doesn’t have an interest in voting and, therefore, doesn’t have the right to vote because that right would be as meaningless to a dog as it is to a child.

            “What is the difference between ‘animal rights’ and ‘animal welfare’?” Animal welfare theories accept that animals have interests but allow those interests to be traded away as long as the human benefits are thought to justify the sacrifice, while animal rights theories say that animals, like humans, have interests that cannot be sacrificed or traded away to benefit others. However, the animal rights movement does not hold that rights are absolute -- an animal’s rights, just like those of humans, must be limited and can certainly conflict.

            Supporters of the animal rights movement believe that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation, while supporters of the animal welfare movement believe that animals can be used for those purposes as long as “humane” guidelines are followed.

            “Animals don’t reason, don’t understand rights, and don’t always respect our rights, so why should we apply our ideas of morality to them?” An animal’s inability to understand and adhere to our rules is as irrelevant as a child’s or a person with a developmental disability’s inability to do so. Animals are not always able to choose to change their behaviors, but adult human beings have the intelligence and ability to choose between behaviors that hurt others and behaviors that do not hurt others. When given the choice, it makes sense to choose compassion.

            “Where do you draw the line?” The renowned humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, who accomplished so much for both humans and animals in his lifetime, would take time to stoop and move a worm from hot pavement to cool earth. Aware of the problems and responsibilities that an expanded ethic brings, he said, “A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to aid all life which he is able to help .… He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy … nor how far it is capable of feeling.” We can’t stop all suffering, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stop any. In today’s world of virtually unlimited choices, there are plenty of kind, gentle ways for us to feed, clothe, entertain, and educate ourselves that do not involve killing animals.

            “What about plants?” There is currently no reason to believe that plants experience pain because they are devoid of central nervous systems, nerve endings, and brains. It is theorized that animals are able to feel pain so that they can use it for self-protection purposes. For example, if you touch something hot and feel pain, you will learn from the pain that you should not touch that item in the future. Since plants cannot move from place to place and do not need to learn to avoid certain things, this sensation would be superfluous. From a physiological standpoint, plants are completely different from mammals. Unlike animals’ body parts, many perennial plants, fruits, and vegetables can be harvested over and over again without dying.

            “It’s almost impossible to avoid using all animal products; if you’re still causing animal suffering without realizing it, what’s the point?” It is impossible to live without causing some harm. We’ve all accidentally stepped on ants or breathed in gnats, but that doesn’t mean that we should intentionally cause unnecessary harm. You might accidentally hit someone with your car, but that is no reason to run someone over on purpose.

            “How can you justify the millions of dollars of property damage caused by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)?” Throughout history, some people have felt the need to break the law to fight injustice. The Underground Railroad and the French Resistance are examples of movements in which people broke the law in order to answer to a higher morality. The ALF, which is simply the name adopted by people who act illegally in behalf of animal rights, breaks inanimate objects such as stereotaxic devices and decapitators in order to save lives. ALF members burn empty buildings in which animals are tortured and killed. ALF “raids” have given us proof of horrific cruelty that would not have otherwise been discovered or believed and have resulted in criminal charges’ being filed against laboratories for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Often, ALF raids have been followed by widespread scientific condemnation of the practices occurring in the targeted labs, and some abusive laboratories have been permanently shut down as a result.

            “If using animals is unethical, why does the Bible say that we have dominion over animals?” Dominion is not the same as tyranny. The Queen of England has “dominion” over her subjects, but that doesn’t mean that she can eat them, wear them, or experiment on them. If we have dominion over animals, surely it is to protect them, not to use them for our own ends. There is nothing in the Bible that would justify our modern-day practices, which desecrate the environment, destroy entire species of wildlife, and inflict torment and death on billions of animals every year. The Bible imparts a reverence for life, and a loving God could not help but be appalled by the way that animals are treated today.

