Approx Reading Time-10Ruth Hatten argues that animal rights should trump human interests, as a prelude to The Ethics Centre’s IQ2 debate tonight.


In 2000, an Indian High Court asked, if humans are entitled to fundamental rights, why not animals? The court considered the plight of circus animals and found that those animals were “beings entitled to a dignified existence and humane treatment sans cruelty and torture.”

Under law, animals and humans are regarded differently. Animals are considered property. Much like chairs, tables, cars, books, houses or computers, they are inanimate objects, seen as having no sense of feeling.

Animals feel. Of course they do. They are sentient beings capable of being aware of sensations and emotions and capable of feeling pain and suffering.

Yet Australian law does not recognise animals’ ability to feel; at least not in a way that satisfactorily recognises it and thus protects them from harm.

Certainly, laws exist under the guise of protecting animals, but in reality…where there is a human interest that is considered to trump those of animals’, animal interests fall by the wayside. For example, many seem to believe it is acceptable for a chicken to live in confinement, with no access to sunlight, prevented from exhibiting normal behaviours, fed unnatural food and experiencing a shortened lifespan, so that the masses can feast on her cheap eggs.

Human interest masks itself with words like “necessary,” “justifiable” and “reasonable.” For example, if the poor treatment of an animal is necessary, justifiable or reasonable, like keeping a sow in a sow stall to maximise pig production, then legislation permits treating animals in ways that, for all intents and purposes, are cruel.

Thus, human interest trumps animal interest and any moral significance an animal may have is ignored.

While cats and dogs are two species receiving the greatest legal protections, cruelty is still inflicted on them daily and those responsible for inflicting that cruelty in most cases get away with it or suffer insignificant penalty; for example, community service or a small fine.

Our laws allow “normal” animal husbandry practices and if you’re a farmer, you have a ready-made defence to charges of animal cruelty. The law allows you to cut off the beaks, teeth, tails and genitalia of chickens, cows, pigs and sheep without pain relief. Imagine doing this to a cat or dog – you could face charges of animal cruelty.

In pursuit of scientific advancement, animals like monkeys, cats, dogs, rabbits, rats and sheep are imprisoned, tortured and killed under the protection of the law.

We’re not just talking about a few animals here. According to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, every year Australians kill approximately 600 million farm animals for human consumption. Every year we torture 7 million dogs, cats, native mammals, primates, mice, rats, sheep and domestic fowl for research and teaching.

We too are animals, yet unlike our furry animal friends, we are recognised and protected under law for the living, breathing, feeling beings that we are.

Animals have inherent value and moral rights. The fundamental right to be treated with respect as an individual with inherent value must be enshrined in law.

So too their right to safety, life, freedom and food.

These fundamental rights should trump human interests such as the consumption of animals and their parts, animal forms of entertainment such as racing, breeding of cats and dogs, and animal research for human benefit.


Ruth Hatten is one of the many speakers at this evening’s IQ2 debate on animal vs human rights, at Sydney’s City Recital Hall.

Tickets available here.


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