Customary Cruelty in the Farm Industry: When Animal Abuse is Legal
Posted by Kelly Levenda, Staff Attorney on April 3, 2015
You would never keep your companion animal in a wire cage for her entire life, remove her tail with heated scissors, or kill her by smashing her head on the ground. But farmed animals suffer these abuses every day. Why is this conduct not illegal?
Farmed animals have very little legal protections from cruel treatment. Most state criminal anti-cruelty laws that seek to prohibit unnecessary animal suffering exempt all “customary farming practices.” These customary farming practices are not defined by the legislature, but are practices that the animal agriculture industry commonly uses when raising animals as food. This means essentially that lawmakers allow the industry to police itself, by deciding what practices are common, and therefore legal.
I studied animal science at a top agricultural science university in preparation for attending veterinary school (but I eventually attended law school to study animal law!) During my time as an undergraduate student, I experienced how agricultural science students are taught to raise animals, and I was appalled by what I learned and saw (which included many of the practices described below). I think you would also be appalled at the practices deemed common in the animal agriculture industry.
Intensive confinement of farmed animals is customary. Mother pigs are confined indefinitely in gestation and farrowing crates so small that they cannot turn around or lie down comfortably. Hens are confined in wire battery cages, where they cannot stretch or flap their wings. Calves raised for veal are kept for their whole, short, four-to-five month lives individually tied in stalls where they are unable to turn around. Animals suffer extreme mental distress and physical abuse when they are forced to live their lives in intensive confinement.
Farmed animals commonly have their bodies mutilated without being given pain-relieving drugs or anesthesia. Producers castrate male animals by slicing open their scrotum and ripping their testicles out. Cows’ and pigs’ tails and chickens’ beaks are cut off using a heated scissor-like tool. Cows and sheep have their horns removed by a hot iron, caustic chemicals, or a knife. Many farmers brand their animals for identification using a hot iron to burn an animal’s skin and cause a second or third degree burn. These bodily mutilations cause animals immense pain.
The “euthanasia” of farmed animals is routine in the animal agriculture industry. Male chicks, who are considered a waste product of the egg industry, are dumped, fully conscious, into meat grinders and piglets are killed by smashing their skulls on the ground.
Calves born to cows used by humans for their milk are dragged away from their mothers immediately after they are born. This forceful separation is traumatic and causes severe stress for both the mother and calf. Mother cows will frantically search and call for their babies.
Because these practices are commonly used by the animal agriculture industry, they are often legal in the eyes of the law. The Animal Legal Defense Fund fights for more effective laws to protect farmed animals, and to enforce the few weak laws that do exist. If you are an attorney, you can join our fight by joining the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s pro bono network. If you are a student, you can bring awareness to these issues by volunteering at a farmed animal sanctuary or implementing Meatless Mondays in your cafeteria. If you don’t support these practices, stand up for farmed animals by adopting a compassionate, plant-based diet.
The Friendly Faces of Farmed Animals
Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on April 3, 2015
Today’s Speak Out for Farmed Animals challenge is to share the cutest picture of a farmed animal on social media! Don’t forget to use the tag #SpeakOut!
Animal advocates are rarely born. Our concern for other animals is natural, but over the years, social norms and customs that don’t consider animals’ interests take over. For most of us, we were raised thinking the exploitation of animals, particularly farmed animals, is normal.
This was the case for my brother and me. We loved dogs and cats and horses and rabbits with abandon, as children. Added to that, I always loved wolves and coyotes, chimpanzees, and gorillas. And I had an affinity for the whole animal world, from prehistoric dinosaurs to the farmed animals I saw around me in the heart of California’s dairy farms. I stopped eating animals at the age of 20, when I put the pieces together. Only later did I learn about the devastating environmental impact and health nightmares caused by animal agriculture.
But my brother’s story was different—and perhaps even more common. For years, he watched his big sister advocate for animals, and when it came to working with dogs, he supported me. As a professional athlete, he began to consider a plant-based diet after learning about the health benefits of cutting out saturated animal fats, and foods laden with GMOs, antibiotics, and other chemicals necessary to contain the spread of disease that always lingers in industrial animal agriculture. After a few years, he started to get really mad about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture on the planet, especially after he learned about ag gag laws that infringe on our constitutional rights.
Always an animal lover himself, things really clicked together when he had children. What messages did he want to pass along to his progeny about compassion and how to be in the world with others? If the family loved the dog so much—a sweet pit bull named Mary—and could never bear to see her suffer, why should compassion end there?
Since then, my brother has become an animal advocate, and I’m proud of him and his children. He recently took his young family to a local animal sanctuary called Animal Place, located in Grass Valley, California. They spent time petting cows and pigs and learning about hens and their highly social behavior. The challenge was, after seeing these animals as individuals as colorful and alive and sentient as their pup, could they eat animals again? The answer was a resounding “no.” He posted that challenge on Facebook and asked people who consume animal products, merely because it is what they’ve always done, to visit an animal sanctuary and see if that impacts the way they view animals and the choices they make about contributing to the industry that by the sheer numbers causes the most animal suffering bar none.
We have some other great stories about happy, rescued farmed animals from ALDF staff:
- Read ALDF Founder Joyce Tischler’s story about turkeys and Farm Sanctuary.
- Read ALDF Senior Attorney Matthew Liebman’s story about Farm Sanctuary’s Country Hoe Down.
- Read ALDF staff Kelly Levenda and Nicole Pallotta’s story about the Wildwood Farm Sanctuary.
Share your cute photos of “farmed” animals on ALDF’s Facebook and Twitter and Instagram! #speakout
Breeding Facility Forces Illegal, Gruesome Surgeries on Pregnant Monkeys at Florida Compound
Posted by Kelsey Eberly, ALDF Litigation Fellow on April 2, 2015
In experiments that sound straight out of the dark ages, Hendry County, Florida’s Primate Products, a monkey-breeding facility supposed to be restricted to breeding monkeys, has instead been performing crude surgeries on pregnant animals for profit. The whistle on these horrifying and illegal mutilations has been blown by former Primate Products vet tech David Roebuck. In a local news station exposé, Roebuck alleged that workers at the facility—not licensed veterinarians trained to perform surgeries—were cutting fetuses out of pregnant monkeys so that the company could sell the dead fetuses and the lactating mothers’ milk to pharmaceutical companies.
Roebuck, who quit in disgust after just two days, saw deep freezers filled with the dead fetuses’ freeze-dried organs. He reported that Primate Products had contracts with several biopharmaceutical companies to sell the organs and milk.
Hendry County is ground zero in ALDF’s legal battle on behalf of local residents demanding public input before yet another primate compound goes up in their backyards. In 2014, the county improperly shut landowners and citizens out of the decision-making process, in violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law, when it approved the construction of a new primate facility behind closed doors. The county argues that, like Primate Products, the facility known only as “SoFlo Ag” qualifies as “agriculture” and thus, requires no public notice or meeting under County zoning rules.
Hendry County is poised to address Primate Products’ disturbing departure from the zoning code this week. But it begs the question, does primate organ harvesting at a compound servicing the biopharmaceutical industry sound anything like “agriculture” to you? ALDF and concerned residents emphatically say, “NO!”
Despite growing public outrage and objections from local leaders, Hendry County has never addressed residents’ concerns regarding SoFlo Ag’s threats to their safety, public health, property values, and the character of their neighborhoods—threats worsened by the recent news of a biohazard breach involving the spread of deadly bacteria at another high-security federal primate compound in nearby Louisiana.
Hendry County’s flimsy promise to citizens that no research will be conducted at the SoFlo Ag facility rings hollow in light of the Primate Products revelations. If the County doesn’t even know what is going on at its oldest and most established primate “breeding” facility, what assurance can residents have that it is equipped to police the activities of a shadowy shell company whose owners’ true identity is apparently unknown even to county officials, let alone to the neighbors who would be forced to live next door to SoFlo Ag’s new monkey compound?
And organ-selling or not, these facilities are not agriculture and do not belong in the backyards of quiet rural communities. ALDF will be further investigating Primate Products’ horrific and cruel activities, and will continue to fight on behalf of local residents for transparency about what’s really going on with innocent animals in their own backyards.
Legally Brief: ALDF Leads the Way in Farmed Animal Litigation
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on April 2, 2015
Over the years, ALDF has filed some of the most innovative lawsuits in history against the animal agricultural industry. During ALDF’s Speak Out for Farmed Animals Week, I’d like to share some of our greatest hits in litigation aimed at protecting farmed animals from harm and changing the laws that allow the horror of factory farming to continue.
Here are highlights:
- Just today, ALDF sent a formal request to federal agencies under the federal Freedom of Information Act, seeking records regarding the data used to form the National Action Plan for Combatting Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. ALDF is concerned there was inadequate study of the abuse of antibiotics by animal agriculture, which has been linked with antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” This follows our 2013 petition to the USDA to properly label meat and poultry from animals fed dangerous sub-therapeutic antibiotics.
- March 2015: California appellate court rejects Napa restaurant’s attempt to flout foie gras ban and further establishes that animal advocates have legal standing to stop violations of the law.
- October 2014: ALDF files first-of-its-kind petition for rulemaking with the California Air Resources Board, calling on that agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from factory farms, as it does for the energy and transportation industries.
