Recently, the Bard Center for Environmental Policy community had the exciting opportunity to hear firsthand what Pace University’s environmental law and animal rights scholar had to say about a proverbial hot button issue: factory farming.
Professor David Cassuto indeed provided his unique perspective on the matter: he presented a strong case for the integration between animal law and environmental law. In other words, animal law must not be siloed into its own category within the realm of law. Rather, the treatment of animals ought to be considered part of sectors such as property law (animals are property) and environmental law (animals are the environment). It seems obvious that the legal community ought to be more inclined to codify the protection of animal welfare. However, as Professor Cassuto poignantly illustrated, the factory farming industry has been successful at promoting a “deliberate indifference to life“, reducing animals into parts which are then sold into consumption.
Further, it would appear that even the laws on the books put in place to protect animals raised for slaughter are stacked in favor of the industry. Case in point being that the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958 excludes poultry, which just happen to make up 98% of the animals raised for consumption. How can a law fail to protect 98% of its constituents, you ask? Perhaps it has something to do with the political power wielded by the factory farming industry to skew the laws in their favor; that same clout is used to maintain the flow of government subsidies to prop up their operations. While careful not to point any fingers at his audience for their own eating habits, Cassuto did mention that the factory farming industry has veiled their deplorable practices through use of clever marketing tactics. Consumers, myself included, browse the meat department at their local grocery stores and read buzzwords such as “organic,” “cage-free,” “all natural,” and “hormone-free” on packages illustrated with a picture of a happy farmer standing amid his pastures of green grass and red barn. Although we all know that our food largely no longer originates from this idyllic setting, our society has a tendency to push the less savory images of factory farming practices out of mind when consuming meat products.
Professor Cassuto’s lecture connected the dots to reveal this above mentioned conundrum. How can I, as an enthusiastic champion for the environment, reconcile my omnivorous eating habits? I am not alone in this situation; at the beginning of his talk, Professor Cassuto shared with us a reoccurring experience he has had while attending international environmental conferences. After all the talk on how they were going to save the environment, these renowned environmentalists would partake in expansive dinners with meat as a main ingredient. Professor Cassuto has never and probably will never fathom how his counterparts can separate their academic morality from their personal habits. According to him, “we cannot address our global environmental crisis while abusing our fellow inhabitants with complete indifference.”
This message is especially important delivered to students of environmental policy. Individual consumer decisions to shift industrial farming practices are not enough; policy makers must intervene with expansive and effective rules to change how our food originates. While factory farming is certainly viewed as an environmental problem due to the pollutants emitted by its operations, we must also recognize the problems associated with animal treatment as an environmental issue. Policy makers need to stand up to the factory farming industry and issue regulations to protect animal welfare, people, and our Earth.
Thank you to Professor Cassuto for delivering an impactful and thought-provoking lecture.