Can California regulate egg production under the Commerce Clause?

New standard for chickens

New standard for chickens

Seth Victor

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District Court of California, asking the federal court to overturn a 2010 California law requiring the same standards for in-state chickens be applied to out-of-state chickens. In 2008, California passed Proposition 2, a ballot measure that increased the standards for egg-layers, providing that such chickens must have enough space to spread their wings without touching another chicken, and be able to stand up and lay down. Animal producers in California, however, complained that because they couldn’t stuff as many birds into the same space, they are at an economic disadvantage when competing with out-of-state producers selling in California. In response the state legislature passed a law requiring that all eggs sold in California be held to the same standards required under Proposition 2. The law will take effect in 2015. While California maintains that the additional law was enacted for health safety given the atrocious conditions of battery cages, Missouri counters that the law is an unlawful attempt to regulate conduct outside of California’s boarders, and an impermissible protection against out-of-state competition, both of which are in violation of the Commerce Clause. Continue reading

Why the King Amendment is Hypocritical

Seth Victor

Recently Angelique Rivard explained some of the dangers inherent in Rep. Steve King’s amendment to H.R. 6083, the Farm Bill. What makes this amendment maddening is that Mr. King has cited law to support this measure that he would decry as the product of an overreaching government in almost any other circumstance. There is no doubt that Mr. King’s proposal is intended to end state protection for farmed animals; his website proudly declares that he hopes to terminate the efforts of animal rights groups, ensuring “that radical organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and PETA are prohibited from establishing a patchwork of restrictive state laws aimed at slowly suffocating production agriculture out of existence.”

King has hardly been the darling of animal rights before this foray, as Stephen Colbert nicely summarizes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund both gave him a 0% rating in 2012. This came after a 2010 statement at a National 4-H Conference that “the HSUS is run by vegetarians with an agenda whose goal is to take meat off everyone’s table in America.” King has also previously voted against broadening the definitions of the Endangered Species Act in 2005 which would have enabled better listing criteria.

Continue reading

Sheep (and ranchers) Find No Home on the Range

SHEEP-1-popup

Seth Victor

From the tone of the NY Times article, John Bartmann doesn’t sound like a bad man. Though some readers might demonize him because he is involved in animal farming, this isn’t the CEO of a major industrial producer, and it would be inaccurate to lump him in under the same heading. I expect Mr. Bartmann knows a thing or two about sheep husbandry, and likely has his own grievances with the CAFO industry. Still, his plight is indicative of the complicated issues surrounding modern farming, and is not free from critique. The decline of the modern rancher, especially in the drought of 2012, highlights many of the problems with food in the United States, through both animal and environmental perspectives. Continue reading

After a while, crocodiles

CROCODYLUS NILOTICUS

Seth Victor                                                 

Just in case you were worried that a python outbreak wasn’t enough, there’s another top predator in southern Florida. This past fall there have been sightings of Nile crocodiles south of Miami. This presents a bit of a conundrum for wildlife supervisors. You see the Nile crocodile is on international threatened lists, and is disappearing in its native habitat. Because Florida, however, is not its native habitat, and because the state already has to manage with non-native snakes eliminating the mammal population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has authorized a state shoot-to-kill order. Though there are native crocodiles in Florida, the Nile crocodile is known to be fiercer and more deadly, and is one of the few animals left on the planet that still hunts humans.

While Nile crocodiles haven’t reached the infestation levels of the python, they are potentially more problematic in smaller numbers. FWC officers suspect that the crocodiles may have originated from an illegal captive breeding facility, but it is still unknown exactly from where they are coming, or how many there are.

Again we are faced with the same unresolved questions on how to handle non-native species that can drastically alter a habitat. Do we preserve a threatened species, one of the greatest and most resilient in history, or do we hunt down the crocodiles before they make other animals endangered or extinct? Or do we simply pit the pythons and crocs against each other in a winner-take-all showdown on prime time? Either way, it’s hardly an enviable decision for the FWC.

Why our modern lifestyle spells disaster

Seth Victor

Do you love your meat? Well, love it or hate it, it may well cause the collapse of our global society. In the latest report confirming the strain factory farming and overconsumption of animal products causes our environment, The Guardian reports that mass food shortages are predicted within the next 40 years if we as a species do not scale back meat consumption. It’s a simple matter of not having enough water to produce the crops necessary to support the animals needed to satisfy current consumption, to say nothing of what another 2 billion human mouths will bring to the table. If we do not scale back, food shortages and water shortages could be a worldwide reality, as well as food price spikes. Continue reading

Hot, Crowded & Legal

David Cassuto
Here’s a teaser from my forthcoming piece, “Hot, Crowded & Legal: A look at Industrial Agriculture in the United States and Brazil.”  The article is co authored with the fabulous Sarah Saville (Pace JD 2012) and will appear in the Animal Law Review.  The article is based on a talk I gave at the Review’s Inaugural Symposium in Fall 2011.

