By Bee Friedlander on Animals and Society Institute
This past weekend over 200 attorneys, law students, academics and others gathered at Harvard Law School for the 3rd "Future of Animal Law Conference," sponsored by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
With such a topic, the organizers had to decide whether to make the sessions broad or deep. They charted a middle course: for example, nearly 3 hours was devoted to farmed animal issues with shorter sessions on companion animals, primates and cruelty prosecutions. Some panels dealt with nuts-and-bolts discussions of cases and statutes, while others explored the larger issues (for example, the session on "Defining the Second Wave of Animal Law"). You can see the agenda here.
Herewith is a very selective discussion of the conference with emphasis on the farmed animal session.
- "Charting a Course for the Protection of Farmed Animals: Legal and Economic Approaches" featured an intriguing and thought-provoking mix of economics, science, policy and law. Patrick Brown of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Deptment of Biochemistry, Stanford University School of Medicine, discussed the un-sustainability of industrial agriculture and the looming threat to its business model. The profits of large agribusiness concerns - and their ability to supply cheap meat, eggs and dairy products to US consumers - are based on a house of cards (albeit an extremely strong house of cards): externalizing the environmental and health costs of their operations; avoiding potential greenhouse gas regulations; and paying less than FMV for the cost of the gargantuan quantities of water necessary to produce meat, eggs, dairy. (Read a Forbes article about his research here.)
- Another speaker, Bailey Norwood, a professor of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University - who noted this was his first presentation to an animal advocacy group - discussed his recent study which concluded that "informed" consumers are willing to pay a premium for humanely-raised pigs and eggs, and to pay considerably more for those products than the additional cost to produce such meat and eggs. He noted that several states have begun to phase out battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates but predicted that beyond these extreme cases of confinement, the public may not support the banning of other industrial agriculture practices. Why? Because, simply, there are no compelling pictures of the suffering inflicted by those other generally accepted practices.
- Peter Stevenson, Chief Policy Advisor, Compassion in World Farming, discussed the European Union's creation of a new status for animals, that of "sentient beings." Member states must pay full regard to the requirements of animals in formation and implementation of policy. These policies must be based on scientific research: for example, the prohibition of battery cages for egg-laying hens was based on a 1996 report. (A later speaker contrasted the nature of the scientific inquiry about farmed animals in the US versus that in the EU: in this country, research often is funded by agribusiness interests and does not address core issues such as suffering caused by modern confinement systems).
- Bruce Meyers, an attorney with the Environmental Law Institute represented what several speakers throughout the weekend heralded as a new alliance between the animal and environmental movements. "Factory farms are the factories the environmental movement missed," he said, referring to the large subsidies given to industrial agriculture (information here), and the industry's breathtaking political clout (citing a recent suit brought by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Baltimore Law School against the chicken mega-producer, Perdue. While the Maryland legislature has backed off its threat of withdrawing funding in retaliation, the school must still disclose its list of recent clients and funding sources.)
- Attorney Carter Dillard rounded out the panel, saying that although US law affords no real protection for farmed animals, the bright spot is "lawyers working in service of a vibrant, progressive social movement."
- Joyce Tischler moderated the panel. In her concluding remarks, she referenced the nearly-two-year-old Pew Study which concluded that "[i]ndustrial scale farm animal production poses ‘unacceptable' risks to public health, environment." Apart from one bill introduced in Congress to regulate non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farmed animals, the policy implications of the study have not been implemented or institutionalized. Certainly there is room for advocates to better use this study to improve the lives of farmed animals.
- With the impending publication of the ASI's next policy paper, David Cassuto's The CAFO Hothouse: Climate Change, Industrial Agriculture and the Law, these discussions provided additional evidence that it is necessary for animal advocates to become conversant with concepts such as externalities, GHGs and the like, in addition to the law and policy related farmed animals.
Based upon the enthusiasm, dedication, intelligence and creativity of the participants and attendees, I'd have to conclude that the future of animal law is strong.
Oh, and by the way, the (vegan) meals were delicious!