Although the beginnings of animal protection are to be found already in the distant past, animals remain human property, that may be handled according to the owner’s wishes. Animals can be bought and sold, we can keep them all their life in cages, and kill them whenever we wish. From childhood we have been brought up to think that hens, cows, sheep, horses, fish and other animals exist so that we can take from them all we want – their flesh and skin, their feathers and eggs, the milk that was meant for their young, and even the young themselves. But is this what they themselves would wish?
Most people think that it’s obvious that animals shouldn’t be killed without reason, or hurt or harmed in some other way if this can be avoided. Scientific research is ever more clearly confirming that not only humans but the animals, which we exploit, can feel fear, stress, pain, boredom and other emotions – and this should not be ignored. However, every hour millions of animals are forced to suffer without proper reason.
The recognition of animal rights would mean that we stop the production and exploitation of animals as if they were things which belong to us, respecting at least their right to be free from the whims of human beings. While animals continue to be kept as property, it is impossible to give them proper protection. We, as beings which have an awareness of our actions, have to alter the very basis of our relationship with other sentient beings – for the sake of their welfare, our health and the whole planet. In practice this means becoming vegan, i.e. stopping the exploitation of animals, and defending their right not to be exploited.
The largest group of animals, which are exploited by humans, are raised and killed to provide food products. These include more than 60 billion, or 60 000 000 000, animals killed each year, not including fish and other water animals, whose catch is usually measured in tonnes. Sentient beings are raised on farms quite as if they were vegetables. While we defend and recognise cats and dogs as personalities, even part of the family, piglets are created to be slaughtered for meat, and cows are inseminated, have their offspring removed, and are milked until the end of their lives, which is in the slaughterhouse. Hens, if they haven’t been born of the “wrong sex” and so been killed shortly after hatching, are kept for egg production until the moment when they too are slaughtered to be replaced by younger, “more productive” birds. All this is taking place, in spite of reports by environmental experts that animal farming is one of the greatest sources of pollution on the planet, and in spite of recognition by nutritional scientists that these products are not essential to us.
The exploitation of animals as objects of recreation means treating them without respect. If we continue to support traditions where animals are subjected to “artistic” violence, are bred to be kept in captivity as objects for exhibition, or are even killed on occasion for the sake of recreation, then we can conclude that there has been little development in our understanding of animals as sentient beings. Here we mean not only the exploitation of animals in circuses, where they are forced to perform tasks unnatural for their species, nor only bullfighting, where at the end of the “show” the animals are publically killed, and so on. In fact, what has been said also applies to the breeding of many and various species, and the trade of these animals for keeping at home, in cages/hutches, in aquaria, on zoos (most species there aren’t threatened), as well as to hunting and fishing for pleasure.
Huge numbers of animals are exploited and killed for the production of clothing. The most often discussed topic is the acceptability of raising fur animals, because thousands of foxes, minks, chinchillas and other animals are kept all their lives in cages, and are killed to provide “elegant” clothing. However, animals are also kept in captivity and killed for their skin and wool. Animal-skin derived clothing, shoes and bags aren’t just side-products, they represent a substantial supplementary source of income for the meat industry. For example, particularly soft skin is obtained from calves and lambs slaughtered for meat. Wild sheep don’t need shearing, while domestic sheep have been selected so that they have unnaturally thick wool, which has also created health problems. It is wrong to think that the production of wool doesn’t involve suffering and slaughter – wool producers tend to trade in lamb meat and kill sheep, when they reach an “inefficient” age. These animals are also exploited as a resource, even though we could manage without their products.
Every year millions of animals are used in experiments to study medical and cosmetic products, and the mode of action of their constituent chemicals, as well as in military tests, or in experimentation simply for teaching purposes. Animals used in experiments include mice, rats, hamsters, dogs, cats, primates, fish, birds and other animals. They are forced to breathe in toxic substances, or these are applied onto their skin or in their eyes; they are infected with viruses, paralysed, burned, and inseminated, the mothers being killed in order to study the embryos. Animals’ glands are blocked from functioning, others are subjected to radiation, electric shocks and high temperatures. However, because of physiological differences from humans, animal experimentation does not give the best results. Currently alternative forms of research are becoming ever more available, and special research programmes are being set up for paid volunteers, who, unlike animals, can be informed of the risks, and agree to participation in the research.