Full Title Name:  Compromise & the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare

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Animal People (Editorial) Place of Publication:  Animal People (US bi-monthly newspaper) Publish Year:  2005 Primary Citation:  July/August 2005 p.3

This artlicle discusses the history of the Universal Declaration and recent attempts to modify the Declaration.

Editorially favoring hunting, trapping, fishing, ranching, logging, rodeo, and animal use in biomedical research, the Spokane Spokesman-Review has probably never in recent decades been mistaken for an exponent of animal rights.
Yet on September 15, 1952 the Spokesman-Review became perhaps the first and only daily newspaper in the U.S. to editorially endorse “A Charter of Rights for Animals,” drafted by the World Federation for the Protection of Animals.

The oldest of the three organizations whose mergers eventually produced today’s World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), the Dutch-based World Federation then represented “humane societies in 25 countries,” the Spokesman-Review editors noted.

“Most civilized countries already have laws to cover most of the protection for animals that the federation asks,” the Spokesman-Review continued. “Beating animals, forcing them to do work beyond their strength, transporting them in a manner to cause pain or without adequate food, all are punishable now in the U.S. , for example.”

The humane laws in effect in 1952, mostly passed during the first 25 years of the 20th century, were weak by current standards. Yet humane opposition had in 1923 closed the last legal dogfighting stadium in the U.S. at Langley , Washington , a landmark victory, and the Spokesman-Review was justly proud of the progress that humane laws represented.

“Some others of the articles [sought by the World Federation] would prove rather difficult to enforce,” the Spokesman-Review continued. “They ask, for instance, that offenders be deprived of the right to own animals, and ask laws against forcible feeding for monetary gain and against using dogs, sheep, or goats for draft purposes.

“Although the ‘animal rights’ charter provides no ban on vivisection or cropping of ears or tails, it suggests limitation of these practices by requiring that they be performed only with government permission, by licensed veterinarians and for medical reasons,” the Spokesman-Review added.

“On the other hand, the charter goes beyond what most friends of the animal world would consider necessary, with an article protecting the feelings, if any, of fishes,” the Spokesman-Review said. “It would ban the ‘carrying of live fish with hooks and displaying live fish or crustacia in restaurant show windows.’”

Most of these issues are still controversial. 

While some state humane laws have provided for seizure of abused animals since the mid-19th century, sentencing that strips the offender of the right to keep any animals has only become commonplace since the introduction of felony penalties for cruelty and neglect, beginning in the early 1990s. 

Though most court rulings have upheld penalties for cruelty and neglect that terminate property rights, defendants in cruelty and neglect cases often contend that such sentences are unconstitutional. On July 11, 2005, for instance, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected the claim of horse rancher William Zobel that the Humane Society of Missouri and Carthage Humane Society violated his rights by seizing 120 starving horses in January 2005, because ––according to Zobel––the law does not adequately define “neglect” and “abuse.”

Wrote Judge Richard Teitelman, for the unanimous majority, “The need for basic food, water and shelter are concepts that are almost universally contemplated and are understandable by persons of ordinary intelligence.”

Yet the Missouri verdict is unlikely to end the issue.

The World Federation attempt to prohibit “forcible feeding for monetary gain” referred to the practice of force-feeding ducks and geese to produce foie gras. A purported anti-foie gras bill passed in California in 2004 promised a ban on force-feeding in 2012, but meanwhile explicitly exempted foie gras producers from either civil or criminal prosecution. A similar bill is now before the New York legislature.

Dogs, sheep, and goats are now rarely used to pull carts, having been replaced throughout the world by motor vehicles, but only a few nations have significantly restrained vivisection, ear-cropping, and tail-docking, and any attempt to address the suffering of fish and crustaceans still draws ridicule, despite the increasing weight of evidence that fish in particular suffer pain much as we do.

“Perhaps by the time some of these reforms are enforced as law, man’s cruelty to man may also have diminished,” the Spokesman-Review editors concluded, with ambiguity that could be interpreted as either optimism or pessimism.

