Food, Inc.

Building on Professor Cassuto’s post below, I draw your attention to a new movie hitting documentary fim festivals:  Food, Inc.

The movie claims to “[lift] the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that’s been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA.”

Those of us interested in factory farming and what it means for animals in a system with little statutory and regulatory oversight (pertaining to animal welfare) will hopefully learn a lot from this film.

-Suzanne McMillan

Chipping Away at Big Food

This article declaring that red meat leads to a greater risk of death provides a glimpse of the problems the nation faces regarding its approach to food.  As an initial matter, the risk of death for each and every one of us is 100%.  The author obviously meant that meat consumption can lead to an earlier death than one might otherwise expect.  But is that news?  Not for most people.

No, the real question involves how to extricate the nation from the stranglehold of industrial agriculture, which has thrived under a regulatory system that subsidizes its ongoing environmental destruction and brutalization of billions of animals.  Towards that end, there is an interesting piece in the WaPo profiling Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now!, a grass roots organization working to restore sanity to agriculture.  Perhaps the best thing about Food Democracy Now! is its Iowa base.  When folks in the nation’s midsection speak about the havoc Big Food has wrought on the nation, it is harder to smear them with the taint of elitism.

In addition to fighting CAFOs, FDN also has lobbied hard for a slate of progressive candidates for appointment to the USDA.  One of them, Kathleen Merrigan, was just named to the Department’s #2 spot.  Merrigan, a former professor at Tufts and staffer for Senator Leahy, helped draft the law that recognized organics.  As one blogger put it: While [Michael] Pollan helped put these issues onto the national agenda, people like Merrigan have long been doing the wonky policy work.”  Merrigan’s appointment counts as a significant win (related story here).  Perhaps, Obama’s appointing Tom Vilsack really didn’t constitute a capitulation to Big Food.  Maybe, just maybe, there’s reason to hope.

David Cassuto

Can Animals be Immoral?

Guest Blogger: John A. Humbach

A few years ago a young patron at a municipal zoo climbed into the polar bear exhibit and was promptly attacked and killed. The newspapers reported talk of destroying the attacker, but many favored sparing him. As one observer put it: “He was just being a bear.”

But was he?

Most of the discussions of moral concerns in relation to animals have centered on the conduct of human animals rather than of the non-human kind. While this conspicuous disproportionality may appropriately reflect the species-centric point of view of the discussants, it does narrow the frame of reference substantially.

It also impoverishes the discussion because, if morality and immorality are properties of non-human as well as human behavior, then humans may well have much to learn by observing our less disingenuous fellow beings. Such observation would be particularly fruitful if, as many appear to assume, morality is not merely a human construct but rather part of the fabric of the universe. For if morality is, indeed, an intrinsic attribute of the stuff and sequences of the life, it would be surprising to find it confined to a single species among the millions that walk (and have walked) the earth. To view moral capacity as an exclusively human attribute would be, at least, suspiciously speciesist.

Beyond this, is it far-fetched to think that animals make moral judgments about us, at least in some cases? What person with pets at home has not felt the occasional rebuke of a non-human companion who is fed too late or is clumsily stumbled over? The animals who live in our homes tend to be profoundly forgiving, which is much to their credit (and maybe part of what we can learn). But it is hard to miss the fleeting flash of disappointment or anger in their eyes when, due to malice or mere misstep, they find themselves treated with disregard or disrespect. Perhaps their well-known and, frankly, appealing patterns of moralistic behavior, deeply considerate of others but without abandonment of self, far surpasses the structures and stylized moral artifices of human behavioral conventions.

But there is also a somewhat darker side to the question. It is widely accepted that human beings morally “deserve” various forms of ill-treatment when their conduct strays outside the accepted boundaries. A number of elaborate and robust retributive theories of punishment are built upon this foundation, and the infliction of punishment in that pursuit is a primary government activity. Ideas of retribution are sometimes closely attentive to the moral culpability of those alleged to deserve suffering, but not always. There are also important strains of retributive thought that regard there mere doing of harm as being, in itself, deserving of painful inflictions-such as when a “sick” individual is driven by violent internal compulsions to horrific actions that may be functionally beyond his control. (Or when a person who is unjustly imprisoned kills a guard in order to escape?)  At any rate, the point is this: Even if animals do not have “free will,” it far from clear that the presence or absence of this dubious faculty is a necessary pre-requisite to ascribing moral responsibility, or just deserts.

So what can we say of a killer bear, that he is “bad” or “good,” or merely that he is? Can we, in short, ascribe to animals the capacity to be immoral? I am not, at this point, prepared to reach a conclusion. It is not, however, the kind of question that can be lightly cast aside. It runs indeed to the very core of relations among the species.

What Use Animal Law?

David Wolfson guest-taught my Animal Law class this evening and, as usual, his provocative, insightful views sent my thoughts spinning off in all directions.  For example, David observed that since 98% of animals in the United States are “farmed” animals and thus wholly lacking in legal protections, animal law, as commonly understood, is functionally irrelevant. “Who cares about  set of laws that a set of laws that apply to only 2% of the population?” he asked.  “Wouldn’t we say that a country where the rule of law applied to only 2% of the population was lawless?”

