Ag-Gag: Outlawing Voices Who Speak for the Voiceless
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on February 2, 2016
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal agency responsible for the enforcement of laws pertaining to farming, agriculture, and food production, estimates that more than 9 billion animals will be slaughtered in the U.S. this year.
Despite increasing worldwide demand for meat and the accelerating pace of American slaughter lines, there are acknowledged staffing shortages among the USDA’s inspector corps that have existed for some time.
More than half a million people work in low-income jobs in American slaughterhouses and related facilities. Many are undocumented, and they labor with little job security in physically demanding and often dangerous conditions.
In October 2014, following years of intense lobbying by the meat industry, and in spite of opposition from citizens groups, the USDA elected to allow some poultry plant employees, rather than USDA inspectors, decide whether their products are safe for consumption. At the same time, the agency reduced the number of trained inspectors in plants nationwide.
Meanwhile numerous investigations within the animal agriculture industry have exposed a pattern and practice of animal cruelty and workplace violations. In response, and at the behest of the industry, eight states have passed laws that essentially criminalize whistleblowing and undercover activism, making it illegal to record and disseminate photographs or footage taken in agricultural operations. These are the “Ag-Gag” laws.
Agribusiness leaders want to hide the suffering of the animals they kill and of the workers who kill and butcher them. They want to hide the frantic pace of production that churns fecal matter into ground meat. They want to hide lagoons of hog offal that pollute groundwater with the insecticides, antibiotics, and vaccines used to fatten hogs, herds, and profit margins.
But ALDF is challenging the industry’s efforts to cover up its illegal activities in court, with cooperation from allied organizations in consumer rights, food safety, civil liberties, and whistleblower-protection agencies.
In 2013, ALDF led a coalition in filing the nation’s first challenge to an Ag-Gag law, representing activist Amy Meyer in a case against the state of Utah, charging that the law infringes on free-speech rights by criminalizing undercover investigations. Meyer, who had videotaped the operations at Dale Smith Meatpacking Company from the roadside, was the first person in the nation to be prosecuted under an Ag-Gag law, although the charges were dropped after a public outcry. In August 2014, despite a motion from the state to dismiss the case, the court allowed the lawsuit to move forward.
Last August, in another lawsuit brought by ALDF and a coalition of public interest organizations, including PETA, the Center for Food Safety, and the ACLU, a federal district court in Idaho struck down the state’s Ag-Gag law as unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Drafted by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, the law made it a criminal offense to document animal welfare, worker safety, and food safety violations at any “agricultural production facility,” thus “gagging” speech that is critical of industrial agriculture. The statute defines “agricultural production facility” so broadly that it applies not only to factory farms and slaughterhouses, but also to public parks, restaurants, nursing homes, grocery stores, pet stores, and virtually every public accommodation and private residence.
In Wyoming, ALDF represented environmentalists in challenging two state laws criminalizing any individual who enters private or public open land without permission to collect what the state defines as resource data—including pictures of noxious weeds, samples of polluted water, videos of injured animals, or notes on the landscape—and then communicates that data to a federal or state agency.
Most recently, ALDF and a coalition of allied organizations filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new North Carolina law that allows for civil suits against whistleblowers who seek to reveal wrongdoing at any workplace. That law, effective January 1, prohibits investigations not only in agricultural settings, but also in any private business, including hospitals, elder care facilities, veteran care facilities, and schools. The New York Times endorsed the lawsuit, writing that “[t]he secrecy promoted by ag-gag laws should have no place in American society.”
Nonetheless, big agribusiness knows that interest continues to grow among the American public in where its food comes from, who’s producing it, and how it’s being produced. In North Carolina, a state with an economy heavily dependent on hog production, 74 percent of voters “support undercover investigations by animal welfare groups on farms,” according to a May 2015 poll. In Idaho, an October 2015 poll found 53 percent of respondents agreed with the federal judge’s overturning of that state’s Ag-Gag law, while less than a third opposed his ruling.
Though not to be taken lightly, we see such laws as examples of the desperation increasingly felt by industries that rely on cruelty and neglect to thrive. With so much to hide, corporate meat producers feel forced to firewall their practices from government inspectors, from their own customers, and from the American public. No Ag-Gag law is immune from challenge.
This Land is Our Land – Not Militant Ranchers’
Posted by Stefanie Wilson, ALDF Litigation Fellow on February 1, 2016
On January 2nd, a group of self-styled “militiamen” occupied a federal building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to protest on behalf of two ranchers who were recently ordered to serve out prison terms after a jury of their peers convicted them of arson on federal lands. By now, most know that the Ammon Bundy and Co. destroyed cattle fencing that protected the refuge and the wildlife within from grazing cattle, drove tractors around and upon sacred Tribal sites, and engaged law enforcement in a fatal firefight. The full consequences of their month-long occupation of the refuge remains to be seen, as of this posting, a handful of holdouts remain. The refuge has been closed throughout and will remain so until further notice.
To be sure, citizens have the right to peacefully protest what they view to be unfair convictions and sentencing. But the driving force behind these protests is unfortunately misguided and far more disturbing. The militia were led by Ammon Bundy, the son of Clive Bundy – who owes $1 million to taxpayers for unpaid grazing fees. The Bundy’s are poster children for a political movement that advocates armed resistance against federal control over public lands.
Only there’s a fairly sizeable wrinkle in their ideology: that land that they wish to exert control over and use for their own commercial benefit is held in public trust for all of the American people.
