Compromise & the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2005:

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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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 practicableŠAnimals
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
“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
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

“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 manŠ”

The 1977 Universal Declaration asserted that:

“All animals are born equal and they have
the same rights to existenceŠEvery animal has the
right to be respected. Man, like the animal
species, cannot assume the right to exterminate
other animals or to exploit themŠ
“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
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
Wrote then-WSPA director general Andrew
Dickson, “At the start of the new Millennium,
WSPA believes thatŠa 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 provisionsŠ”
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
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
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
b. Appropriate steps should be taken to
promote and introduce the neutering of companion
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
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
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
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
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
“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 negotiationŠThis
wording is drafted by governments, not by
WSPAŠWSPA 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
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
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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