Ringling Bros. Retires Circus Elephants

Seth Victor

As many of you may have already heard, Ringling Bros. is retiring elephants from its act and focusing on caring for elephants in a conservation center. Wayne Pacelles of HSUS described this move as a “Berlin Wall moment for animal protection,” and attributed the change to the evolving public opinion surrounding animal welfare, including the outcry that came on the heels of Blackfish and the treatment of orcas at Sea World. The termination of elephant performances has been long-sought by PETA.Photography-Elephant-Wallpapers

The media reaction, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a bit divided regarding Ringling Bros’s decision. An op-ed in the New York Post believes that the circus’s “craven capitulation to PETA will only embolden zealots to agitate for elimination of all circus animals — if not eventually to bestow upon all living creatures the same “inalienable rights” as humans,” and goes on to state that without exposure to animals via a circus, most people will not form a connection with the animals, and will thus not care to save them in the wild. The L.A. Times also notes that many people feel the elephants are an iconic part of the joy of the circus. Meanwhile op-eds in the New York Times range from echoing the Post to refuting the sentiments of the circus sympathizers. Continue reading

District Court Upholds the Right to Sell Foie Gras

gaggle-of-geeseSeth Victor

The blawg previously commented on the ongoing issues surrounding California’s ban on the sale of foie gras, particularly the idea of giving away foie gras as a “complimentary side” when selling some other food. Last week Animal Legal Defense Fund filed another suit in the battle, arguing that La Toque restaurant was illegally selling foie gras in violation of California’s Health and Safety Code § 25982.

The suit, however, is somewhat of a moot point. On January 7th the California District Court overturned the Health and Safety Code banning the sale of foie gras, granting partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs, among whom is Hot’s Restaurant Group, the aforementioned makers of the complimentary foie gras side. The District Court summarize the issue as “whether a sales ban on products containing a constituent that was produced in a particular manner is an “ingredient requirement” under Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).” The plaintiffs argued that the PPIA preempts the Health and Safety Code. Judge Stephen V. Wilson agreed, and has enjoined the California Attorney General from enforcing the law. In summary, PPIA is a federal law that regulates the sale and distribution of birds and expressly prohibits states from imposing certain conditions on food and ingredients. Judge Wilson held that the Health and Safety Code, which is a state law, was in conflict with the federal law, and that the federal law must be held above state regulations. The “production” of including fatty liver in the sales of food is, apparently, an ingredient, and therefore must be regulated, with regards to foie gras, at the federal level.

Health and Safety Code § 25981, which bans the practice of force feeding a bird for the purpose of fattening the liver, was not before the District Court, and remains in effect. Also, there are several other facets of the plaintiff’s argument that were not granted summary judgment, including a Commerce Clause attack. The Commerce Clause argument and the remaining section banning “production” still presents an important argument, although the restaurants’ main challenge has now been overcome; Californian restaurants largely import all of their foie gras, thus the production bar will have a much smaller impact.

Progress at the Cost of Our Humanity

Seth Victor

The New York Times this week published an investigation into U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, and, perhaps predictably, the results are disturbing. I heartily suggest reading the whole article, but for those in a rush, here are some of the interesting takeaway points:

  • U.S. Meat Animal Research Center is pioneering ways to produce meat more efficiently and cheaply via re-engineering farmed animals through surgery and breeding techniques
  • In pursuing this research, animal welfare has taken a backseat. For example, since 1985, 6,500 out of the 580,000 animals the center has housed have starved. 625 have died from mastitis, an easily treatable infection.
  • Nearly 10 million piglets have been crushed by their mothers each year, not because this is what mothers naturally do, but because they are being forced to have larger litters of weak piglets, and the mothers themselves are artificially larger, kept alive longer to reproduce.
  • For thirty-one years, the Center worked on genetically modifying cows to regularly produce twins, noting that single births were not an efficient way to produce meat. By injecting cows with embryos from other cows that birthed twins, and then injecting them with semen from bulls who sired twins, the Center produced cows that have a 55% chance of having twins, when naturally the chances are 3%. Many of the female calves of twins are born with deformed vaginas, and the artificially large wombs create birthing problems even for single calves. Over 16% of the twins died.
  • Thirty to forty cows die each year from exposure to bad weather, not including storms, in which several hundred more die.
  • 245 animals have died since 1985 due to treatable abscesses.
  • In 1990, the Center tried to create larger lambs by injecting pregnant ewes with an excessive amount of male hormone testosterone. Instead, the lambs were born with deformed genitals, which made urination difficult.
  • In 1989, the Center locked a young cow in place in a pen with six bulls for over an hour to determine the bulls’ libidos. The industry standard is to do this with one bull for fifteen minutes. By the time a vet was called, the cows hind legs were broken from being mounted, and she died within a few hours.
  • The scientists charged with administering the experiments, surgeries, and to euthanize do not have medical degrees. One retired scientist at the Center was quoted saying, “A vet has no business coming in and telling you how to do it. Surgery is an art you get through practice.”
  • “The leaner pigs that the center helped develop, for example, are so low in fat that one in five females cannot reproduce; center scientists have been operating on pigs’ ovaries and brains in an attempt to make the sows more fertile.”
  • Regarding oversight, “A Times examination of 850 experimental protocols since 1985 showed that the approvals [for experiments] were typically made by six or fewer staff members, often including the lead researchers for the experiment. The few questions asked dealt mostly with housekeeping matters like scheduling and the availability of animals.”
  • “The language in the protocols is revealing. While the words “profit” or “production efficiency” appear 111 times, “pain” comes up only twice.”

