Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce on ‘Radical’ Animal Well-Being [Q&A]

Animal well-being means thinking of the animal's needs, not your needs.

The term “animal welfare” has watered down animal rights.

In the book, “The Animals’ Agenda,” co-writers Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce discuss the not-so-radical idea that humans are lazy when it comes to real-deal animal rights. Humans often think that some animals must die for human good. However, that doesn’t have to be the case.

We recently interviewed Bekoff and Pierce and asked the writers to tell us about their book and true animal well-being.

EcoSalon: What inspired you both write “The Animals’ Agenda?”

Marc Bekoff: We’ve always been concerned with the plight of nonhuman animals (animals) in a human-dominated world. And, likewise, for many people working in animal advocacy, the failure of science to produce better ethical results has been a bitter disappointment.

We’re living in the Anthropocene. It’s an epoch many call “the age of humanity.” But in reality, the Anthropocene should be called “the age of inhumanity.” And we’re not listening to “the science.” For us (a scientist and an ethicist), an early feeling of optimism has given way to frustration, even alarm, about what is happening to animals globally. Numerous animals are, by many measures, objectively worse off than ever before.

Despite the extensive database on the cognitive and emotional capacities of cows and pigs, burgers and bacon continue to be popular foods. And millions of sentient animals are used in invasive research every year. Animals of numerous different species also are kept in cages in zoos. Animals do not like this kind of treatment. And, we’re devastating numerous natural populations of a wide variety of animals and decimating their homes as if the Earth is ours to devour and to ruin. We clearly are the direct cause of incredible and unprecedented losses of biodiversity. The pain, suffering, and death for which we are responsible is regrettable and reprehensible. We are not the only show in town.

Jessica Pierce: I was motivated by frustration. The growing awareness of animal intelligence and emotion hasn’t influenced the way we treat animals. We have this amazing body of scientific knowledge about who animals are. Why haven’t ethics caught up with science?

A motivating question behind the research is “what do animals really want and need?” There is a whole science built around understanding “animal preferences” and it is interesting research. What we found, though, is that many of the questions that are asked about animals are narrow and serve human interests more than animal interests. For example, rather than asking chickens what they think of battery cages (the answer to which is pretty obvious), the preference studies ask “would you (if you are a chicken) prefer 62 square inches of space or 70 square inches?” Or, “would you prefer wire or plastic mesh under your feet?” Not much of a choice, really, if you are a chicken.

EcoSalon: Tell us about the new book.

Marc Bekoff: The book argues that even “good animal welfare” isn’t “good enough.” Animal welfare science is used to service human interests and doesn’t enhance animal freedom.

In “The Animals’ Agenda,” we offer a new paradigm called the science of animal well-being. This paradigm suggests that the life of every individual matters and commits to radically improved freedoms for animals, especially freedom from human captivity and exploitation. This means phasing animals and animal products out of meal plans. It means putting an end to captive breeding in land and water zoos. And it means halting the practice of shipping animals as breeding machines. It means phasing out the use of animals in biomedical and other invasive research. And it also means, on the part of potential consumers of “pets,” a broad-minded consideration of what captivity means for these animals.

Jessica Pierce: The point of the book is to suggest that what animals really want and need from us is the freedom to live their own lives, on their own terms. In addition to the above topics, we also included a chapter on some of the surprising ways humans restrict the freedoms of wild animals. We can work to increase the range of freedoms available to animals and phase out practices that cause suffering.

EcoSalon: Please explain the importance of the science of animal well-being and how science, people, and animals can win.

Marc Bekoff: By focusing on the life of every animal, each individual will benefit. All animals want a life absent of human caused pain, suffering, and death. By focusing on a wide range of species, people will realize who—not what—other animals are. This education will benefit them and the animals themselves as they learn about what other animals know, think, and feel. In this way, it’s a win-win for all.

Jessica Pierce: There are no downsides to increasing the amount of compassion and kindness in the world and decreasing the amount of suffering (not just in thought, but in action, too). In nearly every case, it will be win-win. Cruelty toward animals typically goes hand in hand with cruelty toward people. And if humans become more mindful of how we treat animals, we will become more mindful of each other, too.

And it will be enormously beneficial for science to get out from under the thumb of industry. Humans must ask questions and listen for answers. Humans must listen to what animals are “saying” through their behavior and not be influenced by what’s profitable or expedient. Science is never free from values. Our better nature should guide science. Not an old paradigm rooted in the belief that animals are for us to use and abuse.

Purchase the book here.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Related on EcoSalon
A Safari Zoo? What If All Zoo Animals Were Cage-Free?
Animals See Humans as Super Predators (and We Don’t Blame Them)
Here’s How Your Clothes Can Help Animals in Need

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.