Animal rights and activism can be traced centuries into the past. Bear-baiting was first prohibited in England in 1835. Yet even further back than that, some of the first animal rights laws passed were in 1635 when it was made illegal to pull the wool off of sheep or tie plows to the tails of horses. Therefore, the collective social concern for the wellbeing of non-human animals is not a new concept. However, the modern age of animal activism can't be said to have began until the mid 1970s when philosopher Peter Singer published his book, Animal Liberations. Singer based many of his arguments on utilitarianism. In his book, Singer asserts that humans and non-humans alike do not have distinct natural rights but instead have equal consideration of interests. Animal Liberations sparked the interests of many scholars and to this day it stands as the canonical piece of animal rights literature. Since the mid 70s more and more groups and agencies have risen to aid animals against mistreatment.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was formed in 1980. This group advocates veganism; highlighting that eating meat is only one way in which animals are mistreated. They rally against fur/leather clothing, vivisection, circuses, and other animal abuses. PETA is known for collecting undercover evidence at various animal facilities and filing lawsuits when they find mistreatment. Currently, PETA has a lawsuit open against SeaWorld on behalf of the Orcas that are kept there. What is interesting about this case is how PETA asserts that the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, doesn't just apply to humans but to all species. PETA is sometimes called "radical" or even "crazy" for the extreme enthusiasm their members exude toward helping animals. Though everything can be taken too far, calling PETA "crazy" is not a constructive argument against their work and undermines the progress they've made in legitimately relieving animals of harmful situations.
Five years later marked the first annual Great American Meatout organized by Farm Animal Reform Movement. The year being 1985, many Americans didn't even know what a vegan diet was, hence the Meatout ads may have been the first exposure some families had to this idea. Now individuals could consider different options to factory farming which was growing greatly at the time (and still is).
Animal rights really came to the forefront in 1987 after a high school student in California refused to dissect a frog in her science class. She believed that ''animals are just as alive as we are". Though this seems like a small gesture from a child, it made headlines around the nation and spurred a four year lawsuit. The up and coming generation was beginning to view animals differently. They were also starting to question what is justifiable as means to an end in the pursuit of scientific enlightenment.
Here is a short list of animal rights landmarks that followed:
1989: Avon and Revlon stop testing their products on animals ; .
1993: General Motors stops using live animals in car crash testing. Over 19,000 animals had been killed in crash tests since 1981 ; .
1997: PETA releases a VIDEO showing animal abuses at Huntingdon Life Sciences. (WARNING: before you click on the link to the video, know that it is very disturbing and could upset some viewers. Then again, hiding from the truth empowers these things to continue.)
2001: Compassion Over Killing stages a documented rescue at a battery hen facility .
2002: McDonald's settles a lawsuit for mis-advertising their french fries as vegetarian. (The "natural ingredients" added to enhance flavor include beef extract) .
2006: Under the Animal Rights Terrorism Act, the "SHAC 7" are convicted for operating a website that reported on and expressed support for protests against Huntingdon (from the PETA video) and their associates; a blow to animal activism .
2007: Horse slaughtering is banned in the United States .
RECENT UPDATE- 2011: Horse slaughter ban has been lifted with PETA's support.
Another recent event in the world of animal rights happened this November (2011). The USDA has fined Ringling Bros. circus for mistreatment of animals. Ringling Bros. have agreed to pay $270,000 for violating the Animal Welfare Act on several occasions. In short, the elephants were being chained improperly, forced to work while sick, and abused with "bullhooks". The USDA can fine up to $10,000 per incident. Also, the circus moguls have agreed to instate new training protocol for individuals working with the animals. This is the largest fine in circus history .