Continue reading

On Eating Your Pets

Seth Victor

dog sandwich

An article caught my eye this morning about a man in New Mexico who was charged with a felony for extreme cruelty against a dog. The man allegedly stabbed his girlfriend’s dog in the heart, and then marinated the remains of the animal in preparation to cook it. While animal cruelty is a crime in New Mexico, eating dogs or cats is not, and if the defendant is successful in showing he did not act cruelly, there is no consequence for killing a companion animal for food.

These types of cases crop up every once in a while, often accompanied by outrage from some segments of the population over the wanton nature of the act. As always, since the law codifies our social voice, some states have put laws in place to discourage this kind of behavior. In New York, for example, one may not ” slaughter or butcher domesticated dog or domesticated cat  to create food, meat or meat products for human or animal consumption.”

Continue reading

5th Circuit Upholds Ban on Crush Videos

Seth Victor

Four years ago the US Supreme Court overruled Congress’s attempt to regulate “crush videos,” stating that the law was an impermissible, over-broad regulation of free speech. For more analysis of the decision, see here. Though the decision was distressing, it did not herald an end of attempts to regulate that particular form of animal cruelty; Congress quickly passed an amended version of the law, one that has yet to be tested before the Supreme Court.

Last week the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated criminal charges in the case of US v. Richards for video of animals being tortured to death by a suggestively dressed woman, holding that images of animals killed for sexual gratification are not protected forms of speech, and are in fact “obscene.” Obscenity is the key to the law; obscene speech does not have the same protections as common speech, and can be regulated. Additionally, the 5th Circuit rejected an argument that the law is unconstitutional because it unfairly targets a narrow type of obscenity (here, animal cruelty), holding that particular categories of obscenity may be targeted based on their socially harmful secondary effects.

This is the first legal test of the amended law, and animal advocates have to be happy with the direction the case took at the appellate level. The court held that the law does serve a “significant interest” of preventing violence against animals, and is “reasonably tailored” to meet that interest. The 2010 version does not apply to the slaughter of animals for food, hunting, or agricultural husbandry practices, which helped it survive the “over-broad” challenge. If the Supreme Court ends up granting certiorari (it’s unclear at this point if the defendants will push it that far), it will be very interesting to see how the 5th Circuit decision holds up against US v. Stevens.

 

 

 

 

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

Merck Pledges to End Chimpanzee Testing

 

Seth Victor

 

Taking further steps in the right direction, Merck, one of the largest drug producers in the world, announced last month that it is ending research on chimpanzees. Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues for The HSUS said: “Merck’s new biomedical research policy will save chimpanzees from unnecessary and painful experiments. Merck’s decision, and that of several other pharmaceutical companies, sends a strong message that private industry is moving away from chimpanzee research as the government has.”

 

Merck has made this commitment while simultaneously stating, “The company’s mission is to discover, develop, manufacture and market innovative medicines and vaccines that treat and prevent illness. Animal research is indispensable to this mission.” While that quotation ominously suggests that other animals will continue to be a part of the company’s research, the more hopeful interpretation is that while Merck relies on animal testing under FDA regulations for its drugs and other products, it joins other pharmaceutical companies recognizing that even though chimps might be valuable to this research, their welfare is more important, and other ways to test the products should be utilized.

 

 

 

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