What country has the most advanced animal protection legislation in the world?
If you guessed the United States, go to the bottom of the class. The United States
lags far behind all 25 nations of the European Union, and most other developed
nations as well, such as Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. To gauge
just how far behind the United States is, consider these three facts:
Around 10 billion farm animals are killed every year by US meat, egg,
and dairy industries; the estimated number of animals killed for research every
year is 20 million to 30 million, a mere 0.3 of that number.
In the United States, there is no federal law governing the welfare
of animals on the farm. Federal law begins only at the slaughterhouse.
Most states with major animal industries have written into their anticruelty
laws exemptions for ''common farming practices." If something is a common
farming practice, it is, according to these states, not cruel, and you can't
prosecute anyone for doing it.
Together these last two points mean that any common farming practice is legal.
If you hear farm industry lobbyists trying to tell you that there is no problem
in the United States because unhappy animals would not be productive, ask them
how it can be good for a hen to be kept with four or five other hens in a cage
so small she couldn't stretch her wings even if she had the whole cage to herself.
To measure how far ahead other countries are, we can first look at British
animal protection legislation. British law makes it illegal to keep breeding
sows in crates that prevent them from walking or turning around -- the way in
which about four out of every five US sows are kept. In Britain, law does not
allow veal calves to be denied adequate roughage and iron, as is common in the
United States to help produce the gourmet veal often served in restaurants.
Nevertheless, it is not Britain but Austria that has the most advanced animal
protection legislation. In May 2004, a proposed law banning the chicken ''battery
cage" was put to a vote in the Austrian Parliament. It passed -- without
a single member of Parliament opposing it. Austria has banned fur farming and
prohibited the use of wild animals in circuses. It has also made it illegal
to trade in living cats and dogs in stores and deems killing an animal for no
good reason a criminal offense. Most important, every Austrian province must
appoint an ''animal lawyer" who can initiate court procedures on behalf
Why are Europeans so far ahead of Americans in protecting animal welfare? I
doubt that it is because Americans are more tolerant of cruelty. In 2002, when
the citizens of Florida were given a chance to vote on whether sows should be
confined for months without ever having room to turn around, they voted, by
a clear majority, to ban sow crates. Most Americans, though, have never had
the chance to cast that vote. The animal movement in the United States has not
succeeded in turning animal rights into electoral issues about which voters
seek their candidates' views.
As a result, the American animal movement has shifted toward targeting corporations
rather than the legislatures. For example, in 2001, the organization Viva! launched
a campaign accusing Whole Foods of selling inhumanely raised duck meat. Whole
Foods responded by exploring the issue and setting new companywide standards
for raising ducks.
Other sets of standards will follow by 2008, Whole Foods plans to have in place
a set of standards for all the species of farm animals it sells. By addressing
an individual corporation, animal rights activists are hoping that other retailers
will follow suit and this pressure will influence legislation changes in the
Judged by the standards of other developed countries, over recent decades the
United States has done little to improve the protection of the vast majority
of animals. We should direct our energies to reducing the suffering of farm
animals and put pressure on our corporations and our legislatures, both state
and federal, to bring the United States at least up to the standards of the
European Union in our treatment of animals.
Peter Singer's most recent book is ''In
Defense of Animals: The Second Wave."