Joyce Tischler is ABA TIPS Animal Law Section Honoree

Joyce Tischler will be honored by the Tort, Trial & Insurance Practice (TIPS) Animal Law Section at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association which convenes this week in Chicago.   Tischler, co-founder of the ALDF and animal advocate for three decades, will be presented with the Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award. More on Joyce and the award here and here.

A wonderful honor, richly deserved.  Noises Off!

–David Cassuto

Animal Advocacy: A Threat to All That’s Right and Good…

Here’s a newsflash: animal rights people control the discourse on animal issues.  At least that was the message of the recent meeting of the Animal Agriculture Alliance.  One speaker, Professor Wes Jamison of Palm Beach Atlantic University, opined that animal advocates drape their message in a cloak of religiosity because people are ignorant about yet receptive to religion and therefore vulnerable to messages couched in piety.  Plus religious converts tend to be zealous and donate big bucks.

Bruce Vincent explained that animal advocates thrive on conflict and market fear.  He urged attendees to budget money in their business plans to become activists for animal and extractive industries.  Vincent is the Executive Director of Provider Pals, a cultural exchange program linking school groups with farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers, oil field workers, commercial fishermen and “others who provide the basics of everyday life.”

Kay Johnson Smith, executive vice president of the Animal Agriculture Alliance believes that if industrial agriculture doesn’t act soon, regulations will be on the horizon.  Her solution: Create self-imposed guidelines and follow them.  Factory farmers should not squash the discussion; they should take it over.  Only through being proactive can the industry stay unregulated.

There’s much more from many other people, which you can read here.

What can we take away from all this?  As I see it, this level of consternation would bode well were Big Food not still skating along without any real threat of regulation and protected by laws like AETA.  As things stand, such rhetoric augers neither good nor ill; it simply reflects the status quo and the fact that Industrial Agriculture did not become dominant by being complacent.  We should study these speeches carefully, absorb their lessons and fear neither the speaker nor the spoken word.

–David Cassuto

Finch Fighting Ring Broken Up

Good grief; who even knew there was finch fighting?  Another day, another gruesome exploitation of animals in the news…

–David Cassuto

Racing “At” (Not “To”) the Airport

MIAToday, I learned that county officials would like to install slot machines in Miami International Airport (MIA).  Generally, I disapprove of slot machines; they embody all the bad about gambling (anti-social, no skill involved & you can’t beat the house) and none of the good (skill involved, you can beat the house, and it’s social).  However, the thing that makes this issue blawg-worthy lies with the Florida law that only permits slots at places where there is quarter horse racing.

That’s right, in order to have slot machines at MIA, there must also be horse racing.  One would think that would end the matter — it’s a ridiculous law, but it’s the law nonetheless, and horse racing and airports do not mix.  That’s what one would think but . . . Not so much.

County officials are currently considering a plan to hold horse races in the airport’s employee parking lot.  I kid you not.  Of course, holding races in the employee parking lot (the law requires 20-40 per year) would raise a host of problems — not least of them where employees would then park.  Nevertheless, officials, seeing the $17 million/year in revenue that slots will supposedly pour into county coffers, push on undeterred.  They are also negotiating with other tracks to hold the airport’s races there — whatever that means.

If this goes through and MIA starts having races in the parking lot, I have some other great ideas.  Cock-fighting in the VIP lounge?  Canned hunting in baggage claim?  I also think the security area would make a great CAFO.  If any airport officials read this blawg, let’s talk asap; we need to get in front of this thing.

–David Cassuto

Sunstein… More on the Inertia Sweepstakes

Yes, there are other things to blog about but the Cass Sunstein nomination saga is both perversely fascinating and important.  Sunstein’s views on animal issues are at best tangential to the position of Head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.  Yet, they are raising Republican dander like nobody’s business.  Today, Senator John Cornyn placed another hold on the nomination, all but eliminating any chance Sunstein will be confirmed before the August recess.

As this post points out, Sunstein has the support of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board while his views on regulatory policy have raised some eyebrows among liberal advocacy groups.

“We have concerns about some of his academic writings regarding his approach to regulatory policy and regulatory review,” Bill Samuel, AFL-CIO legislative director, told The Chicago Tribune. “We want to hear more from him about how he intends to approach regulatory policy.”

