Speciesism in Animal Law

June 27, 2021Zihao Yu

“Since Darwin, scientists have agreed that there is no 'magical' essential difference between humans and other animals, biologically-speaking. Why then do we make an almost total distinction morally? If all organisms are on one physical continuum, then we should also be on the same moral continuum." - Richard D. Ryder


Speciesism is a term used in philosophy regarding the treatment of individuals of different species. Anti-speciesism movements are working against animal experimentation, factory farming, fur and leather, etc. to reduce animal suffering. Notable proponents of the concept include Peter Singer, Oscar Horta, Steven M. Wise, Gary L. Francione, and Ingrid Newkirk. This article discusses the definition of speciesism and its impact on farmed animal advocacy.


August 28, 2021, is the World of Day for the End of Speciesism (WoDES). More information here.

What is speciesism?

The term originated in the argument by Richard D. Ryder in 1970 to protest against animal experimentation. The term was popularized by Peter Singer in Animal Liberation in 1975. Peter Singer defined the term as “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favour of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species”.


According to Animal Ethics, speciesism is a form of discrimination, that is, unjustified differential moral consideration. Discrimination defined by Animal Ethics occurs “when someone is given less moral consideration than others or treated worse for an unjustified reason”. More arguments for or against speciesism by Animal Ethics here.


According to the article What is Speciesism? (Horta, Oscar 2009), there are three statements of speciesism, which are:

The author came to the conclusion that Statement 1 is correct: speciesism is speciesism. That is: speciesism is the unjustified disadvantageous consideration or treatment of those who are not classified as belonging to one or more particular species. The author added a note that whether a particular way of treating or considering someone is speciesist will depend on whether there is a justification for it.

The author did not use the word of discrimination in the definition. The expression "unjustified disadvantageous treatment and consideration" could be replaced by "discrimination" to sound better, but the term "discrimination" has been understood in many different ways by those who have used it, and it has been often employed in a much more restrictive way.’

Read more of the article here.

Why it matters?

Once accepting the idea that the species should not be used to decide how to treat or consider animals, all species shall be considered more equally. Anti-speciesism leads to animal equality and requires everyone to treat animals equally instead of discrimination based on their species. A dog and a chicken shall not be treated differently merely based on their species.


All sentient beings shall be considered for their inherent value and their own interests, no matter what the species they are. Humans, dolphins, kangaroos, chimpanzees, rabbits, fish, mice, pigs, doves, dogs, seahorses, or squirrels are all living sentient beings. Taking real consideration of the interests of animals leads to the result of the abolition of animals used in entertainment, animals used for food, animals used for clothes, and animal testing.

"Shallow Focus Photography of Sheep" by Dan Hamill from Pexels

Animals in Agriculture

For animals used in agriculture, more than 200 million land animals are killed for food around the world every day, and aquatic animals are not included. According to one estimation, 64 billion land animals are killed each year worldwide, and over the same period, some 1,000 billion fishes die of suffocation in fishing nets.


Protection for the welfare of fishes, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, rabbits, and other common species used for food are relatively weak compared to wildlife or companion animals, and the law always has exemptions for animals used in agriculture. They suffer from the cruel practices in factory farming and slaughter process, and their animal welfare is poorly protected.


Anti-speciesism requires people not to treat these animals as food, things, or products, just because of their species. Their welfare and own interests shall be well-considered and protected as other species.

Speciesism in Laws

Taking the Animal Welfare Act of the United States as an example, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) does not cover some species. The definition of animals in AWA is “any live or dead dog, cat, monkey (nonhuman primate mammal), guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or such other warm-blooded animal, as the Secretary may determine is being used, or is intended for use, for research, testing, experimentation, or exhibition purposes, or as a pet; but such term excludes (1) birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research, (2) horses not used for research purposes, and (3) other farm animals, such as, but not limited to livestock or poultry, used or intended for use as food or fiber, or livestock or poultry used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber.”


The exclusion for birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research means these species can be less protected than warm-blooded animals in the research or animal testing. The exclusion for horses is because horses are covered by the Horse Protection Act.


Farmed animals used for food or fiber purposes are not covered by the AWA. These species are used, suffered, and killed in the largest numbers of the population. The rationality behind the exclusion is thinking these species should be raised and used as food or fibers in nature.


Other cold-blooded vertebrates and invertebrates are not covered by the AWA as well. These include the species of amphibians, reptiles, fishes, crustaceans, insects, etc. These species are treated as inferior species to warm-blooded animals and without the ability for perception.


From the perspective of anti-speciesism, the discrimination above in the Animal Welfare Act is unreasonable. Cold-blooded vertebrates and invertebrates have the ability to feel pain, and some species are not born to be used for food, fiber, or research. The protection for animal welfare shall not be judged based merely on their species.

"Selective Focus Photo of Red Turkey Head" by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

How to distinguish and avoid speciesism?

Common examples of speciesism are that some species of animals should be used as food, clothes, or etc., while others should not. The judgment shall not be made based on their species. All the mistreatment towards all species shall be reduced and eliminated.


To avoid speciesism, there are several ways to achieve animal equality, including going vegan, supporting cruelty-free companies, going faux, and choosing plant-based alternatives.


Anti-speciesism is the right trend to let people rethink the relation between animals and human beings. Changing the way of thinking is more important for society. We all should know and accept that eating any species of animals is cruel towards cognitive beings.

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