News - March 27, 2015

Blog: Humane treatment of animals

The moral progress of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated, writes blogger Camilla Ponte, inspired by some great thinkers.

George Orwell’s quote from the novel Animal Farm ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’ is a metaphor for political inequality among human beings, and, more literally, for the way animals are considered by humans. The two forms of equality are connected: no respect for animals means no guarantee of respect for life at all.

How are respect for humans and consideration for all life linked? Many great thinkers (Gandhi, Einstein and Nietzsche, to name a few) thought that the way we treat animals reflects what people can do to one another: when we can keep animals in massive cages, where they collapse in their own excrements, then we can do the same to other human beings – with a little incentive. This has already happened throughout the 20th century, from gentle Cambodians to respectable Germans, so it does not sound like a crazy hypothesis to me. But how far should human respect for animals go?

When I talk to Wageningen students, they usually have ethical concerns, but I perceive differences between pets/cute animals – ‘almost human’, their suffering causes emotions— and other animals, which can be eaten and used. In other parts of the world, the distinction between first and second class animals is not the same. For what I have seen in Indonesia, where I went for my thesis data collection, pets are treated awfully, and livestock even worse. Birds were kept in cages so small that they could not open their wings; monkeys were chained by their neck to a pole, thirstily losing their brains in the sun; furry animals sat in bare cages, crouching in their own shit. All for ‘fun’. My indignation only triggered the amusement of Indonesian people, as if empathizing with animals was a Western weirdness.

It might be my own weirdness, but I believe that all animals are equal, and none should be exploited to start with. At Wageningen UR, animal scientists have long recognised that guaranteeing a certain standard for animal welfare is beneficial to both the animal and consumers. Western people are now starting to show a widespread interest for animal welfare, which places Wageningen UR on the lead for this change of mentality.

Will this lead to more kindness and less violence among people of future generations? Allow me to believe so.