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Every month, One Green Planet covers important issues in animal law. We often discuss exciting cases or legislation, but we rarely touch on the less glamorous — and equally important — world of petitioning agencies. This month, we have that opportunity thanks to a petition from Animal Partisan, which aligns with the theme of recent columns: the importance of state and local legal action to protect animals.
A Recap: the Importance of State and Local Laws
The theme of the past few animal law updates has been that state and local laws are especially important in animal law because federal laws protecting animals are lousy. In that vain, we’ve discussed the ongoing war between Animal rights lawyers, on one side, who are fighting to enable states to pass more laws protecting animals, and Big Ag, on the other side, which are fighting to prevent states from passing more animal-protection laws. In May, we highlighted a major win in the United States Supreme Court, in which the Court upheld a California animal-protection law, Prop 12, in the face of a lawsuit by the pork industry. In June, we talked about the EATS Act — an industry effort encouraging Congress to undermine the Supreme Court ruling and make it harder for states, like California, to pass laws like Prop 12.
This month, we’re peeling back another layer. For state laws to work, they need to not only be on the books but also enforced by the responsible state actors. Unfortunately, that often doesn’t happen: as the petition explains in detail, even when state law enforcement officials and prosecutors are armed with (1) evidence of severe cruelty to farmed animals, and (2) laws that criminalize the acts of cruelty, they still take no action. Animal Partisan’s petition looks to change that.
What are Petitions?
Petitions are exactly what they sound like. They’re requests to and demands that agencies take certain actions. Frequently, petitions ask agencies to make new rules, like this petition calling for the USDA to improve the standard for the treatment of primates involved in research, and this petition asking Maine’s Department of Agriculture to promulgate rules protecting fish kept for aquaculture. As with each of these petitions, if an agency denies the request, the party can often sue the agency in court: so petitions are important first steps, if not last steps.
The Petition for USDA to Work With States, Not Against Them
Animal Partisan’s petition is much simpler. It asks the USDA to issue a notice that state law enforcement can protect animals using state law, even if the USDA does (or is supposed to do) some similar work. The Petition also asks that USDA’s personnel work with state officers to help them enforce state laws.
The Petition should be an easy ask for FSIS — it isn’t looking to break new ground, but instead to clarify a symbiotic legal relationship between the federal agency and states that is already well established. So why is the petition so important? If USDA clarifies this rule of law in a clear, concise statement, it should send a message to state law enforcement that they have no excuse for abrogating their responsibilities to protect animals. It should also send a message to federal personnel that they should be helping states enforce their laws. And if state officers and prosecutors step up to enforce state anti-cruelty laws, they can make a big impact in protecting animals nationwide.
For previous Animal Law Updates, be sure to check out:
- August 2023 Animal Law Update: Go Local
- July 2023 Animal Law Update: Someone is Suing the FBI?
- June 2023: Animal Law Updates
- May 2023: Animal Law Updates
- April 2023: Animal Law Updates
- March 2023: Animal Law Updates
- February 2022: Animal Law Updates
- January 2022: Animal Law Updates
- A Look at 2022’s Biggest Moments for Animals in Court
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