01 February 2012

Steven M. Wise on Farm Animals

Steven M. WiseThe problem of the unjust use of farm animals is large, growing, historical, institutionalized, governmentally encouraged, and fundamentally unregulated at either the state or federal level. Farm animals are treated essentially as raw materials. Their ethological needs and direct interests are neglected to the extent that their needs are not as congruent with higher productivity and profit. Their interests are primarily protected, if at all, through archaic state anti-cruelty statutes that were not passed in contemplation of the factory-farm or genetic engineering. They are of little use and little used. Farm animals remain helpless, because they are legally incompetent, and assertion of their interests are barred by the traditional legal doctrine of "standing," a concept that is sound only when applied to competent human beings. Though factory-farming and biotechnological techniques massively violate the moral rights of farm animals, they have no remedy.

American consumers know little of the needs of farm animals, little of the health risks of eating them, and almost nothing of modern factory-farming and biotechnological techniques. The federal government neither adequately protects nor informs consumers about the animal products they eat or of the health hazards of eating them. Instead it aids industry boards that exist solely to sell animal products. It also provides tax incentives to factory-farmers. Because Congress has pre-empted the field, states have been unable to enact additional laws that require meat producers to provide consumers with accurate and relevant product information. Consumers should have the right to know in order to make informed decisions.

Anglo-American justice has reformed or abolished the unregulated wholesale exploitation of the helpless by the strong; women, children, blacks, and the disabled have all tasted its sweet fruits. "[F]iat justicia, ruat coelumtet," spoke Lord Mansfield, upon deciding that a Virginia slave was a free man on English soil. The factory-farming and genetic engineering of farm animals, based as it is upon their unregulated institutionalized exploitation in a manner that inherently and unnecessarily infringes their basic needs and concerns, is unjust. Because it is unjust it should be abolished.

(Steven M. Wise, "Of Farm Animals and Justice," Pace Environmental Law Review 3 [1986]: 191-227, at 226-7 [brackets in original; footnotes omitted])