How do animals suffer in today's world

Ethics: The deep contradictions in the human-animal relationship

The relationship between humans and animals - it could hardly be more contradictory: humans, at least in Western societies, like to call dogs their “best friend”, and cats, parrots and turtles are equally fond of cats. In this country there is an animal in every third household. The Germans, on the other hand, keep “farm animals” such as cows, pigs and chickens under conditions that animal rights activists call “cruel”.

Are we allowed to treat animals that are apparently less intelligent or less beautiful or seem to look little like us worse than apparently more intelligent animals that are closer to us? Are we allowed to eat animals and present them in zoos and circuses?

While part of society has debated such questions for years, science lags behind; the human-animal relationships are still largely unexplored. That is about to change: The Group for Society & Animals Studies (GSA) has now been founded at the University of Hamburg, Germany's first social science group dedicated to the relationship between society and animals.

This relationship, says the director of the GSA, Professor Birgit Pfau-Effinger, has increasingly developed in two directions in Germany over the past few decades. On the one hand there is the turning towards animals: “More and more people perceive animals as beings who have a consciousness, a will and feelings; these people are convinced that animals are very similar to us - and that we should treat them accordingly. "

So far, this affection has mainly been expressed in relationships with pets, who are sometimes treated like a life partner. “On the other hand, society has perfected the killing of animals on a massive scale,” says the sociologist. There is great potential for change in this area of ​​tension, says Pfau-Effinger: "At least in western-oriented societies there is a tendency to expand animal protection rights so far that they resemble human rights."

In Spain, Parliament's Environment Committee works to give bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees - our closest non-human relatives - the right to life, freedom and protection. Great apes have enjoyed special protection in New Zealand since 1999: They are only allowed to be used in experiments if the results are of benefit to their species. In Denmark horses are only allowed to be kept in groups so that they can live out a natural herd behavior.