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  Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare
  (What's the difference?)


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Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare?     They're the same thing, aren't they?


There seems to be some confusion in South Africa about the difference between animal WELFARE and animal RIGHTS.

Unlike Europe and the USA (where both terms are well defined and understood), here in South Africa we seem to use the two terms interchangeably when they actually mean the total opposite of each other. The SA media gets horribly confused and famously describe animal rights groups as animal welfare groups [or even as conservationists] as if they are all the same thing. 

IN FACT, animal WELFARE and animal RIGHTS are opposed to each other and are as different from each other as capitalists and communists  Now the media wouldn’t mix those two up, would they ? So why do they confuse animal RIGHTS and animal WELFARE ?   We’ll try to explain ……………

Here in post apartheid South Africa there is a lot of talk about ‘RIGHTS’ …… the rights of women, the rights of children and human rights. Some people talk about the "rights" of animals (meaning right to food, water, shelter, and care), but the emphasis is on improving the lives of animals utilised by people, not on eliminating human use altogether. So  “ANIMAL RIGHTS” is misunderstood as meaning “the rights of animals”?  Well, that’s not how the rest of the world understands the term “ANIMAL RIGHTS”.

“ANIMAL RIGHTS” is a philosophical view that puts animals on the same moral plane as humans and rejects the use of animals for any reason whatsoever. Amongst the long-term goals of the Animal Rights movement are the total ban of all forms of commercial animal agriculture, medical or veterinary research, zoos (regardless of how well managed), the end of hunting, shooting, horse riding and racing, rodeos, show jumping, zoos, circuses, guide dogs for the blind, the keeping of pets, the production of silk, wool and honey and the abolition of fishing.

On the other hand, the Animal Welfare movement (most of us belong to this group) concerns itself with preventing mistreatment and cruelty to animals. We don’t necessarily oppose the various forms of animal use (such as animal agriculture, medical research, sport and trophy hunting, animals in entertainment, etc.) as long as it isn’t cruel.

Animal Welfare supporters might feel that eating meat is okay, as long as the animals were well treated during their lifetimes and that their deaths were as quick and painless as possible. Animal Welfarists 'use animals' but try to do so in the most humane method possible. They try to modify animal-using practices to get the best possible conditions for, and treatment of, animals.

The  ANIMAL RIGHTISTS don’t think people should be ‘using animals’ at all, no matter if  it’s cruel or not.

One of our best known, South African animal rights activists is Steve Smit. He started animal rights group FALCON back in the 1990s and was very vocal about the culling of elephants. FALCON seems to have fallen away and Mr Smit now campaigns for “Animal Rights Africa” []

Mr Smit (writing in the Natal Witness 28/3/95) wrote : ".......... animal rights and animal welfare are often seen as one and the same thing. This is most definitely not the case. Whilst animal welfare organisations do fulfill a necessary function relative to animals which are currently the victims, or potential victims, of abuse and exploitation, they also lend a measure of legitimacy to such abuse and exploitation simply by not actively opposing the practices which give rise to this abuse and exploitation  ..... Most animal welfare societies are a compromise. They simply act to make human brutality towards animals less brutal " Smit says.

There you have it “from the horse’s mouth” :  Animal WELFARE organizations seek to moderate animal using practices that Animal RIGHTS groups want to completely abolish.


More recently (See the who article at ) Smit writes:
“animal rights organisations and animal welfare organisations DO NOT share the same aims, goals or objectives in terms of animals. Whereas the animal welfare movement is committed to the “humane” exploitation of animals, it is the absolute and unconditional abolition of all forms of human tyranny over animals that is the cherished ideal of the animal rights movement, and it is this which sets it apart from the animal welfare movement generally.”

So you see, if you eat meat, go fishing or hunting, ride horses or keep pets and still think we should do all we can to treat animals as best we can - you support ANIMAL WELFARE.

If you believe that all animals are our moral equals and that the only acceptable inter-action with animals should be to view them at a distance; if you oppose the eating of meat or keeping domesticated animals for the production of meat, leather, eggs, or milk; if you think keeping pet animals of any kind is akin to slavery and that the intentional breeding of animals (no matter how responsible, well-intentioned, or ethically done) is akin to breeding slaves........then you support ANIMAL RIGHTS.

Here in South Africa our media thinks nothing of describing groups like the 'Humane Society of United States' (HSUS) , International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) or  "People for Ethical Treatment of Animals" (PeTA) as "Animal Welfarists" when in fact they are Animal Rightists.

It is a confusion that is encouraged by the international animal rights movement who are masters in the art of misdirection and hide their true agendas amongst propaganda which, until properly examined, seems to support animal welfare. We need to get into the habit of identifying which are 'welfare' issues and which are 'rights' issues. HSUS is starting to spread to South Africa and fund projects here and it is very BIG BUSINESS ……

“HSUS is big, rich, and powerful, a “humane society” in name only. And while most local animal shelters are under-funded and unsung, HSUS has accumulated $113 million in assets and built a recognizable brand by capitalizing on the confusion its very name provokes. This misdirection results in an irony of which most animal lovers are unaware: HSUS raises enough money to finance animal shelters in every single state, with money to spare, yet it doesn’t operate a single one anywhere” (1).  In 2005, HSUS income was US$124.8 MILLION with Net assets of more than US$200 MILLION (2)

It’s also interesting to note that a paper written in the USA in 1992 (3) identified the typical Animal Rights Activist at that time as a white urban female, aged 20 - 59, college educated and politically left leaning, believing that science does more harm than good and with an annual income of around $37,400. (at that time). Little wonder then the massive growth of the ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘Beauty without Cruelty’ cosmetic empires - with such a ready made, guilt-ridden, philosophically receptive target market in which to sell !

If you want to read more then visit some of these websites:

Welfare vs Rights

Activists Cash
Centre for the Defense of Free Enterprise
Americans for Medical Progress
Countryside Alliance
Capital Research Centre

(1) Activists Cash
(2) HSUS profile
(3) Jamison, Wesley V. and William M. Lunch (Oregon Univ.) "Rights of Animals, Perceptions of Science, and Political
Activism: Profile of American Animal Rights Activists" Science, Technology,& Human Values. Vol 17 No. 4, Autumn 1992 pp. 438-458.



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