Foie Gras & Faux Gras

Posted by on Sep 28, 2011 in Animals & the Law | 0 comments

If you’re already aware of where  foie gras comes from, feel free to skip the next paragraph.

OK… so for those of you still reading, here’s the lowdown: foie gras is actually a diseased (!) liver, about 80% fat. UGH. However, even more repulsive than the idea of eating a diseased organ is the fact that these diseased livers do not happen by accident.  Geese and ducks are force fed, either by a farm worker or by a mechanical device. Necropsy reports of the birds show injuries to the esophagus, from the tubes and funnels used to force feed them; reports also describe many of the dead birds with food still coming out of their throats, which indicates that the birds are dying while in the midst of being force fed. Production of foie gras is a horrible, torturous process that causes the unnecessary suffering of up to 500,000 birds in the United States each year.

The treatment of birds that end up on people’s plates in one form or another is outside the realm of any established laws — birds are not covered by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. However, The Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) is a federal law that requires the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to inspect the products once the birds have been slaughtered. The emphasis is on human health rather than animal welfare. In 2007, the Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, Animal Legal Defense Fund, New York University’s chapter of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, and three New York residents petitioned the USDA to prohibit the introduction of foie gras into the human food supply. Based on the PPIA , the petition claimed that foie gras, diseased liver, was essentially an “adulterated” food product and therefore in violation of the Act. Unfortunately, two years later, the USDA officially denied the petition for a rulemaking.

For a more in-depth look at foie gras in the United States and what the legal system has to say about it, see Lovenheim v. Iroquois Brands (1985) and Illinois Restaurant Association v. City of Chicago (2007). California passed legislation banning the production and sale of foie gras (goes into effect in July 2012), and other state legislatures are considering similar bans.

While foie gras production is still legal in European countries, Israel banned the production of foie gras back in 2003, and the production of foie gras also is illegal in Argentina.

Faux Gras — Cruelty-Free Alternatives!
There are countless vegan pate recipes available on the web, like this Vegan Walnut Mushroom Pate. I’ve had creative pate dishes at restaurants in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Portland, so it’s often easy enough to find truly delicious alternatives even when you’re dining out. And for my New York friends, The Regal Vegan makes a Faux Gras that is available in many of your neighborhood stores.

Educating Consumers: Support Labeling of Foie Gras!
Please lend your voice in support of labeling foie gras so that consumers know where it comes from! I sincerely believe that if people knew the truth, they would stop eating foie gras and buying it. Please take a minute to sign this Animal Legal Defense Fund petition to the USDA.


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Efforts to Ban NYC Horse-Drawn Carriages

Posted by on Sep 23, 2011 in Animals & the Law | 0 comments

Just last month, there was a rally outside City Hall for individuals to speak out against NYC’s carriage-horse industry.

From its inception during the time of World War II until the 1980s, the horse-drawn carriage industry in NYC went virtually unregulated, a classic example of politics at play. But as automobile traffic increased and accidents started happening in the streets, people started taking notice and advocating for a ban on horse-drawn carriages. Other cities already have done so – including London and Paris. The New York City Bar Association has been among the ban’s supporters.

In New York, approximately 200 horses are subject to walking the asphalt up to nine hours a day, seven days a week, even in extreme temperatures. Helplessly mixed in with cars and trucks, they are exposed to fumes all day long (“nose to tailpipe”) and can become spooked by the city’s noises and general chaos. Even if the carriages were limited to Central Park, as they have been in the past, the horses still have to navigate the traffic-heavy streets while getting to and from work. And, when a carriage and a car collide — as they have numerous times — the result is never anything short of heart-wrenching.

Beyond the working conditions and safety issues while the horses are in the public eye, at the end of the workday, the conditions these horses have at “home” are just as dire: the multi-storied stables of Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues are not the happy pastoral settings we tend to envision. Furthermore, when the horses have become too old to be of use to the industry, they are sold for slaughter.

The industry’s response has been to suggest that, rather than a ban, all that’s needed is more effective regulation. The latest legislation regarding the industry in New York was Law 35-A, enacted in April 2010. The law, on its surface, looks promising from an animal welfare perspective, offering the horses five weeks each year outside of the city, fewer working hours, better living conditions, and restrictions in terms of acceptable “working” outside temperatures. Unfortunately, the purpose of Law 35-A was mainly to placate the public and take the media’s focus off the industry following a series of accidents and negative publicity. Not only are the regulations not enough, but they also are not well enforced.

For a comprehensive look at the history of New York’s horse-drawn carriage industry, see Katherine Hutchinson’s “Should They Go the Way of the Horse and Buggy?” in Animal Law, volume 17 (2010). Also, a news report by HLN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell that aired this summer highlights the most recent efforts by citizens and legislators for this cause.

Simply put, horses have no business in the NYC traffic of the 21st century. It’s time to follow the lead of other major cities and ban the horse-drawn carriage industry altogether from the city’s streets. Groups such as the  Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and NYCLASS are working to bring an end to the ongoing cruelty of the horse-drawn carriage industry in New York City. The efforts include a recommendation that horse-drawn carriages be replaced with vintage cars that will appeal to tourists and keep the drivers in jobs.