            “Animals in cages on factory farms or in laboratories don’t suffer that much because they’ve never known anything else, right?” Wrong! Animals on factory farms and in laboratories are prevented from acting on even the most basic instinctual behaviors, which causes tremendous suffering. Even animals who have been caged since birth feel the need to move around, groom themselves, stretch their limbs or wings, and exercise. Herd animals and flock animals become distressed when they are forced to live in isolation or when they are put in groups that are too large for them to be able to recognize other members. In addition, all confined animals suffer from intense boredom -- some so severely that it can lead to self-mutilation or other self-destructive behavior.

            “Animals are not as intelligent or as advanced as humans, so why can’t we use them?” Possessing superior intelligence does not entitle one human to abuse another human, so why should it entitle humans to abuse nonhumans? There are animals who are unquestionably more intelligent, creative, aware, communicative, and able to use language than some humans, as is the case when a chimpanzee is compared to a human infant or a person with a severe developmental disability. Should the more intelligent animals have rights and the less intelligent humans be denied rights?



“Isn’t animal testing responsible for every major medical advance?”  Medical historians have shown that improved nutrition and sanitation standards and other behavioral and environmental factors -- rather than knowledge gained from animal experiments -- are responsible for the decreasing number of deaths from common infectious diseases since 1900 and that medicine has had little to do with increased life expectancy. Many of the most important advances in the field of health care can be attributed to human studies, which have led to major medical breakthroughs, such as the development of anesthesia, the stethoscope, morphine, radium, penicillin, artificial respiration, x-rays, antiseptics, and CAT, MRI, and PET scans; the study of bacteriology and germ theory; the discovery of the link between cholesterol and heart disease and the link between smoking and cancer; and the isolation of the virus that causes AIDS. Animal testing played no role in these or many other important medical developments.

            “If we didn’t test on animals, how would we conduct medical research?” Human clinical and epidemiological studies, studies on cadavers, and computer simulations are faster, more reliable, less expensive, and more humane than animal tests. Ingenious scientists have used human brain cells to develop a model “microbrain” that can be used to study tumors and have also come up with artificial skin and bone marrow. Instead of killing animals, we can now test irritancy on egg membranes, produce vaccines from cell cultures, and perform pregnancy tests using blood samples. As Gordon Baxter, cofounder of Pharmagene Laboratories -- a company that uses only human tissue and computers to develop and test its drugs -- says, “If you have information on human genes, what’s the point of going back to animals?”

            “Doesn’t animal experimentation help animals by advancing veterinary science?” The point is not whether animal experimentation can be useful to animals or humans; the point is that we do not have the moral right to inflict unnecessary suffering on those who are at our mercy. Saying that it’s acceptable to experiment on animals to advance veterinary science is like saying that it’s acceptable to experiment on poor children to benefit rich ones.

            “Don’t medical students have to dissect animals?” No, they don’t. In fact, more and more medical students are becoming conscientious objectors who choose to learn by assisting experienced surgeons instead of by using animals. In Great Britain, it is against the law for medical students to practice surgery on animals, and British physicians are just as competent as those who were educated elsewhere. Many of the leading U.S. medical schools, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, now use innovative, clinical teaching methods instead of cruel animal laboratories. Harvard, for instance, offers a cardiac-anesthesia practicum in which students observe human heart bypass operations instead of performing terminal surgery on dogs. The Harvard staff members who developed this practicum have recommended that it be implemented elsewhere.  

            “Should we throw out all the drugs that were developed and tested on animals? Would you refuse to take them?” Unfortunately, a number of things in our society came about through the exploitation of others. For instance, many of the roads that we drive on were built by slaves. We can’t change the past; those who have already suffered and died are lost. But what we can do is change the future by using non-animal research methods from now on.

            “Doesn’t the law protect animals from cruelty?” There is no law in the U.S. that prohibits any animal experiment, no matter how frivolous or painful. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is very weak and poorly enforced, and it does not protect rats and mice (the most common victims of animal experiments), cold-blooded animals, birds, or animals who are traditionally used for food. It is basically a housekeeping act that does not prohibit any type of animal experimentation. Under the AWA, animals can be starved, electrically shocked, driven insane, or burned with a blowtorch -- as long as it’s done in a clean laboratory.