The protection that the public trust was intended to provide to our natural resources has largely failed – in no small part because public lands ranchers like Clive and Ammon Bundy are a vocal and politically powerful minority. They produce less than 3 percent of American beef, yet they have access to approximately 24 percent[i] of land in this country for their own private financial gain, while taxpayers foot the bill.
As a result of this, much of the public lands in the American West is basically a taxpayer-subsidized gestation and feeding facility for a relatively small subsector of the beef industry.
Public lands grazing occurs on an estimated 229 to 260 million acres, approximately 85 percent of all of the lands managed by the federal government. Under the dubious guise of protecting livestock, the USDA’s Wildlife Services spends $8 million to kill more than 94,000 native wildlife such as coyotes and wolves each year – keystone species in these fragile ecosystems. Public lands grazing is also the driving force behind cruel and inhumane coyote killing contests – such as the one that ALDF successfully shut down in Burns, Oregon, where the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is located – as well as the cruel wild horse round-ups conducted by federal land management agencies (see ALDF’s in-depth coverage and what we’ve done about it).
Conservation biologists have long warned that livestock grazing is the “most insidious and pervasive threat to biodiversity on rangelands.”[ii] More than 175 plant and animal species are threatened by the effects of livestock grazing on public lands and it has contributed to the decline of almost one quarter of federally listed threatened and endangered species.
It’s no accident or coincidence that Bundy’s militia chose to occupy a wildlife refuge. By attacking the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, they have publicly admitted who (and what) they are really at war with: the wilderness and nature that belongs to all Americans and to future generations.
[i] Calculated from the 28% of lands owned by the federal government, and the 85% of that land permitted for grazing.
[ii] Reed F. Noss and Allen Cooperrider, Saving Nature’s Legacy 230 (1994).
Major Settlement in Case of Dog Shooting by Colorado Officer
Posted by Lora Dunn, ALDF Staff Attorney on January 26, 2016
On January 25, the owner of a therapy dog named Chloe who was shot and killed by a Colorado police officer in 2012 reached a landmark settlement over Chloe’s unlawful killing. Commerce City agreed to pay $262,500 to Gary Branson and his family, according to media reports. Officers were allegedly responding to a call about a dog running loose in the neighborhood on November 24, 2012 when they tried unsuccessfully to use a catchpole and a Taser to capture Chloe while her owner was out of town. Officer Robert Price shot Chloe five times at close range, and neighbors videotaped the incident. The officer was charged but acquitted of criminal aggravated animal cruelty in 2013, and the Branson family filed a federal civil suit against Commerce City alleging a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violation for unlawful deprivation of their property for Chloe’s death.
This settlement is another victory for pet owners in a legal system that categorizes animals as property, a classification that seems like an odd fit when we’re talking about sentient beings. Yet the law does recognize that animals are inherently different from other property—you could smash a table to pieces or light your car on fire without legal ramifications, but doing the same to a dog triggers serious cruelty violations (all 50 states now have felony cruelty laws on the books). Beyond the criminal realm, in cases where animals are wrongfully killed, more courts are recognizing animals’ intrinsic value by awarding damages that exceed the sheer market value of the animal.
The shooting of dogs by police officers is a systemic issue nationwide, with the Department of Justice estimating that about 10,000 dogs are shot by cops every year in the United States. The documentary Of Dogs and Men, which was produced in association with ALDF and premiered at the Austin Film Festival in November 2015, examines this important issue by tracing the stories of families and their victim dogs and interviewing law enforcement. The film includes the story of Chloe from the Commerce City case, and an interview with owner Gary Branson.
While the Branson case may be among one of the larger settlements of its kind in a § 1983 case, it is by no means the largest: In 2012, a Maryland jury awarded $620,000 in a case where two sheriff’s deputies shot a chocolate Labrador named Brandi when they entered the dog owner’s home while attempting to serve a body attachment (similar to a warrant). The jury’s award was later reduced by the appellate court to just over $200,000. Brooks v. Jenkins, 220 Md. App. 444 (2014). In an earlier case, the worst possible plaintiffs (the Hells Angels) extracted more than $900,000 in damages after San Jose officers shot three dogs during the execution of search warrants at multiple locations.
The good news is that awareness is growing that a lack of police training on animal encounters is the root of the problem, and police departments are taking action to change the statistics. More and more departments are adding animal-specific training to their rosters thanks to the work of organizations like the National Sheriff’s Association and the International Chiefs of Police. Further, the Colorado and Texas legislatures have enacted mandated officer training as well.
What should you do if you witness a dog being injured or killed by law enforcement? Visit our resources on “Dogs Shot by Cops: Companion Animals and Law Enforcement” and find out more.
Pamela Frasch Receives Excellence in Teaching Award
Posted by ALDF Update on January 19, 2016
The Animal Law Section of the AALS awarded Pamela D. Frasch, Assistant Dean, Animal Law Program and Executive Director, Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School, in collaboration with ALDF, the inaugural AALS Animal Law Section Award for Excellence in Animal Law: Teaching, Scholarship, and Service. Pamela has been working in the area of animal law for over twenty years and teaching for eighteen. She has inspired students, lawyers, advocates, and others through her immense knowledge of the law, outstanding skills in writing, teaching and advocacy, and her compassion and commitment to the protection of all animals.
