Meatingplac.com - December 2008
A new generation of lawyers priming for careers in animal law could create new headaches for producers and processors alike. In fact, they already are.
By John Gregerson, contributing editor
After years of taking it to the streets in guises as various as Holstein cattle and T-bone steaks, animal activism has finally earned its pinstripes.
PETA still has its place-notably anywhere cameras are present—but increasingly its role is to play crass clown to a new generation of activists, including graduates pursuing careers in animal law. The more outrageous PETA's outrage, the more legitimacy it confers upon comparatively cooler heads.
Not that animal law isn't taken seriously. No fewer than 100 U.S. law schools now teach it, and with a roster that includes Harvard, Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA and Northwestern, few are considered flunkies. Other schools, including Lewis & Clark University in Portland, Ore., offer entire tracks in animal law.
"More schools teach animal law than they do insurance. No fewer than four Law Reviews are dedicated solely to the issue of animal law," says Victor Schwartz, a senior partner with Washington-based law firm Shook Hardy Bacon, one of the nation's leading authorities on tort reform.
"I think it's simply a matter of the law catching up with societal values, which in this case are particularly strong among young people, including those who attend law school," says Pam Alexander, both an attorney and animal law director with the Cotati, Calif.-based Animal Legal Defense Fund. The organization was founded in 1979 for the purpose of "protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system."
As studies go, animal law is a rather large and ungainly beast, spanning several areas of jurisprudence and encompassing concerns ranging from pet care, wildlife and animal research to large-scale farming and food processing. Career paths are equally divergent, with some practitioners eschewing "animal rights" in order to toil under the less radical auspices of "animal welfare."
As Thomas E. Hamm Jr., professor emeritus at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, has noted, "Animal welfare and animal rights are not synonymous terms. Animal welfare is a human responsibility that encompasses all aspects of animal well-being, including disease prevention and treatment, responsible care and humane handling. Animal rights is a philosophical view and personal value characterized by statements of various animal rights groups."
Support for both is growing, as it is for some of their more well-heeled benefactors, including the Humane Society of the United States, the 900-pound gorilla of animal welfare—but not animal rights, which is a concept antithetical to its comparatively reasoned, mainstream image. Among the more measured of animal activists, the Washington-based HSUS is also among the largest, wielding an annual operating budget of $125 million, much of it to expand its influence in legal and political spheres.
Under the stewardship of CEO Wayne Pacelle, who arranged HSUS's mergers with the Fund of Animals in 2005 and the Doris Day Animal League in 2006, the organization also has seen the ranks of its litigation section swell to 12 full-time lawyers from just three, in offices in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. "HSUS can lay claim to the largest animal law practice in the country," says Philip Lobo, communications director with Arlington, Va.-based Animal Agriculture Alliance.
Its affinity for law and politics recently found a common intersection in one of HSUS's most sweeping initiatives to date, California's Proposition 2, which it not only brought to the ballot but helped shepherd to victory on Nov. 4.
As most processors know, the measure, for which Pacelle campaigned vigorously, prohibits the confinement of pregnant sows, calves and egg-laying hens "in a manner that [does] not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs." Unlike other states, which have eliminated veal and pig crates, the measure is the first to include battery cages.
Janet Riley, senior vice president of public affairs with the American Meat Institute, says California voters may not have been aware that, among other
benefits, battery cages help promote food safety, since they separate hens from their feces.
The irony of it, Lobo says, is that the measure is likely to exacerbate the very problems it purports to solve. "In addition to increased exposure to disease, hens may become subject to feather pecking and cannibalism, as well as a phenomenon known as Œhysteria and smother' during thunderstorms and similar occurrences," he says.
In September, HSUS sued the University of California-Davis to determine whether funding for a study the university conducted on the economic impact of Prop 2 derived from industry opponents of the measure. Among other findings, the study concluded that eliminating battery cages would prompt a 25 percent increase in the price of California eggs—assuming producers didn't leave the state.
For producers and processors, Prop 2 marked the latest turn on an increasingly slippery slope, beginning in 2002 with the abolishment of gestation crates in Florida and followed in 2006 by the abolishment of both gestation and veal crates in Arizona.
From there, it isn't particularly difficult to connect the dots for the U.S. meat industry should HSUS continue to flex its muscle in the legal and legislative arenas. As its footage of animal abuse at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. shows, HSUS isn't above PETA-like tactics to advance its agenda, but it generally prefers more nuanced methods, making its associations with law schools such as Georgetown's, with which it partners on animal protection litigation seminars.
