RONZONE: Animal welfare and the law



Raquel Ronzone

We can’t deny it. Our protests, debates and legal actions confirm it. But still, somehow, we find the audacity to ignore it.

The case for animal welfare has never boasted such depth, diversity, practicality or ethical urgency. Because of our decisions and growing understanding, legal actions that have occurred within the past 10 to 20 years suggest that our society is increasingly concerned with the well-being of livestock, pets and other animals. Taken individually, our progress in that regard seems monumental; taken as a whole, our collection of behaviors falls disappointingly short of more substantial progress we could make because, for one reason or another, the general public does not implement these changes on a widespread basis.

Although a handful of states have brought attention to the legal contexts of animal welfare, no agency has set a national precedent for common livestock and dairy animals. The livestock and dairy industries certainly do involve interstate commerce, but so far, California is the only state to pass such a progressive act – other states’ legal initiatives are more restricted – that recognizes the basic living needs of meat- and milk-producing animals.

Proposition 2, also known as the Farm Animal Cruelty Act, passed with a respectable 63 percent of the vote in 2008. It requires that calves raised for veal, pregnant pigs and hens used for commercial egg production must be given enough space to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around without hitting other animals, walls and bars in the confinement area. Unfortunately, the other 49 states are still deprived of voicing their opinion on an issue that essentially mandates basic compassion towards animals, even those who are ultimately destined for slaughter.

To its credit, the United States federal government did contribute to a debate that involves the national as well as the international community. In September 2008, the House committee approved a measure that would ban the slaughtering of horses for human consumption nationwide and prevent the export of U.S. horses destined for human consumption in other countries.

Animal welfare groups have forced the closure of the last three U.S. horse slaughterhouses in recent years, but according to an article published by MSNBC, about 100,000 of the 9 million horses in America are exported for slaughter in Mexico and Canada each year.

The Animal Welfare Institute, one of the major supporters of the ban, stated on its website that at one Mexican plant, horses were stabbed repeatedly and were fully conscious at the start of the slaughter process. While American farmers cannot slaughter horses on American soil, they can and – by their exportation of horses to other countries – still do participate in the cruelty associated with slaughter.

Other governments at the city levels have devised their own regulations on animals’ roles as entertainment. In addition to several towns throughout the United States, tourist hotspots London, Paris, Toronto and Beijing have outlawed the practice of carriage horses. Causing much controversy, animal welfare activists in New York City are endorsing bill 658-A, which, if passed, would ban the iconic horse-drawn carriages on the grounds of animal cruelty. In New York City, where the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and city agencies establish city rules, carriage horses can only work up to nine hours in a 24-hour period and are given two days of rest per week and three months of the summer off. During their times of employment, however, carriage horses do face the sometimes-fatal hazards of city life – electrocution, cars and pollution that, in some cases, leads to cancer, emphysema and premature aging – and the mercy of extreme East coast weather.

From the local to the international scale, legislature is regularly providing us with compelling evidence in favor of animal welfare. Admirably, these legal initiatives are challenging an anthropocentric society to acknowledge the needs of non-human animals and to forfeit the idea that these animals are numb, unfeeling products for our cultural and culinary enjoyment. However well-intentioned and even effective these legal actions are, they do not allow sufficient – that is, permanent national or international – change that would prevent these horrific practices from occurring in the first place.

And we know these injustices occur. To say that, after such public discussions of animal welfare, we nevertheless remain unaware of instances of animal cruelty is merely a flagrant dismissal of our responsibilities. We cannot pander to our own complacency; our work is far from being finished.


Raquel Ronzone is a sophomore communication major from Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected].