A closer look at each industry “win” tells a different story
WASHINGTON D.C.––Four recent law-and-policy losses for anti-vivisectionists and vegans, celebrated by animal use industry fronts, are not all they appear to be at a glance, even if some animal advocacy lawyers and lobbyists are left licking their wounds.
In the long run, some of those alleged losses might not even be setbacks, especially the biggest, detailed by Science online news editor David Grimm on January 12, 2024, but without much of the political background that ANIMALS 24-7 offered in reviewing the same situation back in November 2019 and January 2021.
In context, what superficially appears to have been a crushing loss might merely be a rollback of diversionary grandstanding by former Donald Trump administration Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler.
Wheeler, 59, promised a phase-out of mammal use in chemical safety testing by 2035 that he should have known all along he could not deliver, and would not be called upon to deliver on schedule, because Trump and all of his appointees, Wheeler included, would be long since out of office and past normal retirement age by the stated deadline.
Wrote Grimm, “The EPA has abandoned a controversial plan to phase out all use of mammals to test the safety of chemicals by 2035. The hard deadline—imposed in September 2019 to accelerate a move toward nonanimal models such as computer programs and ‘organs on a chip’—made EPA unique among U.S. federal agencies.
Wheeler “also set an interim goal of 2025 for reducing these studies by 30%,” Grimm mentioned.
Deadlines are gone
“Now, both the 2025 and 2035 deadlines are gone,” Grimm wrote. “Last month [January 2023], the White Coat Waste Project, an advocacy group pushing to end taxpayer-funded animal experiments, brought attention to agency documents indicating the change of plans.
“An EPA work plan for reducing animal use published in June 2020 mentions both deadlines, but they’re gone in a December 2021 version of the report.”
Wheeler, Grimm noted, is “now a volunteer adviser for White Coat Waste Project.”
What Grimm did not mention is that White Coat Waste Project leans hard right, and, out of partisan sympathy, may have made much too much of the September 2019 Wheeler announcement in the first place.
By December 2021, Wheeler had already been gone from the EPA for almost a year.
The Lautenberg Act
Moreover, Grimm explained, “A June 2016 amendment to the federal Toxic Substances Control Act,” passed as The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act seven months before the Donald Trump administration took office, “required the agency to move away from animal experiments, although it set no deadline.”
The Lautenberg act set no specific deadlines because alternatives to animal testing for each specific application in which animals are used must be developed and validated before they can be mandated. Many now exist; many do not.
Predicting how rapidly development and validation can be accomplished is a bit more complicated than predicting the weather, which is of course difficult enough.
What could be predicted, however, is that the rollback of Wheeler’s arbitrarily set deadlines would be praised by Natural Resources Defense Council senior scientist Jennifer Sass.
Alleged Sass when Wheeler first announced the deadlines, “This is yet another Trump administration attack on scientific information, this time targeting the laboratory animal tests that show whether and how chemicals may harm people, wildlife, and ecosystems.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council has fought in court and out for more than 50 years to oblige the EPA to enforce chemical safety standards.
Course toward phasing out animal use was set in 2008
Wheeler, meanwhile, when appointed EPA chief, was described by Washington Post staff writer Karin Brulliard as “a former coal lobbyist who has championed the Donald Trump administration’s rollback of environmental regulations.”
Neither the Lautenberg act nor the Wheeler deadlines really charted a new course for the EPA toward the abolition of animal testing.
That course was set when in February 2008 the EPA, National Institutes of Health, and the National Toxicology Program signed a joint memorandum of understanding to begin developing the new methods.
“Agricultural facility fraud”
A second recent “defeat” for animal advocates might also be at most a setback, and even if not, might potentially help animal advocacy organizations.
Either way, it is likely to be further tested in court.
At issue, explained attorney John M. Simpson of Duane Morris Law for the animal industry advocacy front Protect the Harvest, is that “On January 8, 2024, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected a constitutional challenge brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other groups to an Iowa statute that prohibits “agricultural facility fraud.”
Previous rulings struck down Iowa “ag gags”
U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose on September 26, 2022 struck down the latest of four attempts by the Iowa legislature to pass an “ag gag” law prohibiting activists and journalists from producing undercover video of activities inside factory farms, feedlots, and slaughterhouses.
Three of the four attempted Iowa “ag gags” were found unconstitutional the first time they came before a judge.
The January 8, 2024 Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision is so far the only time an Iowa “ag gag” has withstood judicial scrutiny.
“Intent to do harm”
Continued Simpson, “Under the revised statute,” that was the subject of the Eighth Circuit Appellate ruling, “unlawful ‘agricultural facility fraud’ arises in two instances. First, the trespass provision is violated when a person uses deception to gain access to an agricultural production facility ‘with the intent to cause physical or economic harm or other injury’ to the facility’s operations, animals, crops, owner, personnel, equipment, buildings, premises, business interests or customers.
“Second, the employment provision is violated when a person uses deception to gain employment at such an agricultural production facility with intent to cause the same type of harm to the same type of victims or targets as the trespass provision.”
Prosecution requires proving intent
“According to the court,” wrote Simpson, “while false or deceptive speech is not per se unprotected, a state nevertheless may constitutionally prohibit intentionally false speech undertaken to accomplish legally cognizable harm. The Iowa law is constitutional because it focuses on the intent to inflict a cognizable harm, not on the content of what is being said.”
