The Top Arguments Against Animal Rights

Below are eight of the most common arguments against animals rights, as well as responses to those arguments.

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If it's OK for lions to eat meat, it should be OK for people to eat meat.

Fonterra Open New Processing Plant
Martin Hunter/Stringer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

A lion, being a feline, is what is considered an obligate carnivore. This a species that must consume animal products in order to survive. An amino acid called taurine, a chemical compound only found in animals. It cannot be made synthetically, therefore, even captive cats, both big and small, require meat in their diet. while humans do not.So lions do not have a choice, while many people do.

Besides, there are a lot of things that it's OK for lions to do. They can play with their food before killing and consuming it, a practice not popular among humans. There have been no studies to suggest that lions feel sorry for their prey, whereas human beings are empathetic to others, psychopathic ax murderers notwithstanding. Male lions have more than one partner which is frowned upon among humans. Also, a male lion will kill the babies of another male lion in order to perpetuate his own bloodline. Try that, and you may draw the attention of the police who will not take kindly to your explanation that "lions do it."​

The American Dietetic Association supports vegan diets: "It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases."

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Animal rights is extreme.

Ingrid Newkirk
Ingrid Newkirk with an award. Getty Images

Extreme? Really? Ingrid Newkirk once said that while offering tofu dogs at a baseball game, someone asked her what was in it. She explained about soy, to which the questioner replied "yeecchh." So let's get this straight, this guy and all his friends eat hot dogs loaded with all kinds of disgusting things including "white rod-shaped worms, many clumped together and embedded in the meat." Other items found in hot dogs include bone, plastic, metal, rodents and other miscellaneous ingredients."

And the animal rights activists are extreme?

The word "extreme" is defined as "of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average." In the case of animal rights, there is nothing wrong with seeking solutions that are "extreme" and far from the ordinary. In the United States, the ordinary treatment of animals causes animals to suffer and die on factory farms, in laboratories, on fur farms, in leghold traps, in puppy mills, and in zoos and circuses. An extreme change is needed to save animals from these fates.

And let me leave you with this one final thought: human carnivores put the dead bodies of murdered animals in their mouth while a vegan would put that same dead animal in a grave. Which is extreme?

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If animal rights activists had their way, domestic animals would be extinct.

Woman with cat
A woman holds a kitten with apparent delight. Getty Images

This is truly an argument for the sake of argument. Do you really thing we are going to allow poodles, Rottweilers, Tennessee Walkers, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs and Abyssinian guinea pigs to be wiped off the face of the Earth. The Animal/Human bond is much too strong for that to happen. If we stop breeding domesticated animals, some would survive and some would go extinct. No one wants these animals released into the wild, but a few individuals always escape. Feral cat and dog colonies would survive. Established populations of feral pigs already exist. For those animals who are unfit to survive in the wild, extinction is not a bad thing. "Broiler" chickens grow so large, they develop joint problems and heart disease. Cows now produce more than twice as much milk as they did 50 years ago, and domestic turkeys are too large to mate naturally. There is no reason to continue breeding these animals. There is a fate worse than death.

Change can be scary, but society has evolved over the years due to other social movements and animal rights will be no different.

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AR activists have a right to be vegan, and should respect my right to eat meat.

Vegan survey
Vegans are a growing demographic. David Johnston / Getty Images

Eating meat infringes on the rights of the animals to live and be free, so animal rights activists don't believe people have a moral right to eat animals. Animal rights activists are the ONLY activists who speak for a species other than their own, and who speak for a truly voiceless population. People who are activists for a cure for cancer, or raising awareness of autism, or any other cause you can throw in there most likely have cancer or a loved one dealing with cancer, autism, dementia...whatever it is. There is a proximate benefit to these do-gooders,whereas animal activists don't have a self-serving component to their activism. They do it because they respect animals. Animals don't have standing in court either. Victimized human beings, either because of a disease or criminal act, can have their day in court. Animals can't. So others have to speak for them. Your "right" to eat meat infringes on the "right" of another one of God's creatures to survive. They just want to make their way in the world. Someone has to speak for them. And just like certain religions that require followers to go knocking on doors and missionaries who are hell-bent on converting "sinners," those who have adopted an ethical vegan lifestyle feel just as fervent about their "religion" as do others. 

