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Rosmann: Do animals, other organisms have rights?

Is food a basic right? Do animals and other organisms have rights? These and related questions are becoming important as voters are asked to consider if raising chickens in cages and keeping sows in farrowing crates are OK in some localities and ...

Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D.
Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D.

Is food a basic right? Do animals and other organisms have rights?

These and related questions are becoming important as voters are asked to consider if raising chickens in cages and keeping sows in farrowing crates are OK in some localities and states.

This is the third in a series of articles about innovations in agriculture. It's not the lament of an animal rights activist, though I like animals a lot.

I raised beef cattle, chickens and turkeys for decades and like meat, fish and eggs in my diet. I try to be a respectful hunter and fisherman. I don't kill animals or fish as trophies.

My family consumes the wild game my son and I harvest because they are really tasty and healthful; for example, they usually contain less "bad" cholesterol than grain-fed livestock. I release fish that appear pregnant or are small; I don't shoot at animals that don't have a sporting chance of escape.


That said, this article takes a serious look at animals that are raised for food, and how all organisms for that matter, are treated by humans. I don't know as much about animal rights and ethics as many people, so I drew on several agricultural ethicists, scientists, biologists and the writings of activists on all sides of animal rights issues.

About 3.2 percent of Americans are vegetarians and ½ percent are vegans. Vegetarians don't eat meat; vegans don't eat or use any animal products if possible.

Almost everyone knows there is a vocal minority of people and a few organizations in the U.S. and around the world that desire constraints on animal farming, hunting and fishing. A few decry killing any organism with a nervous system, even insects; some request honoring plants and all forms of life.

Our society can't dismiss these proponents of life outright without considering their arguments. They generally desire ethical treatment of all forms of life, although some also demand that other people adhere to their positions.

To respect all forms of life is laudable and difficult to argue against. The martyred Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, contended that all forms of life have dignity and fill niches in the web of survival.

Gandhi was not the first person to view all forms of life as having dignity. Most Native Americans and the people of many other cultures around the world believe nature and its bounty cannot be owned, and instead are to be shared with gratitude to Mother Earth (God).

To this day many Native American hunters, and a growing number of all hunters, take a few moments to thank God for the animals they harvest. It's a common ritual for agricultural producers everywhere to thank a higher power for flourishing crops, livestock and produce of all kinds, perhaps taking inspiration from observing crops spring forth and the birth and death of animals on a regular basis.

Their observations exhibit the agrarian imperative that infuses the thinking, the DNA and the motivations of most agricultural producers. It's in our genes to farm, survive and thank a higher power that generates these opportunities.


Thanksgiving Day has become a national holiday in many countries to express appreciation for food and life in general.

All organisms have a right to live. That doesn't mean any organism has a greater right to live than others, for the world is a competitive place.

Besides the right to live, all species invariably struggle for success in the environments in which the competing organisms coexist. To illustrate, we combat and exterminate deadly viral, bacterial and parasitic diseases.

Humans were hunter-gatherers for many thousands of years and developed as omnivores initially. Few can deny that the protein and other ingredients in meat and organisms with nervous systems aren't beneficial; however the subject of the rights of animals-actually all organisms' rights-deserves consideration in today's environment that harbors genetically modified materials.

All forms of life deserve respect and our appreciation for their contributions to life. All forms of life fill niches in the web of survival.

All forms of life deserve to live out their existence in the ways that maximize their destiny, while also respecting that competition may alter their present and future capacity to endure. That's how life has developed.

The long-term status of humans on Earth is not known, especially as people and other forces may be altering our survival. Humans may be dominant for now, and there is a good likelihood our superiority will continue for a while.

Diversity of life forms contributes to survival by those most fit. We should respect life in its many variations, which means we should try to salvage other species from extinction, because they may hold answers not yet known for ultimate survival.


Both GM and non-GM species deserve to live. The rights of animals and all organisms will continue to be discussed and farmers should have input into the discussion.

Mike Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa, psychologist and farmer. To contact Rosmann go online to: www.agbehavioralhealth.com .

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