            “Would you support an experiment that would sacrifice 10 animals to save 10,000 people?” No. Look at it another way: Suppose that the only way to save 10,000 people was to experiment on one mentally challenged orphan. If saving people is the goal, wouldn’t that be worth it? Most people would agree that it would be wrong to sacrifice one human for the “greater good” of others because it would violate that individual’s rights, but when it comes to sacrificing animals, the assumption is that human beings have rights and animals do not. Yet there is no logical reason to deny animals the same rights that protect individual humans from being sacrificed for the common good.



“What’s wrong with wearing leather? Aren’t the cows going to be slaughtered for meat anyway?” This is a common misconception concerning leather, but leather is not simply a slaughterhouse byproduct. According to industry sources, the skins of the animals represent “the most economically important byproduct of the meat packing industry.”

            When dairy cows’ production declines, for example, their skin is made into leather, and the hides of their offspring, calves raised for veal, are made into high-priced calfskin. Thus, the economic success of the slaughterhouse (and the factory farm) is directly linked to the sale of leather goods. Decreasing demand for both animal foods and leather products will reduce the number of cows who suffer and are killed on factory farms. There are so many alternatives to leather, why support unnecessary cruelty?

            “What’s wrong with wearing wool?” As with other industries in which animals are raised for profit, the interests of the animals used in the wool industry are rarely considered. Flocks usually consist of thousands of sheep, so providing individual attention to their needs is virtually impossible. Many people believe that shearing sheep helps animals who might otherwise be burdened with too much wool, but without human interference, sheep grow just enough wool to protect themselves from temperature extremes.

            Most wool comes from Australia. Just weeks after birth, lambs’ ears are hole-punched, their tails are chopped off, and males are castrated -- all without anesthetics. Male lambs are castrated when they are between 2 and 8 weeks old with a rubber ring that is used to cut off their blood supply -- one of the most painful methods of castration possible. Many lambs die from exposure or starvation before they are 8 weeks old, and many mature sheep die from disease, lack of shelter, and neglect.

            To prevent “flystrike,” Australian ranchers perform a barbarous operation called “mulesing,” which involves carving huge strips of skin and flesh off the backs of unanesthetized lambs’ legs. When shearing, speed is everything. Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages quick and careless work. Says one eyewitness, “The shearing shed must be one of the worst places in the world for cruelty to animals. I have seen shearers punch sheep with their shears or fists until the sheep’s noses bled. I have seen sheep with half their faces shorn off.”

            “Is the fur industry really as cruel as people make it out to be?” It’s even crueler. PETA’s investigations at fur farms have found that some animals are killed by anal electrocution, meaning that an electrically charged steel rod is inserted into their rectums, literally frying their insides. Exposed broken bones, upper respiratory infections, and cancerous tumors were among the wounds and diseases that animals endured -- without veterinary treatment -- on one fur farm that we investigated.

            Animals caught in steel-jaw leghold traps are in so much pain that some actually bite off their limbs in order to escape. Unable to eat, keep warm, or defend themselves against predators, many die horrible deaths before the trapper arrives to kill them. Others suffer in the traps for days until they are caught and killed. To avoid damaging the pelt, trappers often beat or stomp the animals to death. Most states have no regulations regarding methods of slaughtering these animals.

            Whether enduring the excruciating pain of a leghold trap or a lifetime of agony in a tiny cage, the animals suffer immensely.

            “How is down obtained?” Typically, ducks and geese are lifted by their necks, their legs are tied, and their feathers are ripped out. The struggling birds often sustain injuries during plucking. They are then returned to their cages until they are ready to be plucked again. This process begins at about 9 weeks of age and occurs every 6 weeks until the birds go to slaughter.

            Feathers are often plucked out of ducks and geese who are raised for food. Those raised for foie gras, especially, suffer terribly. They are force-fed up to six times a day with a funnel that is inserted into their throats, and up to 6 pounds of a salty, fatty corn mash is pumped into each bird’s stomach each day -- until the birds’ livers have ballooned to four times their normal size.

            Synthetic alternatives to down are not only cruelty-free, they are also cheaper and, unlike down, retain their insulating capabilities in all weather conditions.



