Glossary of Animal Rights Terms

Discussing animal issues has become a minefield of complicated terminology. You may wonder what on earth we are talking about when we mention ‘abolition’ or debunking the ‘humane myth’. There is also a lot of confusion over what is meant by ‘animal rights’. Even the term ‘vegetarian’ seems to lack a clear definition these days. For more clarity on the importance of choosing our words carefully, please read ‘Telling it Like it is‘.

Here are Elated’s definitions of some of the terms used when talking about animal rights.

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All animals are sentient. They are alive. They have inherent value because they value themselves. We need to start taking their rights seriously. Portrait of intelligent black hen © morgueFile Sgarton.

ABOLITION
Abolitionists strive for the total elimination of all animal use. We believe that when you attempt to improve the system that exploits animals, then you further entrench and normalise the property staus of animals.

ABSOLUTE RIGHTS
Due to the sentient nature of animals they have certain absolute rights. A human example is the right to be free from slavery and servitude which cannot be limited in any way, at any time, for any reason. Not even by the state in circumstances which threaten the life of the nation.

Animals have the absolute right to life, liberty and bodily integrity. We need to recognise and defend these rights within our moral and legal communities.

AHIMSA
The principle of non-violence towards all living beings. Philosophy of not harming others in thought, word or action.

ANIMAL EXPLOITATION
Using animals in any way Where tge purpose is to satisfy our own needs and/or desires. Inflicting suffering or harm upon non-human animals for specific gain, profit or personal amusement. Not all animal exploitation is illegal. Breeding animals for consumption is a prime example of legal animal exploitation as it necessitates the violation of all their basic rights and then inflicts the greatest harm of all by killing them. Animal welfare organisations regulate the exploitation of farm animals which results in the creation of oxymorons such as ‘humane slaughter’. Animal rights proponents unequivocally classify all animal exploitation as being inhumane and unnecessary, and strive to abolish it absolutely.

ANIMAL RIGHTS
The animal rights movement maintains that animals have inviolable rights that need to be protected. These include: the right to continued life, autonomy over their life, bodily integrity and freedom from suffering. The violation of an animal’s rights is not morally justifiable or excusable under any circumstances, even when it is legal.

ANIMAL WELFARE
Animal welfare standards regulate the treatment of animals, in order to reduce suffering and improve health. They facilitate the system of animal oppression by monitoring and approving methods of mutilation and slaughter of farm animals, for the purpose of human consumption.

BODILY INTEGRITY
Animals have an interest in not having their bodies violated. This includes having their physical boundaries invaded, having injuries inflicted on them, or being forced into reproductive processes. It is in their interest to maintain the integrity ie the wholeness and undiminished state of their physical body and for that state to be unimpaired by others. The violation of an animal’s bodily integrity is required on a routine basis in the animal agricultural industry in the form of artificial insemination, semen harvesting, branding, tail docking, castration, milking and shearing, amongst others.

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
The anxiety and distress we feel when our beliefs, feelings and behaviour are not in alignment. For example when we eat farm animals, but love our companion animals, this causes cognitive dissonance. The coping mechanism we use to alleviate our suffering is called compartmentalisation.

COMMODIFICATION
When we dismiss the inherent value of living beings and treat them as resources that can be bought and sold. Instead of seeing a whole moral person, we objectify them, reducing their status to objects and viewing them as body parts, which we name in such a way as to further distance ourselves from the knowledge that they belong to someone who needs them in order to live.

COMPARTMENTALISATION
A coping method to alleviate ourselves from cognitive dissonance. We disassociate conflicting beliefs, feelings and behaviours, which enables us to apply differing moral value systems in different scenarios. For example, it is uncomfortable for us to love and respect animals, while at the same being aware that we are causing them untold suffering by killing and eating them. So we separate our love and respect for animals and assign those feelings and beliefs exclusively to animals we know. We then create a totally seperate paradigm for the animals we eat by denying they are sentient beings and categorising them as objects, resources and property.

COMPASSION
Feeling strong empathy for the suffering of another and demonstrating a strong desire to alleviate their suffering. Considering the impact of our actions on others and discontinuing activities that would cause them suffering. True compassion towards animals protects their rights to life, freedom and bodily integrity absolutely. There are no compromises and there is no betrayal of their trust. Compassion is not an insincere or condescending notion of offering a lesser being mercy. It is a skill that needs to be practiced where we give of ourselves for the benefit of others.