The “Charter of Rights for Animals” that attracted the interest of the Spokesman-Review was scarcely the first such effect. Henry Salt, in Animals’ Rights (1905), traced efforts to define and enumerate the natural rights of animals back to The Rights of Beasts, a 1796 essay by John Lawrence. 

Before the League of Nations was chartered in 1920, there was no international body to codify such exercises and present them as “law,” even without enforcement. Lawrence, Salt, and many others who tried to define animals’ rights before 1920 therefore recognized that their efforts had value chiefly in awakening conscience and provoking thought. They did not try to produce quasi-legal boilerplate that would satisfy politicians. Instead, they sought to draft succinct moral statements which readers might easily internalize. 

This approach culminated in a two-sentence effort presented in 1896 by the Humanitarian League:

1) The recognition of the actual kinship of man with the lower races implies the extension of the sphere of moral duties consequent on this sense of relationship.

2) It is, therefore, iniquitous to inflict suffering, directly or indirectly, on any sentient being, except when self-defense or absolute necessity can be justly pleaded.

Seeking international law

Attempts to create a declaration of animals’ rights in English that might be endorsed by the League of Nations apparently began with a 9-point “Animals’ Charter” authored at an unknown date by Stephen Coleridge (1854-1936), the longtime president of the British National Anti-Vivisection Society. 

The Coleridge edition was then expanded into “An Animals’ Bill of Rights” by Geoffrey Hodson (1886-1983), who was president of the Council of Combined Animal Welfare Organizations of New Zealand. Hodson’s version was amplified by the American Anti-Vivisection Society.

The French author Andre Géraud meanwhile produced “A Declaration of Animal Rights” in 1924, which in 1926 inspired an “International Animals Charter” drafted by Florence Barkers.

Animal advocates were unfortunately no more successful in persuading the League of Nations to support rights for animals than the League of Nations was in preventing the smouldering grievances left by World War I from rekindling as World War II.

But when World War II ended, and the United Nations military alliance formed to fight the Nazis and other Axis powers was reorganized as the United Nations world assembly, efforts soon resumed to translate a theory of animal rights into global law. 

The early participants included 13 organizations based in Britain, all long since merged into others or defunct; nine from India, mostly still existing; and two each, mostly vanished, from Sri Lanka, Germany, Austria, and Japan. The U.S. was represented by the multinational World University Roundtable and the Western Federation of Animal Crusaders. The latter has at least two small regional descendants.

The high rate of attrition among the groups that pushed the “Charter of Rights for Animals” may reflect the esoteric nature of the enterprise. As always since the very beginnings of the humane movement, hands-on animal rescue won the most donor enthusiasm during the next decades, distantly followed by campaigns seeking specific legal reforms. 

The Spokesman-Review endorsement appears to have been as far as the charter got toward gaining public acceptance, but the campaign continued.

A retired Presbyterian minister, the Reverend W.J. Piggott, marked “World Day for Animals” in 1953—yes, there was one—by publishing in India an “Appeal for the International Animals’ Charter,” apparently based on the Barkers charter. Piggott incorporated the 1896 Humanitarian League statements as the opening lines.

Remembering that The Origin of Species author Charles Darwin was both a fellow minister and a fellow animal advocate, Piggott introduced his proposed charter of animals’ rights with an argument accepting evolution as a fact.

Piggott in 1954 presented his appeal and a revised “International Animals’ Charter” to a “World Congress of Animal Welfare Societies” held in London . Though the structure and wording of the charter has subsequently been amended many times, enough phrases survive here and there, almost intact, to identify the Piggott version as an early draft of the most recent editions promoted by WSPA.

Wrote Piggott, “The full application of the following points can only be attained gradually, as man spiritualizes his mind, realizes the oneness of life in its essential process, and ascends to a truly higher civilization.

