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Compassionate Living: Human Choices, Humane Results
"Animal rights" is a concept based on the belief that humans
have a moral responsibility to treat animals with respect, and that the
interests of humans and animals should be considered equally. This means
that in any decision that could potentially affect the life of an animal,
that particular animal's interests should not be dismissed simply because
it is inconvenient for us to consider them.
Although it may not always be easy to determine accurately the best
interests of an animal, we can safely assume that animals generally prefer
to live, to be free from pain, and to express their natural behaviors. The
failure of humans to consider an animal's needs/interests as equal to
those of humans is an expression of prejudice called
Defenders of speciesism often argue that humans are superior to other
species because of their greater intelligence. Taken to its logical
extreme, this argument would imply that humans with higher I.Q. scores
should have more rights than humans with lower I.Q. scores. However, in
western society, we have developed the sensitivity to extend basic human
rights to all humans, whether or not they meet any criteria for
intelligence, capacity, or potential. But animals are commonly
experimented on without their consent, and even killed, for food or for
many other reasons, if it suits human purposes. This gross inequality is
what we are trying to address with the concept of "animal rights."
Another common assertion is that humans are superior to animals because
we possess the capacity to understand morality, as well as the ability to
determine right from wrong. Since animals appear to lack these same
abilities, it is argued that humans are not obligated to treat them in any
particular way. However, if only those who are capable of making and
understanding moral judgments were to be accorded basic human rights, then
infants, young children, and the severely ill or mentally challenged would
be excluded. It is equally logical to affirm that, since humans are the
only ones who can make moral judgments, that it is our responsibility to
do so on behalf of the animals.
All animals, including humans, have the ability to experience pleasure
and pain. Unfortunately, humans have tended to inflict tremendous amounts
of pain and suffering on animals without any consideration of how this
affects the animals themselves. By making compassionate daily choices, you
can help end widespread animal abuse and exploitation.
What You Choose to Eat
Every year billions of animals are raised and killed for human
consumption. Unlike the family farms of the past, today's factory farms
are high-revenue, high-production entities. On a factory farm, animals are
confined to extremely small spaces, which allows farmers to concentrate on
maximizing production. Because this type of overcrowding breeds disease,
animals are routinely fed antibiotics and sprayed with pesticides. They
are also fed growth hormones to enhance productivity. These chemicals,
antibiotics, and hormones are subsequently passed on to the environment,
as well as to consumers of meat and dairy products.
- About 41.8 million beef cattle are slaughtered annually in the
- For identification purposes, cattle are either branded with hot
irons or "wattled," a process in which a chunk of flesh from under the
cow's neck is cut out.
- Raised on the range or in feed lots, cattle when large enough are
crammed into metal trucks and taken to slaughter. On the way to
slaughter, these cattle may travel for hours in sweltering temperatures
with no access to water.
- Animals unable to stand due to broken legs or illness are called
"downers" by the meat industry. Downers are electrically prodded or
dragged with chains to the slaughterhouse, or left outside, without food
or water, to die.
- In the United States each year more than 115 million pigs are raised
on factory farms and slaughtered for human consumption.
- Factory-farmed pigs are raised in crowded pens which are enclosed
inside huge barns. The air in these barns is filled with eye- and
lung-burning ammonia created by urine and fecal waste collected below
- Breeding sows (or "animal production units") spend their lives in
metal crates so small that they cannot turn around. Denied adequate
space and freedom of movement, these sows often develop stereotypical
behavior, repetitive movement such as head bobbing, jaw smacking, and
- At the slaughterhouse, pigs are stunned (often inadequately), hung
upside down before their throats are cut, and then bled to death. If
workers fail to kill a pig with the knife, that pig is carried on the
conveyer belt to the next station, the scalding tank, where he or she
may be boiled alive.
- Every year approximately 8.785 billion chickens are raised and
slaughtered for human consumption in the United States.
- Crowded and unable to express natural behavior, chickens begin to
peck excessively at each other. Rather than solve this problem by
providing adequate space for the chickens, farmers "debeak" them, a
painful procedure where the bird's sensitive upper beak is sliced off
with a hot metal blade.
