Below are eight of the most common arguments against animals rights, as well as responses to those arguments.
1. If it's OK for lions to eat meat, it should be OK for people to eat meat.
A lion needs to eat meat to survive, while humans do not. Also, lions do not have a choice, while many people do. The American Dietetic Association supports vegan diets: "It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases."
2. Animal rights is extreme.
The word "extreme" is defined as "of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average." In the case of animal rights, there is nothing wrong with seeking solutions that are "extreme" and far from the ordinary. In the United States, the ordinary treatment of animals causes animals to suffer and die on factory farms, in laboratories, on fur farms, in leghold traps, in puppy mills, and in zoos and circuses. An extreme change is needed to save animals from these fates.
3. If animal rights activists had their way, domestic animals would be extinct.
If we stop breeding domesticated animals, some would survive and some would go extinct. No one wants these animals released into the wild, but a few individuals always escape. Feral cat and dog colonies would survive. Established populations of feral pigs already exist. For those animals who are unfit to survive in the wild, extinction is not a bad thing. "Broiler" chickens grow so large, they develop joint problems and heart disease. Cows now produce more than twice as much milk as they did 50 years ago, and domestic turkeys are too large to mate naturally. There is no reason to continue breeding these animals.
Change can be scary, but society has evolved over the years due to other social movements and animal rights will be no different.
4. AR activists have a right to be vegan, and should respect my right to eat meat.
Eating meat infringes on the rights of the animals to live and be free, so animal rights activists do not believe that people have a moral right to eat animals.
Regarding legal rights, in the United States, eating meat is legal and our laws allow animals to be killed for food. However, AR activists cannot remain silent in the face of injustice and have a legal right to free speech that is protected by law. To expect AR activists to remain silent is failing to respect their right to express themselves and advocate veganism.
5. Vegans kill animals, too.
It is nearly impossible for a person to live on this planet without causing some suffering and death to animals. Animals are killed and displaced on farms to grow crops; animal products show up in unexpected places like car tires; and pollution destroys wild habitats and the animals who depend on them. However, this has nothing to do with whether animals deserve rights, and being vegan is one way to minimize one's negative impact on animals.
6. Rights come from the ability to think – not the ability to suffer.
The ability to think like a human is an arbitrary criterion for rights. Why not base it on the ability to fly or use echolocation or walk up walls?
Furthermore, if rights come from the ability to think, then some humans – babies and the mentally incapacitated – are not deserving of rights, while some non-human animals with the ability to think like a human do deserve rights. No one is arguing for this twisted reality where only the most intellectually gifted individuals of various species in the animal kingdom deserve rights.
The ability to suffer makes sense as a criterion for rights holding, because the purpose of rights is to ensure that those who might suffer if their rights are not recognized are not allowed to suffer unduly.
7. Animals cannot have rights because they do not have duties.
Like the ability to think, having duties is an inappropriate criterion for rights holding because some classes of humans - babies, the mentally ill, the mentally incapacitated or the mentally retarded – do not have duties. If only those with duties deserve rights, then the mentally ill would have no rights and people would be free to kill and eat them. Furthermore, although animals do not have duties, they are subject to human laws and punishments including imprisonment and death. A dog who attacks a person may be required to remain confined/muzzled, or may be sentenced to die. A deer who eats crops may be shot and killed by a farmer under a depredation permit.
Also, few people consider their duties to other animals, yet we demand that those animals recognize our rights by killing animals who interfere with our rights, whether they are mice, deer or wolves.
8. Plants have feelings, too.
Whether plants feel pain is debatable, but if plants do feel pain, that is not a reason to deny rights to animals.
If plants are sentient, that would put humans in the same position as lions since we cannot live without consuming plants, so we would be morally justified in eating plants.
Also, if plants feel pain, that does not mean that eating plants and eating animals are morally equivalent because it takes many more plants to feed an omnivore compared to a vegan. Feeding grains, hay and other plant foods to animals so that we can eat the animals is very inefficient, and kills far more plants than being vegan.
If you believe that plants have feelings, one of the best things you can do for them is to go vegan.
Doris Lin, Esq. is an animal rights attorney and Director of Legal Affairs for the Animal Protection League of NJ.