Why we should protect animals

"It is not enough to protect animals from suffering"

Animal welfare

A joyful, good life - that is not only what everyone wants, but also animals. Germany likes to emphasize its pioneering role in animal welfare. But how well do politics and society actually protect our animals in agriculture?
We talked about this with Philipp von Gall, who works as a research assistant at the Institute for Social Sciences in the Agricultural Sector at the University of Hohenheim. Von Gall, born in 1981, lives and works in Berlin and Stuttgart. His dissertation “Animal Welfare as Agricultural Policy. How the German Animal Welfare Act paved the way for industrial animal husbandry ”, which was supervised by Professor Franz-Theo Gottwald, was published in January 2016 by transcript Verlag.


Schweisfurth Foundation: Mr. von Gall, in your dissertation you deal in detail with German animal protection legislation. They describe the basic conflict between the interests of animals and those of humans for economic profitability, in which the state must intervene through animal welfare legislation. Are German politicians doing enough to protect farm animals?

P. v. Gall: To answer that, we have to say what animal welfare is. If we mean basic medical care for animals by this, the state at least has the legislative means to intervene. Then it is “only” about the implementation. If, on the other hand, we say that animal welfare is about giving animals the prerequisites for a joyful life and taking into account the broad interests of animals in policy decisions, the state lacks the means and is keeping out of it.

In the German Animal Welfare Act, the principle says right from the start: “Nobody may inflict pain, suffering or harm on an animal without a reasonable reason.” One would think that the law thus contains everything that is essential - is it just lacking in practical implementation?

This succinct principle says nothing. The essence is in the philosophy behind it. For example in the respective ethical principles and in the biology of the spirit of animals, which should help us to name animal suffering aptly. What was mentioned as the basic concept of the law in the 1972 Bundestag resolution remains vague or is based on an outdated animal biology. The ethical role of veterinarians and livestock ethologists has also not yet been clarified. On the one hand, they should assess appropriate "minimum requirements" of animal welfare. On the other hand, nobody knows on what ethical basis the weighing of animal and economic interests should take place, which is, however, necessary for this. In addition, dealing with the question of whether we can “measure” well-being or animal suffering has a moral dimension: When in doubt, do we decide in favor of animals or not? The Ministry of Agriculture is therefore overwhelmed by implementing the minimum requirements in agriculture - although it does not say so openly. The few permanent employees who work for animal welfare ask “experts” for their decisions. But who are these experts and what is “reasonable” for them? The work of the ministry is completely opaque. In addition, in the case of animal husbandry, it is not enough to protect animals from suffering. If we take away their freedom, we have to offer them a joyful, interesting life. People who live with dogs usually do this automatically. There is no incentive for this in commercial animal husbandry, because unlike the health or well-being of the animals, you cannot earn money with their joy and real variety.

You criticize the fact that the interests of animals in Germany are not represented by politics, but only by non-governmental organizations. What need for change do you see here?

There has to be a state institution that represents animal interests. The state does not require you to take care of how your interests are fed into the public decision-making process at your own expense. There is a state interest group for you, which, for example, is represented by members of parliament. Animals also need MPs. Who should do this and under what conditions must be regulated.

For socially acceptable animal husbandry, the subjectivity of the animals would have to be given greater consideration, you write. What exactly do you mean by that?

Animals can be treated like machines and they can be treated like living subjects. The second variant can, for example, ask us to take them seriously as political subjects with claims and rights. Animal welfare can be operated like the maintenance of a machine. Individual animals are declared biological systems that may or may not work. Some of this notion can also be found in the “species-appropriate” concept. Why should animals live as their species normally do? Why don't we allow them a wonderful subjectivity that always strives for where it is good to live?

More and more people are vegetarian or vegan and are increasingly paying attention to animal welfare when shopping. Are these individual consumption decisions enough to actually make a difference in the system?

Veganism has the potential to promote an upheaval in animal policy. However, he does not yet answer the question of what forms of animal life he is actually striving for. "Wilderness" is certainly not a good idea. Like the organic movement, veganism risks shifting the focus away from politics and towards individual purchasing decisions. This creates enormous pressure and leads to social and personal tension. Strict government rules can free us from everyday moral burdens - if they are good.

What can individuals do to effectively and sustainably change today's conditions in animal husbandry?

That depends on the change he or she wants! In a democracy it is common to get involved politically. Anyone who does not understand what our animal welfare policy is - I was one of them for a long time - should ask the Agriculture Minister what arguments he uses to justify today's animal husbandry. It is important not to be fobbed off with technical terms, but to demand clear moral language. And always follow up nicely.

For further reading:

Philipp von Gall (2016): Animal Welfare as Agricultural Policy. How the German Animal Welfare Act paved the way for industrial animal husbandry. Transcript, ISBN 978-3-8376-3399-3.

Subjects:Animal welfare, animal welfare law, animal welfare policy