Sunday, August 31, 2008

Regulation vs. Prohibition and the Greyhound Protection Act

In general, I’m not excited to say the least about legislative measures to protect animals. Most of those measures seek to regulate existing practices—such as raising and killing chickens or pigs for food—and in doing so often have the undesirable effect of perpetuating or even promoting the activity. They do not address the underlying problem of the property status of animals. They consist of rules that are watered down, full of loopholes, and poorly enforced. When consumers believe that regulations result in animals being treated better, there is less incentive for them to stop eating meat, dairy, or eggs, or to cease using animals for clothing, or to discontinue their patronage of dog or horse races. Regulatory or animal welfare measures backed by major animal protection organizations, along with the availability of products such as “humanely” raised meat and “free-range” eggs, provide people with an easy way out; a convenient way to avoid confronting the underling moral issues of animal exploitation and the need to significantly change their own behavior.

However, a distinction should be made between legislative measures (including ballot propositions and initiatives) that merely regulate practices, and those that prohibit or abolish a category of animal use.

Recently one of my vegan/animal advocate friends brought to my attention an initiative on the November 2008 ballot in the US commonwealth of Massachusetts, known as the Greyhound Protection Act, that will ban dog racing. Rather than seeking to regulate how the dog racing industry operates with respect to its treatment of the animals—which conveys the message that the practice is acceptable if done with certain restrictions and minimum requirements—this measure will outright prohibit dog racing in Massachusetts after 2010.

My friend made the point in his posting to a local vegetarian society website message board, that this is something that both abolitionists and welfarists can get behind. I agree. While it doesn’t take the place of vegan/abolition education, this is an effort that can coexist alongside it. I have supported it through a donation to GREY2K USA, one of the sponsoring organizations. The other groups sponsoring this initiative are the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Rescue League of Boston, and the Humane Society of the United States.

If this measure passes, it remains to be seen to what degree it may raise awareness about our use of animals for food, which is by far where most of the cruelty and exploitation of nonhuman animals takes place. But at least it will end the barbaric practice of dog racing in Massachusetts and pave a path for similar bans in other states and jurisdictions.

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