“Does PETA believe that people shouldn’t have pets?” The earliest fossils that resemble the bones of modern dogs are about 12,000 years old, so we know that humans’ fascination with domesticated wolves began at least that long ago. About 5,000 years ago, Egyptians became the first to tame cats, whom they used to control the rodent population. Since then, the breeding and care of cats and dogs has exploded into a love affair, a sport, and a booming business. This international pastime has created an overpopulation crisis, and as a result, every year, millions of unwanted animals suffer at the hands of abusers, languish in shelters, and are euthanized. Adopting a cat or dog from a shelter and providing a loving home is a small but powerful way to prevent some of this suffering. The most important thing that animal guardians can do is to spay or neuter their animals and avoid buying animals from breeders or pet stores, which contribute to the overpopulation crisis.

            “If I am able to find homes for all the kittens or puppies, why shouldn’t I allow my cat or dog to have a litter?” While your intentions may be good, there’s no way of knowing what will happen to the animals once they have been adopted. This year, millions of healthy, wonderful animals will go through the front doors of shelters -- and go out the back doors in body bags. Many more will be abandoned on the streets. All this misery and death could be prevented through spaying and neutering (surgical sterilization). Every stray cat and neglected dog came from an animal who had not been spayed or neutered.

            “Don’t puppies in pet stores need homes just as much as puppies at animal shelters? Besides, how else can I choose the breed?” Many of the dogs sold in pet shops come from puppy mills and breeding kennels. In puppy mills, female dogs are kept in crude, outdoor cages without protection from rain, sweltering heat, bitter cold, or biting winds. They are denied companionship and comfort and treated like breeding machines. Their puppies are taken from them at an early age, packed into crates, and shipped hundreds of miles to dealers, often without adequate food, water, or ventilation. Poor breeding practices lead to numerous health problems, including distemper, parvovirus, respiratory conditions, physical deformities, deafness, eye diseases, and a host of other ailments.

            Once puppies arrive at pet stores, life in cramped cages adds more strain to their already stressed lives, increasing their susceptibility to disease. No law regulates how pet shops must dispose of animals, and some stores have been caught killing unsold dogs on the premises and throwing them into Dumpsters. While breeders churn out millions of puppies each year, millions of animals are killed for want of a good home. Dogs are dumped at local pounds or abandoned in the woods and on city streets. Animal shelters are able to find loving homes for only a fraction of the animals they receive, and the rest must be put to death. Because of the overpopulation crisis, there is no such thing as “responsible” breeding.

            “What is PETA’s position on euthanasia?” Every day in the United States, tens of thousands of puppies and kittens are born. Compare this to the 11,000 human births each day, and it’s clear that there will never be enough homes for all these animals. Shelters are stuck with the heart-rending job of dealing with unwanted animals. People who refuse to spay and neuter their animals, those who abandon animals when they grow tired of them, and those who patronize pet shops instead of adopting stray animals or animals from shelters make euthanasia a tragic necessity.

            “Isn’t it better to declaw a cat than to give him or her away?” If you asked your cats if it would be OK to put them through 10 separate, painful amputations that would weaken their legs, shoulders, and back muscles, they would probably say “no” -- and they wouldn’t be alone. Many veterinarians in the U.S. and abroad refuse to declaw cats. In fact, in Germany and some other parts of Europe, declawing is illegal. Cats who have been declawed experience extreme pain when they awake after surgery and have difficulty walking until their paws heal. Without their claws, cats are virtually defenseless, and this can lead to neuroses and even skin and bladder problems.

            With the aid of a scratching post and firm, consistent instructions about where they may and may not scratch, cats can easily be taught not to scratch furniture.

            “What’s wrong with chaining dogs outside? Isn’t that better than having them run loose outside?” Condemning a dog to solitary confinement on a chain is so cruel that it is illegal in some cities. Chained dogs are exposed to searing heat, bitter cold, rain, and wind, putting them at risk for heat exhaustion, frostbite, and exposure-related health problems. Chains can wrap around trees or other objects, water bowls can easily tip over, and food can quickly spoil in summer or freeze in winter.