“When it is necessary to take the life of an animal (after considering possible alternatives), it must be done in the most humane way known to science and by licensed persons who have been fully trained in humane techniques. This to apply also to so-called pests…

“Transport of animals should be made as humane as possible and in occupations where the use of animals involves suffering, unnatural conditions, and incarceration below ground [a reference to the use of ponies to pull mining carts], they should be replaced by mechanical devices.

“Cruel sports; the use of animals upon the stage, screen (except for educational purposes, the object of which is to benefit the animals) and in circuses; the cruel trapping of animals for zoos, menageries and other purposes, should be outlawed.

“Animals should not be made to participate in warfare,” Piggott stipulated, having witnessed the horrors of two world wars, “nor in those practices which set one animal to make war upon another [such as dogfighting and cockfighting]; nor should they be killed in religious sacrifices.

“Vivisection and all cruel experiments, whether atomic, pharmaceutical, psychological or other should be prohibited; pain only to be inflicted for the benefit of the animal concerned, with the maximum use of anesthetics and methods of natural healing. 

“Hospitals and traveling dispensaries, free for animals of the poor, should be provided in all areas, with arrangements for strays,” Piggott wrote, anticipating by decades the recent extensions of humane outreach to vaccinate and sterilize street dogs and feral cats.

“All animals should be given the decent necessities of life” Piggott continued, “namely, good food to maintain them in health, good living quarters and companionship, and the maximum amount of freedom practicable…Animals suffering from incurable diseases and crippling old age to be humanely destroyed. 

“In healthy old age,” Piggott suggested, echoing the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain teachings he had learned in India , “homes of rest could be provided, as a gesture of prepayment of the debt to the animals for their part in building up our civilization.”

“The public should be instructed in the advantages to health and evolution of a more humane diet,” Piggott said, stopping just short of endorsing vegetarianism.

“Study of the life of animals and of their proper treatment should be included in the curriculum of all schools and youth organizations,” Piggott recommended. “Religious and cultural bodies should realize their responsibility for the humane education of adults and children alike.

“A Ministry of State for Animal Welfare,” Piggott continued, “including persons of known humanitarian sympathies and carrying a record of service, should be set up in every country and kept fully alive to all matters relating to animals.”

The Animal Welfare Board of India was created in 1960 in partial acceptance of this proposal, which had been earlier voiced by Mohandas Gandhi and first Indian prime minister Jawarhalal Nehru, but the only national minister for animal welfare to hold cabinet rank in any nation was Maneka Gandhi of India in 1998-2003.

Piggott saved his most radical proposal for last:

“For the purposes of this Charter the term ‘animals’ shall include all birds, mammals, fishes, and reptiles.”

“Between 1953 and 1956 a number of other preliminary charters were drawn up by the World Federation for Animal Protection Associations,” recalled Jean-Claude Nouett in a 1998 volume entitled The Universal Declaration of Animal Rights: Comments and Intentions, published by the Ligue Francaise des Droits de l’Animal. 

The most noteworthy outcome of the flurry of “Animals’ Charter” activity in the 1950s was that a brief acknowledgement of improving animal welfare as a goal was eventually included in the “declarations” supporting the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which formed the first legal framework for the European Community.

Activity to further the charter resurfaced, Nouette recalled, when ”In 1972 a declaration comprised of 10 clauses was published in Norway . In the same year Georges Heuses drew up a Universal Declaration of Animal Rights and submitted it to UNESCO. The following year the text was was adopted by the National Council for the Protection of Animals [in France ] which, after making a number of changes, adopted the text, distributed it, and collected two million signatures from supporters. 

“Contributions by different associations and changes proposed by a number of leading figures, in particular by scientists,” Nouette continued, “ultimately produced the text that was adopted at an international meeting held in London in 1977. In 1978 it was made public and presented to a packed audience in the main hall of the UNESCO House in Paris .”

The full title of this document was “A Universal Declaration of Animal Rights, adopted from the International League of Animal Rights & Affiliated National Leagues in the course of an International Meeting on Animal Rights in London , September 1977.” 

