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Animal welfare has emerged as a pervasive concern in modern international law. The purpose of this study is to situate the international legal principle protecting the welfare of animals within the broader framework of international law. The study uses a constructivist model to develop a theory of the place of animal welfare in the international legal regime that has due regard for cultural differences and the diversity of international society. The historical antecedents for an obligation to protect animal welfare in various global cultures are considered. The argument posits an internationally recognized principle of humane treatment of animals based on a test of necessity, in accordance with which the infliction of suffering on animals can only be justified by balancing means against ends. It proposes that Canadian criminal law on animal cruelty, particularly as it relates to animals raised for food, is inconsistent with this internationally recognized principle.