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October 02, 2019

Today Is World Farm Animals Day: Pause To Think Of Their Interests Not Only Today, But Every Day

  • Professor Delci Winders (far right) with students in the Animal Law Litigation Clinic.

October 2 is World Farm Animals Day and we honor it by sharing how we focus—every day—on protecting the interests of farmed animals at the Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) at Lewis & Clark Law School.

You’ve undoubtedly heard them before, but the staggering numbers bear repeating: Each year in the United States alone, we slaughter billions of farmed animals. In 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture recorded the slaughter of more than 9.16 billion chickens and 236 million turkeys, as well as 124.4 million pigs, 33 million cows, and 2.26 million sheep and lambs. Globally, tens of billions of animals are slaughtered for food. These numbers do not even include farmed aquatic animals, whose numbers are so voluminous that they are measured only by weight.  

It is estimated that 99 percent of farmed land animals in the United States are raised in factory farms, not in the picturesque pastures and small family farms so often falsely depicted in advertising. On factory farms, animals are treated as “units” and their lives reduced to “pounds” of “product.” They are intensively confined to maximize production. Farmed animals are routinely treated in ways that would, without question, legally constitute animal cruelty if done to a dog or cat. For example, cows and pigs routinely face mutilations such as castration, dehorning, and tail docking without anesthesia. 

Our patchwork state-by-state animal cruelty laws often carve out exceptions for farmed animals. Animal lawyers know these as the dreaded “customary animal husbandry practices” exceptions. Because common practices on factory farms would legally constitute animal cruelty, attempts have been made to carve them out. As a result, it has historically been assumed that it is impossible to legally challenge common industrial animal agriculture practices. At CALS, we are committed to confronting that assumption. We want to facilitate the conversation and carefully examine the “customary animal husbandry practices” that so commonly occur outside public view in industrialized animal agriculture systems. In modern society, we are shielded from how animals are raised and slaughtered for food and, as a result, most people simply lack knowledge about these conditions. Yet research confirms that consumers want farmed animals to be treated humanely, and most erroneously assume they already are.

Enter the newly launched Animal Law Litigation Clinic (ALLC) at CALS, led by Assistant Clinical Professor and Clinic Director Delci Winders. Professor Winders says she understands why people look away from farmed animal issues, noting that “given the unfathomable number of animals slaughtered every day for human consumption, and the unspeakable suffering these animals endure, it’s easier for society to look away.” But in the ALLC, Professor Winders and students do exactly the opposite.

Together, Professor Winders and her students examine how farmed animals are treated as contrasted with the assumption that when an animal husbandry practice is “customary” that necessarily means it is permissible under the law. They are also examining how our laws have historically failed to recognize farmed animals as sentient beings via a legal framework that, by design, attempts to prevent us from asking critical questions about the interests of farmed animals—and identifying avenues to challenge that framework. 

Today, as we honor World Farm Animals Day, we urge you to not limit consideration of the interests of farmed animals to a single day each year. We urge you not to look away. Professor Winders asks us to recall the words of Albert Schweitzer, to “‘[t]hink … of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.’” In the ALLC, students confront this painful, gruesome reality every day in order to advocate for a better future for these animals, who are every bit as deserving of protection as dogs and cats. In the coming weeks, we’ll feature each ALLC student and why they chose to focus on farmed animals. Please join us and share the ALLC’s journey, to make a difference for farmed animals through the legal system.


*The views expressed above are those of the author and not necessarily that of Lewis & Clark Law School