Recently reprinted by the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends, this “Universal Declaration” mingled legalistic structure with sweeping claims which either did not translate well or simply had not been thought through.

The two-sentence Humanitarian League declaration became a five-sentence formal preamble:

“Considering that Life is one, all living beings having a common origin and having diversified in the course of the evolution of the species; considering that all living beings possess natural rights, and that any animal with a nervous system has specific rights; considering that the contempt for, and even the simple ignorance of these natural rights causes serious damage to nature and leads man to commit crimes against animals; considering that the coexistence of species implies a recognition by the human species of the right of other animal species to live; [and] considering that the respect of humans for animals is inseparable from the respect of man for another man…”

The 1977 Universal Declaration asserted that:

“All animals are born equal and they have the same rights to existence…Every animal has the right to be respected. Man, like the animal species, cannot assume the right to exterminate other animals or to exploit them…

“Every action that causes the death of a lot of wild animals is genocide, that is a crime against the species. Destruction leads to the extinction of the species.

“Dead animals must be treated with respect.

“Violent scenes, where animals are the victims, must be forbidden at the cinema and on TV, unless they are for the demonstration of animal rights.”

Wrote Nouette, “As the years went by, a number of shortcomings became apparent and modifications were made.”

The International League of Animal Rights & Affiliated National Leagues in October 1989 at last ratified a draft for submission in 1990 to UNESCO.

Nouette proudly noted that the 1989 “Universal Declaration was “not written in a solely protectionist perspective, but endeavors to offer man a new moral stance based on respect for life as a cosmic phenomenon.”

As such, it went well beyond the scope of existing international regulation, and went nowhere, despite the efforts of the Ligue Francaise des Droits de l’Animal to incorporate it—or at least some of it—into the Treaty of Rome.

The E.U. Protocol

The Treaty of Rome member nations ratified an updated version of the treaty in October 1997, which took effect in May 1999. Through the efforts of the Eurogroup Committee on Animal Welfare, a consortium representing European animal welfare organizations, the updated treaty did include an official “Protocol on Animal Welfare.” It states:

“The High Contracting Parties, desiring to ensure improved protection and respect for the welfare of animals as sentient beings, have agreed upon the following provision, which shall be annexed to the Treaty establishing the European Community:  

“In formulating and implementing the Community’s agricultural, transport, internal market and research policies, the Community and the Member States shall pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

Commented Eurogroup, “In contrast to the (Treaty of Rome) Declaration, the Protocol creates clear legal obligations to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals and, for the first time, refers to them as sentient beings. Unfortunately, the Treaty still provides no legal basis for the introduction of legislation specifically intended to improve the welfare of animals. Therefore, animal welfare-related legislation by the European Union must be based on other specific objectives of EU policy, such as the common agricultural policy, the internal market, and the environment.”

The World Society for the Protection of Animals thereupon dusted off the Universal Declaration, retitled it to dispose of any association with animal rights activism, and in June 2000 presented an extensive redraft to the membership. 

Wrote then-WSPA director general Andrew Dickson, “At the start of the new Millennium, WSPA believes that…a key goal for the animal welfare movement [should] be to secure a Universal Declaration for the Welfare of Animals at the United Nations,” a reach beyond the European Union to the older goal of establishing a global animal welfare law.

“A Universal Declaration for the Welfare of Animals would not provide for any powers to enforce changes at national level, or sanction countries that did not conform to its principles,” Dickson acknowledged. “However, it would lay the foundations for a Convention on Animal Welfare, which could assess problems in detail and pass legally binding resolutions in the same way as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.”

The new preamble replaced direct reference to evolution with an indirect reference to the “Gaia” concept that earth itself functions as one living entity.

