The legal case against anthropocentrism

Deckha. Credit: UVic Photo Services

Animal law raises questions about the legal status of animals and conflicted role in agriculture.

Canada’s agriculture sector raises over 700 million animals for human consumption every year, and a growing body of legal scholarship is examining a dissonance that sits at the heart of those practices. The animal-based agriculture industry—meat, egg and dairy farming—largely governs itself in terms of how farmed animals are raised, operating according to non-enforceable industry codes for animal welfare. In contrast, “an increasing number of those involved in legal education are rethinking the law’s species-based hierarchy that places humans at the apex,” explains UVic law professor and Lansdowne Chair in Law, Maneesha Deckha.

For nearly 15 years, Deckha has taught courses in animal law—scholarship that has been recognized by two recent grants that will help extend her research. Deckha was awarded a SSHRC Insight Grant for a four-year research program to examine the legal issues around farmed animals’ vulnerability, and the conditions of confinement and natural behaviour deprivation at work in agribusiness.

Deckha’s work has also paved the way for the Brooks Institute for Animal Rights Law and Policy, a US-based independent think tank, to select UVic as one of two inaugural Canadian member institutions in The Brooks Animal Studies Academic Network (BASAN). BASAN brings together top animal law scholars from across North America, including law schools such as Yale and Harvard, to support advances in animal law, animal policy-making and related animal studies.

Such support comes at a critical time, with animal law and policy addressing global issues such as climate change, threats to species populations and extinction, rollbacks to wildlife protections, the global trade in wildlife and commercial exploitation of animals deemed livestock. The Brooks Institute engages additional projects such as the sentience and cognition of non-human animals, and stages annual summits in animal law, animal policy, and animal studies across multiple disciplines.

At UVic, Deckha also leads the Animals and Society Research Initiative (ASRI), an interdisciplinary working group promoting critical thinking on interspecies relations. ASRI brings together faculty, student and community scholars across multiple disciplines, including law, sociology, geography, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and art history and visual studies.

ASRI’s highlight event for 2020 takes place on March 10, 2020: an inaugural lecture in animal rights law and policy by Kristen A. Stilt, the director of Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Program, at 12:30 p.m. in Fraser 157. The initiative also hosts an annual Emerging Scholars Workshop for law students, graduate students and early career scholars, which will take place in Kelowna this May.


In this story

Keywords: law, agriculture, animals

People: Maneesha Deckha

Publication: The Ring

Related stories