Animal Protection: Ethics and Politics
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leicester
Unit of AssessmentPolitics and International Studies
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Law and Legal Studies: Law
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Philosophy
Summary of the impact
The use and treatment of animals in the provision of our food, clothing
and other raw materials, as well as in the areas of medical research,
sport and entertainment, polarises public opinion and provokes extreme
views. Research by Professor Robert Garner on the ethics and politics of
animal protection has provided a springboard for political debate and
decision making both in the UK and internationally. In particular,
Garner's work has impacted upon the debate within the animal protection
movement, and has helped to shape aspects of government policy on animal
welfare issues in general, most notably on the UK Government's approach to
the issue of whaling, and DEFRA's approach to the ethics of using wild
animals in circuses.
The debate about the human treatment of animals contains a bewildering
array of normative, strategic, and scientific claims. The starting point
for Garner's research is, as one reviewer put it, to `lead the way through
this labyrinth of moral mazes, political inconsistencies and economic
sticking points clearly and analytically'.
This research has been undertaken by Garner primarily since 1995 when he
joined the University of Leicester, first as a Lecturer and subsequently
in the role of Reader and latterly Professor.
In particular, two strands underpin the impact of Garner's research on
the nature of animal protection as a political issue, and the ethics of
our use of animals:
(i) The development of a typology of positions in the animal ethics
debate and the advocacy of a particular, rights-based, ethic.
(ii) The advocacy of a particular strategic position known as New
Welfarism or Animal Protectionism
In terms of (i) Garner has sought to delineate and explore the
consequence, for the treatment of animals, of the adoption of different
positions within the animal ethics debate (1, 2). Of
particular importance has been the distinction made between animal welfare
as a scientific endeavour and as an ethic (4, chapter 5). This
expertise was utilised, for instance, by the DEFRA/WSPA workshop on Animal
Welfare and Whaling and by other bodies (see below) who have proffered
invites to talk at conferences and meetings.
In terms of (ii) Garner is the leading advocate of a strategic position
(New Welfarism or Animal Protectionism) which combines a consideration of
ethics and political possibility (1, 3, 4). It
seeks to challenge, both strategically and philosophically, the claims of
the so-called animal rights absolutists who advocate the abolition of
particular uses of animals on the grounds that to use them, irrespective
of what is done to them whilst they are being used, is illegitimate
morally. Animal protectionism, by contrast, argues, strategically, for
incremental change in pursuit of non-human animal interests. It is a
position that agrees (with abolitionists) that the animal welfare model of
animal protection—whereby animals may be used as food, clothing,
entertainment and in experiments so long as there is no unnecessary
suffering—is flawed ethically. However, it also suggests that the
incremental approach stressing the need to eradicate unnecessary suffering
may still have some political mileage.
Garner argues that the pursuit of better treatment of animals through
incremental change is consistent with holding an abolitionist ideology,
and rejects the critics (notably Professor Gary Francione, an American
legal scholar) who argue that reforms that improve the treatment of
animals persuade the public that the animals they use are being treated
kindly, and that continued use is therefore justifiable (3).
Ethically, Garner argues that both the animal welfare and the
abolitionist animal rights position are flawed. Rather, an approach that
is based on the right of animals not to suffer is closer to the correct
normative position, and this could, possibly, be consistent with the
continued use of animals as a source of food and as subjects of scientific
References to the research
1. Garner, R., Animals, Politics and Morality (Manchester
University Press, second edition, 2004, 296 pp.).
2. Garner, R., Animal Ethics (Polity Press, 2005, 224 pp.)
3. Garner, R., The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?
(Co-authored with Gary Francione, Columbia University Press: 2010, 288 pp.
4. Garner, R., A Theory of Justice for Animals, Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2013
5. Garner, R., `In Defence of Sentiency: A Response to Cochrane's Liberty
Thesis' Political Studies, 59, 1, 2011, pp. 175-87.
6. Garner, R., `Animal Welfare, Ethics and the Work of the International
Whaling Commission', Journal Of Global Ethics, 7, 3, 2011, pp.
Grants (Garner as the PI)
Award of a research grant totalling £7,673.78 from the RSPCA (1994-5) for
a project on the politics of animal welfare in Britain and the United
States. This was the first time the RSPCA had ever funded social science
Leverhulme Research Fellowship, £33,336. `A Theory of Justice for
Animals', awarded May 2009.
Details of the impact
Professor Garner's work has facilitated debate which has effected change
in key areas of animal welfare, including the controversial uses of wild
animals in travelling circuses in the UK, and the hunting of whales (A,
B, C). As a result, Garner has made an influential
contribution to campaigns for social, economic, political and legal
His arguments — made from both political and ethical standpoints — have
been employed by DEFRA in presenting to Parliament its case for an
outright ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. The
proposed Wild Animals Circuses Bill, which was published in April 2013 by
DEFRA, outlaws the use of species not normally domesticated in the UK from
appearing in travelling circuses after December 2015. DEFRA has also
introduced a stringent new licensing scheme which is designed to ensure
the welfare of wild animals in circuses as the bill works its way through
DEFRA consulted Garner on the contents of the bill — in particular the
question of why it is unacceptable for wild animals to perform in
travelling circuses but acceptable for them to appear in other
entertainment spheres such as TV, film and theatre. Upon the Bill's
publication, DEFRA wrote to Garner to thank him for his contribution to
some of the work underpinning the justifications for its proposal. (H).