CRUELTY-FREE
Products and practices that do not cause the suffering of animals. This term is often misused and applied to animal products, which is self-contradictory as taking an animal’s life is the cruelest thing you can do to him. For something to be cruelty-free it needs to be free from all animal use ie: no animal products, animal byproducts or animal testing. When products are certified as “cruelty-free” they are only referring to animal testing and do not prohibit the exploitation or slaughter of animals.

ECONOMICS OF ANIMAL EXPLOITATION
Animal products are produced in order to fulfill the demand for those products. Suppliers operate as businesses which are motivated by turnover and profit. If the demand for a product declines, they will either advertise to increase the demand, or diversify into producing products that will yield a higher turnover. This is why abolitionists focus on reducing the demand for animal products. We believe that demand drives supply.

ELASTICITY OF DEMAND
An economic term which describes the extent to which the demand for a product changes when the price of the product is altered. This is affected by the availability of satisfactory substitutes for that product. For example, the demand for eggs is relatively inelastic as consumers will continue to purchase the same quantity of eggs even when the price rises. Whereas, the demand for beef is relatively elastic as consumers can switch to another animal product like chicken and pork.

ETHICAL
Adhering to the moral code that animals have a right to life and they are not ours to eat, wear or use.

FACTORY FARMING
To meet the excessive demand for animal products, the animal agricultural industry has instituted intensive farming practices which meet the very lowest welfare standards they can possibly afford without negatively impacting on profitability. Unfortunately many animal activists focus exclusively on abolishing these factory farms, yet all animal farming requires gross violations of the animals’ rights to life, freedom and bodily integrity. This includes invading their reproductive processes, mutilating their bodies for purposes of identification or more efficient confinement, confining them in enclosures unlike any the animal would choose in the wild, destroying and depriving them of all social or familial bonds, and killing them which is the greatest harm you could inflict on a sentient being.

Factory farms are not the problem. They provide the solution for meeting the public’s excessive demand for animal products. We need to direct vegan education efforts at the public in order to eradicate the demand for animal products. Only then will there be no need for factory farms.

FREE-RANGE
The farm animals have access to the outdoors. This usually takes the form of a door at the far end of a large shed, leading into a small caged area without food or water, thus offering no motivation for the animals to make use of it. Otherwise they are treated the same as any other farm animal ie as resources for the benefit of humans. They are still subjected to forced breeding programs, mutilations without anaesthetic and slaughtered for human consumption at the end of their useful lifespan.

HAPPY MEAT *
Depicts the incongruous nature of the humane farming myth. If the treatment of animals is humane, then the assumption would be that the animals are happy. This is obviously not the case. They are not queuing up at ‘humane’ slaughterhouses and saying “Please kill me here”.

HUMANE MYTH **
Debunking the claim that it is possible to raise animals for food in a tender, compassionate manner. Making a statement that the exploitation of animals and the violation of their rights is the antithesis of being kind.

INCREMENTAL WELFARE IMPROVEMENTS
New regulations that may or may not reduce the suffering of animals, but in no way challenge the property status of animals. They specifically legalise methods of mutilation and slaughter of farm animals for the purposes of human consumption.

INHERENT or INTRINSIC VALUE
Animals are sentient, they experience and value their lives. Therefore their lives have value whether we value them or not and it would be wrong for us to treat them like objects that do not experience or value their lives.

JUSTICE
Adhering to the moral principle that animal rights are inviolable.

LEGAL PERSON
The animal rights movement strives to upgrade the legal status of animals from property to that of ‘legal persons’ for limited legal purposes. This will ensure that animals are recognised as legal entities having distinct identity, legal personality, and rights. Furthermore, it will be possible to pursue legal action in order to defend these rights. The laws surrounding personhood are a social justice issue which have previously been debated during the abolition of slavery and the fight for women’s rights.

MAINSTREAM VEGAN
Being vegan while living and interacting in society. Striving for the vegan lifestyle to be regarded as normal or conventional and the dominant trend. Introducing vegan products and services into society in such a way that they are easily accessible and appealing to the general public.

MEAT-FREE
Term used in place of ‘vegan’ by many welfarist organisations as it is considered to be more appealing than the ‘V’ word. The public interpret it to mean free from red meat ie beef. Instead of reducing animal consumption, this results in more animals suffering and dying.

MORAL COMMUNITY
Accepting animals as full members of the moral community requires moving away from the speciesist, anthropomorphic limitations of our society. Animals qualify for moral personhood.

