While more than ever we are discussing animal rights and considering the possibility to extend the circle of our moral consideration, we are also more than ever inflicting suffering on more animals than in any time in history. This is especially the case for farm animals. This article aims to demonstrate that introducing animal-based measures into the legal system can be a practical and realistic step towards changing the familiar perspective of farm animals as mere commodities into the sentient beings they are.
Currently, legislation on farm animals builds on what are called resource-based measures. These measures are not based on the animals but on their environment and the conditions in which the animals are living. They are very compatible with the legal system being relatively easy to assess, less subjective and highly repeatable. However, compliance with resource-based measures does not always mean good animal welfare, since these measures are generally considered to be less well correlated to the experiences of the animal.
Animal-based measures, on the other hand, measure the state of the animal based on the actual animal, its behaviour (e.g. repetitive behaviour, human-animal relationship) and/or appearance (posture, facial expression, body condition).
A change where laws on animals actually require looking at the animals has the potential to improve the relationship to the animals and is an essential shift towards farm animals being regarded as someone and not something. By acknowledging animals as whole sentient beings, we do not just see a complex system of ‘behaviours’ (e.g. walking), but first and foremost we see a “behaver”, a dynamic living being, whose movements are always meaningful and psychological expressive.
In conclusion, animal-based measures force us to look at animals and recognize that they are able to feel pain, love, joy, loneliness and fear. Implementing animal-based measures for farm animals makes us, in a practical and realistic way, take those animals that are mostly considered as mere commodities, into our moral consideration, and unveils aspects of their sentience, which are currently hidden by the law.
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