Tackling Regulatory Capture In Animal Agriculture
Regulatory capture occurs when the regulation of an industry favors private groups or corporations over the public. One example occurs in animal agriculture, when a country’s animal welfare policies are established and overseen by the same group responsible for promoting the agriculture industry. When this happens, the needs of the industry are placed above the welfare of animals themselves.
What can be done to get rid of the conflict of interest associated with regulatory capture? The author of this article recommends establishing an Independent Office of Animal Protection. Throughout the article, they outline how such an office might function, including how it would operate and how it would benefit animal welfare. Finally, the article concludes with considerations for animal advocates campaigning on this issue.
By creating a separate office or department, the responsibility for creating and overseeing animal welfare rules would be placed in the hands of people outside of the agricultural industry. According to the author, this means the office would handle the governance of all animal welfare issues, including establishing, reviewing, and reporting on all policies and violations. It could also enforce laws about animal welfare and keep relevant industries in the loop without answering to those industries.
On a smaller scale, appointing an independent Commissioner or Inspector General to oversee a country’s animal welfare policies is also a possibility. Rather than taking full responsibility for animal welfare regulations, a commissioner would be tasked with monitoring whichever department does have responsibility. In places where establishing an Independent Office of Animal Protection isn’t feasible, the Commissioner could still hold groups accountable for biases in animal welfare policies.
One example is Malta, where the Commissioner for Animal Welfare was established in 2014. Their responsibilities include conducting independent investigations, reporting on animal welfare, making recommendations to the government, and promoting public interests in animal welfare. While the author argues this is beneficial for animals, they also point out a drawback for farmed animal advocacy: because the Commissioner answers to the public, their duties largely focus on companion animals.
For advocates interested in campaigning for an Independent Office of Animal Protection (or a Commissioner), the author says that there are certain conditions that must be met. First, the country in question should have a strong democratic governance system with low corruption and evidence of public concern about animal welfare. These factors will ensure that the office gains public support and can carry out its work effectively.
A country must also have a need for an Independent Office of Animal Protection. This is usually the case when it struggles with regulatory capture (e.g., the creation and enforcement of animal welfare policies are left in the hands of agricultural departments). If advocates have tried other types of welfare reforms but have failed as a result of a country’s governance system, then, according to the author, this could mean regulatory capture is posing a real problem that needs to be addressed.
If establishing an office or independent person to regulate animal welfare is not an option, the author suggests other possible solutions. Oversight could be moved to a different existing department that is less likely to create a conflict of interest. In countries that have strong civil societies, relying more on NGOs to help the government can also be an option. In some instances, independent advisory boards of third-party experts have been created to provide research and recommendations on animal welfare standards.
For those interested in pursuing advocacy on this issue, the author says it’s important to get the public and community groups on board. This means advocates should focus on educating the public about regulatory capture and the importance of shifting animal welfare decision-making away from the people who profit off of farmed animals, perhaps through media campaigns. Finally, advocates should focus on building alliances across political party lines to ensure that once an office is established, it won’t be dissolved once a new government comes to power.