Last week, we had an extra-special house guest when Cheryl Leahy, general counsel of Compassion Over Killing, came to Tucson to speak on the topic of farm animals. Some of you may recall that I worked for COK as a legal intern last summer in Washington D.C. It’s an amazing organization that uses public outreach and litigation to increase awareness and end abuses to animals in agriculture. First, a handful of unsavory factory farming facts to chew on:
- “Broiler” (non egg-laying) chickens are the largest number of slaughtered animals each year — approximately 9 billion.
- Turkeys endure painful de-beaking without any anesthesia.
- Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated over and over again, and their babies are taken away from them as soon as they’re born; the mothers and babies show great distress when this happens.
- The veal industry is a byproduct of the dairy industry; dairy farms sell off the male calves, who they have no use for themselves since they won’t ever be able to produce milk.
- Pigs often are confined in gestation crates for practically their entire life, where they are unable to move.
- Battery cage hens are confined for their whole lives to a space that is the same size as a piece of loose-leaf paper; when hens give birth to male chicks, the chicks are simply thrown away — piles of them in a garbage dumpster.
There are three federal laws that pertain in some way to farmed animals:
- Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (poultry slaughter is exempt!)
- Twenty-Eight Hour Law (transportation of animals across state lines; no more than 28 consecutive hours without being unloaded for food, water, and rest)
- Animal Welfare Act (only applies to farmed animals if they’re used in research)
In addition to federal law, each state has an animal cruelty statute. However, no matter how cruel a practice is, if the farmer can show that the treatment at issue is “customary practice,” it is exempt from the law. Basically, the farming industry is allowed to regulate itself. Not a good idea!
Food for Thought: Are you being duped by advertising?
When you start looking at evidence of false advertising in food products, an animal welfare issue becomes also a truth issue and a consumer protection issue. So many of the catch words and phrases used in labeling, like “humanely raised” and “animal-friendly,” are targeted to entice people not only to buy the products, but also to pay more for a product. The reality is that these happy words are not regulated at all — they’re just someone’s crafty PR-firm at work. Very few words actually are regulated by the USDA: Organic, Farm, Country, Grass-Fed, Free Range, Farm-Raised, and Cage Free. That’s about it. So, don’t let the big businesses trick you into paying more to feel better about a purchase that really has very little impact on existing animal abuses in the farming industry. Finally, although “Organic” has some animal protection implications, unfortunately, guaranteed humane treatment of animals is not among them.
As people become aware of factory farming conditions and become more discerning as consumers, day-to-day choices at the grocery store are changing. People are turning to plant-based diets for both health and ethical reasons. Each choice figures into the bigger picture: the diminished demand for animal products (along with stronger protective laws), ultimately, is what will reduce or eliminate the suffering of billions of farmed animals each year.
Interested in learning more about Farmed Animal Law? Lewis & Clark Law School is offering a 2-week intensive class this June on the subject. It’s open to law students, but also to others if they’d like to audit the class. Who wants to join me?