The Animal Law Section presented the award during the Section’s program—Animal Rights: From Why to How—during the AALS Annual Meeting in New York City on January 9 at 1:30pm. After the awards ceremony, a spirited conversation on various strategies for securing legal rights was led by an impressive panel of legal scholars including Sherry Colb (Cornell), Michael Dorf (Cornell), David Favre (MSU), Lori Gruen (Wesleyan), Angela Harris (UC Davis), and Dale Jamieson (NYU).
In addition to the formal presentation of the award, The Animal Law Section celebrated Pamela at the Section’s reception hosted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund on January 8, 2016.
“The AALS Section on Animal Law is pleased and honored to have a true giant among animal law faculty, Pamela Frasch, as the inaugural recipient of its award for Excellence in Animal Law: Scholarship-Teaching-Service. Throughout her 20-year commitment to animal law advocacy, teaching, and scholarship, Pam has inspired students, lawyers, and animal advocates and has immeasurably advanced both animal law and animal legal education world-wide.” – Joan Schaffner: former Chair, AALS Animal Law Section; Associate Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School.
A Great Year for Animals, Thanks to Your Support
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on December 28, 2015
The Animal Legal Defense Fund had our busiest and most successful year to date—and it’s all thanks to your support. We’ve been able to achieve so many great victories for animals through the legal system, and it’s all because of the generosity of animal lovers like you. Watch our video overview of 2015, and join me in reflecting on an amazing year.
Legally Brief: Exotic Animals and the Law
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on December 14, 2015
States that do not set even minimal safety and animal welfare requirements for private ownership of captive wild animals are playing a dangerous game that too often results in tragedy both for the animals and for people.
In October 2011, Terry Thompson released more than five dozen dangerous wild and exotic animals into his Zanesville, Ohio, community before he committed suicide. He had kept the animals as pets in cages on his property. First responders found themselves in a volatile situation, with no choice but to kill nearly all the animals.
At the time, Ohio had yet to institute any oversight of privately owned tigers, lions, bears, and other dangerous wild animals, an illustration that in the absence of state action, it is a matter of when—not if—something bad will happen.
There are currently six states that exercise no oversight of or restrictions on private ownership of potentially dangerous animals such as tigers, bears, and apes: Nevada, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Indiana. A bill aimed at providing some regulation of exotics ownership is pending in the Wisconsin state legislature. In Indiana, it is expected that the state’s exotics law will be amended to correct deficiencies that a judge ruled earlier this year precluded enforcement by the state wildlife agency.
Private citizens are ill equipped to meet the needs of complex and dangerous animals like tigers and chimpanzees. Many feed them inappropriate diets and keep them in squalid enclosures and cages that not only deprive them of the ability to engage in natural behaviors, but fail to confine them safely, leading to escapes. This is why ALDF and groups like the American Bar Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention oppose private ownership of exotic animals.
In the wake of the Zanesville catastrophe, Ohio eventually passed a law that restricts ownership of most dangerous wild animals to bona fide zoological institutions or sanctuaries. However, the state had already become a haven of sorts for exotics owners due to lack of state oversight for so many years. As a result, the state has had to step in and confiscate numerous dangerous animals from unsafe and inhumane conditions.
Sadly, many of the confiscated animals arrive at the state’s temporary holding facility in extremely poor condition after years of neglect, lack of adequate space and veterinary care, and poor diet.
One sad example was a lion named Leo. Necropsy records show he suffered from multiple painful health conditions frequently associated with long-term neglect, including “severe degenerative osteoarthritis,” degenerative joint disease, and intervertebral disk disease, all of which contributed to his rapid decline after his confiscation from a private owner.
Ohio has turned to ALDF’s friends, including Tim Harrison and his organization, Outreach for Animals, and Bobbi Brink and her extraordinary team at Lions, Tigers & Bears (LTB), to rescue and rehome animals who have been confiscated from substandard conditions. Indeed, since 2012, Brink and LTB have rehomed more than sixty big cats and bears to reputable sanctuaries outside Ohio.
While Ohio is taking meaningful steps to manage its exotic animal crisis, Nevada has yet to take action on the state level. But there is some good news here as well.
On November 17, Clark County, which encompasses the greater Las Vegas area, passed its first exotic animal ordinance. The ordinance prohibits anyone except bona fide sanctuaries and zoological institutions from keeping potentially dangerous animals (including, but not limited to, big cats, bears, and apes). Tim Harrison, Bobbi Brink, Las Vegas activists Linda Faso and Stephen Sorrentino, Jonathan Kraft and Tina Matajek from Keepers of the Wild Sanctuary, and our friends from the Humane Society of the United States all joined ALDF to testify at the hearing where the ordinance was passed.
ALDF Legislative Affairs attorney Carney Anne Nasser worked on the ordinance with Clark County officials for several years, and it passed with unanimous support from all seven county commissioners. ALDF hopes it will serve as a model for localities in other states that lack oversight of private ownership of dangerous wild animals.
ALDF applauds Clark County for doing the right thing, and will continue to work with other localities to achieve legislative victories for animal welfare and public safety in 2016 and beyond.
Congratulations to the 2015 SALDF Chapters of the Year!
Posted by Kelly Levenda, Staff Attorney on December 4, 2015
The Animal Legal Defense Fund would like to congratulate the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapters at George Washington University Law School (GW) and Harvard Law School (HLS) for winning the 2015 SALDF Chapter of the Year Awards! The awards celebrate SALDF chapters that have shown incredible efforts to advance the field of animal law and advocate for animals on campus and in their surrounding community.