This essay examines the impact of industrial animal agriculture in the United States and Brazil.  It surveys the respective regulatory environments in the two countries and discusses how their regulatory regimes have enabled the spread of factory farming while taking little heed of its pernicious effects.  We focus on the United States and Brazil for several reasons.  First, they are the first and eight largest economies in the world, respectively.  Second, both countries have very large agricultural sectors and play significant roles internationally.  In addition, both countries have begun to address the issues raised by factory farming while yet having much work yet to do.  

Continue reading

The Other Greenhouse “Gas”: Cows & Climate Change

Jillian N. Bittner

You drive to the supermarket in your “green” car, checking your back seat before you leave for your re-usable bags– yet you stand on line about to purchase the packaged beef sitting at the bottom of your cart and do not stop to think twice about the environment? – Perhaps you should.

While the environmental legal community emphasizes the desperate need to harness and reduce CO2 emissions as a way to mitigate the current and impending consequences of greenhouse gases on climate change, the community at large has ignored the impact of a greater culprit – CH4, or rather methane gas.  Animal agriculture accounts not only as a source of CO2, or nitrous oxide (N2O; another potent greenhouse gas), but is the number one source of methane gas worldwide – beating out the effects of vehicles and airplanes combined. But why should the environmental and legal communities be more concerned with CH4? According to the EPA, “methane is about 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than CO2 by weight.”

Cows, and the corresponding beef industry, are the largest contributors of methane gas. Cows produce this effect partly through belching and flatulence as a consequence of their digestive systems, which are characteristic of ruminant animals. Yet CAFOs remain unregulated. Continue reading

Environmentalism & Factory Farming

David Cassuto

Good article in GOOD Magazine on environmentalism and industrial agriculture featuring an interview w/me.

Mass Animal Deaths: Nature, Nurture, Conspiracy, or Apocalyspe?

Rosana Escobar Brown

The Red-winged Blackbird deaths on New Year’s Eve 2011 sparked an international debate over trends in mass animal deaths around the globe.  That night, 5,000 birds plummeted to their demise over the Beebe, Arkansas, with low-flying and fireworks cited as the cause.  One report assumed the birds just began “colliding with things” due to poor eyesight.  But this event alone did not coax the controversy; just two days earlier over 100,000 fish were found floating in the Arkansas River a mere miles from Beebe, and three days after the barrage of blackbirds, 500 more birds of mixed breeds fell from the sky in Louisiana.  Reasons provided ranged from disease to power line exposure.

Photo by Liz Condo/The Advocate, via Associated Press

As if these occurrences weren’t enough to incite conspiracy, extraterrestrial, and apocalypse theorists, skeptics began compiling evidence of recent occurrences around the globe.  The more jarring stories include 40,000 Velvet Crabs washing ashore in England, 2 million floating Spot Fish in Maryland’s Chesapeke Bay, a “carpet” of Snapper sans eyes in New Zealand, and 100 tons of mixed fish in Brazil.  These incidents come with varying explanations from researchers, none of which include government conspiracy or “end of days” prophecies.  However, the paranoid public seems alarmed at the phenomenon and is claiming the animals are omens of biblical proportion.  Aptly termed the “Aflockalypse” by online cynics, articles range from claiming Nostradamus predicted this as a sign of the end of days and others point to bible verses and claim this occurred once before in the fall of the Egyptian Empire.  One Google Maps user created a global mapped record of recent mass animal deaths in an attempt to find a pattern, and I must admit that the incidents appear in astonishing numbers. Continue reading

EPA Releases Emissions Data on CAFOS — Interpretation to Follow

David Cassuto
Here’s an interesting development: EPA has released data from a national study of emissions from CAFOS  that raise pigs, broiler chickens, cattle, and turkeys.  Of course, we don’t know how interesting it is because the agency has not yet interpreted the data.  If you’re of a number-crunching bent, you can see it all here.