It would seem that no constituency is entirely happy with his candidacy.  Some in the animal advocacy community are as unenthused as our friends in the Senate.  Maybe that means if Sunstein ever gets confirmed, he’ll be beholden to no one.  Or, of course, it might mean he’ll owe everyone.  So far, it’s looking more like the latter.

–David Cassuto

Sunstein, Chambliss and the Pound of Flesh

In case you were wondering what (among other concessions) Cass Sunstein had to do to move his nomination forward, here’s a little tidbit.  Sunstein wrote Saxby Chambliss a letter, which Chambliss then read into the Congressional Record, in which Sunstein promises to  “respect” gun rights and “not take any steps to promote litigation on behalf of animals.”  In entering the letter into the record, Chambliss said “While I cannot agree with his ideas, his legal theories or his views, now that he has been educated about the toll they would take on hard-working farmers and ranchers in America, I am not going to keep him from any further consideration.”

As other concessions trickle into public view, I fear that what might have been a significant stride forward will instead turn out to be a prettied up form of inertia.  But I hope I’m wrong.

–David Cassuto

In Memoriam: Frank McCourt

tdy_couric_mccourt_051115.300wTo my knowledge, Frank McCourt did not spend a lot of time thinking about animal issues.  However, he was the first person who taught me to care about writing and to appreciate the power of language.  He did that as he did everything — with a twinkling eye and a raft of good stories.

Every Friday, we read the NY Times restaurant review in class.  He used to say: “If you can write well about food, you can write well about anything.”  Mimi Sheraton was the food critic back then and she wrote marvelously about food.  Mr. McCourt loved reading her columns aloud and his delight in her prose was itself utterly delightful.  To this day, I still read the restaurant column every week even though I don’t live in NYC and can’t remember the last time I actually went to a restaurant it reviewed.

Mr. McCourt also taught me to write only about things I really care about.  He always said, “If it doesn’t interest you, what makes you think it will interest me?”   Back then, I didn’t think animal issues were important.  But I do now and were it not for him, I don’t know that I would be teaching and writing about them.   So, I like to consider Mr. McCourt an animal advocate by proxy.

In any case, he was a truly wonderful teacher.  I will miss him and I wish him safe travels.

Frank McCourt: 1930-2009.

–David Cassuto

AETA’s First Legal Challenge

We knew that the government would eventually invoke the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) and now it has.  Earlier this year, authorities arrested 4 activists for alleged threats and vandalism against research facilities at UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley and charged them under AETA.  The defendants (known as the AETA 4) argue that the law should be struck down as unconstitutional and the judge is at least listening.  We will be watching this one closely.  AETA is an abomination (as I have argued here) but a good result in this case would be nothing short of astounding.

–David Cassuto

If Everyone Were Vegetarian…

We wouldn’t have the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile crashing into people’s homes.


–David Cassuto (is not making this up…)

Wild Horse Protection Bill Makes it Through the House

horsesAs usual it wasn’t pretty (the term “sausage-making” seems disturbingly apt), but H.R. 1018, a federal bill to protect wild horses and burros from commercial sale and slaughter and also from wholesale government-sponsored killing, made it through the House. The vote was 239-195.  Among other things, the bill directs BLM to make wider use of fertility controls  and to let horses occupy more of public lands.  The hope is that if this bill makes it into law, it will prevent any more situations like that of last summer when BLM announced plans to kill 30,000 wild horses, only to have Madeleine Pickens (wife of T. Boone) announce that she would underwrite the horses’ continued existence (see post here), only to have that too not come to pass.  If this bill passes, we can cross off at least one ridiculous governmental fire drill (with potentially disastrous consequences) from the list of things we need to worry about.

–David Cassuto

Sunstein Nomination: The Hold is Lifted

Saxby Chambliss has stepped out of the way.  Confirmation is apparently within reach.

–David Cassuto

Sunstein Nomination Inches to a Standstill

It would seem that Senator Chambliss remains worried about his peeps’ potential exposure to lawsuits by animals should Cass Sunstein be confirmed.  He also doesn’t like the fact that Professor Sunstein does not view the 2nd Amendment as a a blanket license to own weapons.

Further updates as events warrant.

