Sunday, 24 June 2012

Is it okay to trespass in the name of animal rights?

In preparing for the international Human-Animal Studies conference Minding Animals Two, which is taking place in Utrecht, The Netherlands, starting on July 6th, I have been thinking about animal rights and whether it might be morally and/or legally permissible to trespass to learn about how animals live and die on private property. 

Animal advocates have a long history of trespass. Often referred to as 'open rescue', animal advocates often illegally enter intensive agricultural units (factory farms), film inside, and then distribute the footage. 

While this is common practice among animal advocates, it is not a topic academics have turned their attention to.

   Is trespass necessary to protect the interests of animals?
   How might we learn about the way animals live and die without trespass?
   Under what conditions might trespass be permissible? 
   How might we protect modern property rights generally, while tolerating trespass where animals live on private property?

These and other questions have been on my mind in preparing my conference paper for Minding Animals.

My thinking has been aided by this week's media around the intensive rearing of ducks for meat.
On June 19th, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)'s 7.30 Report aired a story they titled 'Disturbing footage prompts calls for duck farming changes'. 

The story featured two types of footage about intensive duck farming: footage shot 'covertly' by Animal Liberation NSW, and footage shot by the ABC, taken with the farm owner's consent. 

Below is a still from the Animal Liberation covert footage. It shows a duck with his/her wing caught in wire mesh.

What was fascinating about the 7.30 Report story is that both sets of footage would appear to be critical to understanding the intensive duck meat story. On the one hand some birds have access to sunlight and some freedom of movement. On the other hand, some birds live in very cramped conditions and among unsuitable material, such as wire mesh.

If it is true that both sets of footage tell us something important about how ducks are raised for meat in Australia, how would we be able to learn about intensive duck production without trespass?

My colleagues and I are still working on the paper. I look forward to feedback from others at the conference and I will report back on how it goes.  

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