AALS Animal Law Panel

David Cassuto

Ok, there’s much to catch up on and this will be the first post of several.  Let’s start with the AALS Animal Law Section panel held last Saturday in San Francisco.  The conference in general was quite good.  Despite a labor action at the main conference hotel, which caused many sections (including ours) to be moved at the last minute, and despite the session taking place at O-dark thirty (8:30 a.m.) on a Saturday, the session was well-attended by interested folk, many of whom were new to animal law. Continue reading

Rivers, Agriculture & Climate Change

David Cassuto

I’ll be a visiting professor at  Williams College this coming semester, teaching climate change law & policy as well as environmental law at the Center for Environmental Studies.  So, climate change has very much been on my mind of late.  This is not a new thing, of course.  I’ve blogged frequently about the relationship between animal law & policy and climate change and written more extensively about it elsewhere as well.  In addition, I’ll be talking about CAFOS and climate change as part of the animal law panel  at the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) meeting this weekend.

However, I recently stumbled on a new (to me) aspect of the pernicious relationship between industrial agriculture and climate change: the denitrification of rivers.  Microbes in rivers convert nitrogen to nitrous oxide (as well as an inert gas called dinitrogen).  That nitrous oxide then makes its way into the atmosphere where it becomes a potent greenhouse gas as well as a destroyer of atmospheric ozone.  Continue reading

Finding the Factory Farms

David Cassuto

We’re often told (because it’s true) that 10 billion animals are killed for food in this country every year.  The implications of that number for climate change, water and air pollution, and animal suffering are well-documented and appalling.  But most of us have never seen a factory farm.  Agribusiness counts on the “out of sight, out of mind” effect to keep the population quiescent and, for the most part, the strategy works.

So where are those 10 billion animals?  Continue reading

Polar Bears — The New Canary

David Cassuto

Long ago, miners used canaries to measure the build up of toxic gases in the mines where they were working.  If the canary died, it was time to head out because the air was dangerous.  We don’t use canaries in mines anymore.  Now we use polar bears in the Arctic.  The threat to the bear serves as a monitoring mechanism of sorts for the global threat from carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

As you may recall, the impending demise of polar bears due to habitat destruction attributed to global warming generated some hooha not too long ago.  W’s Interior Secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, hemmed and hawed for as long as possible before finally declaring the bear a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.  That designation would normally require federal action to address the cause (global warming) of the bear’s habitat.  However, the Bushies propounded a rule – later embraced by the Obama Administration, excluding carbon emissions from regulation under the ESA.  That made the bear’s victory (such as it was) pyrrhic at best.  Nonetheless, in the heady optimism of the time, many (including me) felt that it was perhaps better to wait for a statute explicitly aimed at mitigating national emissions rather than to use the blunt instrument of the ESA to accomplish a very complex regulatory act.

Continue reading

Fries, Beer, and the IUCN Colloquium

David Cassuto

Belgium is pretty cool.  Ghent is an absolutely beautiful city, filled with the kind of stunning architecture that one might expect to see in European cities better known for their visual splendor.  And did you know that Ghent was the second-largest city in Europe (behind Paris) for quite a while, quite a while back?  Just up the road is Bruges – a medieval city that was a bustling center of commerce until its harbor silted up 400 or so years ago.  As a result, it still looks much as it did then.  And back then, it looked mighty good.

Let’s see… what else?  The pommes frites – to which I had been looking forward with almost maniacal glee – were not all that.  In my experience (admittedly limited to Ghent), one can do much better on St. Mark’s Place in NYC.

The beer, however.  Oh, the beer.  Oh, it’s good.  It’s good beer.

Continue reading

Brasilia and Now Ghent (Belgium) — Still Talking Climate Change & Agriculture

David Cassuto

So here I am on a plane again – this time to Belgium on my way to the Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, which is taking place in Ghent.  I’m back in steerage this time; no business class for our hero.  I swore I would never go back but here I am.

Amidst all the hubbub, I need to recap my time in Brasilia even as I head for Europe.  Brasilia was a very interesting time and I once more want to reiterate my gratitude to the U.S. State Department for making my time in Brazil so rich and rewarding and for taking such good care of me.  This was my first time in Brazil’s capital and I enjoyed it – from the stunning architecture to the fact that the city is laid out like an airplane.  In addition to speaking at private university (entirely successful and well-attended), I lectured also to a government think tank called IPEA.  There, I encountered probing questions from a very informed audience.  When I mentioned the idea of treating meat consumption as a luxury for purposes of regulating and taxing carbon emissions, one of my hosts asked what I thought of the idea of a “meat cap.”  Not only is it an intriguing notion about which I need to think more, but so much do I love the term that even if it were a completely wacky idea, I would probably support it anyway.                    Continue reading

Part 2 of the Brazilian Odyssey

David Cassuto

I flew Business Class on the way home.  Business Class is better than coach.  In fact, I’m seriously considering renaming my child Business Class.  I’ve also written several epic poems and elegies to Business Class and am thinking about getting a tattoo.