–David Cassuto

The United States Doesn’t Torture? Animal Testing in the Military

Charles J. Rosciam is a retired captain with the Navy Medical Services Corps – a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient.  He and 16 other retired armed forces medical personnel are attempting to convince the Department of Defense (DOD) to stop torturing and killing animals as part of its trauma training program.  Each year, in the name of national security and good medicine, 8500 animals get stabbed, shot, burned and amputated.  Over in the chemical casualty program, vervet monkeys get tormented with drugs whose effects have long since been banned on the field of battleanimal-testingCaptain Rosciam and his colleagues would like to see all that come to an end.

In June, the group joined with the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to brief both the House and Senate on the issue.  The DOD’s own animal regulations require that non-animal substitutes be used whenever possible.  And, according to PCRM, every one of the military’s medical uses of animals could be replaced with equivalent or superior non-animal methods. Those methods range from human-patient simulators to rotations through civilian trauma centers.

Here’s a little bit of irony: Amidst all the controversy and perseveration over detainee torture and whether such grotesqueries are legal and/or acceptable given the heinous crimes the prisoners are alleged to have committed, no one has stopped to consider why it is okay to do all that and worse to beings whose innocence is beyond dispute.  Of course, in the larger scheme, innocence or guilt is irrelevant; Torture is wrong no matter to whom it happens.  And that’s precisely the point here.

When our former president said the United States does not torture, he lied.  When our current president says it, he‘d like it to be true.

Let’s hope he hears and heeds Captain Rosciam.

You go, sir.  Fight on.

–David Cassuto

On Animals, Death & the Media

chickens-734793A Cal-Maine industrial egg facility in Texas caught fire last Thursday.  The facility was damaged but fortunately, no one was hurt.  Oh yeah, and 800,000 hens died.

Stephanie, over at Animal Rights – Change.Org, lays bare the media’s indifference to animals.

–David Cassuto

Sunstein Nomination Inches Forward

Cass Sunstein will meet with Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) today in an effort to convince him (Chambliss) that Sunstein’s thoughtful and comparatively moderate positions on animal rights and welfare won’t result in him (Chambliss) and his constituents facing lawsuits from pigs and other confined animals.  Chambliss had earlier placed a hold on Sunstein’s nomination to head the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (related posts here).

Sunstein has so far succeeded in appeasing the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition (an umbrella group that includes such members as the American Farm Bureau Federation; see here for FAWC’s spirited defense of veal).  There is cause for cautious optimism that Senator Chambliss will find similar comfort.

More here.

–David Cassuto

Obama Backs Bill to Ban Prophylactic Antibiotics

In a potentially promising development, President Obama’s Principal Deputyantibiotics-notext-ucs-001 Commissioner of Food and Drugs testified in support of a bill that would ban subtherapeutic antibiotic use in animals.  The reason: pumping animals full of antibiotics is bad, bad, bad.   In addition to the systemic animal abuse such drugs enable, their downstream environmental impact is clear, obvious, and chilling.  I have blogged at some length  about this issue (e.g., here and here).

The AMA, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Pew Environment Group (among others) all back the proposed measure .  Should we then hope?  Of course not.  Big Food opposes the bill and, as the NYT notes, that opposition alone will probably spell its doom.

–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

No Standing to Object to Foie Gras

foiegras_forcing-367x512New York is the foie gras capital of the United States.  Several years ago, the Humane Society, among several other complainants, asked the Commissioner of Agriculture to declare foie gras an adulterated food product.  The underlying rationale was that force-feeding ducks causes them to become diseased, as evidenced by their engorged livers.  Those engorged livers would therefore become an adulterated food product under New York Agriculture & Markets Law and thus should be removed from the market. The Commissioner declined to issue such a ruling and so the groups sued.

To my mind, the plaintiffs present a creative and compelling argument.  Unfortunately, it never got a hearing.  An appeals court recently upheld the lower court’s dismissal of In the Matter of the Humane Society of the United States v. Brennan for lack of standing.  According to the court, plaintiffs could not show that their alleged injury differed from any injury that might have been suffered by the public at large.  In legal parlance, they could not claim a “particularized injury” and thus lacked standing to sue.