            Chained dogs often become overly fearful of intruders and overly protective of their tiny patches of ground. They are easy targets for cruel people who taunt and tease them, and as a result, many chained dogs become defensive and untrusting. Not surprisingly, dogs who spend much of their lives outside on chains often become dangerous, while dogs who are well socialized and supervised rarely bite.

            Perhaps worst of all, chained dogs are terribly lonely. They are pack animals who long to love, live with, and be loved by their human families. Denying a dog companionship is so cruel that some dogs are actually driven crazy by their loneliness. It’s best for everyone when dogs are treated as treasured family members.

            “Why shouldn’t cats be allowed outdoors to explore and exercise?” Cats should be allowed outdoors for walks on leashes, just as dogs are, and to explore securely fenced yards. A product called Cat Fence-In, a flexible mesh barrier that can be placed on the tops of privacy fences to prevent cats from climbing out, can help you keep your companions safe in your yard.

            Like dogs or small children, cats who are let outdoors without supervision are vulnerable to the dangers of cars, other animals, cruel people, and disease. Feline leukemia, feline AIDS (FIV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), toxoplasmosis, distemper, heartworms, and rabies can be difficult to detect and, in the case of FIP and distemper, impossible to test for. Most of these ailments are highly contagious and can easily be passed on to other companion animals.

            Many people consider free-roaming cats to be pests. They do not want cats to urinate, defecate, dig, eat plants, or kill birds on their properties. Free-roaming cats have been shot, poisoned, and stolen by angry neighbors.

            Fortunately, cats can live happy lives indoors.

            “What’s wrong with keeping birds in cages?” All caged birds have either been captured or captive-bred. In the wild, these beautiful beings are never alone, and if they are separated from their flock, even for a moment, they call wildly to their flockmates. These social animals preen each other, fly together, play, and share egg-incubation duties. Many species of birds mate for life and share parenting tasks. In the wild, most birds will not take a second mate if they lose their first.

            Life in captivity is often a death sentence for birds, who may suffer from malnutrition, loneliness, and the stress of confinement in improper environments. Birds are meant to fly and be with others of their own kind in a natural environment.



            “Don’t zoos teach children important lessons about wildlife?” No, zoos claim to educate people about animals, but small enclosures do not allow animals to display their natural behaviors, and signs typically tell visitors little more than the names of the animals, where they can be found, and what they eat.

            Animals’ normal behaviors are seldom discussed -- much less observed -- at zoos because their natural needs are rarely met in zoo environments. Many animals who live in large herds or family groups in the wild are kept alone or, at most, in pairs at zoos. Natural hunting and mating behaviors are virtually eliminated by regulated feeding and breeding regimens. Animals at zoos lack privacy and have little opportunity for mental stimulation or physical exercise. These conditions cause them to exhibit abnormal, self-destructive behaviors called zoochosis.

            Many zoo officials focus on profits rather than the well-being of the animals. A former director of the Atlanta Zoo once remarked that he was “too far removed from the animals; they’re the last thing I worry about with all the other problems.” Zoos teach people that it is acceptable to keep animals in captivity, where they are bored, cramped, lonely, far from their natural homes, and at the mercy and whim of people.

            “Don’t zoos help preserve endangered species?” Most animals in zoos are not endangered or being prepared for release into natural habitats. In fact, it is nearly impossible to release captive-bred animals into the wild. A report by the World Society for the Protection of Animals showed that only 1,200 out of the 10,000 zoos worldwide are registered for captive breeding and wildlife conservation and that only 2 percent of the world’s threatened or endangered species are registered in breeding programs.

            Rather than nurturing animals to thrive in natural settings, zoos place very unnatural restrictions on their residents. For example, in zoos, polar bears are typically confined to spaces that are only one-millionth the size of their minimum home range in the wild. Animals who roam across large distances in nature often exhibit dementia and stereotypical behaviors from boredom when placed in zoo enclosures, endlessly pacing or swimming in circles.

