“Animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.” – PETA
This article does not aim to guilt-trip non-vegans into throwing out all dairy and meat products from their kitchens and signing up to volunteer at an animal sanctuary in Thailand. It aims to educate and spread knowledge of the disappointing state of the legal system regarding animal rights, highlighting particular countries’ performances in implementing animal welfare legislation. It will touch upon the topics of animals in entertainment and animal testing, and it will bring attention to loopholes in current legislation, demonstrating the need for reform. The only way change can happen is if enough people are aware of what is really going on.
Our world has been everlastingly poisoned by animal cruelty, darkening too many chapters in our history. A major contributing factor is the fact that the legal system often does not adequately consider animals as sentient. That is to say, the system does not acknowledge that a dog, cat, cow or horse will feel more than a pair of slippers. This issue has been in existence almost since the beginning of time.
Up until the 17th century, ‘philosophers regarded animals as being quite distinct from human beings; human beings had rationality whereas animals had none’. This severely lowered the value of animals, and it was thought that they ‘could be used in any ways that human beings desired.’ However, the Greeks’ treatment and indifferent attitude toward animals ‘pales into significance’ compared to the attitude of the Romans. Animal cruelty was very prominent in the Roman period, predominantly for the purpose of human entertainment and throughout the existence of the Colosseum, ‘around 1 million animals died.’
Almost everything has changed since the Roman period. However, the use of animals for human entertainment is one thing that has remained unchanged. The only difference is the type of entertainment that is provided. Instead of watching lions, bears, ostriches and many other innocent animals being slaughtered, we watch ‘thousands of elephants, bears, apes’ and others being ‘forced to perform silly, difficult tricks under the threat of physical punishment.’ To arrive at the industries which provide this thought-to-be entertainment, the animals are ‘carted across the country in cramped, stuffy semi-truck trailers, kept chained or caged in barren, filthy enclosers; and regularly separated from their families and friends.’ To subject animals to such torture and distress for our own entertainment clearly presents that the Roman and Greeks’ belief that animals are distinct from human beings unfortunately still lives amongst our own thoughts and beliefs.
Our world has been everlastingly poisoned by animal cruelty, darkening too many chapters in our history.
The disturbing difficulty created by the presence of such conceptions is the impact that it has on our laws for animals.
Each country holds various beliefs and values, and therefore no two countries have experienced the same journey in developing animal laws. There are some countries, such as China, where little to no animal legislation can be found. In fact, China legally requires some cosmetic products to be tested on animals. Animal testing subjects animals to prolonged periods of physical restraint, infliction of burns and wounds, genetic manipulation and food and water deprivation – and this is only naming a few of the procedures. The frustrating fact is that there are alternatives to animal testing. For example, there are ‘sophisticated tests’ that use human cells and tissues, ‘advanced computer-modelling techniques, and studies with human volunteers’. In a time where scientists have been and are currently developing animal-free methods to test products for human use, why must there be legal obligations to continue abusing and killing animals?
Of course, China is not alone. There are many other countries that are regarded as having poor or no animal welfare legislation, for example, Azerbaijan, Iran, Belarus, Morocco, Nigeria and Argentina to name a couple.
However, fortunately, there are countries that try to commit to producing animal laws. The UK, for example, has a long history of animal law and is known as ‘the nation of animal lovers.’ The UK’s very first legislation was the ‘Martin’s Act’ passed in 1822. This forbade ‘the cruel and improper treatment of cattle’ and this was consolidated 13 years later with the ‘Pease’s Act’ which extended the prohibition of cruelty to dogs and other domestic animals. Further, in 1824, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was established, known as the Royal SPCA from 1840. This means that the RSPCA has been working to save animals for almost 200 years. Evidently, efforts to protect animals have been taken in the past, and this has only been progressing as time goes on.
However, there are loopholes and flaws within legislation which often proves them to be inadequate – presenting room and need for reform. For example, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it an offence to cause ‘unnecessary suffering’ to an animal. The loophole in this act is it has to be determined what constitutes ‘unnecessary suffering’. Although there are specific prohibited offences of unnecessary suffering such as ‘mutilation, docking of dogs’ tails’ and ‘administration of poisons’, there are arguably unspeakable actions which are also covered by this. For example, as long as the death is immediate and no avoidable pain is caused, maceration, or ‘immediate crushing of the entire animal’ is a lawful method of killing chicks up to 72 hours old. Additionally, ‘it is not within the Food Standards Agency’s remit to inspect laying hen hatcheries.’ From these examples, it can be seen that although there has been progress made to protect animals through legislation – it is not strong enough. This makes the laws seem almost superficial. Are they only there to make it look like we care? If we were truly passionate about ensuring the safety and well-being of animals, would the laws look different? How many people still look at animals like an object? In everyday life, it can be seen that humans are often disconnected from nature, and therefore it is not surprising that this is reflected in our legal system. Nothing in this world can be said, done or thought without a consequence following it. Whether the consequence follows in days, months or years does not matter. The consequence of such loopholes in the legal system to protect animals also creates consequences. The animals experience them, and there is no certainty that we will not experience it too.
To conclude, there is an overwhelming amount of cruelty in the world. The legal system is one that we feel we can turn to when we are wronged, and its existence is key in our world. The system is not perfect, but this is not an excuse for the poor protection it offers animals worldwide. There is undoubtedly plenty of room for reform which is needed to help vulnerable animals. In such a fast-paced developing world, where we are swimming in resources and knowledge, the current standard of animal law is severely disappointing. If we put our passion and love for animals to work with these resources, it could create incredible change. In 2021/2022, it was found that 62% of households in the UK owned a pet. There are enough of us to make a change. There have been multiple news stories around the world of owners risking or losing their lives, in order to save their pets. For example, a man died in 2022 attempting to rescue his dog from the sea in Aberdeen. Many would answer yes to the question ‘would you die for your pet?’ and arguably a lot less would answer the same to the question ‘would you die for your slippers?’ We acknowledge that animals are important sentient beings, even if the law fails to do so. This article has only explored one grain from the sand dune which is animal law. There are enough of us to create a sandstorm which can mould a new and better system to protect the animals in this unique world.
Image credit: IFOAM / James Maloney