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‘NOT PROPERTY’: Here’s how the animal exploitation industries thwart legal progress

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Organizations representing aquariums, the meat and dairy industries and the biomedical research sector were among the many lobby groups filing amicus briefs in support of the Bronx Zoo. Their central message was largely the same: animals are property.

JOE WILLS: On June 14, the New York Court of Appeals handed down its eagerly anticipated opinion in Nonhuman Rights Project v Breheny. The case raised the question of whether an aging female Asian elephant called Happy confined at the Bronx zoo was entitled to be transferred to an elephant sanctuary through a writ of habeas corpus.

In a 5-2 decision, the Court rejected the appeal for Happy’s freedom. Their reasoning was, to put it mildly, not good. Much to the chagrin of animal law experts and the dissenting minority, the Court’s majority trotted out a familiar series of poorly-grounded claims that have been long rebuked.

The crux of the majority’s decision probably isn’t grounded in legal principles, but rather on policy considerations. What would happen, the majority asked, if we were to find in favor of Happy? Extending habeas corpus rights to an elephant “would have an enormous destabilizing impact on modern society,” the five justices opined. In particular, it would risk the “disruption of property rights, the agricultural industry (among others), and medical research efforts.”

The Court had likely been persuaded by the numerous amicus briefs filed by lobby groups for the animal exploitation industries. An amicus brief is a written submission to a court by a person or group who is not party to the proceedings. Organizations representing aquariums, the meat and dairy industries and the biomedical research sector were among the many lobby groups filing amicus briefs in support of the Bronx Zoo.

There were slight differences in these briefs, but their central message was largely the same: animals are property. Court-ordered efforts to remove animals from their owners would violate property rights and open up the floodgates to animal rights groups filing lawsuits on behalf of pets, farmed animals and animal research subjects. The speculative claims in these briefs were both alluded to by the majority and endorsed as a central reason to reject Happy’s appeal.

What happened in Happy’s case is just one illustration of how the animal exploitation industries mobilize to thwart efforts to improve the legal status of animals. Sometimes, they do not even wait for such cases to be heard in court, instead opting to pre-emptively block them from getting there in the first place. The Idaho state legislature recently foreclosed the possibility of courts hearing a petition like Happy’s, passing a law this month to affirm that “nonhuman animals… shall not be granted personhood status”…

California’s Proposition 12 passed with over 62% of the popular vote in 2018. The ballot initiative eliminates some of the cruelest forms of confinement of animals on factory farms and prohibits the sale of meat and eggs produced by such methods in California.

The response of the animal exploitation industries was swift. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) initiated a series of legal challenges to Prop 12’s constitutionality, claiming it imposes an excessive burden on interstate commerce. Their latest legal challenge is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, but an army of supportive amicus briefs have been filed by right-wing think-tanks, Big Ag States and industry lobbyists…

This corporate legal subterfuge is not limited to the U.S. In Canada, the meat industry lobbied for “ag gag” laws. In Switzerland, the pharmaceutical industry campaigned against extending fundamental rights to primates. In the United Kingdom, the government reversed its commitment to banning fur and foie gras imports. SOURCE…

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