The Welfare Of Invertebrates: A Starting Point
Conventional discussions about animal rights and welfare generally focus on animals that are mostly similar to us – mammals and, to a lesser extent, birds. Animals that we generally think of as less capable of things like emotions and problem-solving, like reptiles, amphibians, and fish, are given less attention. However, there’s one rather large group of animals that are given virtually no attention at all: invertebrates. From ants to spiders to lobsters to coral, their welfare and suffering is almost entirely ignored. The reasons for this, and the possible paths to inclusion, are outlined in the introductory chapter to a new book.
The chapter begins by noting that, for much of human history, invertebrates were relegated to the category of “things,” not beings. This categorization has persisted even into the present era, when knowledge of the complex mental faculties of other animals is well-known and accepted. In fact, in 2010, there was a serious debate in the E.U. over the inclusion of crustaceans and cephalopods (octopuses and squids) in their animal welfare guidelines. Ultimately, only cephalopods were included, likely because of their advanced intelligence being widely known.
The author states that one of the major obstacles to the recognition of invertebrate intelligence is simply that we have a hard time empathizing with animals so drastically different from us. We want to know that the experience of an animal is roughly similar to ours, in order to adjust our behavior to treat it as we’d treat another human being. That becomes difficult when an animal’s biological capabilities aren’t as well-understood – for example, we many scientists still debate whether insects and other invertebrates actually experience pain as we do, or whether their reactions are simply reflexes with no conscious avoidance involved.
The author of this chapter actually contends that, according to some researchers, no cut-off value is appropriate, as even the simplest creatures have some degree of sentience. This even extends to animals that are barely recognizable as such, including corals and sponges. The authors note that these simple animals form the vast majority of individuals on Earth and are integral to the health of both natural ecosystems and human industries.
As animal advocates, we need to help all animals, including those like invertebrates that are traditionally given very little attention. By raising awareness of the intelligence and capacity for sentience in these animals, this book will likely be an important resource. Expanding our sphere of empathy to animals that share very little with us is difficult, but necessary to create a world without unnecessary animal suffering. We look forward to this book sparking a discussion around invertebrate welfare and hopefully leading to more concern given to the interests of these animals.