“Recognizing that animals are living, sentient beings and therefore deserve special consideration and respect,” the new Universal Declaration opened, “recognizing that humans share this planet with other species and other forms of life and that all forms of life co-exist within an interdependent ecosystem; recognizing that, although there are significant social, economic and cultural differences between human societies, each should develop in a humane and sustainable manner; acknowledging that many states already have a system of legal protection for animals both domestic and wild; seeking to ensure the continued effectiveness of these systems and the development of better and more comprehensive animal welfare provisions…”

Despite that exercise in diplomacy, WSPA did not include the EU disclaimer about “respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage,” which has already been invoked as cover by proponents of every practice from animal sacrifice to zoophily [better known as bestiality].

WSPA also expanded the definition of animal to include “any non-human mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish or invertebrate capable of feeling pain or distress.”

“The Five Freedoms”

The June 2000 WSPA declaration was the first to pay explicit attention to factory farming, which had barely begun before World War II, was just beginning to take over animal husbandry in the developed world during the 1950s, and in 1977 had yet to become a focal point of activism despite a burst of concern in Britain after Ruth Harrison published Animal Machines in 1964. 

“Animals raised under the control of humans or taken into captivity by humans should be afforded the provisions of the basic Five Freedoms,” the WSPA Universal Declaration stated, incorporating a concept first voiced in 1967 by the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, formed by the British government in response to Animal Machines.

The Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee became the present Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1979. It outlined the “Five Freedoms” in present form, as WSPA stated them, in 1993:

Freedom from hunger and thirst: by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.

Freedom from discomfort: by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

Freedom from pain, injury and disease: by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Freedom from fear and distress: by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Freedom to express normal behavior: by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of animals’ own kind.

The Five Freedoms have become by default the closest approach yet to a working charter of animal rights (including as part of the ANIMAL PEOPLE shelter scoring system).

Though not codified into international law as such, the Five Freedoms are the foundation concept behind the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Animals During International Transport (1968), Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes (1976), and Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter (1979). Portions of these conventions have now been enacted in binding form by the European Union. 

Also reinforced by EU legislation is the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Vertebrate Animals Used for Experimentation and other Scientific Purposes (1986).

Yet to be fully ratified and reinforced by law, either nationally or internationally, is the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Protection of Pet Animals (1987).

Unlike the 25-nation European Union, the 45-nation Council of Europe does not have the authority to adopt binding legislation, but it does represent the agreement in principle of the members that the topics addressed by the conventions it adopts should be internationally regulated.

Clearly inspired indirectly by Piggott and his predecessors, the Convention on the Protection of Pet Animals opens by stating that, “Man has a moral obligation to respect all living creatures.” It continues with provisions pertaining to breeding, boarding, age of pets at acquisition, training, trading, advertising with animals, entertainment, exhibitions, population control, killing methods, vivisection, and sheltering.

Unlike Piggott’s succinct draft, unfortunately, the Convention on the Protection of Pet Animals omits any explicit extension of the right to life to street dogs and feral cats.

The June 2000 WSPA declaration included some provisions similar to those of the Convention on the Protection of Pet Animals:

a. Owners of companion animals shall be obliged to take responsibility for their care and welfare for the duration of the animals’ lives or to make arrangements to pass them on to a responsible person if they can no longer care for them.

b. Appropriate steps should be taken to promote and introduce the neutering of companion animals.

c. Appropriate steps should be taken to implement registration and identification of companion animals.

d. The commercial trade in companion animals should be subject to strict regulation, licensing and inspection to prevent cruelty and the breeding of unwanted animals.

e. Veterinary surgeons and other qualified persons should be authorised to humanely destroy companion animals that are abandoned and cannot be re-homed or provided with adequate care to ensure their welfare.

f. Destruction of companion animals by inhumane and indiscriminate methods, including poisoning, shooting, beating, drowning and strangulation should be prohibited.

The June 2000 WSPA Universal Declaration omitted any mention of either animal sacrifice or the use and abuse of animals in quasi-religious festivals, which usually have no direct relationship to the teachings of the religions being celebrated, but have typically become enshrined in tradition.