That comparison is brutally powerful and hard to refute.  When the vast majority of the population resides outside of the law’s protection, one has to wonder what purpose the law serves, if any.  This, of course, leads those of us who teach and practice animal law to wonder just what it is we’re doing.  Or at least it does me.

David Cassuto

Conference: The Animal Within the Sphere of Human Needs

Canada’s first International Conference on Animal Law will take place on May 21-22, 2009.   The International Research Group in Animal Law (French acronym GRIDA),  based out of the Department of Juridical Sciences at the University of Quebec at Montréal (UQAM) will host and it looks like a fantastic event.  It is titled “The Animal Within the Sphere of Human Needs” and features an array of speakers with interesting and diverse perspectives (and I would say that even if I were not one of the speakers…).

David Cassuto

Even Your Pet’s Food Choices Matter

From Guest Blogger, Marnie Cox:

The problem of overfishing throughout the world’s oceans is not a new one, but this Sunday’s New York Times added another dimension to the issue – the huge amount of wild fish that are used for the pet food industry (10% of the global supply).  There is no easy answer – fish products are heavily used in the farming of land animals such as chickens or pigs, and there is a separate debate about whether it is beneficial (or even permissible) to feed pets a vegan diet.

The author is certainly correct that feasible alternatives need to be discovered soon, so there is no longer an economic inducement to use large fish.  However, in the meantime, I do not think the solution is to only have naturally vegetarian pets and leave millions of cats and dogs to languish and die in shelters, but rather to select organic and natural pet foods that have a less detrimental effect.

From the Kitschy Journalism Makes Me Want to Gag Desk…

This, from today’s NYT:

Yes, Bacon Just Might Save Us

Sunday, 5 p.m. It is a little-known fact that if bacon were provided free to every man, woman and child on the planet — not for a limited time, but in perpetuity —wars would stop, the global economic crisis would cease and the tragedy of environmental despoliation would suddenly come to an end. This is for the simple reason that bacon cures human suffering. Among the few people to have recognized this power of bacon are the organizers of the Brooklyn Bacon Takedown, a cook-off at Radegast Hall and Biergarten Beer Garden in Williamsburg. Save the world — eat bacon.

David Cassuto

Torture Hunting

Today on the ski lift, my seat mate told me about a hunting club that adjoins his property.  The club is comprised of people — all to the manner born — who get together to hunt animals and then not kill them.  For example, they “beagle,” which for them involves letting loose hunting beagles to flush and chase rabbits.  The humans, though, are just along for the chase.  They do not kill the rabbits that get flushed although sometimes “the beagles do get the rabbit.”  The club also stages other kinds of hunts none of which have as their aim the death of the animal pursued (despite the occasional casualty).

Both I and my seat mate found these practices very dismaying.  Yet, I’ve been thinking all day about why I find this practice at least as troubling as the type of hunting which involves killing.  Part of me bristles at the idea of toying with the animal (“if you’re going to hunt it, at least, kill it!”) but I recognize the irrationality of such feelings.  Certainly, from the animal’s perspective, it’s better to survive such encounters than the alternative.  So, why is this type of hunting so disturbing?

Perhaps it’s because it lacks any telos other than casual torment.  With the more typical kind of sport hunting (I here intentionally exclude hunting for food, which in my view requires an entirely different analysis), the purpose is to kill rather than torture.  The desire to torture is to my mind more disturbing and anti-social than the desire to kill.  So, I am just that much more unsettled by the fact that there are clubs devoted to its practice.

At least that’s my working hypothesis.

David Cassuto

Hoarding Babies, Hoarding Animals

Lolita Buckner Inniss (Cleveland-Marshall, Ain’t I a Feminist Legal Scholar, Too?, Visiting Prof at Pace Law School) and I have posted to SSRN our essay, Multiple Anxieties: Breaching Race, Class and Gender Norms With Assisted Reproduction.  The essay is about is about misplaced attention on women’s bodies.  Focusing on Nadya Suleman, the California woman who gave birth to octuplets in January, we explore socio-legal anxieties about gender, race, class and geography.  To theorize about the increasing availability of reproductive technology is to uncover a deep ambivalence about “choice” as it applies to women and their bodies.

The public reacted strongly and negatively to the Suleman’s story.  How could anyone have octuplets?  And how could anyone have octuplets when they already have six other children?  “She must be crazy,” the internet commentators suggested.

There is a way in which Suleman is being read as kind of “collector” or “hoarder” of children, the way some people hoard animals.  Animal hoarding is characterized (here) by The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium by the presence of these criteria:

  • More than the typical number of companion animals
  • Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness, and death
  • Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling

As I read the negative criticism of Suleman, the outcry comes not only from the fact she has “more than the typical number” of children, but also that she seems to lack an independent (i.e., non-government) source of financial support for the children’s “nutrition, sanitation, shelter” and medical care.  In interviews, Suleman presents as a calm and “beatific” presence, as if she is in some kind of denial about her ability to care for the children.

