Treated Like Animals

Alick Simmons / Pelagic Publishing / 264 pages

Alick Simmons, former deputy chief veterinary officer for the United Kingdom, acknowledges that he has “actively facilitated exploitative interactions with animals.” But so have the rest of us, he writes in his intriguing book, Treated Like Animals: Improving the Lives of the Creatures We Own, Eat and Use. Simmons does not limit “exploitative interactions” to only mean eating meat or wearing leather. By applying a broad definition of “exploit” (“to make full use of and derive benefit from”), he contends that we are also complicit in animal exploitation by managing wildlife, destroying “pests,” and even keeping cats and dogs as pets (e.g., through selective breeding and castration). 

Nevertheless, Simmons does not promote ending all animal exploitation. Rather, he encourages us to become better informed about the myriad ways societies and economies depend on animals—and to be more accountable for our choices. Humans, as moral beings, have a responsibility to protect the sentient animals we exploit, yet we often apply arbitrary and contradictory distinctions between species—and even within the same species. 

The author acknowledges his own inconsistencies—he eats meat (albeit less now), goes fishing, and supports wildlife interventions to protect endangered species. He advocates a “practical” and “utilitarian” middle ground; animal research is justified, he feels, when it advances important medical knowledge and no alternative exists, but it must be carefully regulated to minimize suffering. With respect to food, Simmons clearly has an insider’s perspective (he used to inspect American slaughter plants on behalf of the United Kingdom), and he tries not to alienate readers by promoting a specific lifestyle. At various points, he lumps animal rights extremists with industry propagandists. 

Simmons largely limits his discussion of protecting animals, especially in slaughterhouses and in research labs, to UK laws, even though he acknowledges that the United States and other countries have weaker regulations. Notwithstanding this narrow focus, his overall message is universal: that we, as a society, must determine (based on evidence) when the benefits of animal exploitation outweigh the harms. 

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