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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Animal rights movements can be described as social movements that attempt to end rigid moral and legal lines drawn between human and non-human animals. Britannica describes animal rights as, “moral or legal entitlements attributed to nonhuman animals, usually because of the complexity of their cognitive, emotional, and social lives or capacity to experience physical or emotional pain or pleasure.” Concerns for the rights of animals has been something that have been around for hundreds of years, it is not just a modern idea. In today's day and age, there are tens of thousands of animal rights activists and organization groups around the world but there are only a handful that are major players and commonly known. These groups are supported through the common want to end the status of animals as property, and an end to their use in research, food, clothing, and entertainment industries. Some extremist organizations believe that animals should have the same exact rights as humans, which means they believe we should not use any part of animals for anything. Other organizations believe that we can use animals for things but if we do they just want to fight that they receive ethical treatment and are being raised correctly. Social movements like animal rights can be seen as  a solution to current problems in the global industrial food system, and help to better the existing food system for people, animals, and the environment.


There are numerous theories about when the first animal rights movements began. Britannica states that the proper treatment of animals has been around since the Ancient Greeks and Roman philosophers. Through the 6th century BCE and 6th century CE, people had been urging to respect animals' interests due to the reason that they believed in transmigration of souls between human bodies and animals. Aristotle is also noted to talk about how nature had made all animals for the sake of humans in his writings. However in a writing by David Walls (2015), he wrote how movements and strategies to prevent cruelty to animals have been going on since the beginning of the 19th Century in England. The first bill was brought to the Parliament in 1800 and was to stop cruelty to animals was in attempts to stop bull baiting. Colonel Richard Martin got his act passed by the House of Commons in 1822 that prevented cruelty to large domestic animals such as horses and cattle. Two years later, he started the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, known today as the SPCA which helped to enforce his law. In 1866 a man named Henry Bergh created the American SPCA in New York in hopes that it would “become national in scope”, but the ASPCA just settled as an animal shelter program. From there on other SPCAs and Humane Societies were created in the United States which were founded on concerns to enforce anti-cruelty laws. With the advancement of medicines expanding so did the movement to help save the animals from getting tested on. Humane movements then shifted their focus on dogs and cats as the use of other animals decreased, and the concept of keeping pets in home increased. With this increase came the growth of humane organizations as well. The Society of Animal Protective Legislation (SAPL) was created in 1955 which fought for the Human Slaughter Act. Since the creation of the SAPL they have lobbied for almost every important animal legislation. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) began in 1980 as one of the most visible groups of the new militancy.  According to, by the end of the 1980s membership in animal advocacy organizations had reached 10 million people in the United States and opposition to the use of animals in laboratory experiments was rapidly growing. In modern day, the animals rights movements principles are that nonhuman animals have basic interests in turn resulting them to deserve recognition, consideration, and protection. With such, comes the lawsuits which sometimes involve animals as plaintiffs at the beginning of the 21st century. With the increase of brutal abuses of animals on factory farms and in biomedical research laboratories generated thousands of animal rights groups. Many scholars however, say that the modern animals rights movement only just began in 1975 with the publication of “Animal Rights” by Peter Singer.

The people involved in these movements and social movements are working to address the issues of animals rights. The strongest viewpoint that these people have is that the lives of all animals, including humans, are equal. Animal rights activists also argue about ending vivisection. The Animal Welfare Act sets certain minimum requirements for the humane treatment of non-human animals in laboratories and other settings, according to ThoughtCo. Signed in to the law in 1966, it created minimum standards of care and treatment by providing for certain animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. These advocates may also just seek a benevolent dominion over animals that expressly reaffirms humanity's superiority to other species, stated by Lubinski (2002). An important thing to note is that some of the advocates fight hard for is to regulate unnecessary pain and suffering, not initially all suffering. Meaning that it is right to eat animals, use them for some experiments, domesticate them, and kill them in some situations.

Industrial food and agriculture have numerous problems. An article by Elizabeth Ridlington (2018), one of the big ones is that in the United States it is dominated by large, specialized crop and animal farms. They focus mainly on short-term productivity which often costs the environment and public health problems. A typical farm grows just one or two crops, or yields one to two types of animals, and can so on a larger scale. Corn is raised on a 600 acre field, and hogs are raised on a farm with up to 30,000 other hogs. In animal agriculture, concentrated animal feeding operations run by raising a large number of animals in confinement and only feeding them grains. In these confinements, the area is typically unsanitary which allows disease to spread quickly leading to the farmers having to give the animals a large dosage of antibiotics. Our nation's agricultural system now yields more food than we can consume, or that is good for us which is another problem that creates a threat for our environment and public health. Lastly, another problem that keeps farmers from adopting better practices is a federal agriculture policy that encourages some of the worst practices. For instance, federally subsidized crop insurance encourages specialization in corn and soy even though it has several implications for water quality. Food activism tries to address these problems in numerous ways. For instance, with large and specialized animal farming animal rights movements work in hopes to better the treatment of animals that are being raised for slaughter. Groups work for farms to get better living conditions, and more ethical ways of raising these animals, especially if they are raising them to breed more animals. With the problem of agricultural system yielding too much food than we consume, a plausible solution could be for these farms that yield two crops in large quantity to just produce a large yield of one crop, so they do not create food that could go to waste. However, the going to waste can be dug out of the dumpsters by groups trying to open a cafe that runs off of using every aspect of foods. This food could also be donated to food shelters or to areas in which there is a large number of people who are in need. Lastly, with the issue of federal agricultural policies, new social movements need to be made that will stand up to large corporations and the government and show them that they need to encourage good farming practices rather than those to produce as much product as possible. In this paper, I focus on animal rights as a means to create a more just and sustainable food system.