Regarding legal rights, in the United States, eating meat is legal and our laws allow animals to be killed for food. However, AR activists cannot remain silent in the face of injustice and have a legal right to free speech that is protected by law. To expect AR activists to remain silent is failing to respect their right to express themselves and advocate veganism.

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Vegans kill animals, too.

It is nearly impossible for a person to live on this planet without causing some suffering and death to animals. Animals are killed and displaced on farms to grow crops; animal products show up in unexpected places like car tires; and pollution destroys wild habitats and the animals who depend on them. However, this has nothing to do with whether animals deserve rights, and being vegan is one way to minimize one's negative impact on animals. Look at it this way: do you want harm done to the animals and environment IN YOUR NAME? The point is, vegans strive to step lightly on the planet and leave as small a carbon footprint as possible. One cannot be an enviromentalist and a carnivore. Which way of life leads to a better planet for the people, for the animals and for the future of Earth?

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Rights come from the ability to think – not the ability to suffer.

The ability to think like a human is an arbitrary criterion for rights. Why not base it on the ability to fly or use echolocation or walk up walls?

Furthermore, if rights come from the ability to think, then some humans – babies and the mentally incapacitated – are not deserving of rights, while some non-human animals with the ability to think like a human do deserve rights. No one is arguing for this twisted reality where only the most intellectually gifted individuals of various species in the animal kingdom deserve rights.

The ability to suffer makes sense as a criterion for rights holding, because the purpose of rights is to ensure that those who might suffer if their rights are not recognized are not allowed to suffer unduly.

Mahatma Ghandi said "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated." If you don't think the animal in the picture is suffering, you are in la-la land. Animals have a central nervous system just like humans do. That's where pain signals do their thing. There is no reason to believe that a human's pain center is any less intense than that of a non-human.

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Animals cannot have rights because they do not have duties.

Two honey bees
When the honey bees are gone, farmers will be unable to pollinate their crops. Getty Images

This is a twisted argument. All animals absolutely have a purpose in life. Even a tick, a bloodsucking pest, is food for birds. Those white birds standing on cattle are not mistaking the cow for an Uber driver! They are eating the ticks, which help them do their job, which is to drop seeds around and make plants. All animals have a purpose, think about hawks who eat carrion, sharks who rid the ocean of overpopulated species and dogs who help the blind.

The current crises over the loss of honeybees. According to the USDA,the loss of honeybees will cause a serious threat to the economic stability of the United States.

Like the ability to think, having duties is an inappropriate criterion for rights holding because some classes of humans - babies, the mentally ill, the mentally incapacitated or the mentally retarded – do not have duties. If only those with duties deserve rights, then the mentally ill would have no rights and people would be free to kill and eat them.

Furthermore, although animals do not have duties, they are subject to human laws and punishments including imprisonment and death. A dog who attacks a person may be required to remain confined/muzzled, or may be sentenced to die. A deer who eats crops may be shot and killed by a farmer under a depredation permit.

Also, few people consider their duties to other animals, yet we demand that those animals recognize our rights by killing animals who interfere with our rights, whether they are mice, deer or wolves.

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Plants have feelings, too.

Tofu, almonds, broccoli and olive oil, still life
Which one suffers more?. Getty Images

This argument is another one of those ridiculous things people say when they are all out of ammo. It's prima facia crap. Who says plants feel pain? If that is your last gasp reason to deny rights to animals, your simpleminded argument needs work. Do the research on that and get back to me. While you're at it, go ahead and prove the moon landing was all a big conspiracy.

If plants are sentient, that would put humans in the same position as lions since we cannot live without consuming plants, so we would be morally justified in eating plants.

Also, if plants feel pain, that does not mean that eating plants and eating animals are morally equivalent because it takes many more plants to feed an omnivore compared to a vegan. Feeding grains, hay and other plant foods to animals so that we can eat the animals is very inefficient, and kills far more plants than being vegan.

If you believe that plants have feelings, one of the best things you can do for them is to go vegan.

MIchelle A. Rivera edited and re-wrote this article in part. 

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Lin, Doris. "The Top Arguments Against Animal Rights." ThoughtCo, Aug. 7, 2017, Lin, Doris. (2017, August 7). The Top Arguments Against Animal Rights. Retrieved from Lin, Doris. "The Top Arguments Against Animal Rights." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 24, 2018).