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Animal rights and the theory behind it

What is the basis for granting rights to animals?


1 Is there a satisfactory basic principle?
2 Can freedom be maintained as a fundamental right if it is infringed?
3 Isn't being an owner of an animal in conflict with the right of freedom?
4 Advocating animal rights should be financially rewarded
5 Should all wrongful actions towards animals be prohibited?

Animals are only capable of expressing themselves indirectly in case of abuse. Therefore it is up to us to answer the question above.
Concepts that are eligible for forming the basis of animal rights are intrinsic value, welfare, respect, freedom, equality, compassion etc. Many of these concepts seem appropriate but are less suitable if we apply them in practical situations.

We examine the workability of each concept according to a number of important principles:

  1. The formulation of animal rights should be a workable and practical concept that can be legally reviewed.
  2. Animal rights are meant to benefit all individual animals including all species from wildlife and agriculture e.g. domestic animals, mammals, but also insects.
  3. Considering the diversity of those species we should take into account their specific nature.
  4. Animal rights apply to people and should be called upon by people.
  5. Death holds a distinct position in animal rights: the slaughter, hunting by experts for the purpose of wildlife management and professional fishing. Regulations should be enforced to ensure a fast and painless death, which must serve a purpose (in contrast with undesired extra fish to the catch). This also applies to killing off harmful vertebrae, which can otherwise not be stopped.
  6. Rights of the species outweigh the rights of the individual (if a plant or animal threatens to become extinct people should be forbidden to disturb its life). A certain species (e.g. sow or salmon) has the right not to be produced or caught in excessive numbers for export purposes. This mass production is unworthy of an animal and it is meant to satisfy more than only our basic needs.

Is it possible to conceive a satisfactory judicial basic principle that can be adequately employed?

A workable option is to apply the same principle for human rights as for animals rights, which is the right of freedom.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council, for example, has determined that animals in cattle farming have a right to "5 forms of "freedom" (freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour).

Freedom is a paradoxical concept: freedom defined is freedom denied. Clear boundaries are to be formulated as to its beginning and its end; otherwise the concept is unworkable. In order to employ the concept of freedom in actual practice, the best thing is to describe all situations that frustrate an animal's ability to be free.
Setting limits applies to both humans and animals and it is therefore a powerful concept. We may consider the minimum standard of an animal's freedom but also physical boundaries (e.g. fences).

An important advantage of freedom is that it entails a limit to the obligation to be concerned with animal rights. By safeguarding these rights, the animal can be left to interpret freedom in its own way and be free to exercise behavior that is in accordance with its innate nature. How an animal exercises its freedom in terms of behavior has no bearings on the basic principle of animal rights.
For animals in the wild it is sufficient to be able to maintain a natural balance without disturbance by human beings. For domestic or agricultural animals the important thing is to ensure that they are able to exercise their natural behavior to a certain extent.
In addition to this, freedom also entails the right of physical integrity: no more bodily harm by interventions including cutting beaks, castration of piglets, genetic engineering (selection sustained) or extreme unhealthy forms of breeding (e.g. double-muscle calves delivered by caesarian operations).

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