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An Animal Bill of Rights is integral to animal liberation

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Trigger warning: This article contains mentions of animal abuse.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1881, also known as the Dog and Cat Bill of Rights, is a California bill that passed in the Assembly on May 25, 2022. The bill advocates that similar rights provided in the American Bill of Rights be extended to cats and dogs, the most common companion animals. These rights include safety from cruelty, abuse, neglect and exploitation, in addition to more fundamental legal protections. 

While this is a monumental contribution in the fight for animal rights in the U.S., one must consider why this bill doesn’t extend to all animals — especially those most at risk of what this bill touts protection from. The answer lies in the social narrative we’ve constructed and follow regarding farm animals. 

This outlook is multi-faceted; it upholds the disconnect we feel from farm animals’ physical beings to the products we see in the grocery store while maintaining the humanity we find in cats and dogs enough to propose a bill like AB 1881. Most importantly, this narrative allows us to overlook the common state of animality shared between domesticated and farm animals. It’s a foundational crack in how we ought to view animals, and enacting Rose’s Law, an Animal Bill of Rights, would resolve it. 

In September 2018, over 100 activists went to a chicken farm in Sonoma County, Calif. after whistleblowers exposed the overabundance of cruelty occurring within the facility. These activists documented the abuse of chickens and carried multiple birds outdoors in an attempt to get them medical attention. Their efforts were thwarted by the police, who arrived on the scene and prevented activists from taking the suffering chickens anywhere. The activists implored law enforcement to let them take the chickens off-site, where they could receive some sort of urgent attention — to no avail.

After an hour of pleading in the cold weather, a police officer permitted them to take one chicken — the sickest one. The activists decided on one who looked the closest to death, naming her Rose. Law enforcement then took the other chickens from the remaining activists’ arms, assuring them that they would then be given to animal control for examination. It was later released that Sonoma County Animal Services killed all nine chickens not long after, claiming they were “untreatable.” 

Despite this, Rose lived for over a year after liberation. Rose’s story is a testament to the vitality of the livestock animals so quickly disregarded due to our deeply embedded mindset regarding them.

Peter Singer, a renowned animal rights activist and philosopher, acknowledges this shortcoming in our social structure with his notion of “speciesism.” This is the idea that humans are more deserving of “moral consideration” as opposed to certain animal species, if not all animals. Singer likens speciesism to racism and sexism, concepts that are historically embedded in the way we view and treat those of perceived inferior moral status.

This is strikingly evident in the way we treat animals in the American animal agricultural industry. The U.S. alone uses 41% of its land to raise livestock, which pales in comparison to the global 80% of grazing land and animal feed cropland used for animal agricultural purposes. There are only seven federal laws that protect animals, a mere three of which inconsistently extend to livestock. For instance, both the Twenty-Eight Hour Law and Humane Slaughter Act exempt livestock birds from consideration — despite birds having the same capacity for pain as other animals. Additionally, the latter law is reportedly often unenforced. Other than this, there are no federal laws to regulate animal welfare treatment while in captivity — leaving  an estimated 10 billion livestock animals used for factory farming vulnerable. Though all 50 states have statutes against cruelty, they all exempt livestock from protection.

The need to implement a law to regulate farm animal welfare is exceedingly clear. This has been the case since the advent of agricultural farming for mass consumption, yet is consistently overlooked in favor of profit — incentivizing such abhorrent practices. This is why the proposed Rose’s Animal Bill of Rights Law must be brought to the forefront of legislative attention.

The enactment of a bill such as Rose’s Law would uphold the treatment of animals in the U.S. Though it is implausible that the animal agriculture industry be halted completely, given that it contributes immensely to the economy and animal products remain an accessible source of nutrients to many, its regulations must be better managed. Issues of overcrowding, rampant diseases and incredibly unsanitary living conditions would not be as prolific if this were the case. 

To dismantle the current lens we view animals through, I urge you to familiarize yourself with the ways all animals are mistreated, not just domesticated ones. Engaging with media or resources that explain such shouldn’t be immediately dismissed as a fear-mongering tactic; rather, it should be indicative of one’s pursuit for further knowledge. 

Trista Lara is a 2023-2024 Opinion Editor. She can be reached at tlara@uci.edu.

Edited by Jacob Ramos.