Tue, Jul 19, 2011 - Page 9 News List

There can be little moral progress without improved animal welfare

From circuses and zoos to factory farms, animal abuse continues to be a problem worldwide

By Peter Singer

However, the EU has recently recognized that the intensive confinement of farm animals has gone too far. It has already outlawed keeping veal calves in individual stalls; and, in six months, it will be illegal in all 27 EU countries, from Portugal to Poland and from Britain to Greece, to keep laying hens in the bare-wire cages that today dominate the egg industry around the world. In January 2013, keeping breeding sows in individual stalls will also be prohibited.

The US lags behind Europe in getting rid of the worst forms of abuse of farm animals. The problem does not lie with voters, who, in states like Florida, Arizona and California, have shown that they want farm animals to have better protection than the animal industries typically provide. The biggest problems are in those states that lack a mechanism for people to initiate a referendum on how farm animals should be treated. Unfortunately, this group includes the Midwestern and southern states, where the majority of the US’ farmed animals are produced.

MUCH LEFT TO DO

China’s centralized government can, if it so chooses, ensure that animal-welfare laws apply throughout the country. The animal-welfare movement in China should not be satisfied with its small, but conspicuous, success regarding animal abuse in zoos. It must move on to the far more significant target of better living conditions and more humane deaths for bears and fur-bearing animals, as well as for cows, pigs, laying hens and chickens.

There remain many other countries with deplorable animal-welfare standards. In Indonesia, for example, Animals Australia recorded undercover videos showing such brutal treatment of Australian-raised cattle that Canberra suspended cattle exports to the country. Now some members of parliament are calling for a permanent ban. The best hope for further progress, it seems, lies in animal welfare becoming, like human rights, an international issue that affects countries’ reputations.

Peter Singer is professor of bioethics at Princeton University and laureate professor at the University of Melbourne.

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