But I digress.

I’m back in the U.S. after a truly rich and useful swing through the Brazilian cities of Porto Alegre, Curitiba and Brasilia.  My thanks go out to the United States Department of State, particularly the good people in the consulate in Sao Paulo and the embassy in Brasilia for making my time so valuable and pleasant.  In each city I spoke about industrial agriculture and climate change (my lecture drew on the policy paper I recently wrote for the Animals and Society Institute).  I also gave several interviews for the press.  Both the reporters and the audiences met me where I was – engaging both the environmental issues and the animal ethics.  The Q&A sessions were routinely excellent.

Porto Alegre is the home of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (URGS), where I have spoken several times over the years and whose law school has a long friendship with Pace. Professor Fabio Morosini was my host.  He comes at these issues via international law and his perspective and insights were enormously useful.  He’s also a terrifically nice guy.  The law school hosted a roundtable for students, faculty and interested members of the community prior to my lecture where we discussed climate change in the larger context as well as the role of meat consumption and industrial agriculture.  Both there and in the discussion following my lecture, we wrestled with the issue of national responsibility and collective action.  Given the U.S.’ status as one of the largest carbon emitters, the founder of factory-farming and voracious consumer of meat, it is always a challenge to go to other countries and discuss the idea of shared sacrifice and vigilance about industrial agriculture.  But even as one must accept and acknowledge the historic and continuing role of U.S. policies and consumption patterns, it is also important to acknowledge that this is an international dilemma requiring collective action at both the domestic and international levels.                 Continue reading

Powerful Final Day at the Second World Conference on Bioethics and Animal Rights

Elizabeth Bennett

The last day of the Second World Conference on Bioethics and Animal Rights began with a heartfelt lecture by conference organizer Heron Santana on climate change and animal rights. Professor Santana spoke about the fact that citizens of Brazil are beginning to eat more meat and the country exports an increasing amount of live animals, as they used to do with slaves.

He also discussed the health risks associated with eating meat and our ability to decrease meat production by decreasing consumption.  He explained that there is a wall of prejudice against other species that we must break down in order to abolish animal slavery.  Professor Santana concluded by stressing the importance of speaking out for animals and making changes in our daily lives to work toward an end to these violations against nonhuman animals.    Continue reading

Live From the Second World Conference on Bioethics and Animal Rights in Brazil

Elizabeth Bennett

DAY 1 Ola from the Second World Conference on Bioethics and Animal Rights.  First, I would like to say that I am very thankful that Pace Law School and the Center for Environmental Legal Studies provided me with the opportunity to attend this prestigious and world-renowned conference and for all of the conference organizers’ hard work and hospitality.  As the presentations I have attended thus far have been informative and thought-provoking for me, I will do my best to share my experience with you.

Upon arrival, a symphony was playing.  After introductions and honorariums, Professor David Cassuto of Pace Law School and Director of the Brazil-American Institute for Law and Environment (BAILE) spoke about current trends in environmental law and the animal world.  He discussed the intersection of animal and environmental law and how they often clash, despite the many common grounds upon which they merge.  He went on to discuss the legal framework for protecting animals, distinguishing between animal welfarists and animal rights activists, stating that animal welfarists wish for stronger laws, while animal rights activists believe that humans should not use animals at all.  He also pointed out that in the United States legal system, animals are property and the laws concerning animals regulate relationships between humans about animals.  He made an interesting comparison between the appropriateness of humans making laws on behalf of nonhuman animals and politicians enacting laws on our behalf without truly knowing us, what we desire, or how we would like to be protected.  This comparison comes as an interesting response to doubts about human ability and right to make laws about non-human animals when they do not completely understand what animals want or need.

Professor Cassuto also discussed whether animals can be considered “persons” under the law and how this would change the way we protect them.  This served as a great opening to the Conference, as many of the presentations that followed addressed these questions and dealt with similar issues. Continue reading

Brazil Anew– The Animal Law Tour

David Cassuto

Our hero heads back to Brazil next week.  First I’ll speak at the International Animal Law Conference in Salvador.   The conference also features a student forum where, I’m delighted to report, Pace 3L, Elizabeth Bennett, will present a paper on factory farming.          Continue reading

Talking Animals, Climate Change and Agriculture in Sao Paulo

David Cassuto

Today, I gave a talk on industrial agriculture and climate change at the Planeta Verde Conference, the largest environmental law conference in South America and maybe the world.  Instituto O Direito Por Um Planeta Verde (Law for a Green Planet Institute) is a Brazilian NGO founded (I believe) by Antonio Benjamin, a major figure in Brazilian environmental law.  Benjamin is now a Justice on the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice (this court has no direct analogue in the U.S.; it resides somewhere between the courts of appeals  and the Supreme Court).  He also manages to be a professor at several law schools both in Brazil and Texas.