- March 2014: ALDF and a broad-based coalition of public interest groups file a lawsuit against the state of Idaho, challenging the constitutionality of its ag gag statute. This lawsuit—and the nation’s first lawsuit challenging an ag gag law, against the state of Utah—has survived every motion to dismiss, and a decision is forthcoming.
- February 2014: ALDF wins a victory for hens and for consumers by successfully settling a false advertising lawsuit against a Bay Area egg producer. As a result, the producer changes its misleading advertising and pays $44,000 split equally between the Sonoma Humane Society, Public Justice Foundation, and Consumer Action.
- August 2013: ALDF successfully settles its landmark false advertising lawsuit against the largest foie gras producer in the nation, leading the company to remove “humane” descriptions from its products, and extends standing for animal advocates and humane producers to bring lawsuits.
- July 2013: ALDF’s lawsuit against a California restaurant for violating the ban on force-fed foie gras moves forward when the court agrees with ALDF’s position, affirms the merits of our case, and denies the restaurant’s anti-SLAPP motion.
- July 2013: Tyson Foods makes substantial changes to its website after ALDF submits a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission challenging Tyson’s deceptive animal welfare claims.
- July 2013: ALDF sues Cal Expo and the University of California for mistreating pregnant and nursing pigs at the California state fair. An appeal is filed in February 2014.
- December 2012: ALDF, along with Center for Food Safety, files a petition with the Food and Drug Administration calling for an immediate reduction in allowable levels of ractopamine, a dangerous and controversial animal feed additive which is already banned or partially restricted in nearly 160 countries, including China, Russia, and all the nations of the European Union.
- June 2012: ALDF and Compassion Over Killing lawsuit settlement shuts down the abusive Santa Cruz-based Cal-Cruz Hatchery. The settlement marks the first time animal cruelty issues are resolved using California’s Business and Professions Code.
- May 2012: ALDF files historic lawsuit on behalf of three animal sanctuaries in the largest farmed animal rescue in California history, after Turlock-based A & L Poultry abandoned 50,000 hens without food and left them to die. This lawsuit is successfully settled in 2014.
- May 2012: ALDF and coalition file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against the USDA for violating the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act by allowing the sale of adulterated poultry in the form of foie gras. The case would end foie gras production in the U.S., and is currently on appeal with the Ninth Circuit.
Want to support ALDF and cutting-edge lawsuits like these?
- Join the more than over 40,000 people who have signed ALDF’s petition, Protect the Right to Free Speech: Stop Ag Gag, and share on social media!
- Sign a Change.org petition demanding that meat from animals fed antibiotics be clearly labeled.
- Become a member of ALDF and help us fight for justice for farmed animals.
The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals
Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on April 1, 2015
James McWilliams’ new book, The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals, is an ethical consideration of the reality of animal agriculture. And the reality is cruelty to animals exists on smaller, so-called “humane” farms as well as on industrial-scale “factory farms.” Compassionate omnivores may wish to believe otherwise—and that desire is targeted by phrases like “cage-free,” “free range,” “grass-fed,” “local,” “organic,” “sustainable,” which are co-opted by the animal ag industry. These labels deceive conscientious consumers and reinforce the dominance of the industry, rather than undermine it. The Modern Savage challenges these notions about eating animals at a fundamental level.
Researching and writing about contemporary food trends for 10 years, Professor McWilliams has seen a groundswell of resistance toward industrial animal agriculture. “That’s a positive development,” he explains, “but to really take on the industry you have to take on the idea of eating animals.” McWilliams is a professor at Texas State University, San Marcos, and has a Ph.D. in history from Johns Hopkins University. He is a long-time journalist and runs the acclaimed blog Eating Plants.
McWilliams explains that people buy into the hype of sustainable alternatives through slick “greenwashing” marketing campaigns. A recent commercial series from McDonald’s, “Loving is Local,” waxes nostalgic, using the backdrop of Petaluma, California, a historic town near ALDF’s national headquarters. Images of quaint small-town life, a shopkeeper sweeping his sidewalk, and rolling green hills, promote McDonald’s’ colossal-scale corporate produced animal products. Yet McDonald’s is the antithesis of local: the franchise sells animal products trucked in from thousands of miles away, and boasts of serving “billions” around the world, with twice as many outlets outside the U.S. as within.
The sustainable movement’s mythology also “allows for favoring soil over sentience,” McWilliams notes. “These sustainable ideas are in no way radical because they won’t make the radical leap of taking on animal agriculture. What they become is a marketing arm for industrial agriculture.”