            Ultimately, we will only save endangered species by preserving their habitats and protecting them from hunters -- not by breeding a few individuals in captivity. Instead of supporting zoos, we should support groups like the International Primate Protection League, the Born Free Foundation, the African Wildlife Foundation, and other organizations that work to preserve habitats, and we should help nonprofit sanctuaries, like Primarily Primates and the Performing Animal Welfare Society, that rescue and care for exotic animals without selling or breeding them.

            “Aren’t racehorses treated well so that they’ll perform better?” Sadly, for many equine athletes, injury and death are always just a hoofbeat away. One study on racetrack injuries concluded that one horse in every 22 races suffered an injury that prevented him or her from finishing the race, and another study estimated that 800 thoroughbreds die from injuries every year in North America. Over time, selective breeding has made thoroughbreds’ legs far too fragile for their bodies. Most thoroughbreds are owned by corporations that are only interested in the money that the animals can make for them, and such owners don’t hesitate to sell horses to slaughterhouse “kill buyers” when they break down.

            “I love seeing animals at the circus, and they don’t seem to mind performing, so why is PETA against the use of animals in circuses?” In his book, The Circus Kings, Ringling Bros. founder Henry Ringling North noted that at circuses, tigers and lions are “chained to their pedestals, and ropes are put around their necks to choke them down and make them obey. All sorts of other brutalities are used to force them to respect their trainer and learn their tricks. They work from fear.”

            He also wrote that trainers commonly break bears’ noses or burn their paws to force them to stand on their hind legs and that monkeys and chimpanzees are struck with clubs while they scream.

            The fact is, animals do not naturally ride bicycles, stand on their heads, balance on balls, or jump through rings of fire. To force them to perform these confusing and physically uncomfortable tricks, trainers use whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, bullhooks, and other painful tools of the trade.

            We applaud trapeze artists, jugglers, clowns, tightrope walkers, and acrobats, but let’s leave animals in peace. Sweden, Denmark, Finland, India, Switzerland, and the U.K. have all banned or restricted the use of animals in entertainment -- it’s time for the U.S. to do the same.  

            “What’s wrong with rodeos?”  In order to make them perform, normally docile cows and horses are beaten, kicked, and shocked while they are in their chutes and holding pens. “Bucking broncos” and steers are provoked with electric prods, sharp sticks, caustic ointments, and the pinching “bucking” strap so that the animals are frantic by the time they are released into the arena. Calves, who are roped while they are running, have their necks snapped back by the lasso, which often results in neck and back injuries, bruises, broken bones, and internal bleeding.

            After their short and painful “careers,” animals in rodeos are sent to the slaughterhouse. Dr. C.G. Haber, a veterinarian who spent 30 years as a federal meat inspector, described the animals discarded from rodeos for slaughter as being “so extensively bruised that the only areas in which the skin was attached [to the flesh] were the head, neck, leg, and belly. I have seen animals with six to eight ribs broken from the spine and, at times, puncturing the lungs. I have seen as much as 2 to 3 gallons of free blood accumulated under the detached skin.”



            “Without hunting, wouldn’t deer and other animals overpopulate and die of starvation?” Starvation and disease are unfortunate, but they are nature’s way of ensuring that the strong survive. Natural predators help keep prey species strong by killing only the sick and weak. Hunters, however, kill any animal they come across or any animal whose head they think would look good mounted above the fireplace -- often the large, healthy animals needed to keep the population strong. And hunting creates the ideal conditions for overpopulation. After hunting season, the abrupt drop in population leads to less competition among survivors, resulting in a higher birth rate.

            If we were really concerned about keeping animals from starving, we would not hunt but instead take steps to reduce the animals’ fertility. We would also preserve wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, and other natural predators. Ironically, many deer herds and duck populations are purposely manipulated to produce more and more animals for hunters to kill.

            “Isn’t hunting OK as long as I eat what I kill?” Did the fact that Jeffrey Dahmer ate his victims justify his crimes? What is done with a corpse after its murder doesn’t lessen the victim’s suffering.

            Furthermore, hunters are harming animals other than the ones they kill and take home. Those who don’t die outright often suffer disabling injuries. Additionally, the stress that hunting inflicts on animals -- the noise, the fear, and the chase -- severely restricts their ability to eat adequately and store the fat and energy that they need to survive the winter.

