By Patricia Nonis (LLB/Arts)






Contact Patricia at Linked In


Humanity’s treatment of non-human animals is one of the worst atrocities in history[1], equivalent to and surpassing any human atrocity in both quantity and degree. The Australian Bushfires had drastic consequences for wild animals and farm animals resulting in an estimated one billion animal deaths[2]. The tragic series of events which played out over the long, dry Australian summer demonstrate the complete absence of protection and rights animals possess not only in Australia, but on a global scale. Non-human animals, with particular respect to farm animals, are treated as commodities and property[3], with the majority of the human race ignoring, devaluing or outright denying their ability to experience complex sensations, intelligence and emotions; three factors which have been well established by scientific and psychological experts in the field of animal sentience[4].

Systemic acts of violence[5] against animals occur on a mass scale and for the most part, go unnoticed by the general public. Meat eating and all other forms of animal exploitation are indoctrinated into our society; in just two days animal agriculture kills the same amount of farm animals as the fires have killed wild animals. Our culture of animal exploitation finds it origins in hidden, ideological frameworks formed and shaped by anthropocentricity and human supremacy. Achieving animal rights for non-human animals is the most pressing ethical challenge of our time. Veganism – meaning the economic boycott of animal products and global shift to a plant based food system, is an essential component in overcoming this challenge, however, historical patterns in movements of justice demonstrate that only a rigorous, unrelenting, abolitionist movement rooted in ethics is capable of creating substantive change for an oppressed demographic[6]. Relevantly, establishing personhood and inalienable rights for non-human animals is crucial to securing their freedom, safety and well-being from human-animals[7].

Animal deaths

An estimated one billion animals have died in the Australian bush fires. The amount of wild animals killed during the fires is said to be enough to collapse entire ecosystems. Much of the damage done to land and forest in Australia by the fires is said to be irreversible, therefore causing permanent destruction to the homes of Australian wildlife. An estimated 25,000 Koalas were killed in Kangaroo Island alone; the Hastings River mouse, Regent Honeyeater, Blue Mountains Water Skink, Brush-tailed Rock-Wallaby, Corroboree frog and hundreds more animal species are now at risk of being seriously endangered or being close to extinction. Since the industrial revolution the climate has increasingly been affected by human activities, with raising animals to kill being one of the main drivers of global warming[8]. Humanity as a whole is therefore completely responsible for the destruction of animal lives and the natural world. The world’s reaction to the suffering and death of one billion animals was one of shock and grief, however, it remains a statistical fact that 98% of the population consume animal products, thereby supporting animal agriculture, a violent system of industrialised farming which creates these catastrophic environmental disasters[9]. Crucially, the same amount of animals killed for their meat, eggs and milk products exceed the amount of wild animals killed in the fires within approximately two days. The number of land animals such as cows, pigs and birds killed a year is estimated to be around 150 billion[10]. The number of fish and marine life killed are within and exceed the trillions in numbers[11].









Carnism and cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the phenomenon regularly cited in both animal rights literature and, as Veganism and animal rights infiltrate the mainstream in the media, as an explanation as to why humanity have accepted mass violence against non-human animals as a cultural norm[12].In psychology, cognitive dissonance (‘CD’) is the experience of psychological stress that occurs when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs or values, or participates in an action that goes against one of these[13] which subsequently creates a mental discomfort. Pursuant to the CD theory, once an individual is able to establish that two or more actions or ideas are not psychologically consistent with each other, they have capacity to potentially change and improve behaviour patterns. CD theory plays a major role in ­­­understanding why people eat some animals and not others, an ideology coined ‘Carnism’ by Harvard Psychologist Dr Melanie Joy[14].

Because Carnism points to an invisible belief system which conditions people to eat certain species of animals but not others, it is an ideology which inherently assumes that the default position of a reasonable person would be one that opposes the unnecessary suffering of non-human animals. Granted, the meat, eggs, and dairy industries have masterfully constructed a false narrative in which animals are willing participants in their own oppression and slaughter[15], however, there are many examples of animal exploitation which are not hidden or invisible, in fact, people consciously rejoice in the capture and torture of many non-human animal victims: hunting, fishing, bullfighting, zoos and circuses are all prime examples of violent cultural traditions which involve humans harming non- human animals: the violence/enslavement is encouraged, normalised and celebrated without question[16].