The Modern Savage turns Michael Pollan’s famous work The Omnivore’s Dilemma on its head. Instead, James McWilliams refers to the “omnivore’s contradiction.” How is it, he asks, that advocates of so-called “humane” meat “justify on the one hand the restructuring of agriculture to accommodate an animals’ interests and then on the other hand slaughter the animal?”
In this way, The Modern Savage lodges a fatal blow at smaller-scale farms and backyard butchering. Amateur farmers can be incompetent, and McWilliams presents horrific evidence of botched slaughters.
One of the most dramatic examples is adopting pigs as pets while voicing a fetish for bacon. “This cognitive dissonance obscures the obvious moral contradiction,” McWilliams says. Another example is the terminology used to describe bunnies: “pet” rabbits and “meat” rabbits. “We use language to create false dichotomies and fool ourselves with our own rhetoric. It’s inconvenient to question that.” But, “when it comes to raising animals as food, this means turning an emotional being into an object.”
McWilliams is one of several plaintiffs in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s groundbreaking lawsuit against the state of Idaho’s unconstitutional ag gag statute. This law aims to prevent the documentation of illegal animal abuse on factory farms, and exposés by investigative journalists like McWilliams. In fact, that transparency—so feared by the industry—is what compassionate consumers want most.
Want to read more of The Modern Savage? Enter ALDF’s free giveaway contest by filling out this form—two lucky winners will be chosen at random to receive a copy of this book along with some ALDF goodies!
Keep the conversation going, and share your questions and comments on Goodreads!
Speak Out for Farmed Animals in Your Community
Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on April 1, 2015
Want to speak out for farmed animals directly to your community? Letters to the editor are a powerful way to make your voice for heard within your larger community. These letters are one of the most widely-read sections of the newspaper. Elected officials often take notice of public opinion.
Visit ALDF’s Letter to the Editor Action Center—our personalized online resource helps you easily connect with local newspapers in your area!
For example, ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells, wrote a letter to the editor about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s failure to regulate slaughterhouses that appeared in a local paper.
EDITOR: As noted in Tuesday’s paper, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has refused to respond to reports of an intimate relationship between a USDA inspector and a Petaluma slaughterhouse employee (“Answers sought in Rancho closure”). Early this year, federal regulators ordered a nationwide recall of 8.7 million pounds of beef from the Rancho Feeding Corp., and they shut the facility down in February. Although Reps. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, have called on the USDA to provide answers, the agency is using the cover of “pending investigation” to shroud itself in secrecy.
Unfortunately, the animal agriculture industry regularly colludes with government agencies including the USDA to hide operations from the public. Meanwhile, the understaffed USDA often fails to enforce the law, putting the public at grave risk. That’s why the Cotati-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, supported by a broad coalition of public interest groups, filed the nation’s first lawsuits against state “ag gag” laws (in Idaho and Utah) that silence whistleblowers on factory farms and slaughterhouses. The industry talks about transparency while shutting the public out at every opportunity. Taxpayers deserve some answers.
Executive Director, Animal Legal Defense Fund
If you’d like to speak out for farmed animals, here are suggested topics to consider:
- Encourage your community, workplaces, and schools to try Meatless Mondays.
- Raise awareness in your community about the dangers of ag gag.
- Encourage your legislators to pass expansions of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
- Challenge notions of “humane” meat and backyard farming with crucial facts.
- Encourage lawmakers to hold food producers accountable to truth-in-advertising.
- Volunteer at a farmed animal sanctuary in your area and share your story!
- Ask your legislators to make sure agencies regulate air and water polluted by factory farms.
Working Together to Combat Factory Farming: ALDF’s Los Angeles Animal Law Symposium
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, ALDF Student Programs Coordinator on March 31, 2015
On Saturday, March 28, more than 150 attorneys, law students, and animal advocates came together to attend the first symposium of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Los Angeles regional attorney network, where top experts discussed legal and grassroots strategies to challenge the harmful impacts of factory farming on animals, humans, and the environment. The sold-out event took place at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, and was co-hosted by USC’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapter.
The day began by addressing the suffering of animals in factory farms; with almost every natural instinct denied to them, these sensitive, sentient beings experience what ALDF director of litigation Carter Dillard called “psychological torture.” And the torment is not only psychological: customary farming practices, exempt from most anti-cruelty laws and defined by the industry itself, involve mutilating animals’ bodies with no pain relief. No federal laws govern the conditions in which farmed animals are raised.
After Pamela Hart, ALDF Animal Law Program director, gave an overview of these practices, Carter spoke about ways to combat common hurdles to using litigation on behalf of animals in factory farms. ALDF director of legislative affairs Chris Green gave an update on anti-whistle-blower ag gag legislation and other relevant federal and state laws.
