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