There are thousands of animal rights activists groups and organizations. One of the most well known ones today is, the Humane Society of the United States. They are a nonprofit animal-welfare and animal rights advocacy group that was founded in 1954. According to their website, the HSUS and its affiliates provide direct care to more than 100,000 animals per year which is more than any other animal welfare organization. They aim to provide direct care to animals in crisis, pass local, state and federal laws to protect animals, help big corporations reform their animal welfare policies, and share public opinion on animal cruelty through awareness campaigns and investigations. Successes of this group include housing the world's largest roster of scientists and other experts in animal welfare, and state directors across the country who work at local level. They also have five affiliated animal sanctuaries and medical centers. HSUS also puts on programs that provide veterinary care and other animal services to inner cities. They run wildlife sanctuaries in more than 35 states, and the companies global affiliate, Human Society International, runs programs in over 20 countries.  

Another popular animal activism group is, PETA. According to their website, PETA was formed in 1980 and is dedicated to establishing and defending the rights of all animals. They operate under a simple principle that animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way. As a group they try to educate policymakers and the public about animal abuse and promotes how to properly treat animals. Their  focus is on four areas in which the largest number of animals suffer: in laboratories, on factory farms, in clothing trade, and the entertainment industry. They believe in today's world on virtually unlimited choices they believe that we as humans can eat better, educate ourselves, clothes ourselves, and entertain ourselves better without having to torture or kill animals. On the PETA website there is a victories section that has 98 pages of news articles talking about some victories that the organization has achieved. Some of the most recent ones include persuading food flavors and colors manufacturers to end animal testing, persuading Dove to go cruelty-free, and persuaded the Hershey Company to recommit to a ban on animal testing.

Farm Animal Rights Movement, also known as FARM, was founded in 1981 and has grown into the world's largest gathering of animals rights advocates. FARM is a charitable organization that works for their vision of having a world where animals are no longer raised or killed for food. They operate from the nation's capital through a network of remote activists, according to their website. They focus on three aspects; the animals, our health, and our environment. For animals they attest that there is no life before death for animals on factory farms. FARM states how millions of male baby chicks are hatched and are ground up alive, or suffocated because they do not lay eggs, and how female chicks are crammed into small wire cages that tear out their feathers and cut their feet which sometimes ends in them dying because they cannot reach their feed trough. Mother pigs suffer their whole life in small gestation stalls. Their babies ripped away from them after birth are then mutilated without anesthesia and then crammed into pens until they are slaughtered. Dairy cows spend their lifetimes chained to the barn floor while having their milk pumped out for hours upon hours by machines. After being artificially inseminated their calves are taken away from them so that humans can drink their milk. Girl calves are kept to produce more milk where males are killed for veal. Aquatic animals are brought out of water for us to eat and slowly die from suffocation. In the fight for our health they state that meat and dairy products are laden with fats, cholesterol, pathogens, antibiotics and excess protein, and lack the vitamins and minerals that we really need. E. coli and salmonella are found in these foods and result in recalls. They have also found that animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming to our planet and is responsible for our water pollution, deforestation, and wildlife destruction compared to all other human activities combined. Their achievements can include organizing the world's largest annual animal rights conference that nurtures aspiring vegans, and seasoned activists.

The chart above is the Animal Rights Activist Web from Animal Agriculture Alliance website. The web demonstrates the radical activist organizations that are in the fight to grant animals the same legal rights that humans have and eliminate the need for consumption of food or products that come from animals. This alliance monitors activities of all of these activist groups and seeks to engage in the same areas that they target to correct misinformation and make sure to tell the true story of agriculture. The alliance recently partnered with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Foundation to study consumer beliefs, knowledge and willingness-to-pay for specific attributes in poultry production, according to their annual report. Professors and experts also teamed together to survey veterinarians and farmers to identify the impact of “Raised Without Antibiotics” or “No Antibiotics Ever” production on farm animal welfare. They found that the only reason animals are raised with antibiotics is simple because of the market.


Social movements like animal rights can be seen as  a solution to current problems in the global industrial food system, and help to better the existing food system for people, animals, and the environment. Such organizations fight for these animals that currently do not have many rights towards them to help salvage their lives. Some groups believe that we should give animals every right that we have, and that they should not be used for anything for us as humans. Other groups understand that there can be a need for animals in our human lives and fight for the mistreatment and horrible conditions that animals being used to be slaughtered or milked be fixed, and these businesses run more ethically. Nethertheless, the animal rights movement is a monumental social movement that many Americans believe in and fight for, and this paper just highlights a few of the organizations that fight for these beliefs and push heavily for animal rights.

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