Thursday, March 31, 2011

More Animals That Are Not (Legally) Animals

This is the definition of animal in the U.S. Animal Welfare Act (revised 1970, with further exceptions added in 2002).
The term 'animal' means any live or dead dog, cat, monkey (nonhuman primate mammal), guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or such other warm-blooded animal, as the Secretary may determine is being used, or is intended for use, for research, testing, experimentation, or exhibition purposes, or as a pet; but such term excludes (1) birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research, (2) horses not used for research purposes, and (3) other farm animals, such as but not limited to livestock or poultry used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber
That is: lab rats, lab mice, and lab birds, race horses (e.g.), and farm animals--not to mention all cold-blooded animals--are not (legally) animals. The reasons why should be obvious. (The 2002 revision added the specific exclusion of animals reared specifically for lab use.) But that does not make any of this any less bizarre, and in many ways, devious, and dishonest. At least, it seems the act should be called the U.S. Act on Animals Whose Welfare We Don't Have a Vested Interest in Not Protecting. (I wish I had something else to say, but that will have to wait.)


  1. So apes are legally monkeys? And dead hamsters have more rights than live rats? This is really bizarre. And seems to be as clear a case of, what? bad faith?, as you'll ever see.

  2. True about the apes; it's weird. Presumably, the "alive or dead" business has to do with evisceration.

    It seems like a very strange way to make the exceptions desired/needed. But I don't know law, and so maybe the problem is that if, say, "lab rats" were made an exception to a law that protected "animals" (including rats), then that might be somehow easier to challenge??? I don't know. (And even if that were true, that wouldn't necessarily make all of this less a matter of, yeah, something like bad faith.)

  3. Yes, it's all very strange, including giving examples of small, furry animals. What is the point of that? Then they throw in technical language ("the genus Rattus"), which muddies the waters regarding who this is written for. I guess it's for both the courts and for popular consumption. And the whole thing seems to be an exercise in distorting the meaning of 'animal' so that legislation can be written that sounds nicer than it really is. Although why people can do things to research horses that they cannot do to monkeys is mysterious too. Odd.

  4. On horses, I imagine it's not just what can be done to the excluded research horses, but also that racehorses that have been injured but would heal and live (though not be useful for racing) can be euthanized. (This happened recently to a high-profile horse that broke both legs. Now some have said that these injuries are irreparable, and in those cases, euthanasia makes sense, but I have a suspicion that there are much grayer cases, too.)

  5. Good point. Although does this mean that you could not euthanize a monkey with broken legs? That might be a good law, but it's odd as part of the overall package.

  6. Depends on what the Act says about permissible animal euthanasia, I presume...

    (This whole thing reminds me of Kenji Yoshino's remark (I don't know who first said this) that the law is a meat cleaver and not a scalpel. The oddities that result above indicate perhaps what happens when you try to use a cleaver as a scalpel...)