Editorial: Compromise & the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1995:
Editorially favoring hunting, trapping, fishing, ranching, logging, rodeo, and ani-
mal 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 ani-
mals 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 offend-
ers be deprived of the right to own animals, and ask laws against forcible feeding for mone-
tary 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
“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 termi-
nate 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 under-
standable 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 par-
ticular 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 S p o k e s m a n –
R e v i e w 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
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
The French author Andre Géraud meanwhile produced “A Declaration of Animal
Rights” in 1924, which in 1926 inspired an “International Animals Charter” drafted by
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 begin-
nings of the humane movement, hands-on animal rescue won the most donor enthusiasm dur-
ing 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 incorporat-
ed 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 alterna-
tives), 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
g r o u n d [a reference to the use of ponies to pull mining carts], they should be replaced by
“Cruel sports; the use of animals upon the stage, screen (except for educational pur-
poses, the object of which is to benefit the animals) and in circuses; the cruel trapping of ani-
mals 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 reli-
“Vivisection and all cruel experiments, whether atomic, pharmaceutical, psycho-
logical 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 pro-
vided 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 prepay-
ment 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 chil-
“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 prelimi-
nary 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 L i g u e
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 submit-
ted it to UNESCO. The following year the text was was adopt-
ed by the National Council for the Protection of Animals [ i n
F r a n c e ] which, after making a number of changes, adopted
the text, distributed it, and collected two million signatures
“Contributions by different associations and changes
proposed by a number of leading figures, in particular by sci-
entists,” 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 struc-
ture 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 hav –
ing 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 respect –
ed. 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 perspec-
tive, 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
“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 leg-
islative 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 legisla-
tion by the European Union must be based on other specific
objectives of EU policy, such as the common agricultural poli-
cy, 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 nation-
al level, or sanction countries that did not conform to its princi-
ples,” 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
The new preamble replaced direct reference to evolu-
tion 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 inter –
dependent ecosystem; recognizing that, although there are
significant social, economic and cultural differences between
human societies, each should develop in a humane and sus –
tainable 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 compre –
hensive 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 A n i m a l
Machines in 1964.
“Animals raised under the control of humans or
taken into captivity by humans should be afforded the provi –
sions 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 appro –
priate environment including shelter and a comfortable rest –
Freedom from pain, injury and disease: by preven –
tion or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Freedom from fear and distress: by ensuring condi –
tions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
Freedom to express normal behavior: by providing
sufficient space, proper facilities and company of animals’
The Five Freedoms have become by default the clos-
est approach yet to a working charter of animal rights (includ-
ing 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 prede-
cessors, 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, adver-
tising 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 pro-
visions similar to those of the Convention on the Protection of
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 cele-
brated, but have typically become enshrined in tradition.
But the June 2000 WSPA declaration did provide
that, “Where animals are used in legitimate sport and entertain-
ment, 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 pro-
Inclusion of the undefined term “legitimate” signifi-
cantly weakened the statement, but that was only the beginning
of the weakening that would follow.
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 ani-
mals “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 guid-
ance 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 labora-
tories 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 per-
formed 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 state-
ments of principle:
1. The welfare of animals shall be a common objec –
tive 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, respect –
ing social and economic considerations and religious and cul –
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 cit-
izens to reject a proposed new European Constitution at nation-
al referendums during the first week in June 2005.
“Religious, cultural and regional traditions in which
animals are abused, such as slaughter without stunning, bull-
fighting, 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
Supporters of the proposed new EU Constitution
defended it by pointing to the WSPA inclusion of almost identi-
cal 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 possi-
ble. 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 groundbreak-
ing 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 negoti-
ations 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 pro-
hibition 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 host-
ing 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 mea-
sures by developing a strategic blueprint for what he called
“stepwise incremental action.”
According to the Spira blueprint, reducing the “uni-
verse 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 aboli-
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 inter-
national human rights law, he appears to have paid little atten-
tion 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
Spira would most likely have suggested that in deal-
ing 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 prin-
ciple 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 advo-
cates should not be willing to compromise their statements of
Until and unless the “Universal Declaration” is trans-
lated 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 world-
wide 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 bow-
ing to traditional rites that involve violence or to culturally
accepted forms of oppression.