MORAL PERSONHOOD
As sentient beings, animals have an interest in not being used as resources, they have an interest in not suffering, they have an interest in continuing to live. Just as these fundamental interests are protected for humans, so too should animals have the right to moral personhood and the right to defend these interests. Sentience is sufficient reason to include them as members of the moral community. Requiring a cognitive ability that is similar to humans is speciesist and inconsistent with our practice of awarding moral personhood to all humans, irrespective of their cognitive abilities.

MORAL SCHIZOPHRENIA *
Being inconsistent with our value judgements and personal belief structures around animal use. Arbitrarily deciding that certain treatment is not acceptable when applied to animals we know, but is acceptable when applied to animals we don’t know. Or believing that we have a higher moral obligation to animals of one species and not of another species. Loving your dog and considering him to be highly intelligent with human-like characteristics, but eating a pig who has been scientifically proven to be of higher intelligence than a dog. The compartmentalisation required to enable us to eat one species of animals, while viewing other animals as members of our family.

NEW WELFARIST *
This is the name abolitionists use to describe animal advocates and organisations who claim to uphold animal rights, but in practice, promote welfare reforms. They claim to fight for the liberation of animals in the future, while further entrenching the property status of animals in the present. They are opposed to factory farming, but promote the humane mutilation and slaughter of animals. They may be vegans themselves, but feel that veganism is too extreme for other people. They ask people to stop consuming some animals products, but not all animal products, by promoting meat-free and vegetarian diets. They ask people to oppose some animal use, but not all animal use, by promoting single issue campaigns. They form partnerships with animal welfare organisations and the animal agricultural industry, in order to promote their campaigns.

NON-DEROGABLE RIGHTS
Due to the sentient nature of animals they have certain non-derogable rights, for example, the right to life which may not be compromised. Not even by the state in circumstances which threaten the life of the nation.

NON-HUMAN ANIMAL
Humans are merely one species of animal. We call all other species ‘animals’, whereas, the correct term is ‘non-human’ animals. We also tend to forget that humans are mammals, just as are cows, goats, dolphins and sheep etc.

NON-VIOLENCE
Refraining from infringing on the rights of others. Respecting another’s bodily integrity. Respecting another’s property rights. Harmonious co-existence that is beneficial to all. A core tenet of abolitionism is non-violence; towards animals, people and property. Violence is the problem, it is not the solution. Veganism is a peace movement.

OMNIVORE
Eating all types of food, including plants and animal products.

OPEN RESCUE
Animal activists who rescue animals and embark on exposés openly. Animal rights advocates view animals as moral persons and the act of extracting them from abusive environments, and often saving their lives from certain death, is seen as a rescue mission. However, in the eyes of the law and society in general, animals are classified as property and removing an animal from its owner constitutes theft resulting in prosecution and punitive measures. The animals are replaced by the industry, thus it only serves to speed up the production line.

ORGANIC
A method of animal agriculture that is more appealing to humans as it is kinder to the planet and to their health. The animals are not arbitrarily dosed with antibiotics, as all usage has to be recorded. Unnecessary growth hormones are excluded from their feed. In keeping with common farming practices, the animals are still artificially inseminated, confined, separated from their families, mutilated and slaughtered.

OXYMORON
A term that contradicts itself. For example: ‘humane slaughter’. An act of cruelty cannot be kind.

PARADIGM SHIFT
When the belief structure of an individual or society is so drastically altered that previous assumptions need to be reassessed and all future decisions are made from a different perspective. A paradigm shift is required to move society away from the belief that animals are resources at our disposal, and towards viewing animals as sentient beings who qualify as members of our moral community.

PLANT-BASED DIET
A way of eating that generally means eating predominantly plants. It does not preclude animal products. It is not a synonym for a vegan diet as it describes only the basis, not the entirety of the diet.

PROPERTY STATUS OF ANIMALS
Animals are currently classified as things, objects, commodities, resources, property and even described as machines in some agricultural textbooks. This disregards their sentience, disqualifies them from being members of the moral community and their needs are subjugated to those of humans. This legal status facilitates the use of animals for food, clothing, scientific experiments and entertainment etc.

RAW FOOD DIET
Eating natural foods that are not cooked at temperatures higher than 46°C. Not all raw foodists are vegans. Their diet consists predominantly of fruit, vegetables, sprouted grains and nuts, although animals products may be included, such as eggs, fish, dairy, honey, meat and seafood.

SENTIENCE
Signifying that a being is conscious, self-aware and has the capacity to feel emotional and physical sensations. A being who has the ability to subjectively and consciously experience pleasure and pain, joy and fear. Animals are sentient beings. Although this fact is self-evident to anyone who has ever known an animal, it has also recently been scientifically proven. This fact discredits the current property status of animals.

