Animal rights vs. animal welfare in the veterinary world
“Which philosophy about animals most closely aligns with your own?”
This question was posed by DVM Newsmagazine, a vet industry news publication. The undisclosed number of veterinarians responding offered the following basic breakdown in views:
Animal Welfare: 78.1%
Animal Rights: 2.4%
No response: 1.8%
Though I have no idea how many vets responded and to what degree statistical significance was achieved, the findings concur broadly with my personal experience: It’s a very small group of vets that identifies with an animal rights agenda.
Why’s that, you ask? Some of it has to do with knowing what it feels like to be a PeTA magnet when our vet schools and their programs are targeted for protest. Others among us can’t abide the unforgiving anti-animal industry agenda of the rightists (especially those working within it). And still more of us equate animal rights with a degree of political radicalism we’d never consider aligning ourselves with.
And it’s not just the violence and lawless behavior of groups like PeTA. It’s the end game some of us also abhor: a complete break from the tradition of animal welfare as we know it—specifically as it relates to pets.
If you’re wondering why this poll was conducted just last month, look no further than the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA). The HSVMA is the HSUS’s new vet-geared group, created specifically to compete with the AVMA’s milquetoast stance on many animal welfare issues. If nothing else, we can already credit the founding of this organization with renewed interest in discussing where we vets really stand on animal welfare issues.
Though polls like this more likely reflect what vets perceive to be the differences in welfare versus rights (with many vets who wouldn’t think twice about castrating a pig without anesthesia possibly voting for welfare), the point is clear:
The vast majority of vets don’t want to see the animal rights movement influencing our profession.
It also seems to this not-so-casual observer that an increasing number of us want to see reform in how vets influence animal welfare issues in this country.
We want to see reform in factory farming practices and traditional agriculture customs, which we view as out of step with how we treat companion animals. We want to see pets treated more fairly in shelter settings, breeding concerns and when it comes to obvious cruelty in general. But we don’t want to abolish animal “use” in its entirety. We just want it done better—humanely, that is.
Leaving horses to languish unfed in fields due to financial neglect, allowing animals to die in mismanaged shelters at alarming rates, disbudding goats (dehorning younglings) and castrating pigs without pain relief or anesthesia. These are the issues that we care about. We wouldn’t approve of these practices when it comes to our loved ones and our pet patients, so why would we permit it for the others?
Yet it’s become increasingly obvious that the AVMA is not helping us achieve these goals, nor is it cognizant of the importance of veterinarians to help promote animal welfare imperatives in the US and the world at large.
Ultimately, this poll proves to me that the AVMA is outdated in its approach to many of the practices it tacitly permits and that it neglects the majority when it comes to basic welfare concerns. Though it supports companion animal welfare issues, it fails with respect to the agricultural ones.
Consequently, the AVMA now faces competition with the HSVMA, an organization that bills itself as the “moderate voice of vets interested in welfare”—but which clearly has a broader animal rights agenda in mind.
The AVMA need look no further than its majority base and right its large vs. small animal inconsistencies via real representation of its new, more enlightened constituents. Nothing less is at stake than the reputation of our profession and its role with respect to animal welfare as viewed by the mainstream US culture—not to mention the efficacy of animal welfare initiatives the world around.