I hope my New York friends – and readers everywhere — will lend their voices to this cause. The reality of the horse-drawn carriages is New York is about as far away from a fairytale as one can get; but, with a ban on these and their replacement with vintage cars, we can still give these equine New Yorkers the happy ending they deserve.

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Custody of Companion Animals in Divorce/Separation Cases

Posted by on Sep 16, 2011 in Animals & the Law | 0 comments

My friend Gemma has been kind enough to let me share her recent blog post on this important subject for guardians of companion animals…

guest blogger: Gemma Zanowski

Because pets are living, breathing, feeling property, issues regarding custody of a pet following marital dissolution or a breakup are not as clear-cut as they are regarding your grandmother’s armoire or assets in the joint bank account. Given that division of even these non-living property items is often murky enough to warrant retaining an attorney, it is wise to make pet ownership issues clear before entering into a relationship or getting a pet. Of course, if you’re already married with pets or jointly acquired a pet with your significant other, it’s a bit too late for preventative preparation. Whether you fall in either of the categories above, it is imperative to understand the potential issues that may arise involving your pets should your relationship ever come to an end. It’s Monday and cloudy here in Seattle, so let’s talk about divorce!

A Brief Discussion of Current Law
Technically, animals are personal property. Just like your TV, stripped bare of context, law still terms your pet as a tangible piece of property, subject to equitable division at marital dissolution. During a divorce, property must be tallied up, then split up, taking into consideration any agreements made between the parties before or during marriage or in anticipation of dissolution. Laws governing division of marital assets are pretty general, so courts have a lot of discretion regarding division. Discretion is even higher in states that follow an equitable distribution framework rather than a community property scheme.
  • General Rule 1: You are entitled to keep any separate property you brought into the marriage. Unless you agreed otherwise, your assets and debts pre-marriage are yours to keep upon dissolution. Thus, pets acquired solely in your name and prior to marriage are presumed to be separate property. Of course, you may be required to provide proof that the animal was indeed your own investment — contracts from adoption agencies or breeders in your name alone, dog license registration documents, or vet records can help establish this.
  • General Rule 2: You are entitled to keep property gifted to you or inherited by you. If your spouse (or anyone else for that matter) gifted your pet to you, then, even if originally purchased by your spouse, the animal will likely be your separate property. The same goes for any animals inherited, whether during the marriage or not.
  • Exception to Rules 1 and 2: Courts often will consider facts outside legal property status when deciding pet custody issues.  In the case of In re Marriage of Stewart, the trial court awarded the couple’s dog, which was a gift from the husband to the wife, to the husband, taking into account considerations that the dog accompanied the husband to the office and spent a substantial portion of each day with the husband. A court has full discretion to consider care factors when making decisions involving dog custody, something to consider when you surrender dog walking duties to your spouse in order to get those extra 30 minutes of sleep.
Problem Solving: Prevention
Pre-nuptial agreements may sound callous, but they’re fairly common. According to Rebecca Huss, “While public policy prevents ante-nuptial agreements from limiting the rights of children, “there is no prohibition on the allocation of legal rights in animals in a contract[,]” as animals are considered property. There is no good reason to at least consider such an arrangement with a spouse — it might very well save you a lot of confusion, money, and heartache in the future.
Looking Forward 
Animals may evolve into “living property” in the future. According to Stacy L. Kelly, “if one examines cases over the last few decades, it is obvious that the courts are using less property language and more custody and visitation language in making property determinations as if pets were family members.” For years now, courts have suggested their inclinations to consider pets more like children than property during marital dissolution. For example, the court in Akers v. Sellers stated in dicta that “[w]hether the interests and desires of the dog, in such a situation, should be the polar star pointing the way to a just and wise decision, or whether the matter should be determined on the brutal and unfeeling basis of legal title is a problem concerning which we express no opinion.” 54 N.E.2d 779, 779-80 (Ill. App. Ct. 1944)  In Dickson v. Dickson,the wife was awarded custody of the dog, and her ex-husband was ordered to pay “dog support” for the animal’s care. No. 94-1072 (Ark. Garland County Ch. Ct. Oct. 14, 1994. Michigan State University College of Law’s Professor David Favre has advocated for an increased recognition of the companion animal’s status as a living being, through his “living property” concept, encompassing “physical, movable living objects – not human – that have an inherent self-interest in their continued well-being and existence. David Favre, Animal Law: Welfare, Interests, and Rights 431 (2008).
Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
In my own practice, I find myself constantly repeating to clients the suggestion that they consult an attorney for their legal and business transactions so as to prevent litigable situations from arising in the future (or, as is usually the case with my clients, “the future” has become “the present,” and they find themselves wishing they’d planned better from the beginning.This same theory applies to pet issues, especially since a wide range of emotions potentially are invoked by marriage and divorce. It is best to keep legal issues as clear-cut as possible. Invest the time now in setting up a clear, workable system to deal with pet custody issues. Even if you never get divorced, having a solid understanding of your legal rights can put your mind at ease and leave you free to fully enjoy your relationships with your significant other and your furry family members.
Gemma Zanowski is a Washington attorney with a private practice in the Seattle area. She also is founder of Tough Love Pit Bull Rescue (formerly Ravamped Rovers). She shares her home with two rescue dogs and two rescued bunnies.
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