Using A Human Rights Approach To Challenge Factory Farms
Animal advocates often find our work difficult because the general public tends to place human concerns above those of other species. Appeals to have compassion for animals can fall flat for large swaths of the population, especially in contexts where the lives of humans are fraught with poverty and other hardships. Even legal advocacy, where there may be clear guidelines on and regulations about animal welfare, can be difficult when appealing strictly to a sense of compassion for animals.
This article discusses the use of a human rights approach to resist the establishment of a 49,000-pig farm in the Mayan community of Homún, Mexico. After gathering community consensus against the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), local advocates started multiple lawsuits against the farm, with the help of human rights organization Indignación. As of the time that the report was written, the case was before the Mexican Supreme Court. While the farm’s operations had been suspended, the land use permit for the farm hadn’t been canceled.
Advocates framed the resistance against the CAFO as a human rights issue. They highlighted the local people’s right to a healthy environment, clean water, and food, as well as the right to free, prior, and informed consent. By doing so, the community successfully mobilized local support and took effective legal action against the proposed CAFO.
Framing the community’s grievances as human rights concerns was effective because human rights are protected under both national and international laws, which made litigation possible. By defining the issue as a matter of justice and respect for communities’ rights, the human rights approach allowed the movement to demand accountability from the state and mobilize a wider range of actors, including human rights organizations, legal experts, and the media.
Drawing from the experience of Homún, the article highlights several key lessons for resisting CAFOs:
- Use a human rights approach: By framing the resistance as a human rights issue, communities can draw attention to the impacts on their health, environment, and livelihoods, and the potential violation of their rights. How they choose and combine these angles can help to engage a wider range of actors and provide a strong legal and ethical foundation for the resistance.
- Mobilize the community: Resisting the establishment of a CAFO requires a collective effort involving communities, NGOs, and academics. These networks can share information, strategize, and organize collectively.
- Seek broad support: Communities should seek support from human rights organizations, environmental organizations, scientists, legal experts, and other advocacy groups. These organizations can provide resources, expertise, and guidance to strengthen the resistance efforts.
- Use scientific evidence and local knowledge: Facts on the negative impacts and risks of CAFOs, including pollution, health issues, and dispossession, help to strengthen testimonies and provide information for courts.
- Engage with the media: The media can play a critical role in raising awareness about the situation and generating support for the resistance. Communities should engage with journalists and media outlets to share their stories and highlight the potential impacts of the proposed CAFO.
- Use legal action: Communities can use legal action, such as filing lawsuits or seeking injunctions, to help slow down or stop the process of approving and building the operation and provide a strong legal foundation for the resistance.
- Use a credible messenger: Representatives of the movement should have credibility, legitimacy, and power to increase the impact of their testimonies against CAFOs.
Legal frameworks are often insufficient to protect animal welfare, but they do strive to protect human and environmental well-being. This makes the human rights approach an effective way to challenge CAFOs, as it draws attention to the potential violations of human rights, while also considering the impact on the environment and non-human animals. By emphasizing the ethical and legal dimensions of the issue, this approach can help to mobilize support and to obligate governments, companies, and other actors to respect the rights of communities and living beings.