Animal Welfare is just for the Dreamers

By Wendy Laursen 2014-04-14 18:51:00

Animal rights group WSPA wants a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare endorsed by the United Nations. Their position is that our close interaction with animals means we have a responsibility to protect their welfare.

A Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW) would be an agreement among people and nations that:

animals are sentient – they can suffer and feel pain
animals’ welfare needs must be respected
animal cruelty must end for good.

The UN has adopted other universal declarations, such as that on the rights of the child, with huge impact. A UDAW would inspire change at international, regional and national levels by encouraging the development of animal welfare legislation and changing public attitudes.

Where does that leave whaling, shark culls, live export? These activities have all been in the news this year, and they all involved shipping or confrontation at sea. 

Whaling has been the subject of a Sea Shepherd campaign in the Antarctic and a recent ruling in the International Court of Justice aimed to stop Japanese whaling in its current form.
Australian government intervention has seen live export stop until improved welfare conditions were negotiated with recipient countries.
Shark culling, in contrast, has been instigated by the Australian government and we are now seeing footage of protected species being entangled and shot.

Why do we think differently about the ways we treat whales, cows, sheep and sharks? Is it that some species are endangered that makes them important? Is it that young or pregnant animals are killed that makes us question the ethics of an activity? Are some animals more visually or intellectually appealing to us than others? Or do our reactions depend on who is benefiting from their exploitation?

There have been sentiments expressed that Sea Shepherd activities are controversial, that Australian attitudes are hypocritical. Sea Shepherd crew member Tim Watters summed it up when he said: 

"I have now seen first hand the barbaric, senseless, cruel and tragedy of the Western Australian shark cull. I have seen today a beautiful female three metre plus tiger shark in such a stressed state, thrashing around for her life, before being pulled alongside and shot three times. Given the time of year, she was most likely was pregnant. 

“I have just returned from defending the whales in the Antarctic Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and can not believe what I am seeing right off our Western Australian coast, it rivals that of any cruelty and insanity of the Japanese whale poachers."

These are harsh words that create an unpleasant feeling of national conflict between Australia and Japan, and conflict amongst Australians. Similarly, the live export debate has sparked words of conflict about people’s religious beliefs. 

The United Nations was established in 1945 to promote international cooperation. Unfortunately, the UDAW hasn’t yet made the news this year despite these three examples of where it could relevantly be applied.

Picture Credit: Sea Shepherd