Decisions may mean better days for animals, but use & exploitation industries will fight back
ROCHESTER, N.Y.; WASHINGTON D.C.; MADISON, Wisconsin; CINCINNATI, Ohio––A flurry of mid-October 2021 court decisions brought good news for plaintiffs against the poultry slaughter industry, cockfighting in Puerto Rico, wolf hunting in Wisconsin, and hippopotamus culling in Colombia.
Probably the most significant of the verdicts, and certainly the one potentially affecting the most animals, was the October 14, 2021 finding by U.S. District Judge Charles J. Siragusa in Rochester, New York, that Farm Sanctuary and the Animal Welfare Institute have standing to pursue a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for failing to implement provisions of the Poultry Products Inspection Act that would prevent cruel practices resulting in “adulteration” of poultry meat.
Poultry Products Inspection Act could be used to reduce cruelty
If strictly enforced, the language of the Poultry Products Inspection Act could require that chickens and other birds slaughtered be raised and handled in such a manner as to avoid broken bones, abscesses, and exposure to any other disease or injury that could result in contamination of their flesh with potentially infectious agents.
Instead of relying on post-slaughter inspection of carcasses to ensure poultry safety, USDA inspectors might be obliged, for the first time, to do inspect birds before slaughter.
Judge Siragusa did not rule on the merits of the Farm Sanctuary and Animal Welfare Institute case, however, which is being argued by Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Clinic director Katherine Meyer, with research and legal drafting assistance by several Harvard law students.
USDA must respond to Farm Sanctuary & AWI arguments
Rather, Siragusa ordered the USDA to respond to the Farm Sanctuary and Animal Welfare Institute arguments within 30 days, after eight years of sidestepping the issues on procedural grounds.
Explained Farm Sanctuary spokesperson Meredith Turner-Smith, “In 2013 the Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary petitioned the Food Safety Inspection Service to use the authority granted to it by Congress to codify poultry humane handling standards into enforceable regulations. After a six-year delay, the Food Safety Inspection Service responded that it had no jurisdiction to enforce humane handling of birds at slaughter, and maintained that the current approach of voluntary compliance is adequate.”
The Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary filed their case against the USDA in August 2020.
“The USDA moved to dismiss the suit,” Turner summarized, “but Judge Siragusa sided with the plaintiffs.”
USDA dragged feet
States the Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary lawsuit, “Although the USDA itself concedes that inhumane handling practices result in adulterated poultry products that are prohibited under the [Poultry Product Inspection Act, and the USDA is charged by Congress to prevent such products from entering the food supply, the agency has refused to issue regulations prohibiting these practices.”
The Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary lawsuit notes that, “In 1968—more than five decades ago—Congress declared that “[i]t is essential in the public interest that the health and welfare of consumers be protected by assuring that poultry products distributed to them are . . . not adulterated.”
Continues the lawsuit, “Congress has also declared that “[i]t is the policy of the Congress to protect the consuming public from poultry products that are adulterated[.]” With this clear mandate, Congress directed the Secretary of the USDA to promulgate such ‘rules and regulations as are necessary to carry out the provisions of’ the Poultry Product Inspection Act.”
Rats, mice & birds
Should the Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary lawsuit be won, as it may be, now that it is to be weighed on merit rather than on questions of standing, it could result in material quality of life and death improvements for about 8.5 billion chickens, turkeys, and other farmed birds per year.
The cause for Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary legal action, however, is similar to the longtime USDA administrative exclusion of rats, mice, and birds used in laboratories from Animal Welfare Act protection and data-tracking requirements.
This came about when the USDA wrote rats, mice, and birds out of the legal definition of “animal” in the Animal Welfare Act enforcement regulations, circumventing the intent of Congress that all animal species should be covered.
Nearly 30 years of litigation followed before the American Anti-Vivisection Society in September 2000 won an out-of-court settlement in which the USDA agreed that rats, mice, and birds would at last receive Animal Welfare Act protection and would be included in laboratory data reporting.
But the USDA then delayed implementing the settlement, until in May 2002 former
U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) attached a rider to a USDA budget bill that made the exclusion of rats, mice, and birds from the enforcement regulations an actual part of the law.
The Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary will have a difficult time ensuring that poultry industry lobbying influence does not undercut an eventual courtroom victory or out-of-court settlement in their Poultry Product Inspection Act case.
Supreme Court rejects libertarians defense of cockfighting
Not an actual verdict, but affirming previous courtroom victories upholding the 2018 Congressional abolition of cockfighting in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and Guam, was the October 12, 2021 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to not hear an appeal from the Puerto Rico Institute for Economic Liberty, which describes itself as “a nonpartisan public policy foundation dedicated to advancing the principles of individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.”
The 2018 Farm Bill extended to all U.S. possessions a 2012 U.S. federal law prohibiting attendance at cockfights, effective on January 1, 2020.
The Puerto Rico Institute for Economic Liberty, apparently anticipating sympathy from the right-leaning majority of Supreme Court justices, argued that the Farm Bill language overstepped Congressional authority.
“As is typical, the high court did not explain why it declined to take the case,” noted J. Scott Applewhite of Associated Press.
Temporary injunction against Wisconsin wolf season
A second courtroom rebuff for the radical right, working to at least the temporary benefit of animals, came on October 22, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin, when Dane County Circuit Judge Jacob Frost issued a temporary injunction halting the Wisconsin fall wolf hunting season, scheduled to begin on November 6, 2021.