I have a few things to report.  First, on a personal note, I currently dwell in a limbic space between 3 languages.  My Portuguese is improving but still not fully conversational while my Spanish suffers from its proximity to Portuguese.  This leaves me unable to speak either one.  Meanwhile, my English worsens by the day.  The upshot: I spent much of today and yesterday stammering in no recognizable language, but with a New York accent.           Continue reading

The CAFO Hothouse

David Cassuto

The Shameless Self-Promotion Desk kicks into high gear with this from the email:

Today, on Earth Day 2010, the Animals and Society Institute is pleased to announce the release of our sixth policy paper, titled “The CAFO Hothouse: Climate Change, Industrial Agriculture and the Law.” Written by David N. Cassuto, a professor at the Pace School of Law, the paper is a very timely overview of how government policies and agribusiness interests have combined to create inhumane and unhealthy conditions within our nation’s food supply, and what that means for our planet’s future.

“The CAFO Hothouse” describes, in thorough but easily digestible detail, how CAFOs (“concentrated animal feeding operations,” commonly known as factory farms) have replaced smaller family farms in the last few decades, the direct and indirect impact they have on greenhouse gas emissions, and how better policies and practices would help mitigate the resulting environmental damage and improve conditions for billions of farmed animals.

This paper is the first in our series to address agricultural issues, and is part of our overall mission to use science-based arguments to promote more responsible public policy.

Here’s an Excerpt:    Continue reading

Ocean Acidification and the Clean Water Act

David Cassuto

Great post over at Daily Kos about some tentative steps by EPA to regulate greenhouse gases using the Clean Water Act.  Oceans absorb roughly 1/4 of anthropogenic CO2.  The dissolved CO2 then forms carbonic acid, which lowers the pH of the seawater, which then causes (among other things) mass die-off of coral. 

Coral reefs are home to about 25% of marine species.  When they go, everything goes.  We don’t hear as much about ocean acidification as we should.  Maybe now we will.  In any event, if the agency goes forward with this initiative, we’ll certainly be hearing plenty of caterwauling from the deniers.

Stay tuned.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Industrial Agriculture & Climate Change

David Cassuto

Santos was interesting.  First, who knew there was a significant mountain range between Rio & Sao Paulo?  Even having flown this route many times, I was surprised by the size and extent of the range which we drove over.

My talk on biofuels, industrial agriculture and climate change was well-received in an odd but increasingly common way.   Though I mentioned animal treatment only tangentially and concentrated on the massive pollution and climate change culpability of factory farming, 90% of the questions and comments I received dwelt on animal treatment and even animal rights.         Continue reading

Biofuels, Climate Change & Agriculture

David Cassuto

Our hero is off to Santos, south of Sao Paulo, to participate in a congress on biofuels.  I will speak about the tangled relationship between biofuels, climate change and factory-farming.  I’m interested to see the reactions.

Blogging from Brazil

David Cassuto

I’m live-blogging from the plane on my way to Rio.  Actually, that’s not true.  There’s no in-flight internet connection so by the time you read this, the time of writing will have long passed.  Indeed, this situation reifies the ongoing and insuperable challenge faced by all writers.  Time, a crucial component of all experience marches ever onward; the writer can only try to invoke through words that which can never come again.  Or, as Jean-François Lyotard puts it, “in description, writing tries to meet the challenge of being equal to its momentary absence.”  Upshot: even though I’m not live-blogging, I just like saying “live-blogging” so that’s what I did.

In any case, I’ll be in Brazil for the next several months, teaching at the Getulio Vargas Foundation School of Law in Rio (FGV Direito-Rio).  FGV is the only law school in Brazil that utilizes the Socratic method and is well on its way to developing a world class environmental law program under the direction of my former student now colleague, Romulo Sampaio.  My stay in Rio has been made possible through the good offices of the late great Senator Fulbright.  Continue reading

Cap and Trade for Animals?

David Cassuto

A journey outside the box of animal welfare law brings us to this article, ” An Introduction to Cap and Trade for Animal Welfare,” by Alan Nemeth, in the Journal of Animal and Environmental Law.   The article is about just what the title says.  Nemeth is an adjunct professor  at the Washington College of Law and the founder and first chair of the Maryland State Bar Association’s Section on Animal Law.

