Social attitudes about animals are confusing and contradictory.  According to the law, animals are property, not persons.  Yet, we treat them differently than other forms of property.  We do not walk our toasters, hug our socks or feed our sunglasses.

On one hand, most people regard their pets as family members and would cringe at the thought of eating them, submitting them to painful experiments, or turning them into fur coats .  On the other hand, these very same people continue to eat and in many other ways, use animals other than as pets.  Except for some countries in the Far East, it is morally and socially unspeakable to eat a dog or a cat, but it’s OK to eat a chicken or a cow.  On one hand, we all agree that it is morally wrong to inflict “unnecessary” pain and suffering on animals; on the other hand, we routinely use animals in ways that are not necessary. Professor Gary Francione calls this “moral schizophrenia”.[1]

The status of animals as property has severely limited the type of legal protection that we extend to them.  The United States and Canada have laws protecting animals from “unnecessary” suffering.

The following is the full definition of NECESSARY according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1:       absolutely needed :  required

2        a :  of an inevitable nature :  inescapable

          b (1) :  logically unavoidable (2) :  that cannot  be denied without            contradiction

          c :  determined or produced by the previous condition of things

d :  compulsory

Do we really need to boil live lobsters or eat foie gras?  Do we really need rodeos, bull-fighting, circus animals, fur coats, animal-tested cosmetics, dog races, horse races, hunting, etc.?animals-used-in-research

These so-called animal protection laws have specific exemptions [interpreted by the courts] for virtually all forms of institutionalized and/or socially accepted animal exploitation: the use of animals for food, scientific experiments, hunting, entertainment, etc.

Firstly, the institution must be socially acceptable such as restaurants serving live lobster and foie gras.[2] Many people enjoy lobster and foie gras. Hence, it is socially acceptable.


Secondly, whenever we seek to resolve the issue of “unnecessary” suffering, we balance our human benefits against the interests of the animal(s) that will be “sacrificed”.  The financial benefit derived from the infliction of pain will always prevail.  Any method of pain is justified if the purpose is for economic gain.  Corporate profits and losses take precedence. Money wins. Morals lose.

When considering the property status of animals, the notions of “necessary” suffering or death are not based on an abstract or ethically based standard of care.  The law  has consistently only prohibited conduct that cannot be justified in light of the practices within that specific industry.  As long as the particular use of the animal is considered a legitimate business practice, the acts that facilitate that usage will be considered legally “necessary.”  For example, as long as we find it morally and socially appropriate to eat animals, if the mutilation and painful killing of animals are part of a standard business practice, they are “necessary”.


In 2014, an undercover investigator for Mercy for Animals documented horrifying violence at a factory farm in Colorado owned by Seaboard Foods. Seaboard Foods is one of the largest pork producers in the country and a Walmart pork supplier.[3]

1.  The video captured pregnant pigs locked in tiny metal gestation crates unable to walk, turn around, or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives.

2.  Workers slicing off the tails and ripping out the testicles of piglets using dull razors and their fingers.

3.  workers hitting piglets with rock-filled gas cans to force them into overcrowded walkways and transport trucks.

4.  Mother pigs afflicted with open wounds and pressure sores left to suffer without proper veterinary care.

This type of animal abuse is considered standard practice and defended by the pork industry.

The courts will not intervene in this type of exploitation and savagery of animals because it benefits humans and/or reduces production costs.   speak uo microphone

So what is unnecessary cruelty? Only that pain inflicted for no legitimate purpose is unnecessarily cruel.  Only those who act sadistically because they can, or who impose suffering and death outside of socially and economically accepted animal exploitation, will be found guilty of unnecessary suffering.  Animal protection laws only admonish the infliction of futile animal torture or death.FOIS GRAS

Any significant improvement in animal protection legislation requires a change in the property status of animals.  A more progressive approach would be the recognition that animals have at least some fundamental rights and interests.  For example, certain scientific experiments would be outlawed without exemptions.  Principles would prevail over profit.  Animals would have rights and interests that cannot be expunged by common business practices.  A rabbit is not a radio.

Anyone who wants to change the property status of animals must challenge deeply-rooted interests and opinions supporting the infliction of pain on animals. As Frederick Douglass, former slave, stated in the context of social reform, those who desire change without confrontation are as unrealistic as those who want “rain without thunder.”[4]


[1] Gary L. Francione, Animals, Property, and the Law (1995).

[2] To produce “foie gras” (which literally means “fatty liver”), workers insert pipes down male ducks’ or geese’s throats two or three times daily, pumping as much as 4 pounds of grain and fat into their stomachs, causing their livers to swell to up to 10 times their normal size. Many birds have difficulty standing because of their engorged livers. Many also die when their organs rupture from overfeeding. The casualties are accounted as the costs of doing business – an exemption to anti-cruelty laws.

[3] See

[4] Frederick Douglass, “Letter to an Abolitionist Associate” (1853).