Defining the Legislation of Animal Welfare
This is the body of laws that encompasses the welfare for animals (Legislative History of the Animal Welfare Act, n.d.). As social norms change with different communication mediums, the definition of “animal welfare” is very fluid, but it represents how we should treat, handle, and transport both domesticated and wild animals that we use in society.
The History of the Reform of Animal Legislation
Prior to 1962, a disease called Malaria was ravishing in the millions of global deaths it would take each year. America resorted to utilizing a chemical pesticide to protect American civilians from the disease. This chemical was sprayed in layers, over and over in areas where mosquitos were likely to occur. Malaria rates dropped and America rested soundly not realizing that that it was slowly poisoning itself. In 1962, a woman named Rachel Carson wrote a book, Silent Spring, which was a story about her local community, and how the mosquito killing pesticide was affecting her environment (Scheer, 2012). In her work, she discussed how the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), was toxifying the food chain, magnifying the levels of pesticide to lethal levels in other insects, fish, and birds (Biomagnification, 2003). The Great American symbol, the Bald Eagle, was not immune to this either. This bird would lay thinner eggs, and under its fragility, would break with the slightest touch. Without any eggs successfully hatching, the Bald Eagle population deteriorated more than 80%. Silent Spring caused such a public outrage that in 1972, the federal government finally banned DDT. Rachel Carlson’s book had made such an influence that she catalyzed the start of the Environmental Defense Fund, a global environmental non-profit organization that actually started in reaction to her book. It is said that with the combination of government legislation, the public, as well as the numerous environment and bird organizations, can be credited to the population of the bald eagle increasing 20 times since 1970. All from a book named Silent Spring.
In 1966, Life Magazine released an article highlighting the abusive conditions at dog farms. The published article featured detailed photos of starving dogs with open wounds and poorly done stitches. There were excrement and flies everywhere, even the puppies were rotting alive in caked cages. With such vivid images in the magazine, this article really fueled the public’s attention regarding this issue (Legislative History of the Animal Welfare Act, n.d.). This was one of first times that magazines were being used as a catalyst for reform in animal welfare. This article had a tremendous emotional influence as they generated so much public interest that Congress passed a Federal Law making it illegal to steal animals, as well as implementing minimal standards for animal housing, care, sale, and transport. This would later be known as the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (Legislative History of the Animal Welfare Act, n.d.).
In 1981, 17 wild macaque monkeys from South East Asia were sold to a laboratory in Silver Spring, Maryland. A man named Edward Taub was studying how their brains and muscles worked when various nerves were cut off. He hired a man named Alex Pacheco, the founder of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who worked as undercover spy. He took several photos, documented several videos, and took notes on how none of these animals were given even minimal veterinary care. Primates were so hungry that they were eating each other, and eventually, the skin off their own hands. Some of them were kept in metal rings, locked in uncomfortable positions for days at a time (The Silver Spring Monkeys, n.d.). It was very sad. After he shared all of this with the police, the Silver Spring Lab was raided, the first time a raid against an animal laboratory occurred. Pacheco then released these images to the Washington Post, whose influence in the media allowed these photos to spread like wildfire. Everyone who subscribed to the Washington Post could read about the disgusting conditions that these primates had to live in. This catalyzed the general public to work together with PETA to create an Amendment to the Animal Welfare Act (Legislative History of the Animal Welfare Act, n.d.). While prior to this amendment, primates were not considered laboratory animals, and were not given mandatory welfare requirements. This amendment of 1985 now protects all primates from inhumane conditions, as well as providing minimum welfare standards (Legislative History of the Animal Welfare Act, n.d.).
The Current State of the Reform of Animal Legislation
As of 2017, many states and countries around the world are becoming more aware of animal welfare. The Animal Welfare Act as of 2017 now encompasses many more animals than it did in 1985, including exotic species. While magazines and books are classical methods of dispersing knowledge, I believe that the internet has expanded to the point where it plays a much more influential role than hard texts. The internet allows anyone with access, to read, share, and learn about how different animals are being treated around the world. This allows anyone who is interested, to get participated. The internet has provided easier access to not only know issues in Animal Welfare, but just as equally important, what happened before. One thing that is consistently repeated however, is the influence of different media technologies to spark emotional interest in the public, a strategic method to catalyze reform in animal welfare.
In addition to social media applications, the ability to easily stream documentaries is a modern innovation. According to an article from Fortune Magazine, the documentary Black Fish sparked a massive movement regarding the welfare of captive marine mammals at Sea World. Similar to past historical events, Black Fish worked by documenting real events, depicting Sea World’s cruel treatment of whales. This documentary became highly publicized through different mediums, such as Twitter and Facebook, effectively triggering the public. It is also important to note that one factor that led to its success was that it was on Netflix, a highly commercialized and popular streaming application. This made it simple for anyone with Netflix to watch. Before, people would have to watch the film at a theater, or go out and find a place to rent it from. Because of the readiness of accessing the film, more people became aware of this film in a short amount of time. In addition to documentaries, lectures and talks from famous people are also more readily available, providing public access to valuable knowledge in the topic.
Three examples of media being used as a platform to reform legislation of animal welfare across time, were the magazine published by Life, Rachel Carlson’s book, Silent Spring, and the Washington Post’s article on the Silver Spring Monkeys. These three examples have influenced legislation regarding animal welfare. Rachel Carlson’s book implemented a ban on DDT for the sake of the animals, the Life magazine implemented the early form of the Animal Welfare Act, and the Washington Post Newspaper article on the Silver Springs Monkey’s amended the Animal Welfare Act to also include primates. Now, with the innovation of the internet, similar events have been documented and easily dispersed, such as the documentary Black Fish. While different mediums have been used throughout history to ignite public interest, they have inevitably catalyzed the reform of laws in Animal Welfare.
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