To Farm Animals’ Defense

By on March 17, 2008 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

The wheels of justice turn slowly, it’s said, but they still do turn. When The HSUS created its Animal Protection Litigation section in 2005 and brought on outstanding lawyers from all over the country to form what is now the nation’s largest animal protection litigation program, we knew we were bringing a tremendously enhanced capability to interpreting and enforcing laws to protect animals. But we knew that we’d have to exhibit patience and persistence, and exhibit both a strategic and opportunistic approach in our legal work. We’re now working on dozens of cases at any one time, and have racked up more than two dozen legal victories since 2005. Our recent lawsuit to keep sick and injured “downer” cattle out of the food supply may be getting the most attention right now, but recent pulses of action on two other major cases on our docket have been on my mind.

Breeding sow in gestation crate
© Farm Sanctuary

For nearly four years, The HSUS and other groups have invested in a legal battle in New Jersey to stop the systemic mistreatment of farm animals in that state. The case is built upon the state Legislature’s requirement, adopted in 1996, that the New Jersey Department of Agriculture develop "standards for the humane raising, keeping, care, treatment, marketing, and sale of domestic livestock." When the agency released its final regulations on the subject in June 2004, however, it specifically authorized many factory farming practices that are demonstrably cruel, declaring them "not inhumane," and sanctioning the very sorts of cruel confinement and deprivation that the New Jersey Legislature had sought to prevent.

Our argument, simply put, is that practices which are inhumane should not be endorsed simply because they are commonly employed by agribusiness interests. Confining calves raised for veal or breeding sows in enclosures so small they cannot even turn around is at odds with any commonsense notion of humane treatment. Colorado State University animal scientist and ethicist Bernie Rollin filed a “friend of the court” brief on our behalf in the case, and has aptly noted that "Common sense tells us that animals who are built to move need to move…"

The case was initially rejected by the lower courts, but our legal team kept at it, and in July of last year they convinced the New Jersey Supreme Court to hear the case. Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument from both sides, and a ruling is expected in the coming months.

The European Union is phasing out many of these cruel practices, and a number of states have recently taken action on HSUS-initiated reform efforts. Florida and Oregon have outlawed gestation crates, while Arizona has outlawed both gestation and veal crates. Last month, The HSUS and other groups submitted nearly 800,000 signatures in an effort to qualify an initiative petition for the November 2008 ballot to phase out the use of veal and gestation crates and battery cages. With major companies in different sectors of the food industry—including Smithfield Foods, Wolfgang Puck, and Compass Group—making major animal welfare pledges, the momentum is on the side of reform. New Jersey’s Supreme Court Justices would not be breaking new ground by ruling in our favor, but affirming a basic principle of decency in the care of animals raised for food.

The fight to get the New Jersey case all the way to the state Supreme Court is a good reminder of the importance of perseverance in our work, and the need to apply all the tools at our disposal—education, media, legislation, litigation, and others—to secure the reforms that animals so badly need.

Chickens confined in warehouse
© Compassion Over Killing

Not every fight will go our way, at least not initially. We suffer setbacks now and then when our education efforts do not immediately spur the public and corporations to reform, when our legislative initiatives fall achingly short of passage, or when courts refuse to see the law our way. That was the case on March 5, when a lower court judge ruled against us in a case we filed to bring poultry within the modest humane protections of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. This was a disappointment, because we had survived a December 2005 motion to dismiss the case, and because of the nearly 10 billion chickens and turkeys slaughtered each year who stand to benefit from the case.

We filed this suit because we believe that poultry, representing 95 percent of the animals used for food in the United States, plainly belong in the class of animals covered by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Right now, 50 years after passage of the Act, these animals don’t have any protection under federal law—and that’s just wrong. We’ll persevere in the case, and press ahead in advancing this needed reform—going back to Congress if necessary to correct this gap in the interpretation of this law. With our political team and our litigation unit, backed by a powerful membership 10.5 million strong, we not only have the strength to press ahead, but also the determination never to relent.


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