But the June 2000 WSPA declaration did provide that, “Where animals are used in legitimate sport and entertainment, all appropriate steps shall be taken to prevent them being exposed to cruelty. Exhibitions and spectacles using animals which are deleterious to their health and welfare should be prohibited.”

Inclusion of the undefined term “legitimate” significantly weakened the statement, but that was only the beginning of the weakening that would follow.

Manila redraft

At a March 2003 “Manila Conference on Animal Welfare,” WSPA presented a redraft that harmonized the “Universal Declaration” with the Treaty of Rome language. Among the major changes, instead of stating that captive animals “should be afforded the provisions of the basic Five Freedoms,” the Manila declaration suggested that the Five Freedoms, along with the “Three R’s” (reduction in numbers of animals, refinement of experimental methods and replacement of animals with non-animal techniques) “provide valuable guidance for the use of animals.”

The “three R’s” principle to govern scientific use of animals was first articulated in 1959 by British authors William Russell and Rex Burch. 

The “Animals’ Charter” authored by Stephen Coleridge of the British National Anti-Vivisection Society and the “Animals’ Bill of Rights” by Geoffrey Hodson, promoted by the American Anti-Vivisection Society, had attempted to halt invasive experiments on animals. When subsequent charter authors accepted that such provisions would not be endorsed by international treaty within a foreseeable time, the vivisection societies backed away from involvement.

Russell and Burch offered a compromise framework to which both scientists and anti-vivisectionists could agree in principle—and mostly have. More animals are used in laboratories now than ever before, reflecting a manifold increase in the numbers of working scientists and ongoing studies, but the numbers of mammals used other than mice and rats have never been lower, according to data from the nations that track use by species, and the ratio of animals used to experiments performed and scientific papers published also appears to be very low compared to the ratios of earlier decades.

Incorporating the “three R’s” therefore strengthened the “Universal Declaration,” codifying a useful tool. Unfortunately, replacing the idea that the Five Freedoms “should be afforded” to captive animals with the notion that the Five Freedoms merely “provide valuable guidance” amounted to replacing the concept of law with unenforceable suggestion.  The same would be true of the inclusion of the “three R’s” as mere “guidance” rather than as regulatory framework.

The Manila declaration concluded with four statements of principle:

1. The welfare of animals shall be a common objective for all nations;

2. The standards of animal welfare attained by each nation shall be promoted, recognized and observed by improved measures, nationally and internationally, respecting social and economic considerations and religious and cultural traditions;

3. All appropriate steps shall be taken by nations to prevent cruelty to animals and to reduce their suffering;

4. Appropriate standards on the welfare of animals [should] be further developed and elaborated such as, but not limited to, those governing the use and management of farm animals, companion animals, animals in scientific research, draught animals, wildlife, and animals in recreation.

Dutch activists object

Hardly anyone other than those involved in drafting the many versions of charters and declarations seemed to care much about the Manila charter language, at the time. It became controversial after 28 animal advocacy groups in the Netherlands and several in France successfully urged fellow citizens to reject a proposed new European Constitution at national referendums during the first week in June 2005. 

“Religious, cultural and regional traditions in which animals are abused, such as slaughter without stunning, bullfighting,  pate de foie-gras production and circuses would have been granted constitutional protection under the proposed text,” objected Ton Dekker, chair of the Dutch anti-fur group Bont Voor Dieren.

Supporters of the proposed new EU Constitution defended it by pointing to the WSPA inclusion of almost identical words in the Manila charter.

Dekker, Marius Donker of Action Against Poisoning, and others responded, after the EU constitutional revisions were voted down, by calling on WSPA to scrap Article 2 of the Manila declaration.

“To have any chance of success,” responded WSPA director general Peter Davies, “a proposed Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare would need to gather support from as many countries and from as many continents as possible. Whilst we entirely recognize and share your reservations regarding the wording of one of the principles relating to the acknowledgement of ‘religious and cultural traditions’, we believe, albeit reluctantly, that to achieve such a groundbreaking agreement at global inter-governmental level, we have to take a somewhat pragmatic and incremental view of what can be achieved at each stage of negotiation…This wording is drafted by governments, not by WSPA…WSPA will do all it can to ensure that any Declaration is as strong as possible.”

