Commentary: Dissecting animal rights

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Thank you, Ms. Parandekar.

I’ve spent decades struggling to frame the controversies surrounding the animal rights movement in terminology simple enough for sound bites yet strong enough to leverage public and political perceptions.

You did it in in one sentence:

“As much as I love animals and think that they should be treated with respect, I believe that the nature behind the human-animal relationship makes it impossible for them to have legal ‘rights,’ which implies equality with humans.”

Nicely done.

Thankfully, Nikhita Parandekar is a veterinary school student at Cornell University, which like most universities, is a hotbed (and fertile recruiting ground) for the “humans are meant to be vegan” movement, of which animal rights proponents are an allied faction linked to lawyers looking to live a little larger by launching a whole new arena of litigation.Hopefully, students who encounter the “Hoof in Mouth” column she writes for The Cornell Daily Sun, will read and react to her take on a most misunderstood issue.

Indeed, animal agriculture would benefit from a hundred of her fellow future vets willing (and able) to speak out on behalf of what must be considered a commonsense position on the treatment of animals. Heck, the fact that the phrase “animal rights” itself has legitimacy proves how far the debate has swung toward the anti-industry zealots and vegetarian ideologues and away from those who engaged in the raising of food animals.

Critiquing the concept

Which brings up the most important point to be made in the “do-they-or-don’t-they?” debate, and again Ms. Parandekar phrases it succinctly: “Humans have such a significant impact on the environment that we must take on a stewardship role and be responsible for taking care of the world and everything in it. This responsibility makes us inherently superior to animals, which makes the concept of animal rights difficult to apply.”

Not if you’re an attorney willing (and able) to bring a lawsuit forward on behalf of a whole new class of litigants: The four-legged kind who eat hay and provide food for the 99 percent of people who aren’t vegans. But for the rest of society, the concept of awarding legal status to animals is fraught with problems that would eventually dwarf the current battles over humane handling and slaughter regulations.

The ultimate goal for industry must be the severing of debate over what is in essence a legalistic safari searching for big (bucks) quarry from the legitimate discussion of how best to ensure the well-being of all animals: food animals, domestic animals and wildlife.

More importantly, animal rights cannot be connected to the pursuit of vegetarian or quasi-vegetarian dietary choices. As Parandekar noted, “Vegetarianism is a personal choice and not a moral obligation. We can try to put ourselves on a moral high ground and say that because we have the ability to behave morally we shouldn’t eat animals, but that doesn’t change the basic biology of humans.”

She added that in developing countries people don’t have the choice of whether to be veggies or not. Their goal is survival, since they do not have the luxury of people in the developed world who benefit from centuries of technological advancement such that a vegetarian diet is a choice we have the luxury to make. “They [meaning the other five billion people in the world] take what they can get,” Parandekar wrote, “and often animal products are the most readily available. I’ve seen meat markets in Southeast Asia that would appear gruesome to many Westerners but are completely necessary for the livelihoods of the people there.”

Me too, and yes, they are.

I’ll let her words provide a conclusion.

“I do respect the viewpoints of animal rights activists, even if I don’t agree with them; I think the existence of radical extremes in our society is important to keep us living in a happy medium.”

True, but I’m not sure how happy anybody is who’s caught up in the ceaseless arguments stirred up by the animal activists. And I know for a fact that it’s pretty lonely for anyone who classifies themself as “medium.”

In this debate, you’ve got to know which side of the fence you’re on.

Read Nikhita Parandekar’s column online.  

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, who is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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Terry Ward    
Pa.  |  November, 21, 2011 at 04:26 PM

Once animals develop the ability to vote and apply for equal-opportunity housing loans, implications of " equality with humans” might sound a bit less goofy. But just now, it's REALLY goofy.

Chicago  |  November, 21, 2011 at 04:56 PM

Consumers have the right to know where their food comes from and how animals are treated before they reach their plates. This is a good, short video to watch about this topic: Or visit for information on adapting a more compassionate lifestyle.

Jerry Friedman    
Los Angeles  |  November, 21, 2011 at 05:40 PM

It doesn't help you to confuse moral rights with civil rights. Human infants, for example, cannot vote or apply for equal-opportunity housing loans, but the right to vote and participate in the free market are irrelevant to human infants. They are also irrelevant for nonhuman animals. Fallacies are not substitutes for arguments.

Terry Ward    
Pa  |  November, 22, 2011 at 08:24 AM

HUMAN adults are responsible for the rights of children until they reach appropriate age. Therefore children have legal rights-by-proxy. Animals do not and will never be subject to this. Please think before you argue.

Wisconsin  |  November, 21, 2011 at 05:58 PM

Why is it that people who slaughter, hunt, eat, or experiment on animals always feel obligated to start their defense for doing so with a silly hollow intro like: "As much as I love animals and think that they should be treated with respect..."? It makes them look immediately dishonest of else delusional. Their ceaseless excuses for their bad behavior are vacant of substance.

NY  |  November, 22, 2011 at 09:18 AM

These comments are very interesting to read. I was a vegan/vegetarian back in the late 70s and through all the 80s long before it was popular. But now for almost 20 years I have been a dairy farmer mostly on a conventional dairy farm. My sole income is from this so I am not a fake. I don't want to go into the convoluted story of how that happened. There are things in animal ag that I hate. There are some folks who should get out. But if I got out I would only be selling out on my own cows. What possible purpose would that serve? None. What it came down to for me anyway was this. No matter what anyone says, I am going to state my opinion that I love plants. Some plants I like better than others but some trees are my favorites. We have a huge old oak tree back here in my yard that is so beautiful. It is special. In the fall when we harvest corn I feel sad that the corn I took care of all summer is going to be obliterated by the chopper. I actually have to leave when they chop. We all know inside that all living things have a part in a plan here on earth. When I see 1000 year old trees in the Amazon fall to chainsaws I don't compare that to a stick of celery but that is exactly what it is. Plants are plants. People say that they have no understanding and maybe they don't but vegetarians are sure they know. I am not that sure. I am sure we have to eat. And as for markets in Asia, you better believe they have strange ideas about what to eat. My dog originated at a market in Korea and my daughter , serving overseas, sent him here to the US. We usually don't eat dogs here. But these "long lived soybean lovers" eat dogs all the time. It is just total hypocracy. That's how it is. Everything dies that is ever born. We can't change that, we just need to make the "living" days good ones whenever we can. Much more respect and gratitude for our food is what is needed -not more vegetarians.

pa  |  November, 23, 2011 at 10:01 AM

Thank you Weeds for a very thoughtful, intelligent post.

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