In our essay (full version here) Professor Inniss and I attempt to unpack the “multiple anxieties” that Suleman’s story has exposed.  Some of those anxieties are about race and class.  If a wealthy person has “more than the typical number” of children (or companion animals, for that matter) how likely are they to be read as a (crazy) hoarder?  Not very likely, is my guess.  With both children and companion animals, the wealthy can outsource the work to paid caretakers.  The wealthy are more likely to live in larger residences.  This in turn reducing the immediate negative impact of the presence of many children (or animals) on other occupants of the dwelling.  Plus the wealthy have permission to be “eccentric.” Middle-class and poor people who exhibit the same behaviors are “crazy.”

I do not wish to suggest that having 14 children or companion animals is normatively good or even wise.  But I do think we should be explicit about the biases that we bring to a determination of some idealized, “typical” (read: acceptable) number of children or animals.

-Bridget Crawford

A Time for Every Purpose Under the Sun

September is Hispanic Heritage Month.  October is Gay and Lesbian History Month.  November is American Indian Heritage Month and Hire-a-Veteran Month (in Massachusetts). January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and Financial Wellness Month.  February is Black History Month and National Weddings Month.  March is Women’s History Month and Irish-American Heritage Month. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Haitian Heritage Month.  June is Celibacy Awareness Month and National Safety Month.  July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month and National Vehicle Theft Protection Month.  August is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Psoriasis Awareness Month.

Vegetarians?  “Meat-Free Month” is right now — March (more info here).

-Bridget Crawford

Large Eggs, Small Eggs, No Eggs

David Cassuto

This article about how the British Free Range Egg Producers Association encourages consumers to eat smaller eggs has been getting a fair amount of play (including this post at Feminist Law Professors).  The producers note that (for obvious biological reasons) it is harder and more painful for a hen to lay a large egg than a small or medium sized one.

One could hardly quibble with the notion that laying large eggs causes more stress to the hen.  It bears emphasizing, however, that this recommendation comes from the British Free Range Egg Producers Association.  Whatever one thinks of the efficacy of free range (some varying views, here, here and here), both in the US and abroad, the practice has at its goal a less stressful environment for the hens (though it still involves the mass killing of male chicks).  If one is consuming factory farmed eggs, the size of the eggs doesn’t matter a whit.  The hens that lay the eggs live in battery cage hell for as long as it takes for them to become utterly spent, following which they get discarded like garbage (except that there are so many of them it has created a disposal problem).  Worrying about egg size when the animals endure conditions whose cruelty defies the imagination is like worrying about a blood blister on a sucking chest wound.

Why is murdering a human being worse than wrongfully killing a nonhuman animal?

Killing an animal in violation of anti-cruelty statutes is universally punished less severely than murdering a human being. Is this practice morally justifiable? I believe it is. In order to understand why, we must transcend the “sentience argument”. Both animal welfare and animal rights advocates believe that the rights/interests of animals stem from the fact that they’re sentient beings. Animals should be protected from torture, for example, because they can feel pain. Given that causing pain is the paradigmatic instance of wrongful conduct, society should criminalize unjustifiably inflicting pain on animals.

The sentience argument cannot explain why killing a human being is prima facie more wrongful than killing a nonhuman animal. Since both human and nonhuman animals have the capacity to feel pain, it would seem that harming them is equally wrongful. What, then, accounts for the generalized intuition that murder is worse than wrongfully killing an animal? In my opinion, what typically entitles humans to more protection than nonhuman animals is that they possess morally relevant traits that animals lack – a capacity for self-consciousness and an acute awareness of the future.

These traits matter because beings that are self-aware and have a sense of the future are more prone to suffering than creatures lacking these features. Self-conscious beings, for example, fear death not only because of the possible pain that the process of dying might cause, but also because of the suffering that having advanced knowledge of one’s demise might cause (think of the suffering of a prisoner in death row who agonizes when he contemplates his future death). Furthermore, since self-conscious beings that are aware of the passage of time make plans for the future, killing them entails not only terminating their existence, but also taking from them the possibility to fulfill their plans and aspirations. Killing beings lacking these characteristics does not harm them in the same way. Given that they have no awareness of the future, they are not conscious of the significance of their death. Since they lack the ability to plan for tomorrow, they have no sense of the meaning of death or of what they lose by not waking up the next morning.

I acknowledge that some animal law advocates may object to my proposal because it might be interpreted to afford rights depending on the degree of similarity that exists between nonhuman creatures and human beings. In spite of this possible criticism, the view I propose here should not be rejected as speciesist because the distinctions drawn here are not grounded on the basis of the being belonging to a particular species, even if it is claimed that some species deserve more protection than others. Ultimately, the amount of legal protection is dependent on the being’s capacity for self-consciousness and awareness of the future, not its belonging to a particular species. The fact that human beings typically share those traits is beside the point, for what really matters is the traits, not the species.

