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Date Created: 12/21/15
SKILL SHARPENER 1.800.973.1177 University of Chicago Law Students Work in New Project to Develop Practical Animal-Rights Impact [by Erica Winter] Susie Cowen and Viktoria Lovei, second-year law students at the University of Chicago Law School, worked as research assistants last summer. This, in it- self, is not unusual. Except that their research may someday contribute to a change in the way that food is labeled in the United States and the way in which farm animals are treated. Both Cowen and Lovei worked on the new “Labeling would kick-start consumer aware- Lovei found, in general, that it would be Chicago Animal Treatment Principles Proj- n ess,” says Lovei. From that awareness, a preferable to have ongoing random checks ect, which seeks to find practical solutions to market would develop for products made on producers to make sure their labels were animal-ethics issues through legal research from humanely treated animals, with produc- truthful, as opposed to scheduled inspec- and proposed changes in industry prac- e rs competing for consumers. ions. Also, self-verification of good practices tices--both in how producers treat animals (by each producer filling out a form saying and in what they tell consumers about that One essential question in this project is: what that all was being done correctly) does not treatment. would go on the label? The ultimate answer increase consumer confidence. is still being debated. One idea, says Lovei, is Cowen was interested in the project on both that the label would give a specific list of how Lovei also found that currently, with other intuitive and intellectual levels, she says. As the animal was treated; it would not read, voluntary labeling, the standards for label- a long-time vegetarian, she has an ongoing hypothetically, ‘Humane Seal of Approval.’ ng a product were similar from producer interest in animal rights. She is also interest- to producer but not completely uniform. It ed in looking at the informational problems A general ‘approval’ label would not truly would be better to have industry agreement that go along with efforts to reach real-world serve to inform the consumer, since it leaves on uniform standards. solutions to animal-ethics problems. Most the details of the animal’s life up to the consumers do not really know what they are individual’s imagination. While some general Cowen looked at the history of nutritional eating, she says, and therefore “most people certifications were part of the impetus for labeling and organic labeling to see whether are not making informed decisions,” on what the Chicago program’s start, they are not the they were effective. Her research suggested food to buy. end of the story, says Professor Jeff Leslie, that, in fact, labels do not have as much one of the faculty members working on the impact as one might hope, thus doing little to Lovei got involved in the project because she project. change consumer preferences. sees it as a relevant area of inquiry that re- ceives little attention. Animal ethics and law For example, the Royal Society for the A consumer looking for a low-fat item, for is “a very new area,” she says. Also, she was Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) example, would look at nutritional labels and interested in tackling the challenge of finding certifies that some food in the U.K. has been compare products, buying one that was lower unexpected solutions to animal-treatment produced humanely through the “Freedom in fat. But that label would not convince problems. Chicago law has the chance to be Food Project,” with its stamp of approval. another consumer to buy the low-fat product a leader in this emerging field, she says. While this type of system is a good thing, it if the consumer was not all ready seeking it does not go far enough because it gives no out. The animal treatment project, which will detail or definition of exactly what “humane” soon expand to address other issues in means, says Leslie. Cowen, greatly in favor of labeling products animal rights, has thus far focused on the with animal-treatment information, still idea that consumer knowledge is essential to Cowen’s research looked at the history and doubts that it would achieve the ideal impact, forwarding the ethical treatment of animals efficacy of other food-labeling programs. although labels might change some practices used for food in the United States. As with Lovei examined regulatory schemes for a “to a degree,” she says. nutritional information, the animal treatment labeling system and how enforcement of project leaders settled on product labeling as labeling standards would work. Nonetheless, there is hope that information a tool for consumer education. on animal treatment could have some impact PAGE 1 continued on back SKILL SHARPENER 1.800.973.1177 on consumer behavior, says Cowen, given recent controversies and changes in the fast- food industry. Last summer eleven workers were fired from a Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant in West Virginia for cruelty to animals. A mem - ber of the group People for the Ethical Treat - ment of Animals (PETA) got a job at the plant and videotaped workers abusing the chickens in horrifying ways and then showed the video on national television. Under public pressure, the company, a supplier to the KFC restaurant chain, kicked out those responsible and hired an outside animal-rights consultant. The consumer reaction to the Pilgrim’s Pride/KFC exposé shows the information gap between “what people know and what people eat,” says Cowen. Labeling could begin to change all that. PAGE 2
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