Animal bill of rights

An advertisement prompting people to sign a petition asking Congress to sign the Animal Bill of Rights, a bill proposed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund that would extend certain rights to all animals, is being run on television networks like ABC. The ad starts out with young children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in a classroom, and when they get to “liberty and justice for all,” they begin asking if “all” includes animals such as bunnies and sheep. Then, pictures and footage of animals being caged or abused, courtesy of PETA and Compassion Over Killing, whose watermarks appear in the video while these images are shown. A large graphic with the animalbillofrights.org website appears on-screen.

The animalbillofrights.org website gives a brief synopsis of the six rights being proposed, including the reasonable-sounding freedom from exploitation, cruelty, or abuse and the more oddball-seeming right for animals to have their interests represented in court. The site then asks visitors to sign the petition after providing some basic information like name, e-mail and zip code. Meanwhile, animalbillofrights.aldf.org provides a bit more context, mentioning the current legal consideration of animals as property and the exclusion of birds, rats and mice, the animals usually used in lab settings, from Animal Welfare Act protection.

The need for each measure of the bill is explained in detail, with compelling arguments being made for better regulation of animal testing and more universal laws regarding animal abuse, as inconsistencies between states in this regard has meant someone abusing an animal to death may face a $25,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison in Louisiana, while a similar offense would mean a $1,000 fine and six months in prison in Mississippi according to the website. Even the rights of animals to have interests represented in court seem more sensible when it’s explained. This simply means allowing animals to have human representatives defending their rights against abuses such as torture. Most suggestions of the Animal Bill of Rights simply seek to extend the power of current laws the Animal Defense Fund argues are limited or ill-enforced.

Of course, the proposal to create a federal agency existing solely to safeguard animal interests will prove to be a controversial part of the bill’s suggestions, but this seems somewhat reasonable to ensure a national standard of protection. Where things really get hairy is the fourth measure of the bill, proposing even nuisance animals should have a right to a self-sustaining population. In other words, this measure would make it illegal to control animal populations by hunting. While other measures seem mostly common sense and humane, this seems a bit overreaching. It also begs one to question whether the bill would extend animal rights to insects, who are often killed in order to maintain a better ecosystem for humans, which is the same logic behind hunting other nuisance animals to control their populations. While animal safety is important, it should not be considered more important than human safety.

All in all, the Animal Bill of Rights is more sensible than one may expect, and there probably is a need for more universal laws protecting animals rather than having legal discrepancies across state lines. It is also reasonable to ask laws already on the books to protect animals and to properly enforce and expand where needed. But hunting in order to control animal populations is something humans may need to do from time to time to protect our own environment, so the assertion all animals should enjoy a self-sustaining population regardless of context is overreaching. Barring this particular aspect of the bill, however, the bill does a good job proposing what would be welcome changes in animal cruelty legislation. If only one of those proposals didn’t ultimately encroach upon human rights to sustain their environment.

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