International Animal Rights Day
December 10, 2022
International Animal Rights Day was established on the 10th of December 1998, during the 50th anniversary signing of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The initiative was created to defend that non-human beings have the right to a life free from exploitation and suffering. Animal rights supporters and activists also use the day to call for the recognition of The Universal Declaration of Animal Rights (UDAR) that was proclaimed in 1978 at the UNESCO headquarters, but that is yet to be implemented by any leading international organisation.
What sort of rights are we talking about?
Throughout history, there have been numerous debates on exactly what supporters mean when they say animal rights. What sort of rights are animal activists asking for? Obviously, non-human animals cannot hold office or vote in elections, so we’re not talking about those rights. Generally speaking, animal rights activists call for the moral consideration (or protection from being harmed) of sentient, non-human animals–something that is not currently being given to the billions of feeling animals each year that are exploited and brutally killed in the meat, dairy and egg industries (not to mention those kept captive and cruelly trained in zoos, aquatic parks and circuses, used for experimentations or skinned alive for their furs and skins to make coats and purses).
Unlike animal rights, animal welfare–of which many ideas have stemmed from philosophers like Peter Singer–calls for improving the conditions animals in these industries are forced into (for example, advocating for hens in the egg industry to not be confined in cages). Animal rights, of which many ideas have emerged from philosopher Tom Regan and law professors Gary Francione and Steven Wise, calls for an outright abolition of these industries, because even with small adjustments, they remain intrinsically cruel, do not respect animals’ inherent worth and leave animals to the mercy of humans.
Where animals currently stand in the UK
In the UK, the main law relating to animal welfare is The Animal Welfare Act of 2006. The Act, in conjunction with The Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2007 “makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal”. From an animal rights perspective, animals in agriculture are forced into an industry in which suffering is unavoidable, in which every act is unnatural and unnecessary.
Luckily, animals could be closer to obtaining rights in the UK than ever before, thanks to the recent passing of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022–a revolutionary act that recognises the sentience of non-human animals, including non-human vertebrates, cephalopod molluscs (such as octopuses) and decapod crustaceans (such as lobsters)–the latter two groups being previously disregarded in the Act of 2006. As utilitarian Jeremy Bentham put it in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), “The question is not, Can they Reason?, nor Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?” Finally, there is national legislation that states non-human animals do and that it matters. It is our hope that this act of acknowledgement signifies that animals are one step closer to being given their deserved moral consideration and rights.
What can I do to stand up for animal rights?
Together, we can create a world in which animals are protected and their rights are respected.