Understand the animal rights/welfare movement’s “half-a-loaf” problem (Part I)

i December 1, 2014


By understanding the animal rights/welfare movement’s “half-a-loaf” problem (Part I)


For the past few decades the animal rights/welfare movement in the United States and abroad has been awash in proposed legislation designed to better the lives of companion animals.

But is it cause for rejoicing when seemingly pro-animal legislation actually does become law? Surprisingly, the answer may not always be an unqualified “yes” because of what ISAR characterizes as the challenging and pervasive problem of “half-a-loaf.” As the old saying goes, is “half-a-loaf” really “better than none?”[1]

To begin answering the question, let’s look at three examples which appeared within three months of each other several years ago.

The Swiss enacted a sweeping animal protection law. It included handling guidelines for cats, dogs, sheep, goats and horses. A six-hour time limit was required for the transportation of livestock. Piglets could not be castrated without anesthesia.

Massachusetts banned greyhound racing throughout the Commonwealth.

A California ballot initiative was approved that provided 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.”

How could anyone who cares about the rights of animals and desires they be not treated cruelly oppose such legislation?

But wait.

The Swiss law also allowed dairy farmers to keep their cattle tied up in stalls for 240 days of the 365 days in a year. Tie-stalls for horses were to be phased out, but not for five years. Zoo animals, such as rhinos, were allowed to be confined in small winter quarters. Wild animals were still permitted to be used in circuses.

The Massachusetts greyhound ban would not become effective for at least twoyears.

California’s “living space” initiative gave farmers at least sixyears to shift to more humane animal production systems.

Many in the animal rights/welfare movement rightly considered these measures not to go far enough, largely because of the compromises made in order to get them enacted.

These committed activists believed that when such “mixed” laws[2] are proposed they should be fought. Their rationale is that enactment of such legislation, though useful in some respects, gives opponents of animal protection the ability to argue that “enough is enough” — that the movement clamored for animal protection laws, they were enacted, and that’s all the affected animals are entitled to, at least for years to come.

This absolutist position against mixed animal protections laws is arguably 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?

Better a half loaf than no bread?

To be continued

[1] The actual saying – “Better a half loaf than no bread” — is attributable to John Heywood, c. 1497 — c. 1580.
[2] By “mixed laws” ISAR means legislation containing pro-animal provisions together with others that do little or nothing to better the lives of animals — or which are entirely silent on issues of animal abuse.