Sun, Jun 12, 2016 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Illustrating speciesism in animal rights calls

Australian philosopher Peter Singer, best known for his contribution to animal rights, sat down with ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporter Chen Wei-han in Hsinchu to illustrate his concept of speciesism and effective altruism and comment on the animal welfare situation in Taiwan and new euthanasia legislation

TT: There are religious practices in Taiwan that involve animal abuse and killing, such as “god pigs,” which are fattened to extreme obesity for use in religious ceremonies. Aboriginal hunting practices have also been an issue, particularly when they involve protected species. What is your opinion about the conflict between traditional practices and animal welfare?

Singer: Freedom of religion is normally a good thing, but there should be a boundary of acceptable tolerance when religious practice is extended to harming other sentient beings. I do not think people have a right to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals to practice religion. Likewise, culture alone cannot justify inflicting suffering on animals. However, wild animals have a better life than farmed animals, and if the method of hunting kills them quickly, then the majority of non-Aboriginal Taiwanese are not in any position to criticize Aboriginal people because they buy factory farmed meat all the time. It can be well understood that Aboriginal people feel discriminated against for being prohibited from practicing their culture. If I were part of the Taiwanese animal welfare movement, I would make my main target reducing suffering at factory farms, rather than Aboriginal hunting.

TT: The government still uses rabbits to produce swine flu vaccine. Can we do research on animals for the benefit of humans and other animals? Taiwan’s legislature recently passed a motion to ban animal experiments for cosmetics, what is your opinion?

Singer: I am not an absolutist about animal experimentation. There can be cases where the benefit from animal experimentation is very great and the harm to animals is minimized. I do not understand this particular case of swine flu vaccine, but one should always look for alternatives to the use of animals, such as cell culture vaccine production. On the other hand, it is easily understood that cosmetics animal testing is unjustified. Why do we need to make animals suffer when there already are cosmetics proven not harmful? Animal experimentation is acceptable if it is the only way to cure some major diseases.

TT: What do you think about animal euthanasia? Is the policy a sign of better animal welfare?

Singer: I am not a believer in the absolute sanctity of life. If shelter animals are going to have a miserable life after the no-kill policy is adopted, and there is no way of avoiding that, then euthanasia would be a preferable alternative.

There are places where no-kill policy has worked well, and the policy can provide a ground to improve education. The success of the policy lies in reducing the number of stray animals by educating the public to neuter their pets and not abandon them.

TT: Do we have to become vegans to ultimately defeat speciesism? Is there a midpoint?

Singer: It is probably the most likely route to defeating speciesism. Eating eggs from truly free-ranging chickens might be one of the few ways one can defend eating non-vegan food without inflicting pain on animals, but it is very difficult to have high animal welfare standards on a commercial scale. Hence, it might be simplest to fight against speciesism if one becomes a vegan. However, incremental change is acceptable in a world where most people consume animal products. There is a movement called “reducetarian,” which encourages people to reduce meat consumption. If the population would reduce meat consumption to twice a week, it can make a bigger reduction in animal suffering than if the number of vegetarians is doubled.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top