Is it okay to put our needs before those of animals?

A video showing a group of schoolboys tackling and flipping a sheep at a farm as part of a training exercise for their rugby team has sparked outrage and the school has been accused of encouraging animal cruelty.

The footage depicted boys from the prestigious The King’s School in Sydney, one of Australia’s oldest schools whose past students include MPs, judges and current and former Australian rugby players.

Farming groups and animal welfare organisations were quick to condemn the activity as “cruel and inappropriate”.

Interestingly, it comes just days after questions about the current animal welfare regulations and whether animals should be given formal legal rights were raised at an Intelligence Squared debate.

The debate brought together a number of participants including a shark attack survivor, an ethicist and a grazier. They argued the pros and cons of whether or not animal rights should overtake human interests.

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The New South Wales Farmers Association says the activity was dangerous and “plain stupid”.

“You’d never treat your stock like that and I would say most concerned farmers would view that with a bit of horror,” Derek Schoen from the association told ABC News.

Those views are echoed by lawyer and animal rights advocate Ruth Hatten, who told the Intelligence Squared debate, “Australian law does not recognise animals’ abilities to feel, at least not in a way that respects their inherent value or protects them from harm at the hands of human beings.

“Our laws permit suffering — they don’t sufficiently penalise and they are not properly enforced.”

However, against the idea that animal rights outweigh human interest is author, commentator, ethicist and activist, Dr Leslie Cannold.

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“We all want to look after animals but let’s look at the facts … accepting the doctrine of animal rights means we must accept that animals have a right to life and cannot be used solely as a means to human ends no matter how worthy those ends may be,” Cannold told the debate.

“We’re still pushing people and making them believe wrongly that the only way they can meet their obligations to animals, and we have those obligations, is that they must become vegan. We’re telling them to do something that most people will not, cannot, won’t, whatever the question is, do.”

In relation to The Kings School incident, the RSPCA has reportedly been to the school to investigate.

Head of the NSW branch of the RSPCA, Steve Coleman says, “You’ve got young impressionable teenage boys who seemingly are under the direction of an adult who saw fit to film it.

“How anyone can justify that kind of behaviour is beyond me.”

Is what the school did animal cruelty? Should animals be given official legal rights?