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Abstract

Historically, society has not had a robust, institutionalized ethic for how animals should be treated. Before the Animal Welfare Act, the only laws constraining animal use in society were the anticruelty laws forbidding sadistic, deviant, purposeless, deliberate, unnecessary infliction of pain and suffering on animals, or outrageous neglect. These laws, both by statute and by judicial interpretation, did not apply to socially accepted animal uses such as research or agriculture. Because the overwhelming use of animals in society was in agriculture, aimed at providing food, fiber, locomotion, and power, and because the key to agricultural success was having healthy animals, good husbandry and good care were enforced by the most powerful sanction, self-interest; the anticruelty laws were only there for society to manage sadists and psychopaths unmoved by self-interest. But with the emergence of new kinds of “normal” animal use—such as intensive agriculture and animal research, both of which caused animal pain and suffering that did not fall under the anticruelty ethic—society was forced to create a new ethic for animals that went “beyond cruelty.” The Animal Welfare Act was a start, but it did not address all of the ethical concerns that society has had about the treatment of animals. As evidence of the need for a new ethic for animals, thousands of bills pertaining to animal welfare have been promulgated across the United States in the last decade. The new ethic for animals essentially applies much of our social ethic for humans, mutatis mutandis, to the treatment of animals and embodies the desired protections in the legal system.