Here’s a teaser from the introduction:

On June 26, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, H.R. 2454, which includes a straightforward concept and tool intended to reduce pollution, that of cap and trade.  Thinking outside of the proverbial box, could a market‐based approach such as cap and trade be successfully used to improve animal welfare throughout the United States and across the various industries that use animals?  Continue reading

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association — A Climate Change Hero…?

Painting by Sue Coe

David Cassuto

Guess what?  Apparently, human contributions to climate change is still iffy science and even if it weren’t, the beef industry sequesters rather than releases carbon and should be rewarded for its zealous fight against climate change.  So says the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).  According to the NCBA, agriculture was responsible for less than 6% of total U.S. GHG emissions while land use, land use change, and forestry activities resulted in a net carbon soil sequestration of approximately 17.4% of total U.S. CO2 emissions, or 14.9% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, “Agriculture actually provides a significant net benefit to the climate change equation,” said Tamara Theis, chief environmental counsel for the NCBA. “Rather than being subject to overly-burdensome regulations, agriculture should be rewarded for the carbon reductions we provide.”

Note the deft rhetorical move: land use, land use change and forestry do not necessarily have anything to do with agriculture.  Nevertheless, Big Ag is taking credit for it while also underselling its role in emissions.  Such claims would be laughable if they weren’t so pernicious.  Well, actually, they’re still laughable.  But they’re also dangerous.  The NCBA has just filed suit in the DC Circuit challenging EPA’s right to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.  Now, you may be saying — isn’t this what Massachusetts vs. EPA was all about?  How can the NCBA challenge a Supreme Court ruling?   Continue reading

Desert Rock Power Plant to Be Reassessed in Light of Threat to Fish

David Cassuto


From the Things that Never Would Have Happened Under W Desk:

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has withdrawn its Biological Assessment and the  EPA has also withdrawn the air quality permit they respectively issued last summer for the Desert Rock coal-fired power plant sited for the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners region of New Mexico.  The reason(s): concerns about the impact of heavy metals on two species of endangered fish in the San Juan River.

Sometimes I have to read news like this a few times and remember that the long, savage assault on the natural environment that was 2000-08 has indeed come to a close.  Continue reading

Meat, Copenhagen and Climate Change

David Cassuto

Concerned citizens the world over have gathered in Copenhagen to hammer out a plan to arrest climate change and prevent a planetary apocalypse.  Many have written much about the talks (check out, for example, Andy Revkin’s blog) but at least as interesting is what’s being neither talked about in Copenhagen nor much covered elsewhere.  I refer, of course, to animal agriculture and the fact that no comprehensive emissions reduction plan can fail to address the reality that the world’s ever-growing demand for meat is barbecuing the planet.   Continue reading

Factory Farms, Mark Bittman and TSCA — An Unlikely Trio

David Cassuto

Intriguing blog post by Mark Bittman, of all people, wondering whether industrial meat could be illegal under TSCA , the Toxic Substances Control Act (not to be confused with Tosca, the Puccini opera).  The argument would be that TSCA gives the EPA authority to regulate substances that pose “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment,” which greenhouse gases do, and industrial agriculture is a prime source of greenhouse gases (which they are).  So… there’s a potential case to be made for the strict regulation of industrial agriculture under TSCA.

It’s a creative argument and I, of course, salute the intent.  But I’m skeptical.  As an initial matter, TSCA “does not include chemical substances subject to other US statutes such as foods and food additives, pesticides, drugs, cosmetics, tobacco, nuclear material, or munitions.” Greenhouse gases are indeed subject to other U.S. statutes (i.e. the Clean Air Act); this was the gravamen of the Massachusetts v. EPA case and the reason for the EPA’s recent “endangerment finding” that Bittman references in the post.   Continue reading

Interior Proposes Polar Bear Habitat

David Cassuto

polar_bear_iceA while back, the Bush Administration reluctantly declared the polar bear threatened (under the Endangered Species Act) due to global warming and shrinking habitat.  It determined, however, that it would not use the ESA as the basis to require steps to curtail climate change.  Indeed, the Bushies had no intention of curtailing climate change at all.  The Obama folks agreed that the ESA was the wrong means through which to make climate policy.  Thus, the bear remained threatened and the government remained unwilling to take steps to protect it Continue reading

Livestock Emissions Account for 51% of Greenhouse Gases

Katie Hance

In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported that livestock accounted for 18% of greenhouse gases, making livestock emissions “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.”  However recently, Worldwatch Institute, a Washington D.C. environmental think-tank, reported that livestock emissions actually account for 51% of greenhouse gases.

