On March 29, 2013, the Federal Trade Commission responded to ALDF's complaint against Tyson Foods, Inc., assuring ALDF that it will give the concerns expressed in the complaint "full consideration and appropriate attention" and noting that policing the truthfulness of environmental claims like those made by Tyson is an agency "enforcement priority."
Lodged over two months earlier, ALDF's complaint to the FTC called on the agency to investigate and enforce against false and misleading advertising by meat processing giant Tyson. Namely, ALDF pointed out Tyson's deceptive marketing tactic of broadly advertising a quotation by Tyson Chairman and CEO John Tyson, claiming that the meat processor is "leading the industry pursuit . . . to further enhance animal well-being."
This flies in the face of Tyson's actual reliance upon inhumane factory farming practices.
Tyson uses gestation crates, in which pregnant sows are unable to turn around, lie down comfortably, or take more than a step forward or backward. Many U.S. states ban gestation crates and numerous animal experts consider the crates inhumane. Yet across its promotional materials, Tyson claims to provide environments "favorable" to pigs. Tyson has simply renamed its gestation crates as "individual housing"—changing the name, rather than the practice, in a deceptive move to appeal to ethically conscious consumers.
Similarly, Tyson says it provides a "comfortable environment" for chickens. Tyson's methods fit no definition of comfortable. Reviewing Tyson's strict policies on chicken housing density, housing lighting, and weight gain, animal welfare groups have found that Tyson produces no humanely raised chicken products. Animal advocates routinely expose animal cruelty in slaughterhouses connected to Tyson.
Recently, five employees of a Tyson pig supplier were found guilty of criminal animal cruelty based on an HSUS undercover investigation of conditions at a Wyoming pig facility. The undercover video footage shows abhorrent living conditions for mother pigs in gestation crates, as well as workers kicking and punching pigs, highlighting the absurdity of Tyson's "animal well-being" claims. But as the New York Times has reported, states under pressure from big agribusiness are attempting to eliminate any peek into the internal operations of factory farms through ag gag—or "anti-whistleblower"—laws. With the public increasingly unable to see into the meat production jungle, the FTC must step up its enforcement against deceptive advertising.
Tyson also claims to be environmentally sound, yet multiple courts have held Tyson responsible for environmental hazards. And as recently as this April 4, Tyson settled with the EPA for nearly $4 million with regard to the company's release of dangerously high levels of ammonia, critically injuring and killing employees.
ALDF urges the FTC to correct Tyson's attempts to reel in ethical consumers with deception.
As the days grow warmer here in Northern California, the Animal Legal Defense Fund docket is heating up with innovative ways to fight animal cruelty. ALDF launched a video series and a brand new smartphone app for reporting animal abuse. And we are funding an Oregon state prosecutor focused exclusively on prosecuting animal abuse. Our legal battle to end the cruelty of force-fed foie gras is also gaining steam. All in all, we are leading the fight for justice for animals!
This Just In!
In a rare criminal prosecution of farmed animal abuse, felony criminal charges were filed against the owners of A & L Poultry. You might remember this story from last year, when ALDF filed a civil lawsuit in the largest California farmed animal rescue in history. The defendants abandoned 50,000 hens to starve to death. Thanks to the enormous efforts of volunteers, three animal sanctuaries, which ALDF is representing, were able to rescue the surviving 5,000 hens.
Animal testing facilities have also been taking big hits. We filed a first-of-its kind lawsuit to hold Santa Cruz Biotechnology (a biomedical manufacturer that harvests blood from goats) accountable for animal abuse. Goats were found starving, with untreated skin conditions, broken bones, and painful respiratory ailments. The USDA is investigating the lab for 20 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Santa Cruz Biotech could face at least a $200,000 penalty.
Want to know more about animal law? Check out ALDF's new 30 Second Animal Law video series, where experts answer questions in 30 seconds or less! In my video, I answered the question "what is the biggest problem for animals under the law?" But we’ve also got great videos featuring champion cyclist Levi Leipheimer speaking out against puppy mills and Hampton Creek Foods, a company celebrated by Bill Gates for its plant-based product "Beyond Eggs." Our latest video answers the question, "So you want to be an animal lawyer?"
Our Animal Book Club is off and running with our interview with bestselling Rin Tin Tin author Susan Orlean. We also sat down with Kim McCoy, former Whale Wars star and current executive director of One World One Ocean Foundation, to talk about her work protecting marine animals. Taking things in a new direction, we also interviewed Aaron Simpson, a vegan mixed martial artist and animal advocate.
Fighting for animals just got easier with "ALDF Crime Tips": a first-of-its-kind app designed to let people discreetly report animal abuse in their community right from their smartphone. It’s a great way for people to join forces with ALDF in stopping animal abusers.
A Just Cause
"Cage-free" and "free-range"—when juxtaposed with misleading images on egg cartons, these terms can confuse well-meaning consumers. Our egg labeling lawsuit with Compassion Over Killing aims to hold government agencies responsible for proper labeling on egg cartons. During our Easter Egg Action Week, a whopping %51 of survey respondents said they don’t eat eggs at all! Way to go animal advocates!