Based on Garner's study, DEFRA outlined its case to Parliament, saying:
`The Government does not believe it is appropriate to continue to use wild
animals in travelling circuses because:
- People can still experience the circus without wild animals being part
of the act.
- Wild animals are just that. They are not naturally suited to
travelling circuses and may suffer as a result of not being able to
follow their natural behavioural instincts.
- We should feel duty bound to recognise that wild animals have
intrinsic value. Therefore we should respect their inherent wildness and
its implications for their treatment.
- The practice adds nothing to our understanding and conservation of
wild animals or the natural environment' (I).
Elsewhere in the field of animal protection, Garner's work has impacted
upon the way in which the global welfare of whales is approached. His
input contributed to the outcome that the International Whaling Commission
(IWC) has for the first time recognised that animal welfare is an
important and relevant consideration to be taken into account in the
killing of whales, both directly through hunting and indirectly, and
inadvertently, through other activities such as shipping and fishing. This
changed conservation policy has led to the improved design of an important
regulatory machinery for protecting the natural environment.
Garner was invited to prepare a briefing document on the Ethical Case
against Whaling which was presented at a two-day workshop convened by the
WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) and DEFRA (D).
The workshop's aim was to produce recommendations on the future role of
animal welfare in the IWC's decision-making structure, with the resulting
report submitted by the UK delegation to the IWC in 2011. Garner's
contribution was to provide expert advice on the ethical dimension of
whaling in general, and a clarification of the meaning of animal welfare
in particular (E, G).
At the IWC's 2011 meeting, the UK formed an Intersessional Working Group
which concluded that animal welfare is relevant across all the IWC's work.
Drawing on the contents of the Workshop's report, the group reached
consensus on a series of recommendations, including proposals for two
animal welfare-focused workshops. At the IWC's meeting in 2012, the UK
tabled the Intersessional Working Groups' report and recommendations,
which were subsequently endorsed by consensus by the IWC (F).
In more general terms, Garner's work has shaped the debate within the
animal rights movement which has historically coalesced around the
abolition versus regulation question. Garner's work is cited within the
movement as the principal academic justification for the latter position,
thereby challenging established norms, and modes of thought and practice
within the abolitionist strand of the animal rights movement (a strand
which has been traditionally dominant). His research has impacted on
stakeholders at all levels, with his work disseminated in a variety of
forums including radio interviews, podcasts and newspaper articles. He has
also given many talks and lectures throughout the world attended by both
activists and academics. These have included recent keynote lectures to an
animal rights gathering in Austria (in December 2011), to the
International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg (in September 2012)
and to a conference organised by the Australian RSPCA in Sydney (October
In addition, Garner has also played an essential role in the creation and
development of the Centre for Animals and Social Justice (CASJ) — a third
sector think tank which was launched in 2011 to focus on academic research
and advocacy in animal protection public policy. (http://www.casj.org.uk/about/who-we-are/).
The CASJ was formed following a number of meetings between academics and
activists. These included Dan Lyons and Angela Roberts from the
anti-vivisection group Uncaged, Kim Stallwood, former CEO of the American
animal rights group PETA, and Alistair Currie, Campaigns Coordinator at
PETA in the UK. Lyons and Roberts now act as the paid organisers of the
CASJ and Garner acts as the Chair of the Research Committee.
The CASJ seeks to build bridges between academia, advocates and policy
makers. Through Garner, it has funded a series of seminars on animals and
public policy at the University of Leicester (attended by academics,
activists and public policy makers) as well as part-funding a PhD student
in this research area under Garner's supervision (Anne Marie Matarrese who
began her studies in October 2012). Garner has also contributed to a CASJ
policy submission to British political parties, and to an RSPCA working
group on `Animal Welfare in Government'.
Professor Garner's influence and impact on the CASJ's role is attested to
by Dan Lyons, its CEO (J). He reports that Garner's research `has
had a major impact on the debate within the animal protection movement at
all levels, in particular stimulating a growing recognition of the need to
move beyond ideal ethical demands towards proposals that take account of
constraining power structures'.
Sources to corroborate the impact
(A) Garner's work discussed in animal rights internet forums, podcasts
(B) Newspaper articles and radio interviews.
(C) Citations by animal protection organisations, and evidence of impact
on individuals within the animal rights movement.
(D) Details of the origins of Whale Welfare and Ethics Workshop: Mandated
by the 62nd annual meeting of the International Whaling
Commission, Morocco, 21-25 June 2010.
(E) Final Report of the Whale Welfare and Ethics workshop, submitted to
the IWC meeting in Jersey in 2011.
(F) Account of the progress of the Whale Welfare and Ethics workshop
report (from the World Society for the Protection of Animals).
(G) Confirmation of Garner's contribution in an e-mail from the World
Society for the Protection of Animals.
(H) e-mail communication from Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs, Circus Animal Legislation Team) 23/4/2013.
(I) Wild Animals in Circuses, April 2013. Presented to Parliament by the
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by Command of
(J) Letter from CEO, the Centre for Animals and Social Justice (formerly