Sometimes we are told that someone ‘loves’ ‘their’ animals, or that they ‘treat them well’, but the claim that is always shouted from the rooftops is the one about ‘high welfare standards’. These claims may come from people in a wide range of situations, from those who exploit reproduction for breast milk or eggs, to those who use other individuals for ‘entertainment’ or forced labour, or those who ‘farm’ the living in order to sell corpses for profit, and everything in between. Those who want us to consider the term significant, use it every time they get an opportunity for publicity, regardless of the question, regardless of the conversation. It’s their answer to everything.
Those who share their life or home with nonhuman family members, and those who rescue members of other species from abusive situations (not only caused by our species but most frequently by those mentioned in the preceding paragraph) also frequently claim to love those in their care. I’ve noticed that the difference between what a provider of sanctuary /rescuer /ordinary person with nonhuman family members would say, and a representative of the exploitation industries would say, is that sanctuaries/ rescuers / human custodians of nonhuman family members do not attempt to shut down conversations with claims about ‘welfare standards’. And there’s a really good reason for this.
Welfare, what does it actually mean?
It’s really important to understand the concept of ‘Welfare’ in the context of non-humans. It’s a common mistake to think that regulations and guidelines referred to under the general heading of ‘Welfare’ are in some way designed to protect the feelings, the well-being or the individual autonomy of those whom our use designates as resources, commodities and possessions. They’re not. The purpose of all regulation is to safeguard the commercial value of those who are deemed to be assets, through consistent practices, and through maintaining consumer confidence. It’s not about the victims. Through implementation of the ‘regulations’, any lessening of the oppressive regime of relentless use to which our defenceless victims are subjected, is purely coincidental and cost-driven.
How can regulations protect the feelings, the well-being or the individual autonomy of our sentient victims, when the thing each one desires more than anything, the thing that makes them exactly the same as our sentient selves, is their desire to live unharmed, and the recognition of that desire is the one specifically excluded from every use that our species makes of them?
How can regulations protect the feelings, the well-being or the individual autonomy of our victims, when they are not in a position to give their consent for any of the things that are done to them? Even in those situations where they make their lack of consent crystal clear, such as when they are quite evidently afraid or in pain or are seeking to escape from the processes and procedures our species inflicts, their clear absence of consent is ignored.
In essence, that’s what speciesism is; a complete disregard for the rights of any who do not share our species, and the ignoring of the fact that their consent to our abusive and violent actions is being understandably withheld.
So we need to keep reminding ourselves that ‘welfare’ does not mean what we think it means; what some would like it to mean. It’s a seductive word that has mimicked the language of care and respect for a long time and remained unchallenged.
Regulations and the ‘standards’ we are told about so often are designed by and for those who have a financial interest in exploitation. Which is why sanctuaries, rescuers and the human custodians of nonhuman family members do not harp on about conforming to ‘welfare standards’. It’s a death industry word describing death industry procedures; a word that mimics the language of concern to the extent that many people are completely taken in.
Buying, selling, giving away
For as long as we human animals, have the power of life and death over members of other species; if we can buy them or sell them or even give them away without being in breach of any law; if we can disregard their preferences and needs to suit our own justifications, then regardless of our intentions, they are our property.
And for as long as the law considers other living individuals who value their lives to be our property, then the relationship we have with them is essentially speciesist at heart. I hold this to be true of every relationship I have ever had with a member of another species. I wish that were not the case but it is.
While this speciesist relationship is the accepted norm, then the interests of our species of animal will always take precedence over the interests of others. While some humans will act with genuine love and respect, the door will remain permanently wedged open for the worst and most depraved actions to occur – and occur they will. And I count in this category all the myriad uses that define nonveganism. All are unnecessary. All of them serve the interests of our species at the expense of the interests of our victims.
Speciesism – it has to end
The task we face is the ending of speciesism. The answer? Not easy and not instant. Speciesism is so ingrained into most of us from our earliest years, that it is hard to purge from our mindset. Even as a vegan for several years, I still find unwelcome pockets of speciesism that surface from time to time.
But we have to start somewhere and that place is with the person we each see in the mirror. If we wouldn’t accept something being done ourselves, to our children, to our loved ones, then we have no business doing it to another, whatever their species.
When we recognise this, we have no alternative other than to become vegan. In the battle to end speciesism, what we do next is up to each of us.