13. Green Criminology

13.6 The Species Justice Perspective

Dr. Gregory Simmons; Dr. Mark Vardy; and Dr. Rochelle Stevenson

Victimisation as understood within green criminology extends beyond human beings. There is a growing body of research and activism concerned with living creatures as victims in their own right. A species justice perspective looks at the obligations and duties owed to non-human animals from perspectives such as a utilitarian moral calculus (maximising overall pleasure and minimising overall pain), the inherent value and rights of sentient creatures, or an ethic of welfare and responsible care (see, for example: Aaltola, 2016; Beirne, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2014; Goyes & Sollund, 2016; Nurse, 2016; Sollund, 2013; Wellsmith, 2010; Wyatt et al., 2018). Areas of focus include the rights or well-being of animals in institutional or commercial settings such as food production (Cudworth, 2017) and animal experimentation (Menache, 2017), individual or interpersonal relations (Escobar, 2015), or at the level of animal environment and habitat (White & Heckenberg, 2014) (see An Inside Look at Factory Farms, via Photographer Jo-Anne McArthur for a look at the inside of factory farms. This may be graphic for some).

Consideration of the abuse and misuse of animals also extends to the genetic modification of organisms via biotechnology and ethical issues arising from altering the fundamental nature of living creatures, as well as the proprietary ownership and control of such modifications and, by extension, of the identity of organisms themselves for commercial purposes (Goyes & Sollund, 2018) (see Bio-piracy: US companies patenting extract from the Kakadu plum).

The concept of speciesism, which contends that some species of animals are inherently more important than others, is central to the species justice perspective. Humans have complex and, arguably, dramatically inconsistent relationships with animals.[1] For example, people often treat their pets (or animal companions) as beloved members of the family. Yet livestock are dealt short horrific lives in factory farms, only to be slaughtered merely so humans can enjoy the taste of their flesh. [2] The sheer scale of this suffering is immense: the global population of chickens is 33 billion, of pigs is 700 million and of cattle, a billion (Shahbandeh, 2021a, 2021b, 2021c). This disparity exists despite the fact that farm animals are intelligent social creatures that experience emotions and possess inner lives. We may think  the distinction in how we treat, say, a dog that is a pet and pig that is a food commodity is somehow “natural” or “inevitable.” Ethically, such claims are dubious. Consider that at one time it was also assumed that it was “natural” for white people to be masters and black people slaves, or for men to be in the workplace and women in the home. We now find such claims abhorrent. They provide a powerful illustration of how what is considered natural or taken-for-granted may in fact reflect particular social and political relations of power. Species justice points out the parallel between these latter forms of discrimination or “naturalisation” and the speciesism present in rationalisations of our treatment of other forms of life.

Some conceptions of species justice also extend to plants, in regard to the impact of habitat degradation and biodiversity loss on their existence (White, 2018). Species justice can be readily applied to the case of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A transgenic organism is a type of GMO that has had DNA from another creature introduced into its genome. This is often done for commercial purposes, (e.g., so it will mature quicker or be more resistant to disease). The multinational agri-chemical corporation, Monsanto (now part of Bayer), has drawn controversy over its development and aggressive marketing of various transgenic seeds. “Roundup Ready” canola is a transgenic organism developed by the corporation to be resistant to the use of the herbicide, glyphosate—which the company also produces (Bayer, n.d.). Thus, farmers can spray crops grown from seed sold by Monsanto with a herbicide also produced by the company, killing all other plant-life and “weeds” as well as exposed animals while leaving the canola intact. In India, the promotion of Bt Cotton—a type of transgenic cotton produced by Monsanto intended to be resistant to pests—has been associated with large numbers of suicides by farmers. Costs resulting from the high levels of water and chemical inputs required and the fact that the seed loses vigour after one generation, meaning it cannot be saved from plants but needs to be repurchased, have been linked to high levels of debt on the part of farmers (Thomas & De Tavernier, 2017). This illustrates the connections between environmental and species justice and points to the final perspective we will consider, that of ecological justice.

  1. Humans, of course, are animals too. This conception of humans as distinct from and “above” animals can be considered a form of speciesism.
  2. From an ecological justice perspective (see below), the rearing of animals contributes immense harm to the environment including 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Xu et al., 2021). Farmed animals are usually fed agricultural crops, crops that could be much more efficiently consumed – and that would feed many more people -- if they were eaten directly by humans, instead of fed to animals that are then consumed by humans.


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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Gregory Simmons; Dr. Mark Vardy; and Dr. Rochelle Stevenson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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