I have written elsewhere about the inanity of the injury prong of the federal standing doctrine, which NY law mirrors.  This case reflects much of what I believe ails the doctrine.  Putting aside the specific issue of foie gras, it would seem that in order for a person to sue to remove a potentially dangerous food product from the market, she must first fall ill because of it.  Since the statute’s goal is to prevent sickness and protect public health, this seems counter-intutitive.

One may not agree that engorged duck livers indicate diseased ducks, but the merits of the case deserve a hearing.  The plaintiffs are considering appealing to the NY Court of Appeals.  Here’s hoping for a different result.

–David Cassuto

UPDATE: See here for a review of The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World’s Fiercest Food Fight by Mark Caro, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.  The book quotes Dr. Ian Duncan, consultant to the Canadian government and author of many of Canada’s poultry regulations, who states: “[f]orce feeding quickly results in birds that are obese and in a pathological state, called hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease. There is no doubt, that in this pathological state, the birds will feel very ill.”

Canned Hunting of Endangered Species is Illegal

From the Stuff You Probably Thought Was Too Obvious to Have to Sue About Desk:

elk-hunt-01A district court in Washington D.C. has struck down a Bush Era U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rule that allowed canned hunting of endangered species.  Canned hunting is the shooting of semi-tame animals on fenced  “ranches” (see here for some previous posts).  During canned excursions, the animals have nowhere to run — even if they knew they were in danger — and thus can be slaughtered with ease.  Such “hunts” require no skill (indeed, many “ranches” offer a guaranteed kill).  Reviled by most hunters, they are primarily the province of folks like Dick Cheney and his fellow “sportsmen.”

The Endangered Species Act, Section 9 makes it illegal to “take” any animal on the endangered species list.  Yet, among the animals FWS allowed to be canned and killed were the scimitar-horned oryx, addax and dama gazelle, all endangered African species.  Thus the lawsuit.

To the chagrin of the Safari Club and their ilk, the court found that charging  “sportsmen” big bucks to shoot endangered animals violates the Endangered Species Act.  Kudos to the Humane Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Born Free USA, Kimya Institute and several others for forcing the courts to state the obvious and thus stop at least this part of the slaughter.  Read the HSUS press release here and the Safari Club’s Orwellian spin on how killing these animals actually protects them here.

–David Cassuto

Nationwide Dogfighting Crackdown Leads to 26 Arrests

7 states, 400 dogs.  Apparently this was not one large ring.  Just lots of people around the country with vicious, sadistic streaks.  Read all about it here.

–David Cassuto

Dorgan’s Proposed Folly — Elk Hunting in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

ElkDeadinfieldToday’s NYT has an editorial on a proposed elk hunt in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  The herd has grown to over 900 animals since 1985, when elk were reintroduced to the region.  Apparently, a herd of that size stresses the ecosystem so Senator Dorgan has proposed a “common sense” solution of allowing elk hunting in the park.

This is a remarkably bad idea for all sorts of reasons, not least because hunting is prohibited in national parks (with the sole statutory exception of Grand Teton).  It also reflects the tired (and wrong) notion that hunting represents an ecologically sound management practice.  It does not.  Hunters want trophies and consequently kill the strongest animals — precisely those whose genes should be transmitted to future generations.  Predators, on the other hand, cull herds in a way that is ecosystemically beneficial.  They prey on the weakest in the herd, reducing its numbers while strengthening its gene pool.

The Times editorial rightly condemns Senator Dorgan’s proposal but unfortunately endorses using professional sharpshooters instead.  That the predator option (can you say “wolves?”) remains off the table is an unfortunate commentary on our ongoing national myopia.

–David Cassuto

What you can do to Stop the Monkey Business in Puerto Rico

Unfortunately, my hometown of Puerto Rico continues to struggle with cruelty related issues. After the dog killing fiasco that took place in the town of Vega Baja in 2007, one hopes that Puerto Ricans have become more cognizant of these types of issues. What is about to take place in the southern town of Guayama has the potential of generating much more animal suffering than was caused in Vega Baja.

Bioculture, a corporation that sells primates to research labs, plans to capture monkeys from their natural habitat in Mauritius and imprison them in Guayama, Puerto Rico. Once the primates are moved to Puerto Rico, Bioculture plans to breed them and sell their babies for use in animal testing.

