Respect for animals - with what effects?
A critical policy analysis of the Swedish Animal Welfare Act
In this paper I interrogate the introduction of the concept of respect for animals, i.e the recognition of animals’ intrinsic value, in the new Swedish Animal Welfare Act (2018:1192). Drawing on poststructural theory and Nussbaum’s dignity approach, I use critical policy analysis to examine key government propositions and official government reports between 2011 and 2018. The previous Animal Welfare Act (1988:534) is used to assess possible conceptual change linked to the introduction of the new concept. Even though the concept of respect for animals does not have material legal impact for the animals, through my findings I draw attention to the political effects of the concept. I show that discourses around increased productivity in animal-based agriculture were aligned with discourses around global climate change mitigation and the fight against antimicrobial resistance. While competitiveness and productivity were considered state responsibilities, respect for animals, on the other hand, became seen as an individual moral responsibility for the population rather than as a responsibility for protection by the state. Thereby, respect for animals, as it is directed towards the population, reflects the old anti-cruelty laws rather than a modern animal welfare law enforced by the state. An effect related to the concept as applied in the Swedish Animal Welfare Act is the marginalisation of ethics and political agency of citizens. The potentially transformative question of what respect for animals ought to mean for our political relationship with animals remains unaddressed.