Next, ALDF manager of investigations TJ Tumasse spoke of the routine abuse he witnessed as an undercover investigator in factory farms and slaughterhouses, being sure to remind the audience that the abhorrent treatment he saw every day represented the inherent cruelty of the industry, rather than the actions of a few “bad apple” workers (although he also witnessed individual acts of cruelty against helpless animals all too often). When he talked about newborn piglets entering the world “in a state of what could only be described as jubilation,” only to have their world shortly dissolve into terror and pain upon meeting their first human, many were fighting back tears.
Still drying my tears, I found Beyond Meat CEO and co-founder Ethan Brown’s keynote presentation inspiring and uplifting. He talked about his company’s mission to use technology and innovation to help animals by creating better plant-based “meat” products that will revolutionize the future of food and replace animal agriculture. With investors like Bill Gates, Beyond Meat’s future—and the possibility of animal-free meat products that will save animals, the environment, and our health—looks bright.
Afternoon panelists addressed the environmental devastation caused by factory farms, human health risks posed by food borne pathogens and overuse of antibiotics, and possible avenues to effect positive change on both these wide fronts. Investigative journalist Will Potter closed the day with a keynote address about his mission to inform people of the reality of factory farms—compared to persistent cultural myths about farming—through his reporting. A networking reception followed the symposium, allowing attendees (which included student representatives from at least 10 different SALDF chapters) to continue the conversation.
Attendees left the symposium armed with new knowledge, strategies, and connections, and we look forward to having more events like this in the future. One of the most important messages of the day was that various constituencies can, and must, work together to combat factory farms. Due to the vast scope of the problem and its wide-ranging impacts, a multi-pronged and collaborative approach is absolutely necessary to dismantle the structure of industrial animal agriculture. Factory farming is a formidable foe, but we must continue our fight. The animals are depending on us.
Undercover Investigations Help Protect Farmed Animals
Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on March 31, 2015
Undercover investigations at factory farms are central to building cases against animal abusers and those who profit from the exploitation of animals. Evidence obtained from undercover investigations has been used by prosecutors and law enforcement and led to criminal prosecutions. Investigations have also led to massive food recalls after food safety violations were documented. And in other cases, investigations have inspired the passage of humane laws.
Meet T.J. Tumasse, ALDF’s manager of investigations for our brand new investigations unit. For years, T.J. did what most people couldn’t stomach for a day or even an hour—he went undercover on factory farms and slaughterhouses to gather evidence of illegal animal cruelty, and helped secure a felony animal cruelty conviction for an animal abuser.
As T.J. knows, animal abuse on factory farms doesn’t come down to a few bad apples—though the industry would like us to believe that. The abuse of animals on factory farms is standard industry practice; that’s why they want to keep it secret, and that’s why we need undercover investigators. We won’t let these abusers break the law and shut the public out.
Here’s how you can take action for farmed animals during Speak Out for Farmed Animals Week:
- Watch and share ALDF’s video on social media.
- Join the more than over 40,000 people who have signed ALDF’s petition, Protect the Right to Free Speech: Stop Ag Gag, and share on social media!
- Want more info on how to go veg? Check out ALDF’s Cruelty-Free Resource Guide.
Check back in tomorrow for more ways you can speak out for farmed animals.
Speak Out for Farmed Animals Week!
Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on March 30, 2015
Today marks the beginning of Speak Out for Farmed Animals Week, ALDF’s national week of action aimed at drawing attention to the plight of farmed animals who are raised and slaughtered for their flesh. Across the country, advocates are joining in the campaign. What will you do to help?
Animal lovers advocate for all animals. We protect the dogs and cats and bunnies and horses we share our daily lives with and respect the wild animals whose mysterious, autonomous lives ask us to leave them alone. We also speak up for the billions of cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, and turkeys we call farmed animals.
Where the law fails them, the Animal Legal Defense Fund works hard to close loopholes, enforce protection laws, and create better, more effective laws. But you might be shocked to learn just how much the law fails farmed animals and how much we’ve got our work cut out for us.
- No federal laws govern the condition in which farmed animals are raised.
- And most state anti-cruelty laws exempt farmed animals from criminal statutes of protection.
Animals suffer unspeakable cruelty in industrial agriculture (“factory farms”) and on smaller farms, too. When it comes to the law, farmed animals are vulnerable, unprotected, and exploited as the meat, dairy, and egg industries trade horrific cruelty for high profits. This is also true at facilities that take advantage of well-meaning consumers by calling themselves “humane.”
Investigations and industry whistle-blowers have revealed abuse so horrific most people can’t stomach even hearing about it. The horrors revealed by undercover investigations are the number one reason people give for not consuming animal products. After seeing what these animals go through, many people choose not to contribute to the problem.