Continue reading

SALDF Conference at Lewis & Clark

The Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark
in collaboration with the
Animal Legal Defense Fund
and
The Lewis & Clark Law School Student Animal Legal Defense Fund

present…

Animal Law: The Links

The Animal Law Conference
at Lewis & Clark

October 16-18, 2009AnimalLawConference2009

Registration Open!

Please join us this fall at Animal Law: The Links, The Animal Law Conference at Lewis & Clark, hosted by the Center for Animal Law Studies and the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at Lewis & Clark Law School!

This year’s conference will explore animal law and its link to other areas of the law and professional disciplines, philosophies, and social movements. Panel sessions will include topics such as the link between animal law and: domestic violence; climate change; international trade; religion; the media; and social justice movements.  In addition to panels on animal law and the link, the conference will also highlight hot topics in animal law, cutting-edge legislation, criminal law, a Holocaust survivor’s moving perspective on animal issues. . . and much more!

We are thrilled to welcome Nicholas D. Kristof, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author and New York Times columnist, as our Saturday evening Keynote Speaker. Mr. Kristof will be joining us for a special book signing of his latest book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (copies of the book will be available for purchase through registration and at the conference).  We are also excited to announce that Jonathan Lovvorn, Vice President & Chief Counsel for Animal Protection Litigation & Research at the Humane Society of the United States, will be delivering the Keynote Address at our Friday evening opening reception at the Oregon Historical Society located in downtown Portland.

Continue reading

More on the Meat/Climate Change Nexus

The link between livestock agriculture (particularly but not exclusively industrial agriculture) and climate change is getting some serious discussion, albeit not by those who actually pass laws about such things.  I’ve blogged about the issue here and am finishing up an essay for the Animals & Society Institute on CAFOs and climate change.

Legal Planet has a post discussing a colloquy at Grist.org about the issue.  The Grist dialogue features Tom Philpott, a sustainable agriculture maven from North Carolina, and Eliot Coleman, an organic farmer and author from Maine.  Essentially, Philpott claims that meat agriculture is a significant contributor to climate change and Coleman says it isn’t (although he decries industrial agriculture).  You can decide for yourself who gets the better of the exchange.  The trio of essays (Sean Hecht’s Legal Planet post and the Grist exchange) very much merit reading.

–David Cassuto

On Dumb Animals and Climate Change

frog4Today, Krugman uses the metaphor of boiled frogs to bring home the reality of collective inaction on climate change.  He is referencing the widely held belief that if you put a frog in cold water and then heat the water, the frog won’t know that it’s being cooked (until it’s too late).  The comparison is obvious; climate change will slowly barbecue us and yet people — particularly Americans  — will not act until it is too late.

I confess that I had never thought of this so clearly before.  Often the justification people offer for boiling frogs and lobsters alive is that they (the beings getting cooked) are too stupid to understand what’s happening to them and thus their deaths have no moral significance.  How, I wonder, does that differ from us?  Since we are too slow-witted to act to mitigate climate change, will the suffering and mass death that will inevitably befall us have any moral significance?

The phrase “dumb animal” has taken on a whole new meaning for me this morning.   And by the way, that story about the frogs is false.  They do not simply stay in the water as it heats.  If allowed to escape, they will.

–David Cassuto

Food and Environment

I spend a lot of time talking about the ethics of industrial farming as it relates to the treatment of animals.  Now, I want to say a few words about diet, environment and the law.  On average, Americans consume forty-five more pounds of meat per year than they did fifty years ago.  According to the Pew Commission on Industrial Farming Report, that increase translates into Americans eating 2.8 times more pig, 2.5 times more eggs, 2.3 times more chicken and 1.3 times more beef.  This upsurge forms part of a global trend.

Demand worldwide for animal products is growing by 3% per year in developing countries.  Worldwide, demand is expected to increase an additional 35% by 2015 and to double by 2050.  These increases in demand will inevitably lead to increased production.  Increased production of animals will necessarily and significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.  One has to wonder exactly how we are going to manage that without cooking the planet.

But of course, climate change is not the only problem.  Five thousand pigs produce as much raw sewage as a town of 20,000 people.  The pig waste is more concentrated and tends to contain both pathogens and antibiotics.  Yet, the pig waste does not go to a sewage treatment facility; it usually goes straight on to the ground, where it eventually makes its way into the groundwater and also into the air.  And there are millions of pigs.

This is just a glimpse of the environmental damage caused by agriculture.  Habitat loss and degradation, erosion, water depletion, pollution and salinization, agrochemical contamination, the above-mentioned animal waste, and air pollution are all serious and growing problems.  Nevertheless, agriculture remains virtually unregulated; very few laws govern its operation.  Of the major environmental statutes, only the Clean Water Act applies at all, and that only sporadically.  See here for a fine article by Professor J.B. Ruhl on this topic.

