Thoughts on Animal Law and Protection

November 29, 2019

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the first Canadian Animal Law conference, which was held at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law. As the only member of the East Coast Environmental Law staff without formal legal training, I had initial reservations about being East Coast Environmental Law’s representative at the conference, as I anticipated that a great deal of the material would be over my head. In the end, I managed to banish these fears and dive wholeheartedly into the weekend.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Peter Singer, whose lifework as a moral philosopher has been to explore concepts including utilitarianism, effective altruism, pain and suffering, and animal sentience. As a great advocate and influential mind of the modern animal liberation movement, Singer opened the conference with a lecture focusing on livestock animals and the regulations that dictate their living conditions. Singer thoroughly covered living conditions in factory farms for cows, pigs, and chickens, comparing the regulations in Canada to those in the United States (particularly California’s notably progressive governance), Australia, England, Austria, and Switzerland.

Whether we realize it or not, food is something that is deeply personal for many of us. Food is intrinsically connected to our personal identities, our cultures, and our traditions. When it comes to the animals that we consume for food, it often takes very little for well-intentioned conversations to quickly escalate to triggered confrontation. What I admired most about Singer’s lecture was that he didn’t focus on one choice, such as veganism, as the unequivocal solution to end environmental devastation, animal suffering, and the factory farming model. Instead, his lecture was open-ended and carried a feeling of inclusivity: however you define your dietary habits (whether you consider yourself a vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, plant-based consumer, ethical omnivore, etc.) most people, when faced with the realities of the appalling standards to which we currently subjugate the majority of our farm animals, can agree that there are many responsible and compassionate alternatives and endless possibilities for reform.

Regulatory reform is one broad method for ensuring that animals which are raised for consumption live a less painful and more dignified life. Legal reform creates a scenario where the oppressive system is held accountable and forced to innovate, where personal dietary choices may no longer be scrutinized, and where polarization between plant-based and animal product consumers may occur less.

We currently live in a highly globalized world in which trade across borders happens at a tremendous rate. It is for this reason that animal rights in the context of international law requires thoughtful consideration. During one of the weekend’s panel discussions, “Global Perspectives on Animal Law”, we heard from animal protection advocates from Canada, Switzerland, and Austria. During this panel discussion, it became apparent how diverse animal law is from nation to nation and how pertinent it is to have overarching global standards that govern animal welfare. Due to global trade and lack of consistent international animal welfare regulations, we do not have a clear picture of how the animals we consume are treated. For example, nations with seemingly more progressive regulations concerning the living conditions of laying hens might look good on paper, but, in reality, that country may outsource the majority of their eggs from another country with more lax regulations due to the cheaper cost of production.

For more information on animal law and regulations pertaining to particular nations, The Animal Protection Index is a great resource. Produced by World Animal Protection, it ranks 50 countries around the globe according to their legislation and policy commitments to protecting animals.

During the keynote plenary panel discussion, “The Intersectional Future of Animal Law”, the members of the panel shared their unique perspectives on the intersectionality of animal law with Indigenous law, environmental law, and numerous movements for justice and sovereignty, including Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+, and Me Too. While these struggles are all inherently different and those fighting in these movements are uniquely oppressed, the panel participants concluded that the commonalities connecting these struggles together give them greater strength in solidarity.

Perhaps the main take-away from the Animal Law Conference for me was that animal rights, if they are to effectively be improved, require a nuanced and inclusive approach. The dialogue around animal rights is a highly complex and multifaceted issue. An animal rights conversation is simultaneously an ethical conversation, a poverty conversation, an Indigenous right conversation, a gender conversation, an accessibility conversation, a political conversation, a classist conversation, and an environmental conversation.

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Taylor Milne, East Coast Environmental Law Communications Coordinator and Office Manager