The GW SALDF chapter held numerous events in the 2014-2015 academic year that raised awareness of the need for protections for wild and farmed animals, and those used in experimentation and entertainment. The chapter also hosted speakers, including journalist and author Will Potter.
During ALDF’s Speak Out for Farmed Animals Week, GW SALDF members staffed a table offering ALDF materials and free vegan treats, visited Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, and held a successful pay-per-view event using an innovative outreach strategy (people are offered $1 to view a short film on the experience farmed animals go through on their way to becoming food). For ALDF’s National Justice for Animals Week, the chapter hosted a free vegan breakfast, an animal law career panel, and an eye-opening discussion on Ag-Gag laws with Taylor Radig, an investigator who was charged with animal cruelty for documenting animal abuse at a farm, and co-hosted a screening of the film Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.
Involvement in the community is also important to GW SALDF. The chapter built shelters for feral cats, and participated in the Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals and the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. Members shadowed local humane officers as they responded to animal cruelty calls and attended oral arguments for Carol Grunewald v. Jonathan Jarvis, the challenge to the National Park Service’s deer-killing program in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park. They also held a companion animal study break, where students lined up to cuddle with adoptable dogs and cats from local shelters, and raised more than $1,000 to support their projects through a companion animal photo contest!
The Harvard Law School (HLS) SALDF chapter raised awareness of animal law among law students, faculty, and the broader campus community by publishing articles in the Harvard Law Record and Harvard Crimson, and holding 17 packed events throughout the 2014-2015 academic year! The events averaged 70 attendees, with some drawing more than 100. The chapter maximized attendance by promoting its events on school chalkboards, bulletin boards, and its Facebook page.
HLS SALDF was proud to host leaders in the animal protection movement, such as Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who spoke about history’s progress toward recognizing groups as deserving of rights, and experts in the field of animal law such as Carter Dillard, ALDF director of litigation, who spoke on Animal Rights, Human Rights, and the Future of our Planet. HLS SALDF raised awareness of animal agriculture with a screening of Cowspiracy and a virtual reality display that gave students firsthand experience of what it’s like to be a chicken. The chapter hosted Lewis Bollard, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) policy advisor, who spoke on Ag-Gag laws, and Liz Hallinan, Compassion Over Killing director of policy, who talked about animal and human rights abuses in factory farming. The chapter also promoted plant-based eating with a talk on vegan diets for athletes, a screening of Forks Over Knives, and speakers like Josh Tetrick, Hampton Creek CEO, and Dr. Michael Greger, HSUS director of public health.
HLS SALDF also addressed the popular issue of wild animals in captivity through talks by Chris Green, former ALDF legislative director (and current executive director of the Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School), who spoke about legal developments in this area, and Death at SeaWorld author David Kirby, who spoke on the plight of captive orcas. HLS SALDF also helped host the 2015 National Animal Law Competitions.
Thank you to the chapters that took the time to apply for this year’s award and to all of our SALDF chapters for the amazing work you are doing for animals!
Putting the Spin on Flying Elephants to Omaha
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on November 30, 2015
Three American zoos have orchestrated a fairly tricky sleight-of-hand to remove 18 African elephants from their native grasslands and plant them in expensive faux-habitat exhibits in the U.S.
The Dallas Zoo, the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, committed to pay a “significant contribution”—$450,000—to Big Game Parks, a family-run organization that manages wildlife for the government of Swaziland in three of that nation’s protected areas. In exchange, each zoo will receive six elephants from Swaziland, transported first via 747, then in shipping crates on the backs of tractor-trailers to the zoos’ complexes in Dallas, Wichita, and Omaha.
The $450,000, however, is not technically a direct payment for taking possession of the elephants. The zoos describe the deal as a “contribution” to Big Game Parks and Swaziland’s black rhinoceros conservation efforts.
According to Big Game Parks, the nation’s protected areas are overcrowded with elephants and, because of this, endangered black rhinos are being pushed closer to extinction. To hear the zoos’ administrators tell it in the press, they “agreed to take ownership” of the elephants, practically as a favor to the elephants and to the poor, drought-ridden nation of Swaziland. In late September, news articles supportive of the importation ran in the largest newspapers in the zoos’ three cities, all touting the “win-win” nature of the transaction for the elephants and the rhinos.
Notably, as of September, the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita had raised $10.6 million for construction of a new elephant exhibit, of which half was contributed by the county government. The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha was in the final stages of constructing its $73 million African Grasslands project, including a $15 million elephant building. At that time, the Executive Director and CEO of the Doorly Zoo told the Omaha World-Herald, “When people come to a zoo like ours, they expect to see elephants.” And when for-profit zoos build multi-million dollar compounds, they expect a return on investment.
Swaziland is a poor country. Big Game Parks manages its wildlife with little if any government oversight. The organization has threatened to kill the 18 elephants if permits allowing their exportation are not issued. They do not point out that the entire population of fewer than 35 elephants occupies only small fenced portions of the reserves and poses no considerable threat to other wildlife. No evidence has been presented to show significant habitat competition with rhinos. Nor have they shown that they’ve made any significant efforts to move the elephants to protected areas elsewhere in Africa where they would not be subjected to incarceration or family destruction.
Big Game Parks stands to benefit financially from the transaction, as do the American zoos, but both parties know that the world increasingly sees the purchase and importation of African big game as morally repugnant, even if it’s not out-and-out illegal. Thus, the transaction is shaded as something other than a direct sale.
