A Federal Agency Just Might Beat Animal Cruelty
Animal cruelty is a fundamental problem that most countries around the world have failed to solve. Many laws acknowledge the sentience of many animals and discourage animal cruelty. But the laws haven’t been entirely successful in preventing animal cruelty, especially in the case of farmed animals. To solve this problem, researchers from Pace Law School propose that we create an independent federal agency in both the U.S. and Brazil.
In the U.S., federal laws only regulate the treatment of farmed mammals (not birds or fish) during transportation and slaughter. All other aspects of farmed animal treatment are left to the states. As many as 37 states often accept unnecessarily cruel treatment so long as this treatment can be considered part of “common” farming practices. These practices include docking pigs’ tails and debeaking chickens.
Additionally, the anti-cruelty laws in many states fail to emphasize law enforcement and the ability to prosecute for animal cruelty crimes. For example, some states only consider animal cruelty a crime when someone intentionally inflicts cruelty. This is difficult to prove. And it normalizes cases of cruelty caused by carelessness or ignorance. Like the U.S., the federal laws in Brazil only protect (to an extent) farmed animals during transportation and slaughter, though they do include birds. While there have been more initiatives to increase animal protection in Brazil, many anti-cruelty statutes are voluntary and animal crimes often go unnoticed.
Unfortunately, the agriculture lobby in both the U.S. and Brazil are very effective in influencing legislation, policy, and public perception. In the U.S., the agriculture lobby has won continued support from the federal government. This is by means of “price support programs, mandatory generic advertising campaigns, national school lunch programs, and exemptions from environmental regulations.”
In Brazil, enormous subsidies have been granted to agribusiness. But even more detrimental to animal protection is the will to satisfy the rapidly increasing demand for animal products worldwide. This results in an increasing lack of concern for animal welfare. There are legislative efforts in both the U.S. and Brazil to protect farmed animal welfare. But they’re no match for the billion-dollar industries and the incentive to maximize profits.
An independent agency whose sole mission is to improve animal welfare could systematically address animal cruelty in both the U.S. and Brazil. This agency, by definition, would report to Congress but would remain independent from lobbying efforts and presidential oversight. To achieve this, the 5–7 members that would make up the Commission of the agency would need “for cause” removal protection. This would mean they “cannot be removed at will.”
The Commission should also be representative of different political parties. And the members of the Commission should have terms longer than the term of the president. While difficult in practice, these agencies must have financial independence. This would ensure that federal budget cuts do not hinder them.
The ability to operate independently of political interests or lobbying efforts would enable the animal welfare agency to work exclusively on promoting animal welfare. In the U.S., the responsibilities of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) would need to be reallocated to the animal welfare agency. Individual states could continue to regulate animal welfare. But they would have to meet the standards of the new and improved federal laws.
In Brazil, there are many organized groups that strive to protect animals. One example is the Permanent Technical Commission on Animal Welfare. If Brazil created an animal welfare agency, it would be an important step in centralizing all legal efforts regarding animal welfare that exist now. The animal welfare agency would be more effective at enforcing animal protection laws and at improving animal welfare standards if it had maximum authority to do so.
As envisioned by the authors of this paper, the benefits of an animal welfare agency would exceed those from any previous efforts to improve farmed animal welfare. The agency would have the authority to, for example, eliminate abuse that is widely accepted now as part of common farming practices. The agency would also have the resources to more effectively enforce animal protection laws and to “influence industry choices through tax credits for purchases of equipment that promote humane treatment.”
Animal welfare agencies would not only spare millions of animals from unnecessary pain and suffering but also change public perceptions and social norms in favor of animal rights. A federal agency that holds industries and individuals accountable for the way that they treat animals would promote change in the way people see animal welfare. The notion that animals have become secondary to profit and convenience would become unacceptable. And even without fear of punishment, people would begin treating animals as the sentient beings they are.[Contributed by Miranda Harrington]