Animal law advocates will gather at Harvard Law School this week for the eighth annual Animal Law Week. The events, which will be a mixture of Zoom and in-person talks and will run from Mar. 22 through Mar. 29, are co-organized by the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School (ALPP) and Harvard Law School’s student-run Animal Law Society. More details can be found on the registration page and recordings of previous Animal Law Weeks can be found on the the ALPP website.
Harvard Law Today interviewed ALPP Executive Director Chris Green ’04 via email about HLS’ Animal Law program, this year’s Animal Law Week events, and how Harvard Law students can get involved.
Harvard Law Today: This is the 8th annual Animal Law Week at Harvard Law School. How has the Animal Law & Policy Program and the animal law field evolved over the past eight years?
Chris Green: The field of animal law and policy has evolved substantially over the past eight years. After speaking at the first Harvard Animal Law Week in 2015, I then returned to help Professor Kristen Stilt build the Animal Law & Policy Program here at HLS [the program was renamed the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School in November 2021]. After starting with just the two of us and one academic fellow, this year we will have 33 faculty, staff, lecturers, scholars, researchers, and fellows working within the Animal Law & Policy Program and the Animal Law & Policy Clinic. Our example has encouraged other institutions to launch and expand similar programs and clinics, including Yale, Vermont, and the University of Denver, each of which involves former HLS staff, fellows, or alums.
One of the most substantive developments is the passage of several state ballot initiatives governing the treatment of animals raised for food. In 2016, Massachusetts was the first state to ban the sale of certain meat and dairy products raised using extreme forms of animal confinement such as gestation crates for mother pigs and battery cages for egg-laying hens — a prohibition that notably applies to food items produced in other states. California followed suit in 2018 with a similar sales ban that has been challenged in four separate lawsuits, two of which were petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court, one which is still pending. Every court that has heard those challenges has responded with decisions that clearly underscore that states have the right to set such standards related to human health and animal welfare, even if they might have an impact on out-of-state producers who wish to sell into those markets.
HLT: What are some highlights of this year’s Animal Law Week?
Green: We always strive to assemble a broad range of speakers and topics for our Animal Law Week. This year’s events feature fellow academics, an HLS alumnae practitioner, an entrepreneurial investor, international legal experts, and the executive director of a major Wall Street firm. The subjects include differing approaches to animal personhood and a variety of ways HLS graduates can have an impact in animal law and policy — from working directly in farmed animal protection, to opportunities in the alternative proteins sector, to lending one’s skills to advise nonprofit orgs and academic institutions. One standout will be the Thursday session covering a recent decision by the the Constitutional Court of Ecuador extending that country’s rights of nature provision to nonhuman animals for the first time. The court heavily relied on the reasoning of our amicus brief filed jointly by the Animal Law & Policy Program and the Nonhuman Rights Project.
HLT: Can you share some new and ongoing projects students and staff are working on this academic year?
Green: The Animal Law & Policy Clinic is engaged in several pieces of ongoing litigation, including one just argued in the Ninth Circuit last month suing the National Park Service for its complicity in allowing California’s Tule elk to starve behind a human erected fence in Point Reyes National Seashore so that local dairy farms can exclusively access the best forage and water sources. Other litigation includes suing the USDA over standards for the psychological well-being of primates used in research and for allowing inhumane handling of poultry slaughtered for food. We also have petitioned the NIH to extend Animal Welfare Act protections to octopuses and other cephalopods used in federally-funded research, and recently submitted comments concerning the labeling of cultivated meat and poultry products — public comments the USDA specifically requested in response to a petition submitted by our clinic in 2020.
The Animal Law & Policy Program also is involved in several major research projects including a multi-year research analysis of global policy responses to live animal markets and the role they play in zoonotic disease transmission — which now includes more than 15 institutional partners in over a dozen countries. We also just embarked on creating a compendium of laws across the country that potentially could be impacted by the Exposing Agricultural Trade Suppression Act, which is directly aimed at overturning state animal welfare ballot initiatives. And we’ve recently launched a new international initiative to assess the state of the animal law and policy profession and academy in South Asia and strategize on ways to augment that work.
HLT: How can students get involved in the clinic and the program?
Green: This year students can enroll in the Animal Law & Policy Clinic directly via Helios on March 30-31. The Animal Law & Policy Program also has several opportunities for students to work as research assistants on several of the projects listed above. We also invite the student board members of the HLS Animal Law Society to participate in our ALPP Workshop Series where we review and offer constructive feedback on works in progress by our faculty, fellows, and other members of our community. I highly recommend that students become more involved with the Animal Law Society as we collaborate closely with them on all our events, including Animal Law Week.