Luis Chiesa

Simon B. Smith on “Constance May Bienvenue: Animal Welfare Activist to Vexatious Litigant”

Simon B. Smith (Monash – Australia) has posted to SSRN his 2007 article, “Constance May Bienvenue: Animal Welfare Activist to Vexatious Litigant.”  Here is the abstract:

Constance May Bienvenu (1912-1995) was a passionate animal welfare activist. She was also the fifth person declared as a vexatious litigant by the Victorian Supreme Court (1969) and the first woman declared by the High Court (1971). In the 1960s Bienvenu led a reform group that challenged for control of a conservative RSPCA (Victoria). Though unsuccessful, there were significant consequences from the legal challenges. This article explores the passion and extraordinary determination of Bienvenu and her supporters. It traces the responses of a conservative RSPCA and its legal advisers struggling to maintain the status quo and notes the unintentional consequences of involving the legal system in community disputes. Finally, by tracing Bienvenu’s determination to secure substantive reform, this article demonstrates the challenge self represented activism presents to a legal system more comfortable with arcane procedures and legal form.

The full article is available here. Animal welfare activist and “vexatious litigant”? I look forward to reading learning about her by reading this piece.

-Bridget Crawford

From the Mailbag: An Action Alert

NYLHV E-News & Action Alerts

Ringling whistleblower Tom Rider speaking at press conferenceThe New York League of Humane Voters will hold a press conference outside of Madison Square Garden (33rd and Seventh Avenue) on March 24th at 12pm.  The press conference will happen less than twelve hours after Ringling Brothers parades wild animals through the streets of Manhattan prior to their annual stay at Madison Square Garden. NYLHV’s John Phillips will discuss the status of Intro. 389 with the media and share how New Yorkers can ensure this is the last year that wild animals appear in the circus in NYC. Please attend and show your support for this important legislation!On March 30th, join New York League of Humane Voters staff and friends at Counter Vegetarian Bistro (105 First Avenue) in the East Village for a night of drinks, food and fun to celebrate a week of educated activism for circus animals. The event at Counter is a great way to catch up on the progress of the bill and learn what you can do to help. Counter Bistro has generously agreed to donate 20% of the evening’s sales to NYLHV. Come early for drinks and stay for dinner.

NYLHV needs your support to get this important bill passed and end the use of elephants and other wild animals in New York City circuses.

What Third-Wave Feminism Brings to Animal Law

Third-wave feminists reject what they perceive as a perennial “victim” stance in feminist thinking.  (For more on third-wave wave feminism, see here).  More colloquially, third-wave feminists might say that (some) subordination is in the eyes of the beholder, not the beholden.  You may think that image/word/action is subordinating me but that doesn’t mean that I feel subordinated.  Indeed the subordinated may be the one doing the subordination.

Third-wave writing so far appears to be methodologically constrained by its self-regarding, first-person narrative.  I have not yet read any specifically denominated third-wave feminist work that speaks to animal issues at all.  So I speculate in asking how might third-wave analysis extend to animal law?  In the animal-rights context, what are the implications of third-wave feminism’s rejection of victimhood?

At an initial level, one might think that this joining of third-wave feminism to animal law would lead to an embrace, not a rejection, of a human dominance paradigm.  If third-wave feminists reject the idea that women are (always) victims, then surely they would reject the idea that animals are (ever) victims.  Extending third-wave feminism might leave us with no room for an anti-cruelty stance, for example.  I do not believe, however, that the third-wave feminist rejection of a dominant/subordinate binary necessarily extends in this direction.  My instinct is quite the opposite.

Any attempt to apply third-wave feminism to animal law clarifies that the third-wave critique must be limited to circumstances in which the being typically understood as subordinated possesses situational authority and autonomy.  To claim, for example, that performing in a strip club is an act of ironic liberation, not oppression, requires at least two conditions precedent.  The performer must have the meaningful ability to engage in other paid employment and she must have reasonable assurances of bodily integrity as long as she engages in the strip-club work.

Animals are not liberated strippers hiding in plain sight.  They cannot speak.  They cannot exercise economic power as we understand it.  They have limited, if any, situational authority.  Third-wave feminists have not yet grappled with animal rights, but when they do, they likely will embrace those rights, not seek to diminish them.

-Bridget Crawford

cross-post: Feminist Law Professors

Wolf-delisting: The Politics of Blood

gray-wolf-gazingGeorge Bush and his peeps thought gray wolves should be delisted as endangered species in Montana and Idaho.  So does Ken Salazar and, we must assume, Barack Obama.  Bush and peeps also thought it okay to ignore allies.  So, apparently, do Ken Salazar and Barack Obama.  But never mind politics.

Wolves were hunted to near extinction in this country due in large part to their (undeserved) reputation as dangerous predators and to the caterwauling of ranchers who like to poison, shoot or trap anything that might eat their animals before people do.  Thanks to the Endangered Species Act and a well-executed reintroduction program in the Northwest (carried out over the vociferous protests of ranchers and others), there are now approximately 1600 wolves in the Northern Rockies.

