Although animal rights and animal welfare frequently fall on the same side of an issue, there is a fundamental difference between the two ideologies: the right of humans to use animals.
The Right to Use Animals
One of the basic tenets of animal rights is that humans do not have a right to use non-human animals for our own purposes, which include food, clothing, entertainment and vivisection. This is based on a rejection of speciesism and the knowledge that animals are sentient beings.
There are many who believe that humans do have a right to use animals for some purposes, but believe that the animals should be treated better. This position is the animal welfare position.
Example – Farmed Animals
While the animal rights position seeks the elimination of the use of animals, the animal welfare position seeks more humane conditions for the animals. The difference between these two positions can be seen as applied to an issue like farmed animals.
While the animal rights position would hold that humans do not have the right to slaughter and eat animals, the animal welfare position would be that the animals should be treated humanely before and during slaughter. The animal welfare position would not object to the consumption of animals, but would seek the elimination of cruel factory farming practices such as confining calves in veal crates, confining pregnant sows in gestational stalls, and debeaking chickens.
Animal rights advocates would also support the elimination of these cruel practices, but have the ultimate goal of the elimination of the consumption of animals and animal products.
To most supporters of the animal welfare position, some uses of animals are unacceptable because the human benefit is minimal compared to the amount of animal suffering involved. These usually include uses like fur, cosmetics testing, canned hunting, and dog fighting. On these issues, both the animal rights position and animal welfare position would call for the elimination of these uses of animals.
The Animal Issues Spectrum
Like many other issues, there is a wide variety of positions on animal issues. One can imagine a spectrum with animal rights at one end, animal welfare in the middle, and the belief that animals do not deserve any moral consideration on the other end. Many people may find that their views do not fit completely within one box or the other, or may find that their positions change depending on the issue.
A variety of terms are used to describe positions on animal issues. These include animal protection, animal advocacy, and animal liberation. “Animal protection” and “animal advocacy” are usually understood to include both animal rights and animal welfare. Both terms embody a belief that animals should be protected and deserve some moral consideration. “Animal liberation” is usually used to describe an animal rights position, which would oppose any uses of animals for human purposes.