We're all waking up to the fact that our treatment of other animals matters. What do we do?

New laws won't protect them

Like humans, nonhuman animals have interests. They are sentient beings whose lives can go better or worse for them. Because they can experience pain, they have an interest in avoiding it. And because death is a harm to any sentient being, all sentient beings have an interest in staying alive.

So, when we say that new laws won't protect them, we're saying that animals' most vital interests will not be meaningfully protected by new laws any more than they have been protected by the previous 200 years of animal welfare laws. More animals are suffering in more horrific ways, and dying for such trivial purposes as pleasure and convenience than at any other point in history. 

The reason for this is simple: the law regards animals as property. Any attempt to ensure that animals' interests are better protected must attempt to balance those interests against the economic and institutional interests of their human owners. Within a system in which animals are human property, even their most significant interests can be (and are) trumped by the comparably trivial human interests in profit and efficiency. Attempting to 'balance' the interests of a piece of property against the interests of a property owner is like trying to deal a fair hand of cards with a rigged deck--it simply can't be done, because the mechanisms in place are fundamentally unfair.

So if new laws can't meaningfully protect animals' interests, what can we do? We recognize that animals have interests, including an overriding interest in not being used exclusively as a means to the end of another. We recognize that the only way to respect these interests is to not use nonhuman animals as our resources. In other words, we recognize that animals have a right not to be our property. We then must challenge the fundamental assumption that we are justified in using animals as property in the first place by no longer using or consuming animals and animal products ourselves, and then encourage others to do the same. Once enough people in society challenge the property status of animals through their words and actions, meaningful legal change for animals may finally be possible.

Bigger cages won't end their suffering

Like new laws, bigger cages and other reforms will not and cannot end animal suffering. As long as animals are used as our resources, they will suffer. Changing the circumstances surrounding how we use them (i.e., changing how they are treated) at best only changes the character of that suffering. Moreover, because the appearance is given that reforms do meaningfully improve the lives of animals exploited for our benefit, animals will continue to be used and they will continue to unnecessarily suffer and die, in increasing numbers year after year. 

One has only to look at the failure of welfare reforms over the past centuries to see how they've failed to prevent the meaningless suffering and death of billions of animals every year.

Recent example: "Cage-free" eggs

Consumers are assured that "cage-free" eggs are a humane alternative to eggs from hens kept in row upon row of tiny battery cages. But all birds in the egg industry suffer from the start: at hatcheries. Breeding hens suffer tremendously as they are forced to produce the fertilized eggs that will hatch the chicks who are shipped out for egg production. Regardless of the type of operation--battery cage, "cage-free", "enriched" cage, "free range", or even your back yard--this is where the chicks come from. Of course, except for the occasional mistake, only female chicks are shipped out of the hatcheries.

Because male chicks don't lay eggs, and because they are not bred to grow fast enough for flesh production, every year 200 million of them are ground up alive, suffocated, or tossed out in garbage bins, where they die from exposure or lack of food and water. Again, all this suffering is before we've even left the hatchery from which all egg-layers come.

Moving on to the rows of enormous metal sheds where hens are confined and forced to lay eggs, it's hard to see how an uncaged bird's life is subjectively better than a cage bird's life at any given point in the production process.

Entering the windowless shed, it is immediately apparent that, while uncaged hens are not constricted to a battery cage in which each lives her entire life in a space measuring approximately 67 square inches, she is still crammed tightly into an industrial space with tens of thousands of other hens. She has nothing to walk on but a metal grate meant for her waste pass through to a pit below. Powerful, toxic ammonia fumes rise back up through those grates, causing respiratory problems.

This intense confinement disturbs hens' innate pecking order, encouraging cannibalistic behaviour, which is why most hens have the tips of their beaks seared off with a hot blade when they are still chicks.

Both caged and uncaged hens are forced to lay an abnormal number of eggs--about 300 per year--which causes all sorts of health problems. Birds suffer painful prolapses and calcium depletion, which weakens their bones and leaves uncaged birds particularly prone to leg breaks, an injury that sentences them to death by starvation and thirst when they can't reach their feeders. When one bird is injured among the tens of thousands producing cheap eggs in that shed, it simply makes no economic sense to tend to her medical needs. The dead are typically gathered up and tossed on to a pile of other dead birds, though occasionally birds who are not quite dead end up on the pile, too.

At both battery cage and "cage-free" egg production facilities, those hens who have survived without injury or illness are typically considered "spent" at only 18 months of age. In other words, they are unable to produce enough eggs to meet the producer's financial demands. That's after only one full laying cycle, plus some forced "molting" to fool the birds into producing more eggs. They are then gathered roughly by workers who toss them into packed trucks bound for the slaughterhouse, their well-being hardly a consideration, given their destination.

At the slaughterhouse, "cage-free," "free range," and battery caged hens all receive equal regard.

Your donation won't save their lives

This isn't meant to make you feel hopeless, of course. There are ways in which you can make a difference. Donations simply aren't that way.

Animals will continue to be killed and otherwise harmed for trivial reasons as long as they are human property. And because your donations to leading "animal protection organizations" are typically used to campaign for the sorts of reforms and laws which we've identified above as flawed (not to mention lavish salaries, rent and other overheads), you should save your money.

Not that you shouldn't feel that you can't directly support animals in need, such as those at no-kill shelters, farmed animal sanctuaries, and so on. But do your research before committing your time or money to an organization to make sure that their mission, materials, and activities are consistent with rejecting the reformist approach and with openly promoting the end of animal exploitation.

You can make a difference. Today!

So far we've highlighted why reforms and new laws don't help animals, and may even be harmful. And, for many of the same reasons, it would seem that giving money to most animal advocacy groups isn't the solution either.

The good news is that you can make a difference for animals starting today, and you don't have to spend one penny!

You can make the choice right now to avoid participating in the unnecessary suffering and killing of sentient animals--you can choose to become vegan. Vegans avoid using and consuming animals for any purpose, including food, clothing, and entertainment. After all, the only way to end the unnecessary suffering and killing of animals is to stop using them in the first place.

When you opt out of the violent, exploitive system of animal property, you show your support for the belief that animals have a basic right not to be used as mere things and, in doing so, you live consistently with your belief that it's wrong to harm animals unnecessarily. Because social change starts with each individual making that change within him or herself, you will also be contributing to a growing movement to end unnecessary harm to animals.

Becoming vegan

Click here to read about Becoming Vegan.

For more information and resources please click to the What Now page.

Text adapted from the BVA 'Vegan Start' page

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