We know that elephants roam up to thirty miles a day in the wild. Female elephants stay with their families all their lives. They are highly intelligent, communicative, and have complex social structures that are critical to their welfare. We know that in captivity they grow depressed (indicated by abnormal stereotypic behaviors such as head bobbing and swaying) and have diminished life expectancies, although an elephant’s natural lifespan is similar to that of a human.
In zoos and circuses, however, captive elephants are frequently euthanized at an early age due to painful arthritis and other foot problems—conditions that are unique to unnatural and inappropriate captive settings. These zoo executives and their private partners in Swaziland are hoping we’ll forget those things. They’re hoping the people of Kansas will forget, too, and pay $13.95 to see elephants fresh out of Africa right off Interstate 235 in Wichita.
ALDF has joined with dozens of scientists, conservation and animal advocacy organizations to stop this importation, and we hope you will join us and spread the word. The elephants, after all, don’t have the luxury of forgetting.
UW-Madison Evasion Hides Public Records and Details of Infant Monkey Experiments
Posted by Kelsey Eberly, Litigation Fellow on November 16, 2015
Today, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed its final brief in support of its motion for summary judgment in a case that has pitted animal welfare and public records advocates against the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW). Last October, ALDF sued the University for refusing to disclose to ALDF the full public records from federally-mandated animal welfare oversight committees that reviewed and approved a controversial “maternal deprivation” research protocol on infant primates. Such research proposed to take newborn rhesus macaque monkeys away from their mothers, subject them to frightening and anxiety-inducing stressors including live snakes, and inflict a battery of invasive tests and procedures before killing them by the age of two.
Over a year after ALDF filed its case, UW remains obstinate in its refusal to allow public access to these records concerning taxpayer-funded research, while its arbitrary records withholding policy has already inflicted irreparable harm to the public interest. Indeed, as ALDF learned last spring, UW previously destroyed pages and pages of documents that ALDF had sought concerning the maternal deprivation research. ALDF filed an amended complaint seeking more documents last May, but significant damage has already been done. If UW has its way, the public will never be able to exercise its right of government oversight, protected by the public records law, to know the extent of the oversight committees’ discussion leading to its approval of such highly controversial research on infant monkeys.
Meanwhile, details about the experiments remain murkier than ever. In March of this year, UW alleged that the research design was changed to remove the maternal deprivation element (previously its central feature), but ALDF has seen no independent confirmation of this assertion. UW has now attempted to stymie ALDF from learning about this change by delaying its response to ALDF’s renewed records request for seven months, and proposing to charge an outrageous sum (over $12,000) to search for and disclose relevant records.
UW’s continual attempts to shift the playing field—about what is happening to the baby monkeys, and about what documents are at issue in ALDF’s public records case—is little more than a smokescreen. ALDF will not rest until it gets to the bottom of what UW is doing to baby monkeys in the name of “science,” and until the court has set the University straight on the public’s right to obtain the complete records of this taxpayer-funded animal research.
Class-Action Encouragement: Barkworks’ Case Brings Puppy Mills Into Focus
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on November 16, 2015
More than 40 million households provide homes to at least one dog in the US. We are a nation of avowed dog lovers. Yet nearly 4 million dogs enter our shelters every year and more than a million of them are euthanized. Given those statistics it’s difficult to imagine why we tolerate puppy mills that churn out thousands of sick dogs each year—or the stores that sell them—for profit.
These are questions running alongside ALDF’s lawsuit against Barkworks, a pet-store chain in four Southern California counties. In October, ALDF broadly expanded its lawsuit against Barkworks, initially filed in Orange County in September 2014 on behalf of a handful of individual plaintiffs, by adding class-action allegations, thus filing on behalf of a broad class of misled purchasers of the chain’s puppies. Since September 2014, ALDF and pro bono attorneys working on the case have uncovered numerous documents detailing the widespread nature of Barkworks’ deception, thus making a change in the scope of the lawsuit necessary. ALDF’s lawsuit alleges that Barkworks intentionally violated California consumer protection law by explicitly stating that its puppies were “not from puppy mills” and had been examined by veterinarians before being sold. Buyers soon learned that these assertions were false when their new puppies fell seriously ill, in some cases within hours of leaving the store and when these consumers tracked down the source of their puppies.
Many pet stores that continue to sell live animals view small, vulnerable puppies and other animals for sale as mere products—cuddly and lovable when presented through the pet-shop window to lure consumers, but ultimately line items on a balance sheet. For these business owners, it makes financial sense to buy from puppy mills—places that will continue to churn out litter upon litter of puppies at low wholesale prices without concern for the health or well-being of the dogs. Still, the “puppies for sale” model has improved dramatically at many pet-supply retailers, where grooming, doggie daycare, high-end pet products, and immunization clinics have replaced dog-and-cat sales as revenue generators. And well over 100 cities and counties in the U.S. have banned the retail sale of cats, dogs, and in some cases even rabbits, in part to curtail the sale of mill-bred animals.
Such changes are coming about because Americans are getting more familiar with the details of commercial exploitation of animals. We understand that animals bred in close confines and unclean conditions in commercial facilities might well be expected to begin their lives battling short-term issues—distemper, respiratory infections, mange and various parasitic diseases. And most dog lovers—of mutts and purebreds alike—recognize that, longer term, excessive inbreeding and short-cutting of thoughtful animal husbandry practices will lead to increased rates of lifelong health problems like hip dysplasia, hyperthyroidism and glaucoma, among others.