Farmed animals can’t speak up for themselves. Their suffering is hidden behind closed doors to shield industry from public outrage. These animals are closely quartered, kept in filth, tortured, sliced, diced, and served up like objects, and they deserve all of us to speak up for them and demand better laws.
- 10 billion farmed animals are raised and slaughtered in the U.S. alone, every year.
- 55 billion land animals are killed globally by animal agriculture.
- As the Earth’s population explodes, these numbers could double by the end of the century.
Now more than ever, it is time for us to speak out for farmed animals. What will you do to help? Tell us on social media and #SpeakOut for farmed animals today—and spread the word through ALDF’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.
Ideas for today:
- Purchase ALDF’s Farmed Animals and the Law brochure to hand out in your community.
- Encourage your coworkers, family, and friends to celebrate Meatless Mondays.
- Need pointers? Check out ALDF’s Cruelty-Free Resource Guide.
- Check back in throughout the week for more ways you can speak out for farmed animals.
Army Corps to Blow Cormorants Out of the Sky—Can You Help?
Posted by Kelsey Eberly, ALDF Litigation Fellow on March 24, 2015
On Friday, March 20, the Army Corps of Engineers announced its final decision to go forward with a “management plan” that calls for the slaughter of nearly 11,000 double-crested cormorants and the destruction of over 26,000 cormorant nests on East Sand Island, at the mouth of the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River. The Audubon Society of Portland has been tracking this lethal control plan since it was first announced, commenting during the environmental review, spreading the word, and mobilizing bird lovers to speak out against it.
If you are a lover of the Columbia River’s birds, the Animal Legal Defense Fund needs your help in putting a stop to this slaughter.
The cormorants will be blown out of the sky with shotguns and shot at close range with rifles as they glide over the water, gathering food for their hatchlings on the island. All told, the federal government’s plan calls for mowing down more than half of East Sand Island’s cormorants—the largest colony of these birds in the western United States. This represents the killing of 15% of the entire population west of the Rockies.
The Corps’ plan is a misguided and scientifically suspect attempt to mitigate the precipitous decline of protected salmon species in the region. Rather than attack the root causes of salmon loss—habitat loss, over development, and the Corps’ own management of the Columbia River Hydropower System—the federal government has scapegoated the birds for doing what comes naturally: eating fish.
During the environmental review process, the Corps received over 145,000 comments opposing its lethal management plan, with over 98% of commenters voicing opposition to lethal control. ALDF joined this chorus, calling on the Corps to thoroughly analyze the panoply of human-caused impacts on salmon populations, and to engage in a bioethical review of how to manage the bird and fish species.
However, despite this overwhelming public opposition, and the lack of any scientific basis for the hypothesis that blasting cormorants out of the sky will lead salmon populations to rebound, the Corps’ lethal management plan is moving forward. Their narrow-minded calculation pits one protected species against another in a zero-sum game. That’s not conservation; it’s a massacre.
ALDF is calling for the planned slaughter of cormorants to be halted—and we need your help to hold the Corps accountable. Are you a bird-lover or bird-watcher? Have you visited the area and seen the cormorants in the Columbia River estuary? If so, please contact ALDF immediately, at email@example.com.
Lolita’s Safety and Well-Being Leads Advocates to Appeal to Court for Her Protection
Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on March 24, 2015
On behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA, and Orca Network, animal law attorneys will be in court today to advocate for Lolita, a lonely orca trapped in the smallest orca tank in North America, at the infamous Miami Seaquarium. The Seaquarium has blatantly violated the federal Animal Welfare Act, which governs protections for Lolita. Yet its license has been rubber-stamped repeatedly despite the illegal and wretched conditions in which Lolita is held. She is trapped in the equivalent of a bathtub, year after year, with no orca companion or shelter from the sun and other weather conditions.
Today, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami will hear oral argument in the groups’ lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for renewing the Seaquarium’s license despite knowing that the facility is perpetually in violation of at least three regulations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. The groups’ lawsuit against the USDA was dismissed in March 2014. An appeal was filed last June.
The law is certainly on Lolita’s side. She is not only protected by the Animal Welfare Act, but also the Endangered Species Act. In February 2015, advocates cheered when the National Marine Fisheries Service, as a result of a petition by ALDF, PETA, and Orca Network, granted Lolita the same protections under the Endangered Species Act that protect her family in the wild. Yet she is still swimming endless circles in the pathetic conditions at the Seaquarium.
Despite the legal protection Lolita is entitled to under the Animal Welfare Act, however, the USDA has failed to enforce the law.
What does this mean for Lolita? It means our government is allowing the Seaquarium to abuse an endangered species, by rubber-stamping the park’s license no matter what conditions Lolita suffers, or how many times the park breaks the law.