In my opinion piece in the Napa Valley Register, I explained how ALDF undercover investigators have shown Napa restaurant "La Toque" is violating California’s ban on force-fed foie gras. ALDF’s lawsuit aims to protect animals from such bullying—and to give Californians the assurances provided by the law, especially when it comes to the production of food! Meanwhile our case continues against Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the largest producer of force-fed foie gras in the nation. ALDF is doing everything we can to serve up justice and to protect animals from exploitation—gourmet priced or not.
A new "puppy lemon law" has been introduced in Illinois, known as Senate Bill 1639, that would provide consumer protection for pet owners whose puppies die as a result of puppy mill abuse. This legislation would potentially make it more appealing to litigate puppy mill cases, since the bill would impose explicit duties upon pet store operators. Under the bill, a pet store operator must provide certain disclosures regarding the origins of the dog (or cat), including known diseases, vaccines, and the name and address of the breeding facility where the animal was born. The Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act already provides requirements for the same disclosures but are willfully ignored by many pet store operators.
Will this new law, though worthy in cause, really make a difference? Hopefully, this will reduce the number of commercial breeding facilities and protect consumers from the heartbreaking experience of losing a brand new puppy.
Puppy mills have come under attack since the animals that reside in them are physically restricted in small cages, neglected, and provided dirty water. Many puppy mills go as far as putting up a home "front". This is when a large commercial breeder displays a handful of puppies in a grassy bright safe haven to customers (the "front"), while the hundreds of other puppies are hidden elsewhere—in dirty wire cases with no space to move freely or even turn around. The puppies are paid no human attention and receive little to no medical care. Often, cages are so rarely cleaned that puppies will sit in their own excrement for long stretches of time, often leading to health problems imminently or later in life. The worst atrocity of the puppy mill are the breeding mothers, who are kept pregnant as much as possible, are isolated from their pups at an unnaturally early age, and spend the entirety of their lives in a dirty, confined cage. Once a breeding dog is no longer able to produce litters, she will often be killed, having never known a life outside of a cage.
Puppies in mills often suffer from potentially fatal conditions such as heart or kidney disease and diabetes, in addition to other chronic disorders such as anemia, hearing or vision problems. Conditions such as hip dysplasia can cause lameness and chronic arthritic pain. Due to the squalor these pups are raised in, they are at a greater risk for heartworm, giardia, distemper, and kennel cough, all of which can lead to death.
Puppy brokers, the intermediary between the mills and the pet stores, retrieve the puppies, pile the puppies on top of each other in a hot, enclosed van, and transport them to pet stores. By the time the puppies arrive to the pet store, many are irretrievably damaged and suffer long-term illnesses or even death.
The Clinton Law Firm and Attorney Stephanie Capps have taken action against Happiness is Pets, a pet store chain in Illinois, alleging consumer fraud in the sale of puppies. The suit alleges that Happiness is Pets sells puppies under the guise of healthy, privately bred puppies, when in reality they are sick and bred in some of the most deplorable conditions imaginable: Puppy mills. The pet stores' defense to misleading customers about the origin of their pets and covering the fact that they are often sick puppy mill dogs? They argue that telling consumers their puppies are "healthy" and from "reputable breeders" is simply "puffing"—or sales talk. Is selling puppies the same as selling used cars? We don't think so.
Recently, I went to Brussels, Belgium to moderate a panel at the European Parliament. The panel was titled, "Worldwide Implementation of the 3Rs in Regulatory Toxicology: What are the Leadership Challenges and Opportunities?"
The "3 Rs" refers to a framework and, in some countries, legal mandates about the use of animals in research and testing. The first "R" is replacement, and it refers to the use of alternatives, such as cell cultures, computer modeling or other methods, instead of using live animals. The second "R" is reduction, figuring out how to use fewer animals in order to get comparable levels of information in a given test. The third "R" is refinement, which means improving the procedures and caging so that the animals experience less suffering, for example, the use of appropriate pain relief (analgesics and anesthetics).
The use of animals in research and testing has long been and always will be a highly controversial and contentious issue. On one end of the spectrum are people who consider replacement the only ethical "R;" on the other end are those who believe that animals always will be (and should be) used in science. Those arguments haven't changed much in the 35 years that I've been involved in the debate. What has changed in the last decade is exciting technological progress to replace animals in toxicology and a groundswell of support among scientists who see in vitro or non-animal testing as the road to faster, cheaper and more reliable results. Finally, we can see light, however small and distant, at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
But, what has also become obvious is that the 3Rs are meaningless unless they are implemented in good faith. The Brussels panel brought together experts from various parts of the globe to describe and illustrate which of the 3Rs is being implemented in their region. It became clear that there is a great deal of variety in commitment to the 3Rs.