Primates (and many other animals) often endure incredibly painful and cruel treatment when confined in experimentation facilities. What makes this even worse is that most, if not all, of this suffering is gratuitous, given that there are myriad alternatives to animal testing that yield similar benefits (for a good source of unbiased information about alternatives to animal testing, see the website of the John Hopkins University’s award winning “Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing”).

I hope that those who so vigorously opposed the dog killing incident will also voice their concern over this development. Furthermore, I encourage AnimalBlawg readers to do what they can to prevent this by signing a letter to Puerto Rico’s governor which can be found in PETA’s website. Although I am no fan of PETA, I believe that this is in fact a worthy cause.

Luis Chiesa

New York Animal Law in Perspective

Many believe that state animal cruelty laws are not tough enough and that states ought to implement an “eye for an eye” approach.  Others believe such approaches would be no more effective for crimes against animals than for crimes against people.  In New York, laws are evolving but what’s going on elsewhere?

Similar to New York, Oklahoma has defined certain acts of cruelty as felonies —  as, for example in a recent case in which a women shot and skinned a puppy.

Pennsylvania State Representative Thomas Caltagirone is holding up all Pennsylvania Senate bills until the State Senate stops sitting on his Animal Cruelty Bill (noted here).

The Mayor of Sioux City,  Iowa, recently agreed to impose steeper penalties for animal abuse.  The city is currently drafting an ordinance that will prohibit anyone with prior convictions of animal abuse from owning animals in Sioux City.

Texas courts have begun increasing bond on people accused of animal cruelty and have even sentenced some to prison.

Furthermore, 25 states attorneys general have joined the Florida Attorney General and the Humane Society in filing a brief in support of a federal law that bans “crush” videos and other depictions of animal cruelty (others have also filed briefs — see here).

That is not to say all is good.  In Connecticut, “it would take a minor miracle to take a dog from its owner” even when the owner is suspected of running an illegal backyard kennel.  According to the Connecticut Animal Cruelty Statute, as long as a dog has food, water and ventilation, the statute has been satisfied regardless of the conditions.  Similarly, a Pennsylvania man who ran a puppy mill was nevertheless allowed to keep 25 puppies “as pets,” even after a finding of poor conditions and neglect.  And then, 4 states, including  Mississippi, do not have any felony animal abuse statute at all.

–David Cassuto

h/t: Stephen Iannacone

Sunstein Redux

Will Harvard’s Cass Sunstein become an animal advocate in the White House? If confirmed by the Senate as the Head of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office ofInformation & Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Sunstein would be responsible for the office which reviews all regulatory proposals from the Administration.  Yesterday, June 30, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) put a hold on Sunstein’s nomination — specifically culling out his writings which explore the ability of animals to file lawsuits with humans acting as their representatives.  While Chambliss asserts this would lead to a farmer being sued by his own livestock, I don’t think Sunstein’s writings are all that different than people filing litigation on behalf of natural resources, children, or other beings or things without the ability to speak.

–Alexandra Dunn

GEIG – A Coda and a Step Forward for Animal Ethics

This was a very productive 5 day meeting of GEIG.  In addition to attending some fine discussions and papers over the last several days, I also officially joined the IUCN CEL Ethics Specialist Group, something I mistakenly thought I had done in Barcelona at the IUCN Congress back in the fall.  The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) is the world’s largest NGO and the oldest environmental organization in the world. The Commission on Environmental Law (CEL) is a subsidiary organization of the IUCN and the Ethics Specialist Group (ESG) forms a subgroup of the CEL. The ESG wishes to add animal rights to its agenda, a development about which I could not be more happy.

The IUCN (the parent organization – not the CEL) has traditionally excluded animal organizations from membership because their aims do not align with those of the Species Survival Group, a powerful constituency within the IUCN, which advocates for traditional hunting.  As I mentioned a while back, I believe this policy of exclusion serves only those who oppose a diverse environmental agenda.  Environmentalists do not agree on everything but we share a common goal.  Given the stakes, we would be wise to focus on the areas where we agree rather than where we differ.  Part of my mission for the next few years involves working to open the IUCN to animal groups and to the vision such organizations bring to the world’s environmental agenda.

I feel very good about joining the ESG and even better about the warm welcome my animal advocacy agenda received.  The larger IUCN moves slowly (it convenes only quadrennially) but this is important work and I am willing to (try to) be patient.

–David Cassuto