With the jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu recently, and the demand for a ban on the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a new debate on whether society should recognize animal rights has spurred. I argue that justice requires the recognition of animal rights, and animal exploitation is typically unjust. [Edit 2/16/17]

The typical justification for animal exploitation is that animals are inferior to humans since humans are more rational creatures and have psychological and biological differences to non-human animals. But this is discrimination is because the same logic was applied to justify racism during the 19th century, to justify the lack of voting rights for women during the early 20th century, and so on. Only, this persecution of animals is as horrifying as slaver in the 19th century.

Animal abuse exists everywhere in India as well. People might claim India’s religions and so forth prevent animal abuse, and might point to ahimsa within Indian religions — such as Jainism and Hinduism — and the respect for species such as cattle. Sadly, this is but a delusion that still prevails. India mistreats animals just as much as any other company, and almost everyone who has paid attention while traveling on an Indian road should have noticed that. They should’ve noticed hundreds of live chickens crammed into cages, with their feathers falling out and sores on their skin, with fear in their eyes, as they see their brethren get slaughtered brutally before their eyes — knowing that they’re next.

But this abuse exists all over India, in different species. Nobody in India pays heed to cattle on the street — they think, due to the religious respect for cattle, they would not be mistreated — but cattle are mistreated in brutal ways. People might assume that the whips of the owners of bullock carts don’t hurt much, but they do. Cattle in India are let out to eat garbage since the owners can’t afford feed.

India has a fairly large population of meat eaters, much like the rest of the world. 60% of Indians eat meat — a vast majority of the Indian population. The majority of meat in India comes from factory farms. The abuse in Indian factory farms is absolutely horrendous. It begins with the journey to the slaughterhouse. An article on Indian animal abuse states:

“For farm animals the journey to the slaughterhouse entails further suffering — they are packed onto lorries, squashed together and often shipped abroad for slaughter in foreign abattoirs where their short lives are ended in barbaric ways. Broken bones, and wings, injuries and sickness over and above the lack of food water and rest. Fear, pain, frustration, despair, and hopelessness are just some of the negative emotions we are guilty of causing them.”

 Following that, animals are placed in cramped spaces, and are subject to extremely cruel factory procedures. For production of beef, cattle are placed in cramped, very unhygienic enclosures and pumped full of hormones to increase “tenderness” of meat, along with multiple artificial chemicals. They are treated rather brutally, often kicked, fed growth enhancers and oxytocin, and are given cement dust as feed to increase the weight of meat. The chickens bred for meat are given growth hormones to speed up their growth, and their breasts often grow so much their body is unable to support the weight, and they injure themselves severely in attempts to support their own body weight. During production of eggs, male chicks are just killed or discarded as useless. Chickens are kept in wire cages merely 20 inches wide, and they sit with their excreta, with complete lack of hygiene.

A commercial chicken house in the U.S. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Public Domain.

The same article linked above says about pigs and pork production:

“The pigs are usually slaughtered at an age of six months, when they weigh about 250 lbs.! Again, these animals have trouble supporting their weight. They can hardly walk and often suffer extremely painful arthritis and deformities in their limbs. They are abused in factory farms where sows are kept in gestation crates all their lives with no room to move. To the industry, they are just piglet producing machines. They are allowed to nurse their piglets while still confined for 2 weeks after which the piglets are torn from them to be fattened for slaughter. The sows are immediately impregnated to begin another 4-month cycle.  Pigs normally form strong bonds with their young for two years, but because it is not profitable, they are deprived this natural bond by the industry. Many of these pigs raised in this captivity demonstrate extreme discomfort, but as long as they produce piglets, this goes ignored. When their bodies are worn out — which doesn’t take long — they, too, are dragged to slaughter. At the time of their demise, they are often too weak to even walk. If allowed to live out their life, these animals can live up to twenty years.”

 But abuse exists in multiple other areas as well. People with absolute respect for animal rights unknowingly find themselves using products that were produced with animal abuse. An instance of this is the usage of feather shuttlecocks used to play badminton.

The manufacture of feather shuttlecocks is horrifying. Though many people don’t know this, ducks — and occasionally geese — are slaughtered for the manufacture of these. The conditions they face in factory farms are horrendous. They are crammed into wire cages, such that sores develop on their wings. Their sensitive beaks are sawn off. Their feathers start to fall. According to this source, ducks are usually slaughtered specifically for shuttlecocks in India, since duck meat is unpopular — which means using feather shuttlecocks is endorsing a whole industry of slaughter.

This brings me to the more philosophical part of my post: why should animal rights be upheld? Does justice require the recognition of animal rights? I argue that it does — to maintain true moral obligations, one must recognize animal rights. In fact, it doesn’t matter if morality is objective — because not recognizing animal rights is an intellectually dishonest position to take, regardless of morality.

The strongest ground for animal rights lies in the philosophical position known as “utilitarianism,” which suggests that the purpose of morality is to maximize benefit and minimize harm. The reason that is a strong moral framework is that the purpose of morality is to cater to the “interests” of individuals. The fundamental interests of individuals are pleasure and pain. Therefore, those interests should be the basis for morality.

There is no coherent framework that gives much difference between humans and animals when it comes to morality. Humans and animals have no morally relevant differences. Morality is all about the ability to suffer, and animals can suffer. Most research agrees on that. Humans are more “rational” than animals — but babies and those that are mentally enfeebled have the right to life and right against torture. These rights ought to be extended to animals as well. Respecting humans over animals in certain cases is incoherent because there’s no morally relevant difference between them.

That is exactly why respecting human rights over animal rights is incoherent. If humans and animals have no differences relevant to morality, it’s incoherent to assign an arbitrarily greater value to the human species alone. Utilitarianism — weighing pleasure and suffering of individuals, treating their interests equally — is a much more rational and intellectually honest viewpoint.

The problem is this: we can’t simply place a blanket ban on all meat, or ban animal use entirely. The flaws in the “abolitionist” movement is simple: entirely abolishing treating animals as property, like we do now, is against the societal values of India and would disrupt social order as a whole. The same applies with almost every country. Social order is critical. So the alternative I propose is a more pragmatic one: (1) the government should make very strict regulations on factory farming, mandating only absolutely humane methods, significantly raising restrictions on conditions; (2) encourage pursuing organic farming as an alternative to factory farms to increase animal welfare; and (3) encourage “humane” labeling that follows much stricter standards than what the law requires as well.

But there’s one more thing that needs to happen — which is beyond the influence of merely the government. Collectively, as a society, we must all encourage greater animal welfare. We, as individuals, must promote this, by reducing/abandoning meat consumption (e.g. I’m a vegetarian), and by not using products that cause the death of animals when alternatives exist. That’s how the revolution must be carried out.