SINGLE ISSUE CAMPAIGNS *
Speciesist in nature as they focus on certain types of animals, single issue campaigns are also often racist, classist and nationalistic when they focus on actions by other races, classes and nationalities. They are welfarist as they focus on a certain type of treatment and not the abolition of all animal use.

SPECIESISM
The discrimination and oppression by humans of a group of sentient beings dependent on their species. Humans are also animals. The species we refer to as ‘animals’ are in reality ‘non-human’ animals. Society no longer tolerates discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, abilities or race. The next step is to end discrimination against other species. The mere fact that a being is sentient, qualifies her as a moral person and entitles her to be a full member of the moral community.

SUFFERING
Mental anguish caused by physical or mental pain and discomfort. Farm animals suffer in many ways, the very least being their confinement and the obfuscation of their natural desire for autonomy over their lives. Despite the fact it is a highly subjective concept, animal welfare pragmatically quantifies the suffering of farm animals into necessary and unnecessary suffering. Considering that they accept the consumption of animals as being morally acceptable; then mutilation, isolation, artificial insemination and slaughter all fall within their questionable definition of necessary suffering.

SUSTAINABLE
A viable solution for human lifestyle requirements that will ensure the health of our planet’s ecosystem and its ability to support plentiful life on Earth indefinitely.

UTILITARIAN
People who believe that animal use is acceptable, if it serves the greater good. Most often they are preference utilitarians, believing that death is not a harm for animals in the same way that it would be for humans, and as long as the animals have not suffered unnecessarily, then they believe it is morally acceptable for a human to kill and eat them. In addition, they believe that we have given the animals the gift of life, by breeding them for our purposes.

VEGAN
A vegan refrains from the consumption and use of anything that is derived from animals. This includes meat, eggs, dairy, seafood and honey; as well as leather, wool, fur and silk. Vegans avoid products that have been tested on animals. Ethical vegans do not view these choices as a diet, but rather as a lifestyle that demonstrates their belief in non-violence and animal rights.

VEGAN BY ACCIDENT
Many foodstuffs and other goods are vegan by accident. This means that even though the product was not created for vegans specifically, is not labelled as vegan, or vegan certified, it does not include any animal products and is therefore suitable for vegans. The company may be targeting people who are allergic to eggs or diary products, or the kosher community. They may also be catering for raw food or plant-based diets, neither of which are necessarily vegan.

VEGAN EDUCATION
Promoting veganism as the unequivocal baseline for animal rights. Raising awareness for the oppression of animals and presenting the abolition of all animal use as the solution. Discussing the property status of animals and stating the case for their right to moral personhood. Distributing literature that assists people to follow a vegan lifestyle. Sharing vegan food and recipes to demonstrate how easy it is to be vegan.

VEGETARIAN
Vegetarians do not want to directly contribute to the death of an animal, but they are not concerned with benefiting from the death of an animal if someone else is responsible. A vegetarian usually doesn’t eat anyone ‘with eyes’. So they do not consume the body parts of most living beings. However, some vegetarian diets include oysters, fish and even chickens. They do eat animal secretions that include eggs, dairy and honey. They do use wool, silk and animal skin if the fur has been removed ie leather, but not if the fur is still intact ie fur.

When a person replaces one type of animal product with another type of animal product, this results in the suffering and death of more animals than before. Many vegetarians simply swap out the death and suffering of a beef cow and his mother, for that of even more veal calves and their mothers.

VIOLENT DIRECT ACTION
Illegal and anonymous methods of liberating animals from exploitative industries. Economic terrorism directed at the perpetrators in the form of property damage. This is the reason animal activists are classified as terrorists in some countries and it serves to generate negative sentiment towards the animal rights movement. Participants keep their identities hidden in order to evade detention and thus extend their ability to continue with their mission. Their attention is focused on the supply chain when it should be focused on the consumers and are single issue in nature. Not all participants are vegan. They fight violence with violence, thereby undermining ethical veganism which is a peace movement.

WELFARE REFORMS
Animal welfare reforms aim to reduce the suffering of animals. In reality they legalise the breeding, confinement, mutilation and slaughter of animals. They further entrench the property status of animals and perpetuate the humane myth.

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Speaking up for animals requires that we clearly and unequivocally explain the plight of animals which is that humans are enslaving them, exploiting them and violating their rights; and the solution, which is a vegan lifestyle and the abolition of all animal use. For articles on vegan philosophy and animal rights theory visit our Animal Rights page.

Contact me if you cannot find the term you are looking for. Constructive suggestions are always welcome.

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