Seminars may be the least of it. Lewis & Clark alum Jonathan Lovvorn—who teaches animal law at his alma mater as well as Georgetown and George Washington University Law School—heads HSUS's litigation section. Among other benefits, Georgetown can boast that its law school is the first to offer students a fellowship in animal law—in HSUS's litigation section. HSUS likewise provides "externships" to graduates of George Washington.
True, HSUS benefits from the arrangement, but so do budding attorneys, who are discovering that, despite growing interest in the field and the publicity surrounding some of the splashier animal welfare and animal rights initiatives, actual jobs in animal law are hard to find.
Along with the seminars, the Georgetown fellowship at HSUS was partially funded by a $1 million endowment from the DJ&T Foundation, established in 1995 by animal activist and then-game show host Bob Barker. Other recipients include Columbia, Duke, Howard, Northwestern, Stanford and UCLA.
Barker and HSUS aren't alone in forging ties among activists and academia. In addition to filing lawsuits to stop animal abuse, the Animal Legal Defense Fund seeks to "nurture" the development of animal law with its Animal Law Program and Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapters (SALDF). While the law program promotes development of animal law curricula, SALDF works to increase awareness of animal law issues on university campuses. In just seven years, the number of SALDF chapters has swelled to 112 from 12, their primary objective being to ensure animal law is included in the curricula of all U.S. law schools.
Do rights make a wrong?
The courses generally aren't radical, even if supporters and instructors sometimes are construed as such. Lewis & Clark's course, "Animal Law: Legislation, Lobbying and Litigation," for example, reviews applications and enforcement of familiar federal statutes such as the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Slaughter Act and Animal Damage Control Act, while an animal law seminar reviews "the latest cases, legislation and legal theory" involving anti-cruelty laws and animal wills and trusts. One course, "Animal Rights Law," may rattle some cages, inasmuch as it queries why humans are accorded fundamental rights "and nonhumans denied them."
Lest processors and producers assume the issue is academic, they would do well to consider the jurisdictions of Boulder, Colo.; Berkeley, Calif.; Bloomington, Ind.; and Menomonee Falls, Wis. All have adopted animal guardianship laws. While the urban or university-town settings, and their local laws, seem far away from the farms and plants handling livestock, Shook Hardy attorney Schwartz says producers and processors shrug off the trend at their peril. "There's this tendency among us to stick to our own gunnysack when we don't view an issue as a direct threat. The thinking is, 'Well, pain and suffering would pertain to pets, not farm animals,' and that's exactly what activists count on as they work with plaintiffs' lawyers to chip away at the issue, one case at a time."
For its part, ALDF pointedly avoids promoting either animal welfare or animal rights. "Our goal is simply to ensure that law schools include animal law in their curricula," Alexander says. "Given changing societal mores, our belief is that law schools are doing their students a disservice if they don't include it."
The fact that so many do is one reason why animal law is gaining momentum outside the halls of academia, with 10 state bars and the District of Columbia having established animal law sections or committees.
For now, much of the resulting litigation focuses on domestic abuse, as evidenced by a recent case involving Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, and on pet wills and trusts, the most notorious example involving hotel owner Leona Helmsley, who willed $12 million to her pet Maltese dog.
Large-scale farming has yet to find a similar lightning rod, but nevertheless remains an area of growing interest among lawyers, Alexander says. "There are some who have a real passion for it," she notes.
All the better for HSUS and its ilk. Since his appointment in 2004, Pacelle, an avowed vegan, has claimed more than 70 "victories" against producers and processors, most of them involving gestation crates and battery cages. (Despite repeated requests, HSUS declined to be interviewed for this article.)
A look at its current docket shows HSUS has not only filed or supported suits against circuses, game commissions and sportsmen's associations—and for offenses as varied as pigeon shoots, wolf-killing and foie gras adulteration—but also against producer groups, state agricultural agencies and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The majority of such complaints involve poultry, either to take issue with its exclusion from USDA's Humane Methods of Slaughter Act or, in the case of the United Egg Producers, to assail the use of battery cages. Another takes aim at the New Jersey Department of Agriculture for farm animal regulations that HSUS contends leave too much latitude for "intensive farming practices."
And the litigation section is receiving a substantial amount of legal assistance on these cases. According to HSUS records, the law firms O'Melveny & Meyers LLP, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and Latham & Watkins LLP all have logged more than 100,000 hours on behalf of the organization, all of it pro bono. Last year alone, about a dozen of the nation's largest law firms collectively contributed some $2.5 million in legal services to HSUS.
It's debatable whether all of it has been time well spent, though for every pigeon shoot there is also a Prop 2, which, for producers and processors, is beginning to amount to something of a trial.