That, apparently, is too many.  Since Montana and Idaho have pledged to maintain populations of 400 and 500 animals, respectively, wolf-hunting may soon commence.  Supposedly, states can be trusted to create sound management plans for the animals.  Idaho Governor Butch Otter has a plan: kill as many as possible without the wolves being relisted.  You see, wolves eat elk and that means less elk for people to shoot.  It’s a crime perpetrated on the American sportsman.  Upon hearing the news of the imminent delisting, Governor Otter howled with glee and declared, “I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself.”

One wonders if Idaho and Montana will be like Alaska — where “hunters” can shoot wolves from the air.  Or maybe it will just be another classic confrontation of a heavily armed man against an unarmed animal who, when it dies, will almost certainly be attempting to flee.  You see, in the history of the United States, there has never been a fatal attack on a human by a wolf.  Never.

My son is doing a report on wolves for his class.  He has become fascinated by their language, their pack life, and their intelligence.  He is incredulous that they were extirpated from most of the United States and indignant about their undeserved reputation.  Last night, I told him of the Obama Administration’s decision.  He was heartbroken.


Thinking S-L-O-W-L-Y

Is it just me, or is there something a little odd about the similarity between the “slow-sex movement,” described here, and the slow-food movement?  (The latter is now organized into “Slow Food,” a non-profit that seeks “to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”)  Is it just the names that sound the same, or is there something related about savoring women’s bodies and savoring food?  Or women learning to savor their own pleasure, and to take pleasure in food, instead of abusing themselves with it?  I’ll have to think slowly about this one.

-Bridget Crawford

cross post: Feminist Law Professors

Federal Ban on Consumption of Downed Cows

In his weekly address yesterday, President Obama declared a federal ban on the slaughter of “downed” cows (cows who are unable to walk or sometimes even stand on their own while being led slaughter) for food.  

This is a great victory as downed cows are prevalent due to the negligible medical care they receive on factory farms, the long period of time in which they are often transported to slaughterhouses without adequate food and water, and the rough conditions in which they are loaded, transported and unloaded.

Since 2003, when new rules were put in place to control Mad Cow disease, the federal government had enforced a general ban on downed cows. However, the ban contained a massive loophole for cows who collapsed after they were inspected, provided they showed no signs of Mad Cow disease or other similar disorders that could threaten human health.

Numerous undercover investigations by the Humane Society of the United States and other have found that, once unloaded from trucks at slaughterhouses, down cows are often trampled by their herd mates. They are often beaten, shocked with cattle prods and dragged with chains by workers attempting to force them to stand and walk. In February, 2008, the Humane Society of the United States released undercover footage of workers at a Hallmark/Westland Meat Company slaughterhouse in Chino, CA abusing downed dairy cows. The footage shocked lawmakers and citizens alike, yet revealed nothing new. Rather, it reflected what has become standard practice in an industry left to largely police itself.

Three months later, President Bush’s Secretary of Agriculture announced that the government would finally ban the slaughter of downed cows. Three months after that, the USDA proposed a rule to achieve this aim. Just a few days ago, President Obama urged the USDA, through language included in a spending bill, to finalize its new rule: a stance reflected in yesterday’s announcement. View a timeline of events here.

Current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that this is a “step forward for both food safety and the standards for humane treatment of animals.” This is good news for cows all over the U.S.!

-Suzanne McMillan

Prop 2 and a Divided California


Today’s New York Times includes this article about a renewal of interest in a division of California into two states – coastal counties in one and inland counties in another. According to the Times article, this latest iteration of the state subdivision movement arises out of farmers’ angry responses to Proposition 2, a state ballot initiative passed by California voters in 2008.  Here’s how the Times describes Prop 2 (here):

Proposition 2 . . . banned tight confinement of egg-laying hens, veal calves and sows.  While many food activists and politicians in the state hailed the vote as proof of consumers’ increasing interest in where their food comes from, the proposition’s passage has angry farmers and their allies wanting to put the issue of succession to a vote, perhaps as soon as 2012.

The farmers interviewed for the article represent just some “farmers’ perspectives.” In pitting “farmers” against “food activists and politicians,” the story leaves out growers interested in organic farming and locally grown products.  There are farmers who want to reduce animal suffering.  The National Black Farmers Association, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Family Farm Defenders, and Farm Forward all supported Prop 2.  The Times story got sensationalists quotes (one farmer describes supporters of Prop 2 as “think[ing] fish are more important than people, that pigs are treated mean and chickens should run loose”), but the Times didn’t tell the whole story.  That’s because quotes from people who think that “chickens should run loose” don’t play into the historic (and romantic) American archetypes of the pioneer-farmer.

— Bridget Crawford

The Choice Quandary – A Response to Bridget Crawford

David Cassuto

Imputing a lack of agency to sentient beings of whatever type makes for a difficult row to hoe.  In the animal advocacy community, there are many who feel strongly that domesticating animals is ethically wrong because it involves involuntary servitude.  Thus, the practice should be phased out.  Since most animals bred for a domestic existence could not exist on their own, this would, of course, mean phasing out the animals as well.

This position raises all sorts of interesting issues.  For example, the same Marxian critique that Professor Crawford cites could cut either way.  One might argue that choosing to portray companion animals as involuntarily enslaved reflects an androcentric conception of class relationships and denies the domestic animals their right to exist.  One could conversely maintain that the act of keeping the animals reflects a lack of class consciousness borne of false consciousness.