A coalition of organizations opposed to the wolf hunt, explained Associated Press writer Todd Richmond, “argued that the season is illegal because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hasn’t updated its regulations setting up season parameters, and [instead] has been relying on an emergency rule put in place shortly after then-Governor Scott Walker,” a Republican, “signed a law in 2012 authorizing annual seasons.
“Frost said the law creating the wolf season is constitutional on its face,” Richmond wrote, “but the DNR failed to create permanent regulations enacting it. The law gives the DNR great leeway in setting kill limits, hunting zone hours, and the number of licenses, making it all the more important that the department follows the regulatory process to ensure that it doesn’t violate the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches, Frost said.”
“I’m not overruling the wolf hunt law”
Said Frost in his own words, “I’m not overruling the wolf hunt law. I’m saying it has to be enforced as it was written and intended. The DNR is currently not following the law, or following the constitution. Its decisions are built on a faulty basis, meaning they can’t stand, either.”
Wisconsin “held fall wolf seasons in 2012, 2013, and 2014 before a federal judge placed the animal back on the endangered species list,” Richmond summarized.
“The Donald Trump administration removed them from the list last year and the decision became final in January, triggering a hunting season in Wisconsin,” since Wisconsin law requires that a wolf hunting season be held whenever federal law permits.
“The DNR was preparing to launch a November 2021 season,” Richmond continued, “but the Kansas-based hunting group Hunter Nation won a court order forcing the agency to hold a season in February 2021. The group argued that the Joe Biden administration could restore federal protections for wolves at any moment, robbing hunters of the chance to kill wolves.”
Hunters shot twice the bag limit
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources set the February wolf bag limit at 119, but hunters actually killed 218 of the estimated 1,000 wolves in the state in just four days.
The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, stacked with Republican appointees, in August 2021 authorized the fall wolf season, setting the bag limit at 300 wolves.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, however, “which is controlled by Democratic Governor Tony Evers,” Richmond noted, “took the unprecedented step of unilaterally reducing the kill limit to 130 wolves, openly defying the board.”
The Chippewa tribe, opposing wolf hunting and holding treaty rights that allot to the Chippewa 50% of hunting quotas set in land the Chippewa ceded to Wisconsin in 1837 and 1842, claimed the quotas for 56 wolves.
This means, Richmond finished, “that if the season happens, the working quota for state-licensed hunters will be 74 wolves.”
Though time is short, the 2021 Wisconsin could be held as scheduled in event of either a successful appeal of the injunction issued by Judge Frost, or by either Department of Natural Resources action or legislative action curing the defects in the wolf season scheduling identified by Frost.
Escobar’s hippos & case for “personhood”
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, meanwhile, on October 20, 2021 announced that “the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio,” headquartered in Cincinnati, “has recognized animals as legal persons for the first time [such recognition has been extended by any court] in the United States.”
This verdict, however, results from a quirk in how U.S. law handles matters involving foreign litigation, may not hold up under appeal, and comes in a case which may have relatively little chance of ultimate success.
Chances that the October 20, 2021 verdict will become recognized as a precedent in U.S. law for “animal personhood” appear to be slim and none.
Summarized the ALDF media release, “In pursuit of deposing two wildlife experts with expertise in nonsurgical sterilization who reside in Ohio, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an application on behalf of the plaintiffs in a Colombian lawsuit against the country’s government regarding a plan to kill roughly 100 hippos who are descendants of animals imported by Pablo Escobar.”
Escobar, an international cocaine trafficker killed in a 1993 shootout with police, left behind six hippos at Hacienda Nápoles, a 7.7-square mile theme park located on his private estate.
Most of Escobar’s animals were relocated to other Latin American zoos after his death, but the hippos escaped and went feral, eluding capture in deep swamps at the back of the property.
Thriving near the Rio Magdalena, venturing into the river at least once, the hippos and their descendants have established a small but viable population which might be seen as an insurance policy against extinction or extirpation from their Africa habitats.
The Colombian government, however, has for nearly 30 years come under intensifying pressure from ecological nativists to kill the hippos.
“In Colombia,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund media release said, “animals have standing to bring lawsuits to protect their interests.”
Gonacon vs. PZP for hippos
U.S. law governing the use of the process of legal discovery in connection with foreign proceedings “allows anyone who is an ‘interested person’ in a foreign litigation to request permission from a federal court to take depositions in the U.S. in support of their foreign case,” the ALDF release summarized.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has said that someone who is a party to the foreign case ‘no doubt’ qualifies as an ‘interested person’ under this statute. The Animal Legal Defense Fund reasoned that since the hippos are plaintiffs in Colombian litigation,” filed on their behalf by attorney Luis Domingo Gómez Maldonado on July 31, 2020, “they qualify as ‘interested persons’” for the purposes of the Maldonado case.
Added the ALDF media release, “While the lawsuit is ongoing, the regional environmental agency involved in addressing the hippo population announced it had started to provide a fraction of the animals with the contraceptive drug GonaCon on October 15, 2021.”
Maldonado “seeks an order to provide a contraceptive called PZP (porcine zona pellucida),” instead, “given its historical success in hippos held in zoos and its recommendation by an International Advisory Committee assembled by Animal Balance, an international organization that focuses on sterilization of animals,” the ALDF media release said.