            Hunting also disrupts migration and hibernation. And for animals like wolves, who mate for life and have close-knit families, hunting can severely harm entire communities.

            “What about people who have to hunt to survive?” We have no quarrel with subsistence hunters and fishers who truly have no choice in order to survive. However, in this day and age, meat, fur, and leather are not a necessary part of survival for the vast majority of us.

            Unfortunately, many “sport” hunters have borrowed from aboriginal tradition and manipulated it into a justification for killing animals for recreation or profit.

            “Is recreational fishing OK if the fish are released after being caught?” Unfortunately, people who practice “catch and release” fishing cause no less harm to fish than do other anglers. Fish who are caught and then returned to the water suffer such severe physiological stress that they often die of shock, or their injuries may make them easy targets for predators.

            Fish often swallow a hook so deeply that to remove it, the fishers shove their fingers or pliers down the fish’s throat and, along with the hook, rip out some of the fish’s throat and guts. We can appreciate nature and bond with friends and family without hurting animals.



            “The animals have to die sometime, so what’s wrong with eating them?” Humans die, too, but that doesn’t give you the right to kill them or cause them a lifetime of suffering.

            “Why should I feel bad about eating meat? I didn’t kill the animal.” You may not have killed the animal yourself, but you hired the killer. Whenever you purchase meat, the killing was done for you, and you paid for it.

            “What will we do with all the chickens, cows, and pigs if everyone becomes a vegetarian?” It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will stop eating animals overnight. As the demand for meat decreases, fewer animals will be raised for food. Farmers will stop breeding so many animals and will turn to other types of agriculture. When there are fewer of these animals, they will be able to live more natural lives.

            “If everyone became vegetarian, many animals would never even be born. Isn’t that worse for them?” Life on factory farms is so miserable that it is hard to imagine that we are doing animals a favor by bringing them into that type of existence and then confining them, tormenting them, and slaughtering them.

            “If everyone only ate vegetables and grains, would there be enough to eat?” Yes. We feed so much grain to animals to fatten them for consumption that if we all became vegetarians, we could produce enough food to feed everyone on Earth. In the U.S., animals raised for food are fed 70 percent of the corn, wheat, and other grains that we grow. The world’s cattle consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people -- more than the entire human population.

            “Animals kill other animals for food, so why shouldn’t we?” Most animals who kill for food could not survive if they didn’t, but that is not the case for humans. In fact, we would be better off if we didn’t eat meat. Many animals, including some of our closest primate relatives, are vegetarians. We should look to them, rather than to carnivores, as models of healthy eating.

            “Aren’t humans natural carnivores?” Actually, a vegetarian diet suits the human body better than a diet that includes meat. Carnivorous animals have claws, short digestive tracts, and long, curved fangs. Humans have flat, flexible nails, and our so-called “canine” teeth are minuscule compared to those of carnivores and even compared to vegetarian primates like gorillas and orangutans. Our tiny canine teeth are better suited to biting into fruits than tearing through tough hides. We have flat molars and long digestive tracts that are suited to diets of vegetables, fruits, and grains. Eating meat is hazardous to our health and contributes to heart disease, cancer, and many other health problems.

            “Don’t humans have to eat meat to stay healthy?” Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Dietetic Association have endorsed vegetarian diets. Studies have also shown that vegetarians have lower cholesterol levels than meat-eaters and are far less likely to die of heart disease or cancer. The consumption of meat and dairy products has been conclusively linked with diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, clogged arteries, obesity, asthma, and impotence.

            “Don’t vegetarians have difficulty getting enough protein?” In Western countries, our problem is that we get too much protein, not too little. Most Americans get at least twice as much protein as they need, and too much protein, especially animal protein, can increase your risk of osteoporosis and kidney disease.

            You can get enough protein from whole wheat bread, oatmeal, beans, corn, peas, mushrooms, or broccoli -- almost every food contains protein. Unless you eat a great deal of junk food, it’s almost impossible to eat as many calories as you need for good health without getting enough protein.

