Humane Standing: A Step Forward in Case against Hudson Valley Foie GrasPosted by John Melia, ALDF Litigation Fellow on June 26, 2013
Yesterday, the Animal Legal Defense Fund achieved another victory moving forward in our case against Hudson Valley Foie Gras—the largest remaining U.S. producer of force-fed foie gras. Hudson Valley moved to dismiss ALDF from the case, arguing that ALDF had not suffered any injury as a result of their false advertising, and therefore did not have standing to sue under California law. But Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California disagreed, explaining that an “advocacy organization has standing” to sue under California false advertising law “when it diverts resources in response to challenged unlawful activity,” as ALDF has done. It is a victory for animals, and for the rights of animal advocates to protect themselves in court.
Last November, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Regal Vegan (producer of a vegan spread called Faux Gras) sued Hudson Valley Foie Gras for false advertising under federal and California state law. Hudson Valley, the largest foie gras producer in the United States, advertises itself as “The Humane Choice,” even though it force-feeds its ducks three times a day to induce a painful liver disease in the animals. These diseased livers, which can be eight or more times their normal size by slaughter, are then sold as foie gras for exorbitant prices. Avian veterinary experts agree that this painful force-feeding process can never be humane, and ALDF’s suit is an attempt to stop Hudson Valley’s misleading advertising.
While this legal ground for standing has a long history of success in housing discrimination cases, it is the first time that it has been applied to an animal protection group attempting to stop a business from lying about abusing animals. It is tempting to celebrate this as a victory that advances the ability of animal advocates to protect animals in court. In reality, the order represents that animal protection groups may finally enjoy the same rights to legal standing that other advocacy organizations have had for years. This is good news, but is also a reminder of how hard we must fight to protect the rights that animals are supposed to have already. If we want to truly push the ball forward, we will have to fight even harder.
As rewarding as it is to have a job that lets me advocate for animals in court, all too often it feels like an uphill battle. Even when the law is written to protect animals, which it generally isn’t, judges sometimes allow their personal discomfort with the treatment of animals to prevent the fair application of the law. In these cases, animal advocates are often thrown out before they can say “Good morning, Your Honor,” much less explain their claims. So when a federal judge applies established case law to affirm my right to stand up for animals in the courtroom, as Judge Alsup did yesterday, I feel like my uphill battle just got a bit easier.
Animal welfare is an emotionally charged subject for many (including judges), and this sometimes causes people to ignore reasonable arguments about animal treatment when they would listen with open minds in other contexts. Yesterday’s decision, is a refreshing reminder that there are powerful individuals who, while not animal advocates themselves, will hear reason. Treating animals well makes sense, and is consistent with the ideals of love and compassion in which the vast majority of us believe. When people make this connection, whether in a courtroom or in their daily lives, the lives of animals on this planet get a little bit better.
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— ALDF (@ALDF) June 26, 2013