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Technology and animal rights : the EU perspective

October 13, 2021
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This article has been written by Niranjana Rajulukumar pursuing the Diploma in Cyber Law, FinTech Regulations and Technology Contracts from LawSikho. This article has been edited by Prashant Baviskar (Associate, Lawsikho) and Smriti Katiyar (Associate, Lawsikho). 

Introduction

The European Commission has a history of promoting animal welfare for several decades now. They aim to gradually improve the lives of livestock. A key initiative was taken in 1998 through Council Directive 98/58/EC for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes. It provides general rules for the protection of animals of all kinds of species kept for the production of food or for other farming purposes, which includes fish, reptiles or amphibians. The rules were framed based on the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes. They emphasize the ‘Five Freedoms’ which are the basic rights of animals, freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress. This notion has originated from the Brambell Report. The animals need adequate space and facilities and some company of their own kind to express such behaviour. The UK law uses a constructive formula as it aims to provide the animals with an appropriate environment and the right diet, and it wants animals to be housed with, or apart from, other animals. 

Role of technology in animal welfare and its management in a digital world

New and next-generation technology is crucial for animal health, and precise monitoring of them. They are critical in building a sustainable and high-welfare livestock industry, and the support of global brands will have a humongous effect. 

The digital era opens prospects to use multiple sensors, data infrastructure and some data analytics to monitor animals in their environment 24/7. An evidence-based approach to the monitoring and surveillance of farm animals called Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) is made for the welfare and safety of the animals. The emphasis of PLF is on animal health and production. It detects the position of the animals at all times using the Real-Time Locating Systems. The movements of the animals are measured using accelerometers to see if an animal is lying, moving, standing or even eating. Sound recording technology is used to detect coughing or other vocalisations of the animals.

Technology and animal cruelty

In the age of technological innovations, processes like cloning and genetic engineering are first tested on animals, especially on a large scale. This aspect raises questions of both ethical and moral concern that whether the existing foundations used in animal laws are adequate enough to deal effectively with these developments. These technological innovations affect animal ethics in two main ways. The first being that they bring situations that were not foreseeable, like changing the very nature of an animal through genetic modification or physically turning it into something that it is not. Another way is that they further expose problems that are underlying in the existing areas of animal use. The outcomes of the experiments conducted on the animals are invalid when it is applied to humans, but regardless of whether the resultant information helps the humans or not, performing these experiments on them violates their rights. Several species used in tests are not covered under the Animal Welfare Act. The pain and suffering that experimental animals are subjected to are not worthy of any possible benefits to humans. When animals are used frequently for product toxicity testing or laboratory research, they are exposed to excruciating pain and often are deadly. 

Current foundations of EU and UK animal laws

Both the European Union’s and the United Kingdom’s animal laws are based on the fact that animals are sentient beings. These are perceived as beings that are capable of feeling pleasure and pain or capable of experiencing pain and suffering. The EU has its main basis of animal protection in Art 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Whereas the UK recognizes sentient beings from its principal animal welfare legislation, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (AWA). The UK has a much more widespread legal structure regarding animal protection than the EU. For instance, there is no legislation with respect to animals in circuses, pets or strays in the European Union. Whereas the UK Parliament is by standard, able to enact any issue it desires. The EU is bound by the principles of conferral, subsidiarity and proportionality, hence only has limited competence.

Emerging technologies driving improvements in animal welfare and safety

Highly advanced devices and software for animal observation and safeguard are unceasingly being developed by animal conservationists and software application developers to catch wildlife poachers and traffickers. These days crimes against animals are carried out online. An example is the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool, a.k.a. the SMART software, created by the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the London and Frankfurt zoos. This program has been particularly developed to protect endangered animals. It is being used all over the world to monitor animal populations. This application permits conservationists to gather, scrutinize, and dispatch data on animals, prohibited activities, and protection groups. It also enables animal rangers to act more competently to animals at risk and to protect them. 

Just as prosthetics help humans who have lost limbs, prosthetic technology is now emerging with man-made limbs to care for injured animals. Something worth mentioning is Animal Orthocare, which develops prosthetics that are made of very durable, medical-grade foam and plastic. These are customized on plaster moulds that come from limb casts sent to Animal Orthocare by owners, veterinarians, and animal rehabilitation clinics from all over the world to fit the animals’ comfort. This provides an alternative to costly surgeries or euthanasia for disabled animals and giving them another chance at life.

