Animal Husbandry Redux: Redefining “Accepted Agricultural Practices” for Locally Sourced Foods

Vol. 28 No. 2

Ms. Vesilind is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law and a fellow at the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at the Vermont Law School.

The local foods movement has advanced beyond the occasional Saturday visit to the farmers market for fresh tomatoes and corn. In record numbers, devotees of locally sourced foods are purchasing eggs, meats, and dairy products from regional farmers. When asked why they prefer buying animal-based foods from local farms, a majority of these consumers mention animal welfare concerns. They expect that animals raised locally are treated more humanely than animals raised in high-density industrial agricultural facilities. This assumption may be correct, but perhaps only to a degree, because institutionalized cruelty still occurs on some small farms. In fact, when animal suffering is the result of an “accepted agricultural practice,” the law has little to say about it.

Advocates of farmed animal reform also have largely overlooked animal husbandry in the local foods context, instead focusing their efforts on eliminating the most restrictive industrial confinement practices. From a percentages perspective, this reform strategy is sound. Yet continuing to ignore small-scale animal agriculture will result in missing an opportunity to revise animal husbandry regulations and cruelty laws from the ground up.

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