Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 17 March 2010) . . Page.. 981 ..
as dogs, cats, horses, pigs, birds, canaries, goldfish and crocodiles. We have different emotional views on different animals and different ethical frameworks have different views about them. The Buddhist view of life is that you should not kill any sentient beings. One of the things that I think about is the question of what is sentient. As Mr Coe remarked, there is the animal liberation movement, which has been very much inspired by Peter Singer’s books.
Probably one thing that all ethical frameworks agree on is that we should not be cruel to animals. We may disagree as to the amount of protection and where animals fit in the hierarchy, but I think there is universal agreement that there should not be cruelty to any animals, regardless of what sort of animal they are.
But we actually find that animal welfare laws apply in a discriminatory way. Anyone who actually cares about the welfare of animals will see that this creates some very strange and unjust outcomes. For example, if you took an action that would be illegal when applied to a domestic animal and then applied it on behalf of the commercial agricultural sector, it would become permissible. Take birds, for example—chickens in particular. If someone housed their pet birds in cramped conditions and cut their beaks off, that would be prohibited behaviour. Clearly, causing such suffering and trauma to birds should be prohibited and would be rightly punished. But the exact same behaviour is permissible provided that bird is a hen being used for commercial egg production. Of course, to the hen it is irrelevant whether they are de-beaked and caged in someone’s backyard or in a factory farm. The suffering is the same. The nation’s 13 million battery hens suffer acutely like this every day.
Does it make any difference to the hen in the ACT whether it is owned by Pace Farm and it lives in Parkwood or whether it lives in a purpose-built coop in someone’s backyard where it is probably let out every day into a large space where it can eat snails and worms, apart from other things? They are both equally worthy animals, and this is one of the issues that we have in animal welfare legislation.
Because the vast majority of animals are used in agriculture, our animal welfare laws provide very little protection to the bulk of animals. In general, they apply only to a tiny category of animals, and that, as I said, is the group that is least likely to suffer—domestic pets.
This inconsistency reflects the fact that policy makers are willing to let animals be used as commodities and tools for human use, and in fact their welfare matters to them very little. The British political scientist Robert Garner explained this by saying:
… the level of protection afforded to an individual animal depends, not just—if at all—upon its needs and interests, but upon the institutional and legislative structure governing the particular use to which it is being put. To take one example, a rabbit raised for food would be subject to a totally different set of legislative criteria than would one utilized in a laboratory or one existing in the wild or one owned as a pet.
Anyone really interested in animal welfare should see the problems with this approach. It is based on human uses of animals, not on the animals’ needs.