Agricultural Animals and Animal Law


The Michigan Law Review’s companion journal First Impressions this week published an online symposium on Agricultural Animals and Animal Law.

The largest meat recall in U.S. history this February catalyzed debate on the treatment of animals in agriculture. Video of agricultural workers forcing “downer” cattle to slaughter at a California meat packing facility prompted criminal sanctions in that case. On the other side of the country, the New Jersey Supreme Court will consider this term whether regulations promulgated pursuant to a law mandating humane treatment of farm animals go far enough. The regulations reportedly do not prohibit castrating male piglets without anesthesia, removing chicken beaks and turkey claws without painkillers, or confining veal calves and pregnant sows in cages small enough to restrict turning around.

In light of these controversies, the symposium contributors debate the extent to which animal protection laws should apply to the agricultural industry.

The extended post contains a more complete description of the symposium and links to the essays.

The Humane Society of the United States’ Vice President of Government Relations Nancy Perry and Senior Attorney Peter Brandt decry the inadequacy of USDA regulations in protecting animals from abuse. Highlighting the recent media coverage of abuse at the Hallmark Meat Packing plant in California, they argue that states should enforce their animal cruelty laws against the agricultural animal industry, and that protecting animals requires a new and robust federal framework.

University of Michigan Harry Burns Hutchins Professor of Law Joseph Vining identifies a particular advantage of criminal sanctions: that a corporation will regulate agricultural practices if it is liable as an entity itself. Corporations have methods and resources that public agencies lack, which will lead to better protections for farmed animals.

Angela J. Geiman, Senior Lawyer for Cargill Meat Solutions Corp, supports applying science-based regulations to the animal agriculture industry. She agrees with approaches that allow academic and industry experts to decide what the definition of a “humane” practice is.

Animal rights attorney and President of the Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights Steven M. Wise likens current agricultural animal practices to human slavery, arguing that economic interests that perpetuated the institution of slavery resemble the contemporary industry opposition to animal rights. He argues that animals have fundamental rights based on the practical autonomy that they possess as beings, rather than as things.

Professor Neil D. Hamilton, Director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake Law School, suggests that litigation cannot address concerns about animal cruelty in agricultural settings. The divide between animal rights and animal welfare is a broader cultural phenomenon that a judicial decision cannot decide.

Colorado State University Professor of Philosophy, Animal Sciences and Biomedical Sciences Bernard Rollin catalogs five factors that demonstrate the necessity of shifting to a framework that recognizes animal rights. People now think of animals as having rights as a result of these five changes.

University of Michigan J.D. candidate Kyle H. Landis-Marinello demonstrates the severe harm that current agricultural animal practices cause the environment. He argues that enforcing animal cruelty laws in the agricultural animal industry will therefore yield significant environmental benefits.

To download a PDF of the entire symposium, feel free to click here.

Additional First Impressions content is available at

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