Animal advocates are perennially divided in trying to pass animal protection legislation between seeking the ideal, which will advance the status of animals, and accepting the pragmatic, settling for whatever can be gained here and now. Animal rights conferences host heated discussions of reform vs. abolition philosophies and tactics, often expressed as “larger cages vs. no cages,” while in legislative and regulatory negotiations just getting larger cages is often an elusive goal. 

The nature of legislation and regulation is that it almost always does no more than codify the status quo, because if it tried to achieve anything other than whatever is already usually done by the majority, it would overreach the general societal agreement that is necessary to enforce any prohibition of an offensive activity.

If more than a small minority of people choose to break any law, efforts to uphold the law tend to require more resources than society has the will to expend.

Henry Spira would have said...

The late Henry Spira (1927-1998) usefully confronted the abolition/reform issue more than 30 years ago, while hosting Peter Singer as his houseguest while Singer wrote Animal Liberation (1974). Spira responded to the question of how to convert the principles articulated by Singer into practical measures by developing a strategic blueprint for what he called “stepwise incremental action.”

According to the Spira blueprint, reducing the “universe of suffering” is the ultimate humane goal. Every other objective points toward that.

Therefore, any reform that contributes in a “stepwise, incremental manner” toward abolition of suffering is positive. Achieving moral perfection to the satisfaction of philosophers, Spira believed, is completely irrelevant in taking the long series of inevitably short steps that lead toward the goal. 

Spira was well aware that politicians often promise long steps later, in exchange for doing nothing meaningful now, as in delaying the California ban on foie gras production until 2012 while protecting the industry until then. Spira was also well aware that activists focused on achieving long-term goals instead of immediate gains often end up with nothing, as the laws passed today for the distant future tend to be amended tomorrow, before the future comes. A 1990 European Union ban on imports of trapped fur was dismantled in 1996, for example, before it ever took effect.

For Spira, anything worked if it reduced suffering in a tangible manner, and was hot air if it didn’t, especially if it allowed more suffering now in purported trade for less later. 

At the same time, Spira insisted that the principle of stepwise incremental progress must never be sacrificed. He did not accept sidesteps that achieved an immediate reform at cost of foreclosing opportunities to seek additional reform or abolition later.

Although Spira early in life participated as an activist and journalist in the debate surrounding the adoption of the United Nations Convention on Rights and Freedoms, the Convention on Refugees, and other such foundations for international human rights law, he appears to have paid little attention to the endless discussions of a “Universal Declaration” on animal rights or animal welfare.

Probably Spira realized the slim likelihood that any such declaration would advance far in his own time. Instead, Spira focused on the tools he could use.

Yet Spira probably also would have offered strategic advice for implementing a “Universal Declaration,” if anyone had asked.

Spira would most likely have suggested that in dealing with Caesar, animal advocates must render unto Caesar: a proposal to be enacted by politicians must necessarily address the concerns of politicians, which includes not reaching beyond what their constituency will accept. If it is necessary to accept compromising language in the European Constitution in order to enshrine gains for animal welfare, including the principle that animal welfare is a priority for international law, the compromise must be made—for now.

At the same time, Spira probably would have argued, the compromise should be left to the politicians. Animal advocates should not be willing to compromise their statements of principle.

Until and unless the “Universal Declaration” is translated into international law through political action, neither WSPA nor anyone else purporting to collectively represent the animal welfare community has a mandate to abandon the oft-expressed conviction of generations of animal advocates worldwide that the right of animals to not suffer should supersede human claims about culture and tradition. 

This is no less inappropriate than when organizations claiming to protect children compromise their welfare by bowing to traditional rites that involve violence or to culturally accepted forms of oppression


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