Remote monitoring technologies can be done without coming into physical contact with the animals giving farmers an insight into the health and well-being of an animal. With the use of technology, a farmer can say whether an animal is becoming sick by using methods like heat detection identification or stomach acid monitors. Also, if it needs more exercise by using a pedometer. Remote sensors could detect pregnancy among the cattle. These technological inventions help the farmer in monitoring the health of his animals and aiding them in identifying ailments or pregnancies, so as to avoid danger and provide better care.

Automated Dairy Installations help to milk the cows in their own convenient time and comfort. Through this technology, the cows are being robotically milked with no human interaction at all. This reduces the stress on the cow which in turn helps in better yields.  There are sensors that monitor the milk quality and check for signs of any diseases. It is a safer environment for the workers, as it eliminates a precarious job on the dairy farm. Once the cows become used to this comfort, the procedure can be fairly seamless. 

The key to maintaining proper health is to meet the required nutritional levels without overheating. In the case of animals, automated feeders balance an animal’s health and well-being by tailoring specifically to the needs of that animal. It is also tailored to a herd or group, as it is still beneficial because it comes closer to the animal’s needs. 

Automated cleaning systems are the most universal technology used around the world. This helps in removing the waste and runoff from animal enclosures, and move it to a pile that can then be effortlessly moved using machines. Eliminating waste aids in reducing the spread of diseases and makes it a cleaner environment for the animals. The added benefit for the farmer is that it limits their contact with the wastes too.

Innovative ways in which technology is helping animals

One of the utmost favorable alternatives to animal testing is involving microchips lined with living human cells and tissues. It allows them to mimic the mechanical and molecular features of real human organs, such as the heart, kidney, lungs, liver, and intestines. The president and chief scientific officer of Emulate Inc., Geraldine A. Hamilton explains that an organ-chip is a living, micro-engineered environment that recreates the natural physiology and mechanical forces that cells experience within the human body. She also says that they are a ‘home away from home’ for the cells to live just as they do in the human body. These mini forms of human organs can be used instead of animals in disease research, drug testing, and toxicity testing. They are proven to be more precise than animal testing in replicating human physiology, diseases, and drug responses, delivering results that are pertinent to humans.

The EU banned animal testing on all cosmetic products that are produced and sold within the European Union in 2013. To bring an alternative to animal testing, Merck developed a 3D skin model made from fibroblasts and keratinocytes. These models have a structural arrangement that is comparable to that of real human skin, this makes them yield results that are more appropriate to humans than animal testing. 

A single pesticide requires a minimum of thirty animal tests, which costs around twenty million dollars and requires about twenty kilograms of the chemical and more than ten thousand animals to test on. The complete process takes about five years. So as to come up with an alternative, the research scholars from the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT) at Johns Hopkins University have developed a computer program that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to process existing data on chemical toxicity and deliver new insights.

Conclusion

To put it in a nutshell, testing products on animals is absolutely unnecessary as there are many more viable alternatives available. Several cosmetic businesses have sought better ways to test their products without using animals as subjects. A renowned cosmetic company based in London has developed its products using natural ingredients, like bananas and Basil nut oil, that has a history for safe use on humans rather than testing some chemical-based product on animals. Lately, the Draize test has become realistically obsolete since the innovation of the synthetic cellular tissue that closely resembles human skin. Research scholars could test the potential harm that a product can cause to the skin on the synthetic skin instead of testing it on animals. Another alternative is a product called Eyetex, which is a synthetic material that turns opaque when a product damages it. It closely resembles the way that a real eye reacts to a harmful substance. Computers can be used to simulate and estimate the possible damage that a chemical can cause, and human tissues and cells have been used to study the results of harmful substances. Most of these tests are believed to be useful and completely reliable alternatives to testing products on live animals. Since effective means of product toxicity testing can be done without the use of live animal specimens, testing potentially lethal substances on animals is uncalled-for.

References

  1. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/european-journal-of-risk-regulation/article/technological-innovation-and-animal-law-does-dignity-do-the-trick/5CD8E6EE70332EE1EB267EBF90B6FB9A
  2. https://www.aem.org/news/4-emerging-technologies-driving-improvements-in-animal-welfare-and-safety
  3. https://spacecoastdaily.com/2019/03/four-innovative-ways-technology-is-helping-animals/
  4. https://blog.richardvanhooijdonk.com/en/could-technology-bring-an-end-to-animal-cruelty-in-science/
  5. https://www.treehugger.com/top-animal-rights-issues-127632
  6. https://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/animal-welfare_en.

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