None of that comes as a surprise to any of us. What is startling is the scale and the everyday nature of the problem: how often such truths are hidden by brokers, breeders and retail establishments, how often dogs and cats and other companion animals are bred purely for profit without concern for their welfare, and how little awareness people have of these practices. Consumers still purchase puppies from retail pet stores, reassured that a breeder is “USDA-licensed” or “AKC registered.” However, most consumers don’t realize that these endorsements guarantee little if anything about the number of dogs at a facility, a dog’s breeding history, or the life quality of breeder dogs. Moreover, the AKC is funded largely by its own registration fees—for over 1 million dogs each year by its own account—giving the organization an incentive to encourage irresponsibly high birth rates from its “registered breeders.”
Fortunately, the culture is waking up to the problem, not just about the continued existence of puppy mills, but about the realities of the pet-store industry and its sales pitches, and ALDF is eager to help. Barkworks stores have been picketed and boycotted; law enforcement has shut down mills where puppies were neglected, underfed and overcrowded. And now ALDF is grateful to be well positioned and well armed to litigate for change that will close down avenues for such behavior.
The puppy-mill problem stems in part from people’s continued willingness to view and treat non-human animals as products rather than sentient beings. That’s one reason ALDF is especially moved by the opportunity in this case—so much of our work concerns the advancement of the culture’s recognition of animals as more than someone’s property, more than viable product.
Court Enjoins Enforcement of Unconstitutional Ag-Gag Law
Posted by Matthew Liebman, ALDF Senior Attorney on November 12, 2015
Today Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued the final judgment declaring Idaho’s Ag-Gag law unconstitutional and enjoining the state from enforcing the law. The judgment comes as the result of a ground-breaking lawsuit filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, alongside a broad-based public interest coalition of advocates for animals, workers, journalists, the environment, and consumers.
In August, Judge Winmill issued a 29-page written opinion, which held that the Ag-Gag statute was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Judge Winmill observed that if the Ag-Gag law were allowed to stand, “[t]he effect of the statute will be to suppress speech by undercover investigators and whistleblowers concerning topics of great public importance: the safety of the public food supply, the safety of agricultural workers, the treatment and health of farm animals, and the impact of business activities on the environment.”
Today’s judgment gives legal effect to the August opinion by formally declaring the Ag-Gag statute unconstitutional and permanently enjoining and prohibiting the state from enforcing the statute.
As of today, undercover investigations at agricultural facilities in Idaho are once again legal. These investigations reveal the routine animal suffering inherent in the production of animal products and shine a light on an industry shrouded in secrecy.
Don’t Fall into the SeaWorld Spin Zone
Posted by Carney Anne Nasser, ALDF Legislative Counsel on November 10, 2015
Contrary to some of the misleading news reports yesterday, SeaWorld is not ending its orca show at the San Diego amusement park. Unfortunately, numerous media outlets reported misinformation about the press release SeaWorld issued earlier in the day. SeaWorld’s November 9, 2015, release states, in pertinent part that:
“[T]he company has initiated production on a new orca presentation for its San Diego park. The new experience will engage and inform guests by highlighting more of the species’ natural behaviors. The show will include conservation messaging and tips guests can take home with them to make a difference for orcas in the wild. The current show, One Ocean, will run through 2016.”
SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. Announces New Partnerships and Business Initiatives During Investor and Analyst Day Presentation (November 09, 2015) (emphases added).
As you can see, SeaWorld San Diego is not ending the orca show. The entertainment company is merely repackaging the orca show in San Diego in an apparent attempt to create the ruse of conservation for its exploitative confinement of whales. However, no matter how many “conservation” messages SeaWorld includes with its new orca show, there’s no escaping the fact that it is an entertainment show based on the use of orcas who are deprived of adequate space, enrichment, social and family bonds, and the ability to live lives that bear any resemblance to those of their wild counterparts.
So what’s the impetus for SeaWorld’s sudden shift in its messaging and presentation of the orca show only at its San Diego facility? It appears that SeaWorld is quickly trying to rebrand its orca entertainment in San Diego in the wake of the California Coastal Commission’s (“Commission”) decision to grant SeaWorld San Diego a permit to expand Shamu tank, but only on the condition that SeaWorld does not use the tank for any orcas other than the eleven currently housed there (i.e., only if SeaWorld San Diego phases out holding orcas in captivity as each of the eleven pass away). On October 15, 2015, SeaWorld announced that it intends to sue the Commission to challenge the permit condition, illustrating that it has every intent of continuing to breed and expand its supply of captive orcas.
SeaWorld’s intent to force California taxpayers to pay for the entertainment company’s lawsuit to fight for captive breeding and its announcement about the revamped orca show in San Diego is also being accompanied by new messaging that largely co-opts language from the animal protection movement. Indeed, SeaWorld’s latest spin on its business concerns the “fundamental right[s]” and “humane” treatment of orcas while touting its role in “animal rescue.” SeaWorld’s rush to adapt its orca show and its messaging is truly an indication that the Blackfish effect is continuing to take a toll on the entertainment company. The company’s attendance and profits have plummeted, and rather than adapting its business model to an innovative vision that would reflect and respect public sentiments against the use of captive wildlife as profit-making tools, SeaWorld appears to be doubling down on a broken, exploitative, and inhumane business model.
