Since the pre-historical days, animals have been viewed as an integral part of the lifestyle of human beings. They have not only been a source of livelihood but also a good companion. However, for more than five decades, the debate on the use of animals in human society has been contentious, with the main focus the benefits derived from them. Fueling the debate further is the emergence of the vociferous group adherent to the philosophy of animal rights which consider animals and human as essentially equal, condemning the use of animals for human benefit. People who utilize animals are commonly confronted by issues surrounding animal rights and welfare.
Animal welfare is essentially distinct from animal rights since it promotes a responsible utilization of animals to meet basic human needs. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, animal welfare is a human responsibility encompassing the well-being of all the aspects of animal such as proper housing, humane handling, treatment and disease prevention, management, and feeding. Proponents of animal welfare believe that humans can utilize animals in industry, entertainment, sports, and recreation, as long as the animal is well taken care of. They also seek to improve the welfare of animals as well as support the regulation of animal sports such as horse racing and endurance riding among other sports. The proponents also acknowledge that animals, just like human beings, also have interests but such interests can be exchanged for human benefits as long as the benefits justify the sacrifice.
Animal rights groups believe that there is no distinction between humans and animals and that the two have equal and similar rights. The proponents of animal rights believe that humans have no right whatsoever to use or utilize animals and that animals have rights that cannot be exchanged or sacrificed for the benefit of others. However, the rights proponents do not hold the position that the rights are absolute; like humans, animal rights are limited. The proponents also hold that animals should not be treated as food or used for entertainment and experimentation. Animal rights groups promote legislations and regulations that would prohibit sports that utilize animals, hunting, medical research using animals, raising animals for food, and use of animals for recreation and entertainment. They also reject animal use no matter how humane. Some proponents have also opposed the animal welfare reforms since they view the reforms as impeding progress towards animal rights by improving conditions under which animal exploitation occur.
What is the Way Out?
While the animal rights proponents prohibit the use animals and giving them the same rights as humans, the animal welfare proponents are slightly flexible in the use of animals. When the interest of animals and human beings are in conflict, animal rights groups will put the animal first while the welfare group will weigh the benefits for both human and animal.