Half A Loaf

i November 8, 2008

The animal rights/welfare movement here and abroad is awash in proposed legislation (see ISAR’s Model Mandatory Spay/Neuter statute), much of which will never be enacted or, if enacted, never enforced.

So the question is whether it is cause for rejoicing when pro-animal legislation actually becomes law.

We have seen three examples in as many months.

The Swiss have enacted a sweeping animal protection law. It includes handling guidelines for cats, dogs, sheep, goats and horses. There is a six-hour time limit for the transportation of livestock. Piglets cannot be castrated without anaesthesia.

Massachusetts has banned greyhound racing throughout the Commonwealth.

A California ballot initiative has just been approved that seeks to provide more living space to animals raised for human food: “Certain farm animals [shall] be allowed, for the majority of every day, to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up and turn around.”

However, the Swiss law allows dairy farmers to keep their cattle tied up in stalls for 240 days of the year. Tie-stalls for horses are to be phased out over five years. Zoo animals, like rhinos, can be confined in small winter quarters. Wild animals in circuses are still permitted (though banned in neighboring Austria).

The Massachusetts greyhound ban does not become effective until 2010.

California’s “living space” initiative gives farmers until 2015 to shift to more humane animal production systems.

Yet, for some in the animal rights/welfare movement these measures are not only not enough (and they aren’t!), but the laws are to be disdained because they don’t go far enough.

These folks believe that when laws like this are proposed they should be fought, because passage of these useful but wholly inadequate enactiments give opponents the ability to argue that “enough is enough”–that the movement clamored for these laws, they were enacted, and that’s all the affected animals are entitled to, at least for years to come.

This absolutist position is defensible, making for a hard choice: wait for perfection, while countless animals continue to suffer, or take what can be had when possible, but continue fighting for perfection?

In other words, is half-a-loaf better than none?

Much better–particularly, if you’re a veal calf spending your entire life in a crate.