Don’t buy the hype. While SeaWorld continues to give its exploitative entertainment model a makeover, ALDF is standing ready to pursue all available legal remedies against SeaWorld until the use of captive orcas is a relic of the past. And just last week, U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff (CA-Burbank) announced his intent to introduce the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (“ORCA”) Act, a federal bill that would prohibit the wild capture and captive propagation of orcas at all marine parks in the U.S. Stay tuned for updates!
Animal Law Conference Brings International Message to Sold Out Crowd
Posted by Liberty Mulkani, ALDF Event Coordinator on November 6, 2015
We recently drew the curtain on the 23rd annual Animal Law Conference, which welcomed a sold out crowd of attendees from across the globe to Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. The conference, a joint project of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Animal Law Studies and Lewis & Clark Law School’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter, presented a 2015 program that focused on animal law as an international movement. Experts joined us from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Japan, Kenya, Spain, Switzerland, Vietnam and Zimbabwe to impart the progress and challenges they face in their various countries as they work to protect and improve the laws for animals.
While the conference attracts legal practitioners, academics and non-profit employees, it also continues to grow in popularity with law students. This year over 40% of the attendees were law students and 27 different SALDF chapters received ALDF travel grants to help their members attend. These students had the opportunity to meet at two pre-conference gatherings: a SALDF Summit hosted by ALDF and a SALDF Happy Hour, which led into the Welcome Reception that all conference participants were invited to attend.
The Welcome Reception was capped with an energetic and enlightening keynote presentation by Dr. Alex Bruce, associate professor (and Buddhist monk) from Australia National University College of Law, about the rise of animal law in Australia. Part lecture part comedy skit, Dr. Bruce explored the growth of the field in Australia by highlighting initiatives in the legal, regulatory and academic sectors.
The remainder of the weekend took attendees around the world of animal issues, with a mix of plenaries, panels, roundtables and film screenings to choose from. Apart from litigation, legislation and academic updates we also heard from presenters leading grassroots animal protection initiatives, such as Izzie Lerer, PhD, founder and CEO of The Dodo who is using her online publication to influence meaningful changes for animals through viral media campaigns; Bryce Clemence, a ranger with the Environmental Stewardship Trust at the Savé Valley Conservancy, who trains and leads dangerous anti-poaching expeditions to protect Zimbabwe’s vulnerable animals; and Kartick Satyanarayan, CEO and founder of Wildlife SOS, who works tirelessly to rescue and protect India’s captive exotic animals and was responsible for ending bear dancing in his country.
We were also treated to an incredibly moving keynote presentation during the Saturday banquet dinner by Jill Robinson, founder and CEO of Animals Asia. Jill led us through the history of her organization, which over the past 17 years has recused over 500 bears from bear bile farms, has worked to end the trade in dogs and cats for food and has helped to improve the welfare of companion and captive animals in Asia. Jill shared both heartbreaking images and heartwarming videos of rescued animals. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house and Jill receive the hero’s applause she deserved.
As the conference concluded and everyone went their separate ways on Sunday afternoon, our planning crew was left to relish in the exciting connections we’d made and witnessed over the weekend. With everyone so busy with their personal cast of colleagues and pending task lists, it’s important to have a weekend to remember that our work really does extend beyond the scope of our desks, computers and cities. Thank you to everyone who shared this special weekend with us and to the sponsors who helped make this possible: Animal Protection and Rescue League, Texas Humane Legislation Network, Patricia Guter and Lucy Muller. We can’t wait to welcome you all back and to form new partnerships and connections at the 24th annual Animal Law Conference! Until the lights go up on next year’s event, you can keep in touch and updated on the latest details here or relive the memories from 2015 here.
Liberty Mulkani coordinates animal law events for the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Center for Animal Law Studies. Apart from her work in animal law, Liberty also holds a M.Ed. in humane education and is the President of the Vancouver Humane Society. Her next big project will take her to Harvard Law School, for the 13th annual National Animal Law Competitions.
Tyson, Repeat OSHA Violator, Gives its Workers Lip Service Instead of Safer Conditions
Posted by Stefanie Wilson, ALDF Litigation Fellow on November 4, 2015
Facing a federal inspection and public scrutiny after ALDF’s undercover investigator documented egregious violations of workplace health and safety regulations in one of its chicken slaughterhouses, Tyson Foods recently announced a “pilot project” to “improve workplace safety communication, awareness and practices.” Given the overwhelming evidence (such as the reports issued by Oxfam America, Human Rights Watch, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the GAO) that working conditions and line speeds in poultry slaughter and processing are cruel to workers and to animals, Tyson’s response—to improve communication—falls far short of meaningful reform.
Inside a Tyson Chicken Plant
In the summer of 2015, Autumn* worked in the “live hang” department of a Tyson poultry slaughter plant located in Carthage, Texas, while documenting numerous instances of animal cruelty, food safety violations, and workplace safety hazards.
She was put on the line after receiving no task-specific training. Just follow the other hangers, they told her. When the birds arrived, transport workers would dump them from crates onto the conveyor belt. As many as 150 chickens piled on top of one another. As the birds came down the line, she and her coworkers would frantically hang. Despite being in great physical shape, Autumn was unable to meet the grueling pace demanded by Tyson of hanging 35 live birds per minute. After just one week, she began suffering carpal tunnel syndrome in both of her wrists. The “protective” wear provided by Tyson did not prevent chicken feces, dirt, dust, and dander from getting into her eyes and mouth. She developed an eye infection, causing puss discharge from her eyes. She suffered cuts on her skin that became infected, and from extreme heat abrasion on both of her arms, which caused a painful, red rash.