            “Don’t farmers treat their animals well so they’ll produce more milk or eggs?” Animals on factory farms gain weight, lay eggs, or produce milk not because they are well cared for, comfortable, and content but because their bodies have been manipulated with medications, hormones, genetics, and management techniques. In addition, animals raised for food are slaughtered when they are extremely young, usually before disease and misery decimate them. Factory farmers raise such huge numbers of animals for food that it is less expensive for them to absorb some losses than it is for them to provide humane conditions.  

            “Don’t dairy cows need to be milked?” In order for a cow to produce milk, she must have a calf. Each “dairy cow” is impregnated every year so that she continues to produce a steady supply of milk. In nature, the mother’s calf would drink her milk, eliminating the need for her to be milked by humans, but on factory farms, calves are taken away from their mothers when they are just a day or two old so that humans can have the milk that nature intended for the calves. Female calves are slaughtered immediately or raised to be dairy cows. Male calves are confined for 16 weeks to tiny veal crates that are so small that they cannot even turn around.

            Because of the high demand for dairy products, cows are genetically engineered and fed growth hormones to force them to produce quantities of milk that are well beyond their natural limits. Even the few farmers who choose not to raise animals intensively must get rid of the calves, who would otherwise drink the milk, and send the mothers off to slaughter when their milk production wanes.

            “Chickens lay eggs naturally, so what’s wrong with eating eggs?” The real cruelty of egg production lies in the treatment of the “laying” hens, who are perhaps the most abused of all factory-farmed animals. Each egg from a factory farm represents about 34 hours of misery and came from a hen who was packed into a cage the size of a filing-cabinet drawer with as many as five other chickens. At factory farms, cages are stacked many tiers high, and feces from the top rows fall onto the chickens below. Hens become lame and develop osteoporosis because they are forced to remain immobile and because they lose a great deal of calcium when they repeatedly produce egg shells. Some birds’ feet grow around the wire cage floors, and they starve to death because they are unable to reach the food trough. At just 2 years of age, most hens are “spent” and are sent to the slaughterhouse. Egg hatcheries don’t have any use for male chicks, so they are suffocated, decapitated, crushed, or ground up alive.

            “Can fish feel pain?” Research has shown that fish can feel pain. According to Dr. Donald Bloom, animal welfare advisor to the British government, “Anatomically, physiologically, and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals.” Fish have fully developed brains and nervous systems and very sensitive mouths. Fish use their tongues and mouths like humans use their hands -- to catch or gather food, build nests, and hide their offspring from danger. Fish also experience fear. An Australian study found that when fish are chased, confined, or otherwise threatened, they react with increased heart and breathing rates and a burst of adrenaline, just as humans do.


Source: PETA, “Frequently Asked Questions,”, January 1, 2005.



Please answer all of the following questions for review.



1. What are some of the problems associated with animal research?

2. What is the Great Ape project?

3. What is animal enterprise terrorism?

4. What is the problem with the clear line position on the status of animals?

5. What is the problem with the equality position on the status of animals?

6. What is the sliding scale position on the status of animals?

7. What is the public policy distinction between animal rights and animal welfare?

8. What are the criticisms of the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act?

9. What are the three conservative arguments regarding animals?

10. What are the three liberal arguments regarding animals?


11. What is PETA’s position on animal testing?

12. What is PETA’s position on companion animals, such as chained dogs, outdoor cats, and caged birds?

13. What is PETA’s position on using animals for entertainment, such as zoos and rodeos?

14. What is PETA’s economic argument for vegetarianism?



Please select only one question for analysis from those below and answer it.


1. Discuss the four mechanisms of pain perception and whether they are relevant to the moral status of animals.

2. Explain Kant’s view of our indirect obligations towards animals and discuss whether this goes far enough in acknowledging the moral status of animals.

3. Discuss the sliding scale position on the moral status of animals and whether you agree with it.

4. Discuss whether animal rights advocacy groups are a good thing or a bad thing.

5. Explain Switzerland’s law regarding treatment of animals and discuss whether you agree with it.