Human supremacy

The only ideology which comprehensively explains why humans continue to harm animals despite strong evidence and research illustrating its obvious detriments is human supremacism. Human supremacism or human supremacy is the unfounded, irrational belief that humans exist at the moral apex of the universe. Human supremacy interprets the world through human values and experiences, to the exclusion of non-human animals. Human supremacism is often used interchangeably with the term Anthropocentrism, however, there is a subtle point of difference in that anthropocentrism positions itself more in terms of how a human-centric world view has impacted the environment as oppose to other sentient individuals such as farm animals[17]. Human supremacism is profoundly embedded in many if not all modern human cultures and conscious acts, with animal eating being the most prevalent example of this philosophy.

Pursuant to Carnism, the theory of cultural indoctrination and social conditioning are proposed as explanations as to why mass acts of violence against animals is accepted and embraced as a norm. Carnism stipulates people, for the most part, are unaware of the harm committed against farm animals. However, as with any belief system which results in another demographic being harmed and exploited, such as racism or misogyny, it is difficult to imagine a position capable of persuasively asserting that level of awareness can be placed at zero, even though that awareness may well be largely socially unexplored to an extent and limited at the individual conscious level[18].

For example, racial slavery in the antebellum south of the United States was underpinned by white supremacy. Likewise, the exploitation of animals is underpinned by human supremacy. Vegan animal rights activists often face public scrutiny and criticism; this criticism is not only an attack on the ideology behind animal rights; it is an attempted defense by humanity to maintain what they perceive as their rights to commodify, mutilate, assault and ultimately kill another species’ body in a violent bio-political conquest of dominion over the minds and bodies of other species. Thus while the social conditioning of people to participate in the act of eating certain animals but not others is invisible or hidden, the idea that animals are inferior and therefore we have every right to violate and dominate their bodies and freedom is not.

The Australian fires exemplify this discourse perfectly. The loss of human life is unquestionably considered a greater tragedy than animal life, and although people mourned the death of one billion animals, the coverage of the fires by all major mainstream media outlets clearly imply the loss of animal life is considered a loss predominantly because their lives are associated with a greater environmental eco-sphere (wild animals) or economic value (farm animals) not because they are sentient individuals with fundamental moral value[19].

The treatment of farm animals by farmers and media further highlight the commodity status of the former under law. The worth, life and death of farm animals is measured solely in terms of how profitable or valuable they are to their human captors. Ironically, farmers were universally portrayed as expressing sorrow and grief for farm animals who were burned and killed in the fires. This created a dishonest veneer of what was actually being mourned: farmer’s business and profits, not the lives of animals. The industries thus manipulate a narrative in which farmers appear sympathetic and appear to respect and value animals, effectively excluding the violent reality of how these animals and their babies are killed at a quarter of their life span and are treated as a unit in a line of production, not as sentient, autonomous individuals worthy of intrinsic moral value and absolute legal protection.

Because farm animals are considered property, akin to the status of black slaves in the 18th Century, they are completely unprotected under law and are not entitled to any basic legal rights which are afforded to humans. While the suffering and death of wild animals is mourned across the country, billions of pigs are gassed alive[20] for bacon, dairy cows are forcibly impregnated for their milk[21], and their calves are taken away and killed for veal[22]. While Australians mourn for the glossy black cockatoo, millions of chickens and turkeys are killed for their flesh and bodies[23]. The standard practice pertaining to baby male chicks in the egg industry is that they are either macerated or gassed alive, because the males hold no commercial value[24]. And even though there is a clear distinction between the treatment of farm animals and wild animals, the value of both are measured in terms of their utility to humans, not by any autonomous, authentic value of their own.

Animal Person-hood and Inalienable Rights

Human supremacism is deeply embedded in all facets of society including our legal systems. Consequently, the scope of inalienable rights does not capture the demographic of non-human animals as the law only bestows those rights unto humans. Inalienable rights are rights that can never be taken away, no matter what the circumstance or situation[25]. The right to be free from torture, the right to life and freedom of bodily movement[26] are all considered inalienable rights, as initially established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations after the Second World War and the full extent of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany became apparent. Animal law is often associated with animal welfare, which is often also associated with animal rights, but the reality is the two could not be any different from each other. Animal welfare is concerned with the treatment of animals and how to better improve their conditions of enslavement so human supremacy can more efficiently operate as the dominant ideology. The difference between animal welfare and animal rights is therefore freedom[27]. This dichotomy must be recognised, appreciated and respected by anyone who cares about the liberation, rights and absolute protection of non- human animals.

