Does it matter how we treat animals?

More and more people are questioning the ways human beings use animals, and some are actively turning away from using animal products in their daily lives. Religious and non-religious people hold varying views about the status of animals, and of animal rights.

Explore the issues

Watch Shola as she explores religious and non-religious teachings about the treatment of animals.

Animal rights

Animal rights refers to the idea that animals should be entitled to live lives that are free from abuse by humans. In the UK, there are laws designed to protect animals from cruelty. For instance, it is a crime to neglect or mistreat an animal, including when an animal is being transported or slaughtered. It is also illegal to stage fights between animals for entertainment, or to test cosmetics on animals. Some forms of hunting are also illegal and people can be fined or face imprisonment if they cause unnecessary suffering to animals.

The grouse shooting season runs from August to December on moorlands across the UK. The industry generates a lot of employment and income for rural economies, but is it right to kill animals for sport?

While most people believe it is acceptable to use animals for food and clothing, increasing numbers of people are turning to vegetarian or vegan ways of living. This may be due to the belief that animals deserve rights, the most basic being the right to life. Some people choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet out of concerns about the impact of meat and animal products on the environment, especially those produced by factory farming methods. As well as food and clothing, some people question the use of animals for entertainment and in experimental testing for cosmetics, household products, or medicines.

Evolution or creation?

Many religions view humans as superior to animals. For example, Jews and Christians believe that when the world was created, God told humans to rule over it, and therefore they can treat animals however they like. Non-religious people, such as Humanists, point out that the Theory of Evolution presents a big challenge to the idea that animals were put on the earth by God for us to use. How could animals have been made for us to use if we actually evolved from them?

Also, scientists are discovering that many animals are much more intelligent than we thought, and have greater abilities to communicate. They feel pain, pleasure and even some emotions in similar ways to us. Science shows us how closely related we are, in terms of our DNA, to many other species. This leads some people to conclude that animals should have rights, and that it is wrong to treat them in ways that cause them to suffer, even if human beings benefit from it.

The British Egg Industry Council has strict rules about egg classification. To qualify eggs as free range, chickens must have access to the outside for at least eight hours a day.

Words of wisdom

What do religions and non-religious literature and texts teach about our treatment of animals? Click the picture below to find out.


Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus believe that everything is connected through the cycle of birth and rebirth. Therefore, the idea of ruling over the animals is not a belief shared by these religions. Many of these believers live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. However, some would argue that they value human life as higher than animal life because being reincarnated in human form is thought of as being better than being born as an animal.

Animals as food

In some religions there are strict rules about the use of animals. For instance, in Judaism and Islam, animals must be slaughtered for food in very specific ways by specially trained religious people who will say blessings over them. Also, it is forbidden to eat certain animals, like pigs. In Islam killing animals is only allowed in order to provide food. Hunting for pleasure is not allowed. Muslims may keep animals as pets, although generally keeping dogs is not allowed unless for a practical reason, for example guarding livestock. Many Christians, Jews and Muslims believe that caring for animals is a very important part of being a good caretaker for God’s earth and some campaign for better treatment of animals, and even adopting vegan or vegetarian lifestyles.

Animals and animal rights in pictures

Buddhism - A monk caring for dogs

Buddhism - A monk caring for dogs

A Buddhist monk, Hul Houth Hab, from Cambodia, adopts and cares for dogs abandoned by their owners. This reflects Buddhist belief of showing loving kindness and compassion, as well as the belief in the interconnectedness of all different forms of life. Why do some people believe those with a religious faith have a duty to care for animals?

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Where next?

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