- Chickens raised for consumption have been genetically altered to
grow abnormally large. As a result, many broiler chickens' bones are
unable to support the weight of their muscle tissue, which causes them
to hobble in pain or become crippled.
- At the slaughterhouse, chickens while still fully conscious are hung
upside down by their feet and attached to a moving rail. Birds missed by
the mechanical neck-slicing blade and boiled alive are called "redskins"
by the industry.
- There are more than 459 million egg-laying hens in the United
States. Of these, 97% are confined to "battery" cages -- tiny wire boxes
roughly 16 by 18 inches wide. Five or six birds are crammed into each
- Battery hens are forced to produce 10 times more eggs than they
would naturally. When egg production slows, farmers use a method called
"forced molting" to shock the hens into losing their feathers, which
causes them to begin a premature laying cycle. "Forced molting" involves
starving the hens and denying them water for several days' time, during
which many hens die.
- To keep hens from pecking each other in their crowded cages, farmers
- Male chicks, considered by-products of laying hen production, are
either tossed into plastic bags to suffocate slowly, or ground into
animal feed while still alive.
- About half of the 10 million milking cows in the U.S. are kept in
- Dairy cows are forced to produce 10-20 times the amount of milk they
would naturally need for their calves. This intensive production of milk
is extremely stressful, and as a result many dairy cattle "burn out" at
a much younger age than their normal life expectancy, and up to 33%
suffer painful udder infections.
- To continue milk production, a cow must bear a calf each year.
Although calves elsewhere stay with their mothers for a year or more, on
the dairy farm they are immediately removed from their mothers so that
the milk can be sold for human consumption.
- Calves are sold to the beef or veal industry or become replacements
for "burned out" dairy cows.
What You Choose to Wear
- By-products of the beef industry are defined by the parts of the cow
that are not consumed by humans. These include hooves, some organs,
bones, and skin.
- Skin (leather) accounts for about half of the by-product value of
the beef industry. Like meat, leather is a product made from animals
that experienced the horrors of factory farming, transport, and
- Besides the initial environmental hazards from raising cattle
(deforestation, erosion, water use and pollution, wildlife eradication,
etc.), the leather industry uses some of the most dangerous substances
to prepare leather, including formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives,
various oils, and some cyanide-based dyes.
- Sheep raised for wool are subjected to a lifetime of cruel
treatment. Lambs' tails are chopped off and males are castrated without
- In Australia, where 80% of all wool comes from, ranchers perform an
operation called "mulesing" where huge strips of skin are carved off the
backs of lambs' legs. This procedure is performed to produce scarred
skin that won't harbor fly larvae, so that the rancher can spend less
time caring for the sheep.
- The shearing of sheep at most wool ranches can be a brutal
procedure, as workers are encouraged to shear as quickly as possible. As
a result, an estimated one million Australian sheep die every year from
- Sheep that are no longer useful for their wool are sent to crowded
feedlots and then transported to the slaughterhouse.
- Each year more than 40 million animals are senselessly tortured and
killed to satisfy the dictates of fashion.
- Wild-caught fur is obtained by setting traps or snares to capture
fur-bearing animals. Once an animal is caught it may remain in the trap
or snare for several days starving or slowly strangling.
- Farm-raised fur comes from animals kept in tiny, filthy cages,
deprived of adequate protection from the elements. As a result, animals
develop stereotypical behavior, including pacing, head bobbing, and
- The techniques used to kill animals on fur farms vary. Small animals
such as mink are killed by neck snapping or "popping." Larger animals
such as foxes are electrocuted by placing a metal clamp on the snout and
forcing a rod into the anus, and then connecting the metal to a power
source. Some animals are forced into bags or boxes and gassed with
carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.
What Household Products You Choose
Despite the modern alternatives to animal testing, millions of animals
suffer and die each year for the "good" of cosmetics and household
products. No law in the U.S. requires cosmetic, household product, or
office supply companies to test on animals, but many companies do so to
protect themselves against liability. (More than 550 companies do not test
on animals.) However, animal testing does not necessarily make a product
safe for humans. Most animal tests were developed over 50 years ago and
are significantly flawed and inferior to modern alternatives.
What You Choose for Entertainment
- Animals used in the circus spend the majority of the year imprisoned
in small cages or on chains, traveling from show to show.
