|Beyond being a moral imperative, respecting animal rights is crucial to building a just and sustainable society. Today, animal exploitation takes different forms, from factory farming to zoos or hunting, impacting not only the well-being of animals themselves but also public health, the environment or social justice (Jasper, 2011). At its core, animal rights aim at transforming the way humans view and interact with animals, from objects or commodities to sentient beings entitled to their own dignity and existence.
In this article, we will discuss the reasons why animal rights should be a priority for our society and what we can do to put them into action.
Animal rights as a moral issue
First and foremost, animal rights are a moral issue. Historically, animals have been excluded from the moral consideration given to humans, being regarded as inferior beings lacking rationality, conscience or emotions (Regan, 2007). This belief has justified the exploitation and abuse of animals, from using animals as food, clothing, or entertainment to animal experimentation or wildlife trade.
However, animal rights argue that animals are not mere things but sentient beings capable of suffering, pleasure, and emotional experiences. Therefore, animals should be given legal recognition and protection against any form of harm or exploitation that violates their fundamental interests (Singer, 2011).
Understanding animal rights as a moral issue implies a shift in the way we understand our relationship with animals, recognizing our responsibility to treat them with respect and compassion. It also implies recognizing that animal welfare is interconnected with human welfare, as many of the issues related to animal exploitation have implications for public health, the environment or social justice.
Animal rights and public health
Animal rights are not only about animal welfare but also about public health. Many of the issues related to animal exploitation have consequences for both animal and human health. For example, factory farming is a breeding ground for zoonotic diseases like swine flu, bird flu, or COVID 19, which can jump from animals to humans and cause pandemics (Gálvez et al., 2020).
Zoos and captive breeding centers also pose risks to public health, as animals kept in crowded and stressful conditions are more prone to develop diseases that can spread to humans (Coulson et al., 2018). Besides, the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture has consequences both for animal and human health, promoting the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (Unger et al., 2021).
Therefore, supporting animal rights is not only a moral obligation but also a way to promote public health and prevent pandemics.
Animal rights and the environment
Animal rights are also closely connected to environmental issues. The way we treat animals has a significant impact on the environment, from greenhouse gas emissions to deforestation or water pollution (Fiala, 2018).
Factory farming, for example, is responsible for a large share of greenhouse gas emissions, as animals produce vast amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, during digestion (Gerber et al., 2013). Besides, the production of animal feed requires large areas of land, leading to deforestation and loss of biodiversity (Maron et al., 2018).
Moreover, animal agriculture is a significant polluter of water resources, as animal waste contaminates rivers, lakes and groundwater, posing risks to human health and wildlife (Worldwatch Institute, 2016). Similarly, fishing and aquaculture have significant impacts on marine ecosystems, leading to overfishing, bycatch, or habitat destruction (Halpern et al., 2020).
Therefore, promoting animal rights is an essential step towards building sustainable and resilient societies that respect the environment and its limits.
Animal rights and social justice
Finally, animal rights are also connected to social justice issues. Many of the industries that exploit animals rely on the exploitation of vulnerable communities, such as migrant workers or indigenous peoples, who are often subject to low wages, exploitation and discrimination (Loeb, 2018).
Factory farming, for example, is notorious for its reliance on cheap labor, often hiring migrant workers who lack legal protection or labor rights (García-Pando et al., 2020). Similarly, the wildlife trade and poaching often involve indigenous communities who are pushed to engage in illegal activities due to poverty and lack of alternatives (Marijnen et al., 2020).
Therefore, animal rights are not only about animal welfare but also about promoting social justice and addressing the root causes of exploitation and oppression.
Putting animal rights into action: What can we do?
Understanding the importance of animal rights is only the first step. To put them into action, we need to take concrete steps to promote animal welfare and advocate for animal rights.
First, we can start by changing our own consumption habits, reducing or eliminating animal products from our diet, clothing or entertainment choices. Choosing plant-based options, for example, is a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote public health and prevent animal suffering.
Second, we can support animal welfare and animal rights organizations that work to promote animal welfare and advocate for animal rights. Volunteering, donating or spreading awareness about animal issues are all ways to support these organizations and contribute to animal welfare.
Third, we can advocate for animal rights at the political level, promoting laws and policies that protect animal welfare and prevent animal exploitation. This can involve supporting animal-friendly candidates, lobbying for animal-friendly legislation or participating in peaceful protests that raise awareness about animal issues.
Finally, we can promote a culture of respect and compassion towards animals, educating ourselves and others about animal rights, and encouraging empathy and understanding towards animals.
In conclusion, promoting animal rights is not only a moral imperative but also a way to build a just and sustainable society. Animal welfare is interconnected with public health, the environment and social justice, and promoting animal rights is a way to address these interconnected challenges.
By changing our own consumption habits, supporting animal welfare organizations, advocating for animal-friendly policies and promoting a culture of respect and compassion towards animals, we can make a significant contribution to animal welfare and build a more just and sustainable society for all.