More quandaries present themselves.  Abolitionists might say that in addition to the ethical problems inherent to domestication, practical reality also militates for the institution’s demise.  Billions of animals suffer and die each year in agriculture and countless millions of unwanted companion animals die in shelters.  This wholesale slaughter should not stand.  And, since it results directly from our misguided and exploitive relationship with animals, if the relationship goes, so too will the exploitation.

The counter-argument might propose that exploitation need not be inherent. As Michael Pollan among others has argued, there exists a potentially symbiotic relationship between humans and domestic animals.  In other words, animals and humans co-evolved into mutual reliance.  One might further note that exploitation is subjective in its very essence.  If one doesn’t feel exploited, how can one be exploited?  And that leads to the query: what do the animals feel about their situation?  Putting aside the factory farm situation where it would be hard for any rational person to argue that the animals benefit from or enjoy their torment, we cannot know what the animals feel.  It’s the dilemma of Wittgenstein’s lion: If the lion could talk, we could not understand him.

So what do we do?  I think about this stuff all the time but feel less certain every day about the bounding principles of the discourse.  In other words, I do not know what is right.  However, I remain confident that certain things are wrong.  Factory farming, vivisection, gratuitous cruelty, etc.  Maybe we could agree to get rid of the obviously wrong while continuing to talk about the not so obvious stuff.

All this by way of circling back to the high heels issue.  Is there choice there?  I feel like there is because there exists both the potential for choice and the language through which to express it.  I say this though fully cognizant of the argument that language is itself a tool of the oppressor and thus inherently constrains choice.  Still, I maintain that — though imperfect — language in its present form can express a feminist perspective.  Not so for the lion’s perspective.  Or the chicken’s.  Or that of  any other non-human.  And that’s what makes speaking for the voiceless so darn hard.

x-posted in Feminist Law Professors

False Consciousness Theory in Feminism and Anti-Speciesism

high_heelsBoth feminist legal theory and anti-speciesism make use of the concept of the Marxian false consciousness, described here by Engels in his 1893 Letter to Mehring:

Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously indeed but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives. Because it is a process of thought he derives both its form and its content from pure thought, either his own or his predecessors’.

From the feminist perspective, the false consciousness critique is typically used to devalue (as “inauthentic”) a choice made by another.   The example I use in teaching this concept to students is a woman’s statement “I like wearing high heels.”  Her feminist critic might say, “You think wearing high heels is your personal preference, but you have been conditioned by an androcentric society to want to wear high heels, because that is what men like and benefit from.”  (Note to self: If CBS News broadcasts “Tips on How to Navigate High Heels” here, shouldn’t this be an indication that it heels aren’t functional footwear?)

Between and among anti-speciesists, the imagined exchange might go something like this.

Person A: I choose to have a fish as a pet and I think there is nothing wrong with that because it makes me happy and it makes the fish happy.

Person B:  You think it is ok to have a fish as a pet because society has conditioned you to think that it makes you happy and makes the fish happy, because that is what a speciesist society likes and benefits from.

The argument, in both feminism and anti-speciesism, is that when the chooser chooses a pre-chosen choice, that choice is less authentic, valid, worthy of respect than a choice that is not pre-chosen.  But if we embrace the implications of the Marxist critique, then there shouldn’t be any intellectual room for an unchosen choice.  In other words, the critique itself arises out of culturally constrained circumstances that shape the critique.  The self-superior tone of the false consciousness critique is especially problematic for feminists, for whom choice is a dominant value.  Choice can double back.  If I chose my choice, even if my choice was pre-chosen, one might argue that the choosing is what matters, not the choice itself.  Yikes.

-Bridget Crawford

cross-posted in Feminist Law Professors


Animal Blawg is proud to present Bridget Crawford, our first guest blogger.  Professor Crawford blogs regularly at Feminist Law Professors.



The design firm Süperfad has created an unusual ad for Durex condoms, a brand of SSL International plc.  The video – one of the “virals” on You Tube – shows pastel-colored condom balloon animals simulating all sorts of human-like sexual activity.  The still shot (above) hardly hints at the video’s content.  The video link is here.  The video is not one to watch at work.  Don’t watch it if you’re easily embarrassed.  And don’t watch if you are offended at the possibility of others finding humor in balloons made to look like animals made to act like copulating humans.

I saw the video after a friend posted it to his Facebook page, with the comment that it was one of the “most hilarious” condom ads he had ever seen.  I was at home – alone – when I blithely clicked “play” to watch the video.  I immediately started having nervous laughter.  The sounds, the images, the “Get It On” slogan – all funny, right?  I’m not so sure now.  At one level, my nervous laughter expressed, “I can’t believe someone was brash enough to make an ad like this.”  At another level, my nervous laughter expressed embarrassment, as in, “I can’t believe I’m watching this.”  And at still another level, my nervous laughter expressed some discomfort with what I’ll call anthropornography.

If anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics, behaviors and feelings to inanimate objects or animals, and pornography is graphic sexual imagery intended to arouse (thanks, American Heritage), then anthropornography is the depiction of inanimate objects or animals engaged in human-like sexual behavior, where the primary purpose of the depiction is the viewer’s arousal.

Why do people find the ad hilarious?  I’m not sure.  I’m having nervous laughter right now.

-Bridget Crawford

Handling Slow and Non-Ambulatory Pigs in U.S. Slaughterhouses

Last month, USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service issued guidance for how its inspectors are to monitor the treatment and eventual location of fatigued or otherwise slow pigs during truck unloading and loading of stockyard pens at slaughterhouses. This is important, the advice states, for both animal welfare reasons as well as carcass health checks.

The guidelines distinguish between pigs who are ambulatory but slow-moving and those who are non-ambulatory (“U.S. Suspect”). While the former should be herded along with their herdmates and then put into a separate pen, the latter should be separated from the other pigs. However, it is left up to each establishment to develop guidelines for this process of separation if it so chooses.

This caveat  seems to largely defeat the purpose of the guideline, and is a wonderful example of the many loopholes in U.S. factory farming laws, regulations and internal industry (often voluntary) rules. Americans seem oddly comfortable with allowing animal industries to self-regulate to an amazing degree. Why is this? What will it take for us to learn that self-policing in a setting for corporate interests are involves does not work for the benefit of animals, whose interests are inherently secondary?

-Suzanne McMillan

Green Ammo — So to Speak

There’s a piece on CNN online today about so-called “green ammo” for hunters.   It would appear that the lead in bullets poses a hazard — not just to those animals who get shot but also to scavenging animals, including California Condors, who eat the leavings of hunters.  The lead also is present in the meat of animals who get killed and eaten.  In one sampling, half of the deer meat donated to a food bank tested positive for lead.

The answer to this problem, at least for some, lies with non-lead bullets, with copper the metal of choice.  Sidestepping for the moment the ethical issues embedded in hunting, I have to hop on my rhetorical hobby horse again and decry the term “green ammo.”  It perpetuates the idea that hunting in its present form is either environmentally friendly or environmentally neutral.  In my view, it is neither, regardless of one’s choice of bullet.  Others, including the Hog Blog (whose author is a vocal proponent of non-lead bullets), disagree.  More on the issue here.

Perhaps most remarkable, though, is the opposition to non-lead bullets led by — you guessed it — the NRA (as well as the National Shooting Sports Foundation).  Apparently, advocating that hunters use bullets not made of lead is a thinly veiled attempt to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.  Who knew?


HBO to Air Factory Farm Expose

On March 16, HBO will air the documentary Death on a Factory Farm — a compilation of footage taken in 2006 by an undercover investigator at an Ohio pig factory farm. 

I don’t know what is more shocking: the cruelty captured in the footage, or Time Magazine’s story on the documentary, featuring an interview with the undercover investigator responsible.

In addition to footage from inside the farm, the documentary features the resulting 2006 criminal trial in which the farm’s owner, its manager, and one employee were charged with various forms of animal abuse. Only the manager was convicted, and only on one charge.

The story received widespread media coverage, including coverage of the trial, partly because the farm routinely employs hanging as a euthanasia method for fully conscious sows. While on the stand, the farm’s owner, Ken Wiles, defended this practice, and his expert witness stated that national pork industry standards are only guidelines, leaving pig farmers free to employ euthanasia methods not expressly recommended.  He acknowledged, however, that “hanging may not be fully appropriate.”

Am I the only one failing to grasp the reasonableness of this “reasoning”? Hopefully once Death on a Factory Farm airs, many more Americans will question what in the world is going on in our factory farms.

-Suzanne McMillan

Critical Animal Studies

Interesting opportunity for all you animal theory heads out there …

Special Issue of JAC
Human-Animal Relation

In the context of the widespread intoxication with digital technology, JAC plans a special issue that reconsiders what Jacques Derrida calls “the question of the animal.” As we become persuaded by the ways in which “human being” and human existence are forever altered by digital technologies, the animal question continues to reassert itself, challenging us to develop a more rigorous understanding of the myriad ways in which nonhuman animals historically have served to define what it means to be “human.”

We invite full-length theoretical articles that address a wide range of topics related to the animal question, especially the human-animal relation and its cultural, rhetorical, and political implications. We are particularly interested in articles that explore the various rhetorics at work in the representation of animals and the human-animal relationship in literature, film, and popular culture.

We are also interested in historical articles that examine the discourses of modernity, especially the interdependence of discourses of race and racism, patriarchy, heterosexism, colonialism, and animality. Also of interest are articles that examine the rhetorical function of animals in political discourse, postmodern art, philosophy, and poststructuralist theory.

Other topics of interest include the rhetoric of the animal rights movement, including recent legal efforts to define some species of animals as “persons”; the relation of animal cruelty to human violence against humans, including serial and mass murder, terrorism, and genocide; the history and practice of domestication as a rhetoric of domination; the cultural function of zoos in a postcolonial world; the rhetorical and political uses of anthropomorphism; the ethics and politics of  animal industries, especially factory farming and pet industries; and the complexities of our relationships with nonhuman animals and our ethical obligations to them.