This – all of this – ought give us pause.  Industrial farming is an environmental catastrophe.  Yet, there are effectively no laws governing it.  Why is that?  When will it stop?

–David Cassuto

Antibiotics in Your Organic Lettuce and Other Tales from the Factory Farm

I’m writing a piece about CAFOs and climate change for the Animals & Society Institute, which, as you might imagine, is not a cheerful pursuit.  Still, even with all my carping about antibiotics in animal feed, I had not realized that vegetables like corn, potatoes and lettuce absorb antibiotics when fertilized with livestock manure.  Usually, one hears about antibiotic transmission through meat and dairy products.  I was even more disturbed to learn (all of this from the Environmental Health News) that eating organic offers no protection — though, given the way USDA organic certification has been canted in favor of Big Food, I should have guessed.

This information about contaminated produce comes from a 2005 University of Minnesota study where researchers planted corn, scallions and cabbage in manure-treated soil and a similar 2007 study on corn, lettuce and potatoes. In each case, the crops were found to contain antibiotics (chlortetracycline and sulfamethazine, respectively).

The reason organic certification offers no protection lies with lack of USDA restrictions on using manure from animals treated with antibiotics.  Since 90% of the drugs administered to these animals gets excreted in their urine or manure, which then gets spread on soil used to grow vegetables, the vegetables absorb the antibiotics.  Eventually, so too do we.  According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, animals receive over 25 million pounds of antibiotics each year in the United States.

Recommendations abound to mitigate the problem, although none have so far been implemented.  Some mitigation strategies offer significant cause for concern.  For example, some suggest high temperature composting, which can reduce antibiotic concentrations significantly.  However, it has no effect whatsoever on concentrations of sulfamethazine, a commonly administered drug.  Such proposals terrify me because, even if implemented, they will not fix the problem while likely giving Big Food a free pass to continue using antibiotics indefinitely.

Don’t get me wrong; I favor high temperature composting. It’s part of any sustainable agriculture program and one of many steps necessary to combat climate change.  However, it will not solve the antibiotic problem.

The solution to this particular problem is simple: Ban subtherapeutic antibiotic use in agriculture, much as Europe did in 2006.  The status quo is incredibly dangerous, both to humans and the environment at large.  A ban represents a straightforward solution that no one in this country with any juice will entertain.

Big Food argues that the drugs are necessary to its continued operation.  Even if that were true (which it is not — the National Research Council estimates that a ban on subtherapeutic antibiotics would increase per capita costs a mere $5-10/year), so what?  Industrial Agriculture brutalizes billions of animals in indescribable ways and forms one of the chief sources of greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4 (methane) and N2O).  It also causes widespread environmental degradation and disease, including the swine and bird flu.  I’m hard pressed to come up with a reason why its continued existence should be a national priority.

–David Cassuto

Agriculture Exempt from Carbon Caps Under Waxman-Markey

Anyone who was hoping that the climate change bill currently making its way through Congress would have any significant impact on global warming should read this post at Grist.  As the bill currently reads, agriculture is exempt from any carbon caps (despite a carbon footprint exceeding that of the transportation sector).  Yet, Big Ag and its Congressional pals (including House Agriculture Chair, Collin Peterson) are looking to gut it still further.

Since a bill that excludes one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases from any cap or regulation is functionally useless, I’m left wondering what all the fuss is about.  Congress seems to think that baby steps will help here.  I guess they will — the same way opening an umbrella will help slow a free fall.  Me, I was hoping for a little more.

–David Cassuto

More on Cows and Climate

fart_cow_1Following up on the post below, this article in the NYT bears a look.  Some in the dairy industry (e.g. Stonyfield Farms) are experimenting with feeding dairy cows green plants instead of corn to see if it lowers their methane output.  Guess what?  It does.

Cattle fed alfalfa and flax emit less methane than those fed the industrial ag diet of corn and soy (apparently most of the emissions come from burps rather than the other… — who knew?).  Guess what else?   Cows that eat food that they can digest naturally also live longer than those who eat grain.

I suppose I should rejoice that the dairy industry has begun examining such issues but I am too busy worrying about the likelihood that dairy and beef cattle production will double over the next three decades.  As the article mentions, the cattle industry already poses more of a threat to the atmosphere than cars and trucks combined.  Somehow, I don’t think alfalfa and flax are going to solve this little problem.

–David Cassuto

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