Animal rights scholars and activists frequently cite personhood for animals as the legal principle which must be established as a first major stepping stone in obtaining legal rights for animals under law. This position is well supported[28] as personhood gives legal personality to people and other entities such as corporations; it gives entities legal rights, protection, and obligations under the law. If personhood can be established for farm animals, they would be entitled to legal rights under the law and absolute moral protection. Of course, due to human supremacism being prevalent in all areas of our society no court has yet ruled the concept of person-hood can be applied to non-human animals. Granted, there has been some limited progress in recognising that certain species of animals are not “merely things.”[29] However, the legal scope of this progress is fundamentally flawed because the courts have so far focused on traits such as intelligence, reason and ability to perceive and understand the world – not sentience, or capacity to suffer which is a much broader and fairer interpretation of what traits must be considered when determining the criteria required to evoke the doctrine of personhood.








The AR political sphere has seen some movement towards personhood and legal rights, such as Rose’s Bill of Rights for Animals. Many of the proposed rights of Rose’s Law would facilitate in protecting the interests and rights of non-human animals during disasters such as the Australian Bushfires, for example, the right to a protected home, habitat, or ecosystem and the right to be rescued from situations of distress and exploitation[30].

The rights of farm animals to be free (not owned) or to have a guardian acting in their best interest and the right to not be exploited, abused, or killed by humans are as basic as the rights of humans to be free from slavery or torture. The long term goals of AR include personhood and legal rights for animals. This can be achieved through important social and political mechanisms, firstly, the rejection of the commodity status of animals, the mass economic boycott of animal products and the aggressive subversion of the current dominant belief systems of Human Supremacism and Carnism – under which inherent acts of bio-political conquest, oppression and violence against non-human animals are allowed to thrive.

Addendum – Environmental Impact


The exploitation of animals also has severe environmental impacts. The record breaking temperatures have fuelled Australian bushfires at unprecedented, catastrophic levels. More than ten million hectares of forest and land have burned, with Victoria and NSW experiencing the worst conditions.

The response of the Australian Liberal government has been deemed poor by Australians and the wider international audience, with both mainstream and independent news platforms condemning Scott Morrison’s lack of action[31]. The silence and inaction of the Labor opposition also did little to restore faith in the competency of Australian politics. While Australia has always been a hot and dry country prone to both drought and fires, the scale and intensity of the fires has dramatically increased in recent years due to climate change and the planet warming. The country witnessed record breaking temperatures in December 2019 with an average maximum of 40.9C. Scientists have identified a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) as the main driver of the heat[32]. An IOD is an event which involves sea surface temperatures being warmer in the western half of the ocean and cooler in the East. A subsequent effect of IOD is the creation of droughts in Australia.

The proposition that urgent, radical change is needed to our global food system is reflected in scientific consensus[33]. Animal agriculture is responsible for eighteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation[34]. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction[35]. Forty-five percent of Earths total land is dedicated to raising animals to kill and because of animal agriculture, the largest mass extinction in 65 million years is now taking place[36].



[1]Yuval Noah Harari, ‘Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history’, The Guardian, (online 25 September 2015) <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/25/industrial-farming-one-worst-crimes-history-ethical-question>.

[2]‘1 billion animals have died in Australian bushfires, ecologist estimates’, KOSU (91.7 FM), (The World Staff 7 January 2020) <https://www.kosu.org/post/1-billion-animals-have-died-australian-bushfires-ecologist-estimates>.

[3]Dr Dinesh Wadiwel, The War against Animals, (Brill 2015) 101.

[4]Helen S. Proctor, Gemma Carder, and Amelia R. Cornish, ‘Searching for Animal Sentience: A Systematic Review of the Scientific Literature’ (2013) 3(3) The National Center for Biotechnology Information 882, 900.

Charlotte E. Blattner, ‘The Recognition of Animal Sentience by the Law’ (2019) 9(2) University of Illinois Press in partnership with the Ferrater Mora Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics; Simon Worrall, ‘Yes, Animals Think And Feel. Here’s How We Know’, National Geographic (Web Page, July 15 2015) <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/07/150714-animal-dog-thinking-feelings-brain-science/>.

[5] Above n 3 at 90.

[6] Walter G. Muelder, ‘Critical Reflections on ‘Violence, Non-Violence and the Struggle for Justice’ (1976) Philosophy Documentation Center; David Robson, ‘Nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and those engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change.’, BBC, 14 May 2019) <https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190513-it-only-takes-35-of-people-to-change-the-world>.

[7] GLOBAL LOCKDOWN FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS, Rose’s Law: Animal Bill of Rights (Website, 27 February 2020) <https://www.roseslaw.org/> .