Lolita was originally kidnapped from her family in the horrific 1970 Penn Cove roundup in Puget Sound. In the wild, orcas spend their entire lives with their mothers. Lolita’s mother still thrives in a seaside sanctuary off the coast of Washington, waiting for her daughter to come home. Instead, the Miami Seaquarium forces her to entertain crowds in a shallow and barren tank that doesn’t come anywhere close to the minimum requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. She has been exploited in these inhumane conditions for 45 years.
It is well past time for Lolita’s suffering to come to an end, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund will continue to speak up for Lolita. Stay tuned for updates in our Lolita timeline, and read more about Lolita’s plight in her ALDF feature story.
ALDF LL.M. Scholar Award
Posted by Pamela D Hart, Director of Animal Law Program on March 20, 2015
The Animal Legal Defense Fund and Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) are pleased to announce the ALDF LL.M. Scholar Award. The award provides tuition assistance toward the Animal Law LL.M. degree at Lewis & Clark Law School—the first and only postgraduate law degree program focused specifically on animal law.
In 2008, the Animal Legal Defense Fund entered into an exciting collaboration with Lewis & Clark Law School to launch the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark. As a result of this collaboration, CALS has educated and supported law students and legal professionals in the rapidly developing field of animal law through classes, conferences, scholarships, and clinical opportunities.
The milestones that have been achieved at CALS have been nothing short of incredible, from the appointment of the first animal law dean to hiring the first full-time faculty member dedicated to an animal law clinic. These “firsts” complement an already impressive list of pioneering accomplishments at Lewis & Clark, including the formation of the first Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapter, the first academic animal law conference, the first animal law journal, the first national animal law competitions, and launching of the first Animal Law LL.M. (Master of Laws) program in the world. The ALDF LL.M. Scholar Award is another of these “firsts” in support of the field of animal law.
ALDF has a longstanding commitment to animal legal education, and providing CALS with the funds to offer this new LL.M. award to an exceptional U.S. applicant is the next step in its continued support. This award is open to any recent law graduate or practicing attorney looking to immerse completely in specialized animal law courses. Whether your goal is to pursue teaching, build relationships within the animal law community, or work for an international animal welfare nonprofit, the LL.M. program is customizable to meet your educational and career goals.
Humane Education and the Future of Compassion
Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on March 19, 2015
Humane education is one way the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system can reach future generations. For example, at law schools across the nation, Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapters (SALDF) do tremendous work in the field of animal law. But for younger children, and potential future SALDF members, HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers) initiates compassionate thinking about animals, and how they can be protected through the legal system. HEART’s brand-new resource guide aims to do just that.
Why is humane education so important? “Integrating humane education into the curriculum helps develop a culture of compassion,” says Meena Alagappan executive director of HEART. “Cultivating empathy in children is an effective way to prevent later violence toward animals,” she says. HEART is a national nonprofit that fosters compassion and respect for all living beings and the environment through empowering schoolchildren.
Each HEART lesson is designed by educational experts to provide age-appropriate ways to engage children with issues of compassion. With younger children, Meena notes, “it’s about getting them to relate to animals by understanding our similarities and learning interesting facts about the animals.”
Consider companion animal issues like abusive puppy mill breeding facilities and overcrowded shelters. In upper elementary math classes, HEART’s lessons help students measure how many animals result from one un-spayed dog and her mate in just two years—more than 600 puppies! Studying that exponential growth reinforces math skills while driving home the importance of animal protection laws. “Teachers love these activities,” Meena says, “because they help satisfy mandated learning standards and allow students to become more informed and responsible members of society.”
HEART’s 160-page compassionate resource guide includes 40 fun and memorable lessons like these for children in grades K-12. Lessons can be conducted in school or outside the classroom, at community centers, libraries, or camps. “We designed the curriculum with self-contained, accessible activities, so it’s suitable for not only teachers, but also concerned citizens who don’t have a formal background in teaching,” Meena explains.
“Behind Closed Doors” is a middle school lesson that engages students with the lives of egg-laying hens who are intensely confined in “battery cages.” Students compare the basic needs of dogs and cats with the needs of farmed animals and learn what “factory farm” means for chickens. Students are then given the opportunity to consider a law that would allow for larger cages for hens. They use their own critical thinking skills to present arguments and decide for themselves, as if they are members of Congress. These lessons also encourage civic participation in animal law issues. Students receive the core, empowering message that they can make a difference in the lives of animals.
Meena Alagappan was formerly the chair of the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee and the NYC Bar Association’s Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals. She was educated at Cornell University, Northwestern Law School, and Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.
