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What Does the "No Animals Were Harmed" Certification Mean?

Controversy over the Certification


Tai, the elephant

Tai, the elephant

Photo courtesy of Animal Defenders International

Animal Actors and Animal Rights

According to the animal rights viewpoint, the use of animals as actors is at least problematic and in many cases, violates the animal's right to be free. Keeping and training animals for acting roles is problematic because the animal's needs may sometimes come second to the handler's profits. The animals maybe subject to long hours, confinement, negative reinforcement, and other abuses. If the animal is bred or bought, there is the problem of increasing the number homeless animals. If the animal is typically a wild or exotic animal, such as a dolphin, lion or elephant, the animal suffers in captivity.

There may be some circumstances under which animal rights activists would not object to animal actors if the animal is a rescued animal who cannot live in the wild, and is never subjected to negative reinforcement or other abuses.


Some animal advocates object to the certification "No Animals Were Harmed"® being awarded even if an animal was harmed, as long as the AHA guidelines were followed. Tai, the elephant used in the film "Water for Elephants," was beaten and schocked with electric prods by his trainers six years before the film was made. Because the beatings and schocks took place years earlier during the training process, and not on the set, the film earned AHA's "No Animals Were Harmed"® certification.

During the making of the film "Flicka," an extra reported the deaths of two horses. After going public, Roland Windsor Vincent was fired by Fox Productions. In one case, a horse broke his leg and was euthanized. In a separate scene, a recreation of a rodeo event, a horse "tripped on its own rope, and fell down and another horse kicked him in the head, and that horse was in a spasm and died a horrible death." Other extras and bystanders also reported that the horses were punched to make them "perform." To animal advocates, it's not surprising that the deaths occurred during the filming of a movie about rodeos, but AHA called the deaths "accidental" and gave the film their "No Animals Were Harmed"® certification.

AHA has also been accused of having a conflict of interest because they are funded by the very industry they are paid to monitor.

Other Oversight

Animal exhibitors, including businesses that provide trained animals for film and television, are governed by the Animal Welfare Act and subject to inspections by the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

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