For example, in the U.S., as my colleague, Dr. Paul Locke of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins pointed out, refinement and reduction are getting greater attention and funding than replacement. We need to change that. Dr. Richard Fosse of GlaxoSmithKline pointed out that China, intent on attracting business, appears to show little interest in anything other than refinement.
On the other hand, Dr. Tuula Heinonen, Director of the Finnish Centre for Alternative Methods described the European Union's regulatory approach as the most progressive in the world. Pursuant to the European Union's Directive 2010/63, a researcher must first consider alternatives which will replace the use of animals. This may not sound like a lot, but it forces the researcher to consider methods which do not use animals before simply assuming that animals will be used. If no alternative exists, then the researcher must consider how to reduce the number of animals used (reduction) and how to minimize suffering (refinement). Mandating the implementation of this sort of structured approach on a worldwide basis would go a long way to reduce the reliance on animals and encourage the development of alternatives.
In Latin America, discussions about the 3Rs have only recently begun and organizations have been forming over the past decade to study and discuss the 3Rs. Dr. Octavio Presgrave of BraCVAM, the Brazilian Centre for Validation of Alternatives, described the nascent activities occurring in that region, but it will be some time before we can assess whether implementation of the 3Rs will become a reality.
Dr. Brett Lidbury, Assistant Professor of Alternatives to Animal Research and Fellow of the Medical Advances Without Animals (MAWA) Trust, Australian National University (ANU) described the situation in Australia and New Zealand as one in which there is a good deal of interest and some activity in the development of replacement tools, but no centralized coordination of efforts to bring about replacement. He hopes that his work at ANU will provide the leadership needed to push toward replacement in that region.
As the session drew to a close, I asked our audience to remember that animals are sentient beings who have not volunteered to be used in research and that we must find ways to replace their use. The way forward is to harmonize the most progressive approaches on a worldwide basis and to develop and validate alternatives at a much faster pace.
This event was part of an ongoing coalition effort of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, the Environmental Law Institute and the Center for Animal Law Studies.
To learn more about animal testing, check out ALDF's new animal testing resource.
The European Union (EU) banned commercial trade in seal products in 2009, in response to overwhelming European public opinion that seal hunting is cruel and unnecessary. Canada and Norway have challenged the ban at the World Trade Organization (WTO). (See the EU's First Written Submission setting out its legal arguments in defense of the ban here.) Hearings at the "world trade court" in Geneva took place this February, and a decision should be made later this year. The case, known as EC-Seal Products, raises important issues about the interaction of animal welfare legislation and international trade law, and it has implications for other progressive European animal protection laws like the ban on animal-tested cosmetics that came into full force this year.
The European legislation prohibits commercial marketing of all seal products, whether domestic or imported. On the face of it there is no discrimination against other WTO members. But there are some limited exceptions to the ban; for example, products of traditional subsistence hunting by indigenous peoples can still be placed on the market. Canada and Norway say the exceptions discriminate against their products, and that including these carve-outs in the legislation undermines the EU's claim that its objective is to prevent animal suffering (they say the real purpose is to shut out certain seal products based on where they come from). According to Canada and Norway, protecting animal welfare cannot be the real purpose of the EU law, because in some circumstances that purpose is overriden by other values like the rights of indigenous communities. In reality, of course, virtually all animal protection law is based a similar kind of balancing and compromise between the protection of animals and other ethical and practical considerations.
Canada and Norway also say that the EU ban is more trade-restrictive than needed to address European citizens' concerns about the cruelty of seal hunting. They propose an alternative: a labeling program to certify that products come from 'humanely' hunted seals. They claim that they could sell products into the EU under this alternative system, because their own seal hunts are well regulated to ensure that seals do not suffer unnecessarily. That claim was belied by video evidence presented by the EU at the hearings in Geneva, showing seals in the Canadian hunt suffering prolonged agony. The video evidence underlines what opponents of the seal hunt have been saying for years: given the combination of harsh weather conditions, a remote location, and commercial pressures to bring in as many seals as quickly as possible, the seal hunt is inherently inhumane. The hearings were live-blogged on the International Economic Law and Policy blog by Professor Robert Howse of NYU, who reported that the chair of the WTO panel was so affected by the horrific video footage that he recommended everyone present should avoid having meat for dinner that night. (Professor Howse submitted an amicus curiae brief to the panel, co-written with me and Joanna Langille, which can be found here; see also "Permitting Pluralism: The Seal Products Dispute and Why the WTO Should Permit Trade Restrictions Justified by Noninstrumental Moral Values" by Robert Howse and Joanna Langille.)
Global justice activists and environmentalists often criticize the WTO for prioritizing trade flows over non-commercial values, and often their concerns are not misplaced. But the WTO's adjudication system is sophisticated and well respected, and in many cases it has struck an appropriate balance between fair dealing among members of the global trade system and the legitimate principles that WTO members seek to uphold in their domestic legislation. Everyone who cares about animal law should watch the EC-Seal Products case with interest, and see whether the WTO gets the balance right in this one.
Katie Sykes is a JSD student at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie
University in Canada