ALDF Speaks Up for Elephants at Woodland Park Zoo
Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on March 17, 2015
Elephants Bamboo and Chai are suffering immensely in the Seattle-based Woodland Park Zoo. That’s why, today, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (with the pro bono assistance of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher) submitted a friend of the court brief in support of the right of Seattle taxpayers to see records about the conditions in which the elephants at Woodland Park Zoo are kept. Open records lawsuits are crucial to safeguarding the ability of the public to advocate for and protect animals in captivity.
ALDF’s amicus brief comes after a trial court denied a Seattle taxpayer these records. The trial court held the taxpayer was not entitled to the records because the zoo is not performing a governmental function, despite the fact that it receives millions of tax dollars every year from the city to operate the zoo. ALDF’s brief argues that the zoo is subject to the state’s Public Records Act as a government-funded entity.
The public has been increasingly outraged by conditions of captivity at the zoo. Last year, Watoto, a 45-year old African elephant, was euthanized after keepers found her suffering from arthritis so badly she couldn’t move to an upright position. Harmful management, longstanding neglect, and inhumane breeding practices have hurt elephants like Bamboo, Watoto, and Chai. These elephants suffer severe and chronic foot and joint problems, unexplained bleeding, and psychological damage.
Elephants are sensitive, intelligent, family-oriented, and social, and require wide expanses for their well-being. But that’s not what they get at the Woodland Park Zoo. Chai has been treated like a breeding machine: inseminated over 100 times, her only live birth, Hansa, died at just six years old. Chai and her fellow pachyderm prisoners demonstrate severe psychological suffering, compounded by pathetically small enclosures that prevent them from engaging in many natural behaviors.
For more than a century, the zoo used taxpayer dollars to support the cruel treatment of animals. The zoo’s origins lie in Seattle’s 1899 purchase of 200 acres on the southwest shore of Green Lake. From the beginning, the zoo has been fundamentally beholden to the people of Seattle. In 2010, ALDF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Seattle taxpayers against the zoo for cruel treatment of elephants. That lawsuit was dismissed by the court on standing, a procedural ground—but the court expressed concern about holding elephants captive and did not exonerate the zoo’s treatment of the elephants.
As cities begin to partially privatize their zoos, taxpayers risk losing their right to know how animals are treated in these facilities. This threat to transparency undermines public records laws, as ALDF argues in its brief. The Woodland Park Zoo has announced it will send the zoo’s two surviving elephants to the Oklahoma City Zoo—against the wishes of Seattle taxpayers, the majority of the city council, and the mayor, who all want to see Bamboo and Chai retired to a reputable sanctuary.
2nd Annual Siskiyou Prize for Animal & Environmental Literature
Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on March 11, 2015
Attention all authors, aspiring writers, and book lovers! One of our favorite presses, Ashland Creek Press—independent publishers of animal-themed and environmental-themed books—is announcing the 2nd annual Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature. Ashland Creek has brought us books featured in the Animal Book Club like The Tourist Trail by John Yunker, Among Animals, and our recently reviewed Love & Ordinary Creatures, a novel by Gwyn Hyman Rubio.
The 2nd annual Siskiyou Prize will be awarded for an unpublished, book-length work of prose with environmental themes. This includes novels, memoirs, short story collections, and essay collections. Manuscripts are due September 1, 2015. The winner will receive $1,000, a four-week residency at PLAYA, and an offer of publication by Ashland Creek Press.
For this prize, “new environmental literature” refers to literary works that focus on the environment, animal protection, ecology, and wildlife. As book club members and ALDF supporters know, ALDF’s work on the overlap between animal protection and conservation efforts is strong. The links between animal agriculture, overpopulation, climate change, and habitat destruction form the basis of much of ALDF’s recent work, as well as our lawsuits to stop environmentally destructive and cruel wildlife killing contests, and our legal work to protect endangered species of birds, wolves, and marine mammals.
The Siskiyou Prize is named for the Klamath-Siskiyou region of northern California and southern Oregon, one of the most diverse eco-regions in the world. Considered a global center of biodiversity, the Klamath-Siskiyou region is an inspiring example of the importance of preservation. The prize seeks work that redefines our notions of environmentalism and sustainability, particularly when it comes to animal protection. The award will not go to books that support hunting, fishing, or eating animals. Under these basic guidelines, the prize is open to a wide range of writing with environmental and animal themes.
Prize judge Ann Pancake’s first novel, Strange as This Weather Has Been (Counterpoint 2007), features a southern West Virginia family devastated by mountaintop removal mining. Based on interviews and real events, the novel was one of Kirkus Reviews’s Top Ten Fiction Books of 2007, won the 2007 Weatherford Award, and was a finalist for the 2008 Orion Book Award. You can read about last year’s winner, selected by bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler, here. Karen’s amazing book We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves will feature in an Animal Book Club giveaway and review next month!