The first and most obvious weakness in the law, however, is that prosecuting it requires proving intent.
Intent to verify that laws and standards meant to protect animals and the environment are being observed is left clearly defensible; the only “harm” that might result from an undercover investigation would result from the farmer being shown to violate the applicable laws or standards.
Italy bans “clean meat”
Even Protect the Harvest appeared to have reservations about Italian legislation adopted in November 2023 and now in effect, which as Protect the Harvest summarized, “restricts the cultivation of meat in laboratory bioreactors and places limitations on the use of labels describing and marketing plant-based protein as meat.”
Observed Protect the Harvest, “The Italian government’s ban raises questions about the balance between embracing technological advancements and preserving cultural and agricultural traditions.
“Critics argue that Italy’s ban may hinder the growth of its nascent cultivated meat industry, depriving the country of potential economic and environmental benefits.
“Marketplace should determine”
“Italy’s concerns about safeguarding its culinary and agricultural heritage distinguish its approach from that of other nations,” Protect the Harvest noted. “While food safety is a paramount issue for many regulators, Italy’s decision seems to be driven more by the desire to maintain its distinctive food culture.
Concluded Protect the Harvest, aware that many major players in the meat industry are hedging their bets by also investing heavily in developing and marketing plant-based alternatives, “Ultimately, the marketplace (consumers) should be the determining factor between freedom of choice and governmental mandates.”
This, including removing subsidies that artificially support meat production at consumer expense, is really all that the plant-based food industry has ever asked for from government.
Tribunal rules against vegan firefighter
The fourth defeat of note, announced by the Canadian organization Animal Justice on December 11, 2023, was a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruling against Adam Knauff, 42, of Kenora, Ontario.
Knauff, summarized Animal Justice, is “a firefighter who sought protection against discrimination for being an ethical vegan. The case raised a novel issue—whether a vegan belief system counts as a ‘creed,’” protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code.
“Knauff and his lawyers will seek review of the decision,” Animal Justice said.
Should appeals fail, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruling could lead to amended Ontario human rights legislation, pushed by widespread public sympathy for Knauff.
Who is Adam Knauff?
Background to the Knauff case, explained Animal Justice, includes that, “In 2015, the Ontario Human Rights Commission revised its policy on preventing creed-based discrimination to extend greater protections for people with non-religious belief systems. According to the Commission, ‘Creed may also include non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life.’”
Plaintiff Knauff, detailed Toronto Sun writer Michele Mandel before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario finally heard his case after five years of delay, “became vegetarian at 13 and vegan in 2008 because of his moral and ethical opposition to the abuse and slaughter of animals.
Firefighter & vegan since 2008
“A forest firefighter since 2008,” the same year he became vegan, “Knauff said his bosses knew he was an ethical vegan and were ‘fairly good’ at accommodating his dietary needs on the job.
“That changed when he was deployed in July 2017 to the evacuated town of Williams Lake, British Columbia, to help put out massive forest fires raging in the north of the province.
“Ontario was running the British Columbia base camp, so they knew about his dietary requirements and he had also filled out a standard food information form for the trip.
“But after Knauff put in 14- to 16-hour days in extreme heat and exhausting conditions, he would get back to camp, he said, to find there was nothing for him to eat.”
“Dinner would be a spinach salad,” Knauff told Mandel. “It was just insane. I’ve been out there fighting fires for 16 hours and you think a spinach salad is going to cut it?”
“One day,” resumed Mandel, “his only source of protein was a single black bean, Knauff said, while on other days he was forced to go hungry after he wasn’t provided with any food that was vegan or uncontaminated by animal products.
“When Knauff swore at a chef after witnessing him use his bloody hands on his vegan burger, he was reprimanded for his language.”
Eventually Knauff was “sent home and suspended for three days without pay due to his ‘inappropriate, insubordinate, unprofessional and aggressive behavior,’” Mandel wrote, and “was also banned from fighting fires outside the province for the remainder of 2017 and all of 2018.”
“Did not address existence or non-existence of Creator”
After the Ontario Human Rights Commission finally did hear Knauff’s long-delayed case, reported Claire Hamlett on December 13, 2023 for Plant Based News, “Tribunal adjudicator Karen Dawson said that ethical veganism satisfied the first two criteria of a creed. These are that it is ‘sincerely, freely and deeply held’ and is ‘integrally linked to a person’s identity, self-definition and fulfillment.”
However, Dawson “decided the evidence presented by Knauff’s team didn’t meet the third criterion,” namely that it “failed to demonstrate how ethical veganism addresses the existence or non-existence of another order of existence and/or a Creator,” Hamlett said.
Objected Animal Justice executive director Camille Labchuk, “The criterion doesn’t require a deity or higher order. It merely says ethical veganism should address whether a Creator or higher order does exist.”
Dawson’s verdict “seems to imply that a Creator is required, but this simply can’t be the case,” Labchuk argued. “Otherwise, non-religious belief systems would require a deity, but religious belief systems would not, which makes no sense.”
Further, said Labchuk, “A person who is vegan because of a meat and dairy allergy would be covered,” under the Ontario human rights law, as would be a person “who is vegan for religious reasons.”
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects ethical vegans from discrimination in actions involving the Canadian federal government, but does not supersede applicable provincial laws.