- The training endured by circus animals is almost always based on
intimidation; trainers must break the spirit of the animals in order to
control them. It is not uncommon for an elephant to be tied down and
beaten for several days while being trained to perform, and tigers are
chained to their pedestals with ropes around their necks to choke them
- Horses and cows used in rodeos are abused with electrical prods,
sharp spurs, and "bucking straps" that pinch their sensitive flank area.
- During bucking events, horses and bulls may suffer broken legs or
run into the sides of the arena causing serious injury and even death.
- During calf-roping events, a calf may reach a running speed of 27
miles per hour before being jerked by the neck to an abrupt stop by a
lasso. This event has resulted in animals' punctured lungs, internal
hemorrhaging, paralysis, and broken necks.
Greyhound and Horse Racing
- Once greyhounds begin their racing careers, they are kept in cages
for about 22-1/2 hours a day. The cages are made of wire and are barely
big enough for the dogs to turn around.
- Dogs that are considered too slow to race are sold to research
facilities or killed (20,000-25,000 each year) -- very few are adopted.
- Racehorses are bred for one purpose -- to make money. Because of
this motive, horses are often forced to run even when injured.
- More racehorses are bred than can prove profitable on the racetrack.
As a result, hundreds of racehorses are sent to slaughter every year.
Zoos and Aquariums
- While zoos and aquariums may appear to be educational and
conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of
the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals.
- Many animals in zoos and aquariums exhibit abnormal behavior as a
result of being deprived of their natural environments and social
- Some zoos and aquariums do rescue some animals and work to save
endangered species, but most animals in zoos were either captured from
the wild or bred in captivity for the purpose of public display, not
- The vast majority of captive-bred animals will never be returned to
the wild. When the facility breeds too many animals they become
"surplus" and often are sold to laboratories, traveling shows, shooting
ranches, or to private individuals who may be unqualified to care for
You Can Help
Volunteering for local animal groups or shelters is a great way to help
animals directly. Many organizations are always in need of enthusiastic
people to help with fund-raising, petition circulation, animal care, and
public education. Volunteering for your public official's election
campaign can also be very effective, as long as you let the official know
why you are volunteering for his or her campaign and what animal-related
issues are important to you.
By sharing the information in this fact sheet, you can teach others to
choose a compassionate lifestyle, thus making the world a more humane
place for all animals, human and non-human. Talk to your co-workers,
family, and friends about your compassionate living choices. Our
experience has been that the most effective way to increase sensitivity
toward animals is through credible, persuasive arguments presented in a
non-confrontational manner. A variety of fact sheets and brochures on
animal protection issues are available from API to help you do this.
By writing letters to your state and federal representatives and
senators, and urging them to support legislation that protects animals,
you can help strengthen legal protections for animals. Elected officials
work for you, so it is important that you share your thoughts on issues
with them. Companies and businesses are also concerned with how the public
perceives them, so let them know! Also, by writing letters to the editor
of magazines, local newspapers, etc., you can share personal views and
educate others about animal issues.
You can send a handwritten or personally typed postcard or letter,
simply expressing how you feel, the reasons you feel the way you do, and
what action you would like to see taken. Be clear and to the point. You
may also call or send email, although a personal letter is considered more
effective. Letters to representatives and senators should include the bill
number when asking them to vote a certain way, and be sure to address only
one issue per letter. It is also important to send thank-you letters when
a legislator, company, business, or individual acts on the behalf of
When choosing a companion animal, always rescue from a shelter, breed
rescue, or from an individual who no longer wishes to provide care for his
or her companion. Make sure that you are prepared to provide a lifetime of
food, veterinary care, and love for your new animal companion.
Join API's Action Alert Team
API offers members and other supporters the opportunity to become
involved in key animal protection issues on a national level and in their
state and local community. Activists who join our Action Alert Team are
contacted when the need arises and asked to take actions such as writing
and calling public officials and businesses, circulating petitions, or
planning and attending special events and meetings.
Alerts cover a variety of animal protection issues and are sent by both
U.S. mail and email. You don't have to be a member of API to join our
activist team. To sign up for API's Action Alert Team,
join online. National
and state action alerts can also be viewed