How do we treat animals?We keep animals for a range of reasons – as pets, for food, for entertainment or education, and to experiment upon. These animals experience a range of treatment, both good and bad. Farm animals may be kept in free-range systems, which have the potential, given good care and husbandry, to provide a good life. Unfortunately, most of the world’s nearly eight billion laying hens are kept in cages. In the EU, the barren battery cage is banned, but in Britain over 16 million hens are kept in ‘enriched’ colony cages that severely restrict their movement and prevent natural behaviours such as dust-bathing. Similarly, most breeding female pigs are kept in cages when suckling their young, and in many parts of the world they are also confined for all or part of pregnancy. Most of the 66 billion chickens slaughtered for meat each year globally are not kept in cages, but meat chickens (broilers) have been bred to live in a physiological cage. They grow so fast that their joints and hearts cannot keep up, resulting in lameness and chronic heart disease, which leads to fatigue that many will suffer as they approach their slaughter weight. They are also kept in crowded conditions.
How should we treat animals?At Compassion in World Farming, we think animals should be treated as sentient beings, in other words, as ones who have feelings that matter to them. This can include the capacity to experience feelings, such as hunger and pain, as well as emotions, such as fear and joy: the capacity to suffer, but also to experience pleasure. As a humanist, there are a range of good reasons to think farm animals deserve better. Compassion is a virtue that benefits the giver as well as the receiver. If you believe in the ‘golden rule’, you would wish to treat animals the way you would wish to be treated. This would at the very least prohibit factory farming, live exports, and inhumane slaughter. Jeremy Bentham, a humanist and utilitarian philosopher, argued the case for animal welfare since animals have the capacity for suffering. Minimising suffering is ethically important to humanists, and keeping slower-growing breeds of broiler chickens in better conditions, preferably free-range, would therefore be preferred. This capacity also leads many humanists to argue that animals deserve rights. This philosophy emerges out of human rights, including the idea that we matter as individuals irrespective of any group we belong to, whatever our race, sex, abilities, or culture. Considering our place in evolution, many humanists argue that this principle does not magically break down at the species barrier. In animal rights thinking, if it is wrong to do it to a human, it is wrong to do the same thing to a non-human animal.
How do animals matter?
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