Why Hong Kong needs to focus on animal welfare more than animal rights
- Many people seem to think that animal rights and animal welfare are synonymous terms, but this is not the case
- Animal welfare recognises they may be used in acceptable ways but makes humans responsible to ensure they are treated with respect and have a good life
In the last 20 years or so, there has been a marked increase in the awareness of animal welfare and its importance within society. This is to be commended.
According to the latest policy address from the chief executive, the government proposes to update existing legislation to introduce a duty of care on animal keepers, such that they will be legally obliged to provide for the welfare needs of their animals.
It is therefore opportune to clarify some of the terminology used in connection with the discourse on animal welfare. Many people seem to think that animal rights and animal welfare are synonymous terms, but this is not the case. Animal rights generally refer to a philosophical view that animals should be afforded similar rights as humans and should not be used by humans for food, sports (such as horse racing), recreation, or in other ways.
On the other hand, the concept of animal welfare recognises that animals may be used in acceptable ways but places the responsibility on humans to ensure that they are treated with respect and their nutritional, environmental, behavioural and health requirements are provided for, to ensure a good quality of life.
Furthermore, animal welfare is a well-established and globally accepted concept, fundamentally based on scientific methods adopted by most developed countries and promoted by organisations such as the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health).
Our principal objective should be to ensure that all animals have good welfare and hence a good quality of life. Focusing our discourse on animal welfare, and being aware of the differences between rights and welfare, instead of using the terms interchangeably, will help to ensure that that objective is attained in a pragmatic way.
Olivia Chan, chair, Association of Veterinary Public Health and Animal Welfare, Hong Kong