The Controversies Surrounding Animal Rights Protection During the COVID-19 Outbreak

In recent years, calls for the protection of animal rights have increased in many cities, and Hong Kong is no exception. However, the public standards of animal rights are not always consistent. The following article will look at three examples to illustrate this point.

Case 1: Should Hong Kong Prohibit Eating Meat at Hotpot and Buffet Restaurants?

The COVID-19 pandemic forced China to re-evaluate the law and prohibit the trade and consumption of wildlife, with Shenzhen becoming the first Chinese city to prohibit the sale and consumption of cat and dog meat. However, the motivation was to safeguard public health rather than protect animal rights, especially since people are still legally allowed to eat livestock. While some claim that humanely butchering livestock makes it acceptable, billions are nevertheless killed every year.

Advocates might argue that eating meat is necessary for a nutritious and healthy lifestyle. Thus, there should be a clear distinction between the killing of livestock for food and the exploitation of animals for cruel and unnecessary entertainment purposes. However, evidence suggests that vegetarians can have just as healthy a lifestyle, thereby countering the claim that eating meat is a must.

Even if eating meat is part of maintaining a healthy diet, it is doubtful whether “all you can eat” hotpot and buffet should continue to exist, since it is seen as an extravagant and gratuitous form of entertainment.

For example, after the media reported that a Hong Kong family had contracted coronavirus after sharing hotpot, many people in the city immediately stopped going to those type of restaurants. Not only did this severely affect the industry, but it showed that lavish forms of entertainment like this are unnecessary. Added to the fact that animals are being killed in vast numbers to satisfy this wasteful eating culture, is it reasonable for the “all you can eat” hotpot and buffet business to be banned on the principle of necessity?

Case 2: Should Animal Testing of a COVID-19 Vaccine be Condemned?

It is worth mentioning that contemporary animal rights activists who echo Tom Regan’s arguments in favour of animal rights would strongly oppose the animal testing of medicines and vaccines. While some doubt the necessity of using experimental animals for medicines and vaccines, others emphasise that exploiting innocent laboratory animals is intrinsically wrong — even if it is for the greater good of the community. As such, should we insist on banning animal testing in search of a COVID-19 vaccine?

Case 3: Radical Animal Activists: “It was you who taught us that peaceful protests do not work!”

Given that millions of livestock are killed every day, various radical animal rights organisations and activists, such as France’s militant vegan activists, claim that nonviolent resistance has long proved ineffective in protecting animal rights. Consequently, they resort to violent means to achieve their goals. According to them, both pro-Beijing and pro-democracy restaurants and supermarkets selling meat, as well as laboratories conducting animal testing should be vandalised or destroyed. Do you agree?

Easier Said Than Done

Ultimately, the aforementioned cases highlight the importance of animal rights over other types of goods. It should be noted that protecting animal rights is often easier said than done. It is only when human interests are affected can the bottom line of individuals and the general public regarding animal rights be identified.

The Chinese version of this article, entitled “新冠肺炎肆虐下的動保議題”, was published in the Hong Kong Economic Journal (A17) on 30 March, 2020. This version includes updated content.