[8] ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options’, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Rome, 2006 <http://www.fao.org/3/a0701e/a0701e00.htm>.

[9] Shindell, Drew T, et al. “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”. Science. 326, 716 (2009).

[10] Gary Yourofsky, ‘The Kill Counter’, ADAPTT, (Website,7 December 2019)<https://www.adaptt.org/about/the-kill-counter.html>.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Dr Melanie Joy, Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows (Conari Press, 2009).

[13]  Leon Festinger, ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ (1962) Scientific American 207, 93-102.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Gary L. Francione and Robert Garner, ‘the Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?’ (2010) Columbia University Press 97.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Anthropocentrism is often considered to be the root cause of problems created by human action within the ecosphere and is regarded as a major concept in the field of environmental ethics and environmental philosophy: Jonathan Padwe, ‘Anthropocentrism’ Oxford Bibliographies (Website) https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199830060/obo-9780199830060-0073.xml.

[18] Above n 12.

[19]Siobhan O’Sullivan, ‘The animals we rescue, and the animals we don’t’ ABC Religion and Ethics, ABC, (Jan 2020) < https://www.abc.net.au/religion/australia-fire-crisis-the-animals-we-save-and-those-we-dont/11856714>.

[20] Model Code of Practice For The Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments, (CSIRO Publishing 2001); Model Code of Practice For The Welfare of Animals: Pigs (CSIRO Publishing 3rd ed, 2008).

[21] Bobby Calves, Dairy NSW, (Website, 2019) < https://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/farm/animal-management/animal-welfare/bobby-calves>.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Australian Turkey Farming Big Birds Big Cruelty, Aussie Farms, (Website) <https://www.aussieturkeys.com.au/facts?s=lighting>.

[24] Krautwald Junghanns, ME; Cramer et al, ‘Current approaches to avoid the culling of day-old male chicks in the layer industry, with special reference to spectroscopic methods’ (2018) 97(3) Poultry Science 749–757; Aussie Eggs: Australian Egg Farming: The Inside Story, Aussie Farms, (Website) < https://www.aussiefarms.org.au/campaigns/aussie-eggs>.

[25] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, GA Res 217A (III), UN GAOR, UN Doc A.810 (10 December 1948).

[26] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, GA Res 217A (III), UN GAOR, UN Doc A.810 (10 December 1948).

[27] Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, (University of California Press 1983).

[28]Alan Dershowitz, Rights from Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights (Basic Books, 2004).

[29] Cara Feinberg, ‘Are Animals “Things”?’ (2016) Harvard Magazine <https://harvardmagazine.com/2016/03/are-animals-things>.

[30] Above n 7.

[31] Richard Flanagan, ‘Australia is Committing Climate Suicide’ (January 2020) The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/03/opinion/australia-fires-climate-change.html?auth=login-facebook&fbclid=IwAR1i6suEYLKD6A-TFOTuRcAoNpI7fKjfo-dct56tcKjDPkT-Ppad4b4gGWg&smid=nytcore-ios-share.

[32]Saji Hameed and Toshio Yamagata, ‘Possible impacts of Indian Ocean Dipole mode events on global climate’ (2003) Climate Research.

[33] Marco Springman et al, ‘Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits’ (2018) Nature Research; Danielle Celermajer, ‘Omnicide: Who is responsible for the gravest of all crimes?’ ABC Religion and Ethics, ABC, 7 January 2020 <https://www.abc.net.au/religion/danielle-celermajer-omnicide-gravest-of-all-crimes/11838534>.

[34] Raising animals to kill for food accounts for 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide a year which is the equivalent of 51% of all worldwide Greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries. Worldwide, at least 50% of grain is fed to livestock. As many as 2.7 trillion animals are pulled from the ocean each year with scientists predicting fishless ocean by 2048. In the U.S. livestock produce 116,000 lbs of waste per second, with dairy cows producing the most waste at 120lbs of waste per days x 9.32 million dairy cows. Animal Agriculture is responsible for 20%-33% of all fresh water consumption in the world today: above n 8.

[35] “Biodiversity and Food Choice: A Clarification”. Comfortably unaware: Global Depletion and Food Choice Responsibility. June 9, 2012.

[36]Niles Eldredge, “The Sixth Extinction”. Action Bioscience. June 2001; “Mass extinction of species has begun”. Phys.org. February 23, 2006; Ceballos, Gerardo, et al. “Accelerated modern human-induced species loss: Entering the sixth mass extinction” (19 June 2015) (1)5 Science Advances.