Each month, One Green Planet tracks major legal developments that improve (or, in some cases, threaten) the lives and welfare of animals. Legislation and litigation sometimes protect animals directly, for example by closing a zoo or a slaughterhouse. But since the law severely underprotects animals, legal advocacy often needs to be more creative.
One of the most effective ways for lawyers to support animals is to support free speech activists and vegan businesses. In that vein, animal lawyers have had a successful month and One Green Planet is pleased to report two major wins in court. First, animal rights groups successfully challenged a Fourth “Ag-Gag” law in Iowa, which would have deterred activists from registering cruel farming practices. Second, Raw– a Canadian company that makes vegan cheese – has won a four-year legal battle against the City of Montreal, after the city sued Rawesome over its use of the word “cheese” on product labels.
1. Court hits Iowa Fourth Ag-Gag Law
An important way for activists to defend animals is to share information with the public, specific information about what is happening in factory farms and slaughterhouses. As the meat and dairy industries spread messages that animals are humanely handled (or even…pampered), images from activists show the cruel reality inherent in using animals for food. That’s why the meat and dairy industry — and states that support the meat and dairy industry — are imposing laws to prevent activists from recording these videos and photographs. Laws that seek to “gag” activists are known as “ag-gag” laws.
Historically, animal rights groups have successfully challenged ag-gag laws because these laws violate activists’ constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment. But as the courts strike down these ag-gag laws, states have responded by passing new (and more subtle) iterations. In 2021, Iowa passed its Fourth version of an ag-gag law. In version 4.0, Iowa created stiff penalties for anyone using a recording device during an intrusion.
Although the Iowa Ag-Gag 4.0 seems somewhat neutral at first glance, it was a not-so-subtle attack on animal activists. Why? Well, abusing recording devices (that’s to say, invading someone’s privacy) is already a crime in Iowa. For example, recording through someone’s window or in their home would be a crime. Since improper recording is already a crime, the new Iowa law targeted recording – such as recording cruelty to animals or inhumane working conditions inside a slaughterhouse – which would otherwise be legal and protected by the First Amendment, simply because it relates to trespass. As animal rights groups have explained, trespassing and speaking (that’s to say, registration) are separate issues. For example, trespassing on train tracks may be a minor violation of the law. But, it makes no sense to severely penalize an intruder because the intruder lay down on the train tracks to take pictures of the stars (that’s to sayused a recording device).
Making these arguments (and more), several activist groups—Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA, Bailing out Benji, Food & Water Watch, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, with Public Justice as legal counsel—challenged the fourth ag law. -gag from Iowa. And on September 26, 2022, a federal judge declared the law unconstitutional and struck it down. The ruling marks another major victory in the nationwide legal battle against ag-gag laws.
2. Rawesome wins labeling battle in Canada
Over the past decade, vegan companies have fought to use words like “meat” and “dairy” – words traditionally associated with animal products – on product labels, to clarify, for consumers, whether the products are “meat” or “dairy” alternatives. Using words like “meat” and “dairy” conveys the taste, texture and function of cruelty-free products, making them more marketable as new consumer goods. And using these words Is not confuse consumersespecially since companies call them “vegan” or “non-dairy.”
The animal agriculture industry – as well as various government entities that support the industry – have nonetheless attempted to censor vegan labeling to make vegan products less marketable. Many US states have passed laws that prohibit the use of words like “meat” or “milk” on vegan products, and vegan companies have successfully challenged these laws in court. But the most recent victory in the labeling wars has been in Canada.
In 2018, the City of Montreal continued Raw, a vegan company that manufactures and sells plant-based dairy products in Canada. Montreal argued that calling some products “Cashew cream cheese” violates Canadian federal food regulations. animal justiceas Rawesome’s legal counsel, argued that Canada’s “cheese” and “cream cheese” laws deal with the composition of dairy products and do not apply to products like Rawesome’s cheese, which is clearly labeled “non-dairy”.
Initially, in October 2021, a municipal court sided with Montreal and demanded that Rawesome pay a fine for violating Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations. This month, however, Superior Court Judge Gregory Moore overturned judgment. This victory sets an important precedent for vegan businesses in Canada.
For previous Animal Law updates on One Green Planet:
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