BOOKS: Beyond The Law & Animal Welfare Legislation in Northern European Countries

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1996:

Beyond The Law:
Agribusiness and the Systemic Abuse of Animals Raised for Food or Food Production
by David J. Wolfson.
Coalition for Non-Violent Food, POB 214, Planetarium Station, New York, NY 10024), 1995. 53 pages.
(Send self-addressed catalog envelope with 78¢ postage.)

Animal Welfare Legislation in Northern European Countries: A Study Tour
by Glen H. and Beverly A. Schmidt.
Privately circulated by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Animal Industry Foundation.

“Today,” warns attorney David Wolfson, “the
majority of states in the U.S have enacted laws that mandate
that prosecutors, humane enforcement agencies,
and the judiciary cannot examine farming practices for
cruelty or animal abuse once the particular practice is
demonstrated to be an ‘accepted,’ ‘common,’ ‘customary,’
or ‘normal’ practice, as defined by the U.S. farming
Further, Wolfson points out, of the 28 states
exempting farmers from cruelty laws, “17 states amended
their statutes in the last 10 years to place agribusiness
beyond the statutes’ reach, and 14 of these 17 amended
their statutes in the last seven years,” including Idaho,
Iowa, Michigan, and Wyoming within the past year.
Continues Wolfson, “The effect of this trend
of amendments…indicates a nationwide perception that it
was necessary to amend anti-cruelty statutes to avoid
their possible application” to farm animals. He argues,
however, that “what is most remarkable about the
statutes is that any act if considered ‘accepted,’ ‘common,’
‘customary,’ or ‘normal,’ cannot be successfully
prosecuted on the basis of cruelty.” Wolfson cites as
example a Pennsylvania farmer’s effort to escape conviction
for starving horses, on the pretense that horses en
r o u t e to slaughter are commonly starved. The farmer
was convicted, not because starving animals under any
circumstance is cruel, but because he failed to demonstrate
that enough other farmers do it to make it ‘normal’
in the opinion of the judge.
“The criminal law,” contends Wolfson,
“should not be altered simply because a profitable practice
falls within it. The law should not presume that
‘accepted,’ ‘common,’ ‘customary,’ or ‘normal’ farming
practices are not cruel and do not cause unnecessary
suffering, or determine that, even if unnecessary pain
occurs, nothing should be done simply because the practice
is one accepted by the farming community. It is difficult
to imagine another non-governmental group possessing
such control over a criminal legal definition.”
Concludes Wolfson, “The reality in the U.S. is
that our society seemingly condones cruelty to animals.
The laws either fail to cover the vast majority of domestic
animals in this country, or are ineffectively enforced
or painfully inadequate. If we are to honestly act as a
society which perceives that causing unnecessary suffering
to all animals is wrong, the system must be changed,
as in Western Europe, where certain farming practices
have been recognized for what they are: cruel.
Otherwise, the legal system in the United States seems
to imply that we value profit and appetite over any pain
felt by any animal.”
Not oblivious
Paradoxically, farm animals have been
deprived of whatever weak legal claim to rights they ever
had while the animal rights movement has never been
stronger. But while the animal rights movement has paid
little attention to farm animals, agribusiness has been
anything but oblivious to the implications of the animal
rights and humane movements for animal husbandry. In
addition to pursuing exemptions from cruelty laws, as a
short-term buffer against pressure to change, agribusiness
representatives seek to manipulate the court of public
opinion, self-consciously aware that if people ever
become so concerned about cruelty in farming as to stop
eating meat, no economic or ecological imperative mandates
the survival of any branch of animal agriculture.
Rather, economic and ecological imperatives would
seem to mandate the diminunition of animal agriculture,
at least relative to the total global food supply.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and
Animal Industry Foundation last year sent Ohio State
University agriculture professor emeritus Glen Schmidt
and his wife Beverly, interim associate pastor of the
Indianola Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio, to
inspect farms in northern Europe. Contrary to the direction
of legislation in the U.S., European nations have
been adopting increasingly stringent anti-cruelty laws on
behalf of farm animals since 1952, often in combination
with measures intended to protect the very small family
farms that create much of the European ambience. The
Schmidts essentially sought ways and means of defending
American agricultural practices against humane criticism
based on European models.
But they didn’t really find any. Despite recent
success, they warn, “Livestock producers should not be
complacent, believing they can head off any proposed
legislation.” They recommend that farmers “evaluate
their current production practices that might be of concern
to consumers to see if they are really necessary;
either develop or support research to produce alternative
and more animal-friendly systems; and communicate
with the public about the production practices and why
they are important, both for the sake of the animal and
for the sake of an inexpensive, high quality, and safe
food supply.”
In other words, they seem to argue, agribusiness
must defend itself by appealing to the pocketbook
ahead of the heart.

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