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Animal rights or animal welfare: which one would animals vote for?

25th February 2024

talking about animals



Animal rights or animal welfare: which one would animals vote for?


Most people accept the commonplace assumption that animal welfare legislation looks after animals’ wellbeing, and that cows, pigs, chickens etc. lead lives largely free of suffering and pain. In fact, animal welfare legislation protects the interests of the stakeholders more than the animals themselves. And to make matters worse, the existing welfare regulations are routinely ignored and, too often, breached.


ANIMAL WELFARE focuses on the physical and psychological wellbeing of an animal. The welfare of an animal can be described as good or high if the individual is fit, healthy, free to express natural behaviour, free from suffering and in a positive state of wellbeing.


ANIMAL RIGHTS means that animals deserve certain kinds of consideration—consideration of what is in their best interests, regardless of whether they are useful to humans. It means recognizing that animals are not ours to use—for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation.


ANIMAL SENTIENCE –The growing scientific interest in animal sentience is showing what many people have long thought to be the case – that a wide range of animals are thinking, feeling beings. What happens to them matters to them. Sentient animals are aware of their feelings and emotions. These could be negative feelings such as pain, frustration and fear. It is logical to suppose that sentient animals also enjoy feelings of comfort, enjoyment, contentment, and perhaps even great delight and joy.



It’s ok to bring an animal to the slaughterhouse, provided the method of transportation doesn’t cause unnecessary suffering, and that the method of killing is ‘humane’.

It’s ok to raise 50,000 chickens in a single shed over a 40-day period (that’s the lifespan of a broiler chicken), provided the chickens have ready access to food and water and that the birds are ‘healthy’.  

It’s ok to remove a new-born calf from its mother within hours of birth because the mother will soon get over it, as will her calf, and in any case we need the mother’s milk.



You cannot cram 50,000 chickens into a single shed and not cause intense stress and suffering to the birds.

You cannot remove a calf from its mother without causing extreme emotional distress to both the mother and calf.

You cannot slaughter an animal humanely who doesn’t want to die, especially in a slaughterhouse where line-speed pressure is a constant and where human error is routine.


I'm happy to discuss this issue on air, also more than willing to debate with an industry representative. 


Gerry Boland

founder of and spokesperson for Animals Behind Closed Doors, advocating for appropriate rights for animals and for a vegan lifestyle.




THE INTENSIFICATION OF ANIMAL FARMING has been disastrous for animals. Despite the best-in-class rhetoric we hear regularly from Irish farming organisations and from DAFM, the situation today for the factory farmed animal is worse than ever. On factory farms across the globe, pigs and chickens, hens and rabbits, geese and other animals, live out their entire lives in windowless sheds in a crowded and stressful environment, growing at a phenomenal rate that is unnatural and unhealthy. The animals are fed a concoction of drugs, including antibiotics, to prevent the spread of disease, yet still suffer from a wide range of illnesses. Then, after a short, stressful life, they are roughly handled and cargoed to a factory that will slaughter them mercilessly and, not infrequently, inefficiently. Here in Ireland, pigs and chickens are almost exclusively farmed intensively.


EACH ANIMAL ON A FACTORY FARM is an individual, with its own unique DNA and its own individual personality. Yet, animals on a factory farm are treated as mere commodities, inanimate objects in a conveyor belt system of production that has no room for mercy and whose main purpose is to produce as many animals as possible as cheaply as possible in the shortest time possible.


THE LIVES OF PIGS are very short (slaughter at 6 months) and stressful (crowded and chaotic conditions). They are raised in large groups in overcrowded pens, on concrete floors without bedding. Because pigs are mixed with unfamiliar pigs, there is much conflict and stress. They never see the light of day, they have their tails cut off at birth (if they don’t, the other pigs will bite it and chew it and infection may result), and many of them have their teeth either clipped or grinded at birth. Breeding sows live a couple of years longer and spend at least half of their lives confined in stalls and in farrowing crates (these stalls and crates are so small that the sows cannot even turn around).


THE MODERN, FACTORY-FARMED CHICKEN is selectively bred and genetically modified to produce bigger thighs and breasts. They are raised in enormous, windowless sheds and become so heavy near killing time that their underdeveloped, brittle bones are unable to support their weight, making it difficult for them to stand. A fully-grown chicken in a typical shed, or unit, will share each square metre of floor space with eighteen other birds. This translates to each individual chicken having the equivalent floor space of less than an A4 sheet of paper. The litter on the floor cannot be cleaned out until the chickens have been removed from the shed for slaughter. The droppings create an atmosphere dense with ammonia. This can damage the eyes of the birds, the respiratory systems, and can also cause painful hock burns on their legs, chests and feet.


750,000 MALE CALVES ARE BORN to the dairy industry every year in Ireland. About 200,000 of these are exported to veal farms in Europe, mainly Holland and Spain. The rest are flogged off at bargain-basement prices, as low as €5 per animal in many cases. The calves’ misfortune is to be the wrong gender in a ruthless industry that discards any unwanted excess; the unwanted excess in this case being healthy male calves.


THE UK GOVERNMENT is in the process of passing a bill which will explicitly recognise animals as being sentient, meaning they are capable of feelings such as pain and pleasure.



Animal Welfare: It’s ok to exploit – and to kill – animals for our own use, benefit and profit, provided we follow an agreed set of rules that, when implemented properly, will alleviate in so far as is possible, the suffering of the animal. That’s the theory; the reality is much different.


The animal rights position goes much further, by advocating for appropriate rights for animals. These rights may differ from country to country, but essentially they will involve a basic right to life free from human exploitation and, where possible, from human interference. 

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