Articles should be conceived as theoretical contributions both to the emerging interdisciplinary field of animal studies and to the interdisciplinary field of rhetorical theory, broadly conceived. We are not interested in sentimentalized personal narratives detached from scholarly and theoretical conversations about the human-nonhuman animal relation. JAC is an interdisciplinary theoretical journal devoted to the study of rhetoric, discourse, culture, and politics.
Deadline for submissions: August 1, 2009. Send inquiries and submissions to Lynn Worsham, Editor, JAC at; or to Campus Box 4240; Illinois State University; Normal, IL; 61790.

Give Michael Pollan Some Rules for Eating Well

Michael Pollan (of Omnivore’s Dilemma & In Defense of Food fame), is looking for rules for eating well.  He says:

Will you send me a food rule you try to live by? Something perhaps passed down by your parents or grandparents? Or something you’ve come up with to tell your children – or yourself?

I will post your suggestions on my Web site and plan to include the best in a collection of food rules I’m now compiling. Thanks in advance for your contribution.

Given the size of Pollan’s audience and his commitment to exploring the ethics of food, this might be an excellent opportunity for those of us who hope to change the American way of eating to offer some suggestions for how to do so.


Spay/Neuter Redux

The spay/neuter question came up in my animal law class the other night and I continue to ponder its many facets.  Perhaps some more public wrestling is in order (I previously raised the issue here) .

If forced to make a general distinction between animal and environmental advocates on questions relating to animals, I would say that environmentalists tend to concern themselves more with species and ecosystemic integrity whereas animal advocates focus more on individual animals.  If one accepts this distinction while also accepting that no animal volunteers or consents to be sterilized, then one finds oneself (or at least I do) in an ethical morass.

It seems to me that the rights perspective must acknowledge individual animals’ claims to bodily integrity.  After all, rights adhere to the individual, not the collective.  The fact that you have a right to vote does not mean I do, and vice versa.  Causes of action arise when individual rights are trampled even when the rights of the majority remain intact.

Professor Francione maintains that since the institution of pet ownership is morally wrong, it is permissible to sterilize animals because failing to do so perpetuates the wrong of pet ownership.  But I have to ask: regardless of the morality of pet ownership, do not those animals alive now have a claim to membership in the moral community?  And if so, how then can their respective rights to bodily integrity be ignored?

One might respond that sacrificing individual rights for the greater good is sometimes necessary, and that may well be true.  However, I remain unconvinced that those forfeiting their rights would agree that the greater good is being served.  This is particularly true, for example, with feral cat colonies and the policy of trap/neuter/return (TNR).  In the case of the cats, the overall goal is the eradication of the colony.  That goal seems more attuned to human needs than those of the cats.

Let me state for the record that I recognize the necessity argument here.  Companion animal overpopulation is a terrible problem and many animals suffer and die in shelters because of it.  I am also all too aware that TNR is by far the most humane option available for feral cat management and that those who manage the colonies often go to heroic lengths to save these cats from otherwise grisly fates.  Nevertheless, recognition of this reality need not preclude a full exploration of the ethics involved in the practice and I invite your thoughts as we continue this dialogue.


And Now For A Brief Survey of the News…

First, I want to live in a world where no member of my species thinks the best way to relax a cat is to stuff it into a bong.

Second, President Obama has re-empowered the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  One of our former president’s last minute parting gifts was to decree that federal agencies could decide for themselves whether their proposed actions ran afoul of the ESA instead of attaining an independent opinion from the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  This meant that an agency could both propose an action and decide for itself  if that action had any adverse consequences instead of seeking a second opinion from a disinterested agency.  While the Bushies thought this a wonderful idea, most everyone who cares about endangered species and the integrity of the statute thought it horrific.  President Obama fell into the latter category and has now suspended the new rule and restored the status quo ante pending a full review.  Sweeter legalese has rarely been spoken.



Fish Pedicures — Who Knew?

The Florida Board of Cosmetology has taken a stand against fish pedicures.  Now, I know what you may be thinking — fish don’t have feet and even if they did, why would the Cosmetology Board want to prohibit their proper care and grooming?  Alas, fish pedicures are something different entirely.  They consist of humans sticking their feet into a small pool of water stocked with fish.  The fish then eat the dead skin off the humans’ feet.  In banning the procedure, Florida joins Massachusetts, Texas, Washington, New Hampshire and others.  Apparently, there is some concern over disinfecting the pool.

To my eyes, this story has some interesting subtext.  While there is an undeniable grossness factor that might make one instinctively support such a ban, anyone who has ever waded in a pond filled with fish knows that certain fish like feet (and dead skin).  The underlying issue here is not that fish eat dead skin but rather that, in this context, eating dead skin is all they can do.  The fish live their lives in a small pool, acting as living cuticle nippers in the service of human vanity.

So, for whatever reason, I’m glad it’s no longer permitted in Florida.  Hat tip to Florida Animal Law for breaking the story.  And here‘s a good read on the same issue in New Hampshire.