Tyson Undeterred by Repeat Violations
Over the years, OSHA has repeatedly cited Tyson owned-and-operated slaughter and processing plants for the same basic safety violations. For example:
- In 2007, Tyson was cited for “serious, willful, [and] repeat” violations of safety and health standards such as slippery floors, an unguarded conveyor belt system, obstructed exits, and lack of employee training, among many others.
- In 2011, Tyson was cited for repeat and serious violations, including unguarded machinery and respiratory hazards.
- In 2012, Tyson was cited for willful violations after a mechanic was fatally crushed by the equipment he was working on. Violations included failure to provide protective equipment for working with chemicals, and to provide proper training.
- In 2013, Tyson was cited for repeat and serious violations for exposing workers to hazards such as falls, electrocution, burns, ammonia, and being caught in machinery.
- Less than a month later, another Tyson facility was cited for willful violations after a worker’s hand was caught in an unguarded conveyer belt and severed when it suddenly started as he was cleaning it. Violations also included failure to properly train on machinery lock out procedures.
As with these past citations, Autumn documented repeat violations at the Carthage plant where Tyson failed to provide protective gear and failed to properly train her before putting her in a highly dangerous job. Indeed, the same plant settled violation notices with OSHA in 2011 after OSHA documented nearly 100 incidences of inadequate eye and face protection.
There’s no doubt that meat and poultry processing is an inherently dangerous job, but the risk to workers is unjustifiable when it is the product of systemic corporate indifference to the welfare of its employees and disregard of the most basic, common sense precautions. Tyson’s workers deserve more than lip-service responses to well-documented dangers.
In response to ALDF’s complaint filed with OSHA documenting workplace safety violations at Tyson’s Carthage plant, the agency conducted an on-site inspection on September 21, 2015. At the time of this post, the agency’s findings have not yet been released publicly. ALDF will be following up on the complaint and inspection and has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the results of that inspection. A copy of ALDF’s complaint is available here.
* The investigator’s identity is protected for her safety.
Sentient Legislation: ALDF’s Canadian Province Rankings Motivate Change
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on October 21, 2015
In June 2015, ALDF released its eighth annual ranking of Canada’s provinces and territories based on the strength of their animal protection legislation. With Manitoba holding on to the top spot in the rankings, Nova Scotia showed the biggest yearly improvement, as stiffer maximum penalties for abusers were enacted and protections against abandonment and unsanitary captivity were advanced. At the same time, for the fourth year in a row, Quebec found itself listed at the bottom of the rankings alongside three other jurisdictions.
Animal advocates in Montreal were hopeful, however, as the broadcast of ALDF’s yearly rankings had drawn attention to Quebec’s status, with articles in multiple Canadian newspapers, Huffington Post Canada and elsewhere underscoring the issue.
Around this time, Bill 54, “An Act to Improve the Legal Situation of Animals,” was presented to the National Assembly by Quebec’s Minister of Agriculture. As described by Sophie Gaillard, an attorney and campaigns manager for the Montreal SPCA’s animal advocacy department, “The rankings played a key role in this bill coming forward. Basically all the animal advocacy groups in Quebec used the rankings as a tool to push at the legislative level, and the Minister of Agriculture saw Quebec being shamed as among the worst in Canada. The rankings were very significant.”
The new bill would legislate protection for a broader range of species, establish acknowledgement of psychological welfare for animals, and enact increased penalties, including jail time for repeat offenders. Bill 54 also includes a symbolic change to the legal status of animals under the Civil Code of Quebec, recognizing them as sentient beings distinct from inanimate objects. While certain animals, namely those in zoos or breeding facilities, would remain unaffected by this legislation, local advocates were optimistic—changes to provincial and territorial law carry tremendous weight in an environment where federal animal-protection law has been essentially unchanged since 1892.
On October 9, the National Assembly of Quebec moved unanimously to pass the bill in principle, with zero partisan discord. Quebec’s Minister of Agriculture pointed out that, while animals will still be legally considered property, the law will also view them as sentient beings with biological needs.
According to Gaillard, “He wanted Quebec to be known as a place that was harsh on animal abusers, and he held to his word. The bill has a component with new legislation that improves animal welfare, and an amendment to the civil code that would recognize animals as sentient beings. This has been done in some European countries, notably France, but we’d be the first in North America where that would be the case. This provision says that animals are different from property, and though all legal provisions that apply to property continue to apply to animals, it is very important symbolically.”
Still, Gaillard was emphatic regarding the further work to be done. “It will still keep Quebec at about seventh in the rankings, sort of in the middle. The legislation continues to exclude many species if they’re kept in captivity—so all wildlife in captivity, for instance, would still be essentially unprotected. Also, jail time becomes a possibility with this legislation, but only for repeat offenders. It is a huge improvement, but there is still more progress to make before we become the top province.”
Over the weekend, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Center for Animal Law Studies hosted the 23rd annual Animal Law Conference at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, and the focus was on international animal law. The success of ALDF’s Canadian rankings in helping to advance provincial laws in Canada demonstrates that ALDF and other US-based organizations can play a role in helping other countries advance the laws the protect animals. At the same time the US has a great deal to learn from countries that offer greater legal protection to animals than the US, particularly in the areas of farmed animals, animals used in experimentation, and great apes. Check out the conference line up and watch for my next Legally Brief blog when I’ll recap some of the highlights from the conference.