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December 13, 2021

The Case for Adequate Natural Disaster Preparedness by Livestock Producers

By Alex Cerussi, Kayla Venckauskas, Molly Armus and AJ Albrecht

Introduction

Every year, hundreds of thousands of farmed animals die due to extreme weather conditions and natural disasters. In the aftermath of these deaths, the USDA compensates farmers and contract growers through programs such as the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) without any requirement that there is a disaster preparedness plan in place to mitigate foreseeable losses.1 Unlike other standing disaster assistance programs for farmers, the LIP does not require that beneficiaries have any risk-management program or private insurance coverage in order to qualify.2

Congress has a long history of compensating farmers and contract growers for economic losses.3 In 2019 alone, an estimated 927,701 farmed animals died due to adverse weather conditions, and the USDA paid out over $58.5 million under the LIP.4 From 2008-2019, the total number of farmed animals that have died is unknown, but over $435 million dollars was paid out through the program.5 Some members of Congress and others have urged the USDA to incentivize disaster preparedness for farmers to save lives and revenues, yet little action has been taken.6

There are resources available to help animal farmers adequately prepare for disasters.7 The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides information on how to build a livestock evacuation kit, the steps to take when creating a plan (whether evacuation is feasible or other options should be considered), the best practices to use in different types of disasters or weather events, and links to other resources.8 As an Illinois sheep farmer in December 2019 said, “This winter I am going to make a point to update our farm’s disaster preparedness and recovery plan. The country has seen a lot of natural disasters last year, which reminded me of the need for a good action plan ahead of time. . . . There are steps everyone can take to help when something happens.”9

Farming trade associations, such as the National Chicken Council, National Pork Board, and the North American Meat Institute recommend disaster preparedness. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the USDA also have recommended that livestock producers plan for disasters.10

Impact of Animal Agriculture During Disasters  

Failing to require adequate disaster preparedness as part of these payouts impacts communities both physically and economically. A lack of disaster preparedness results in an increase in the severity of environmental degradation, an increased likelihood of disease and illness in people, and an increase in food loss. Moreover, by failing to require direct proof of natural disaster preparations, local economies and taxpayers can end up footing the bill.

        Environmental Degradation

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “the agriculture sector is responsible for almost a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions,”11 with livestock accounting for 14.5% of those emissions.12 Harmful greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to climate change, which has resulted in an increase in severity and frequency of natural disasters. Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, natural disasters exacerbate the environmental impacts, particularly the contamination of land and water by animal waste, of animal agriculture. This results in both public health and environmental issues.

Waste from livestock is typically managed in one of two ways. One way is to spread the waste on crops.13 However, the amount of waste spread on the land by large-scale farms is typically “in quantities that exceed the soil’s ability to absorb it as fertilizer”14 and the waste is “largely untreated.” When natural disasters cause flooding and runoff,15 this untreated waste—often containing nitrates, hydrogen sulfide, methane, and ammonia—can contaminate the soil and runoff into waterways, causing, quite literally, downstream effects.16 As this type of runoff is exempt from the Clean Water Act, there is little recourse for communities impacted by this pollution.17

Waste is also managed through the creation of “lagoons.” Due to the intense confinement of animals like cows and pigs, the animals must urinate and defecate right where they stand. These farms then “flush waste from the floors where the animals are housed, and channel the liquid slurry into large ponds for storage.”18 As with the spray system, natural disasters often cause lagoons to overflow, leading to the contamination of waterways and land.19

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew brought catastrophe to the Carolina coast. Matthew’s flooding resulted in the death of an estimated 1.7 million chickens, 112,000 turkeys, and 2,800 hogs and caused at least sixteen giant hog waste lagoons to overflow and two to breach.20 As a result, fecal matter and carcass fluids seeped into nearby waterways.21 The decreased oxygen levels in water polluted by runoff also led to fishkills and habitat degradation for wildlife.22

Hurricane Florence struck North Carolina in 2018 and hog waste lagoons once again overflowed and waterways filled with thousands of dead and decaying hogs and chickens.23 At the time, state officials had been monitoring hog lagoons in an effort to better protect the safety of the public water supply, but Florence’s effects were significant.24 Reports from North Carolina officials showed “14.9 percent of the well water tested positive for E. coli bacteria and total fecal coliform bacteria” compared to just two percent of wells testing positive for the same bacteria earlier that year.25 This was especially concerning because “out of all 50 states, North Carolina ranks second in number of people who rely on private wells for drinking water.”26 Despite some local efforts to better protect waterways over the last few years,27 it is clear that not enough has been done at the federal level to prevent further exacerbation of the damage caused by the increasingly severe natural disasters and extreme weather.

        Public Health

As it was noted above, the environmental impacts from natural disasters subsequently impact public health.28 A multitude of pathogenic bacteria are found in manure and can be transmitted to humans through contaminated water and land causing “severe gastroenteritis, with diarrhea and vomiting.”29 While some human reactions are mild, others can lead to hospitalization.30 When there is prolonged leaching, the long-term effects can range from debilitating headaches and skin infections to fatal conditions.31 Nitrates found in animal waste are also a concern. They are particularly dangerous for fetuses and infants and can cause birth defects as well as premature death.32 Excess nitrates are harmful to adults too, leading to “miscarriages and poor general health.”33

Antibiotic resistance in people is another resultant public health concern. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria evolve to resist treatment.34 On many farms, entire herds or flocks are given low doses of antibiotics. As a result, the antibiotics kill the susceptible bacteria, but leave antibiotic resistant bacteria behind. The resistant bacteria can then be transmitted to humans through consumption of meat as well as contaminated water and land.35 Moreover, according to a CDC report, antibiotics themselves can be present in manure if not metabolized by the animal. Thus, “if manure pollutes a water supply, antibiotics can also leach into groundwater or surface water.”36 Antibiotic resistance not only puts humans at risk of getting sick and dying from foodborne bacteria but can also make it more difficult to combat zoonotic diseases.37

        Environmental Justice

Another major concern is that these negative health impacts disproportionately affect marginalized communities.38 As Hurricane Florence started to hit North Carolina in 2018, it was quickly identified as a potential public health crisis, noting the number of hog manure lagoons sitting “adjacent to the drinking water sources of thousands of rural poor” and the long-term effects that contamination would have on their health.39 It is no coincidence that many farms are located in areas where marginalized communities often lack the political power or economic sway to adequately address the negative impacts farms have on their communities.40

        Food Loss

Another consequence of a lack of disaster preparedness is food loss, which is when food is lost during “harvest, storage and transportation.”41 It is not uncommon for livestock to be left behind and die during natural disasters. For example, following Hurricane Matthew in 2016, millions of chickens, turkeys, and hogs were left behind and drowned in North Carolina.42 Similar losses occurred during Hurricane Florence in 2018  when an estimated 3.4 million poultry and 5,500 hogs drowned43 and during flooding in the Midwest in 2019, which caused thousands of animals to die.44 In December of 2015, Winter Storm Goliath killed more than 35,000 dairy cows and earlier this year, Winter Storm Uri killed a large number of animals across multiple states, causing livestock losses of $228 million in Texas alone.45

In addition to the inherent animal welfare concerns leaving animals behind poses, both food loss and food waste have a combined carbon footprint that is “estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of GHG released into the atmosphere per year.”46 Furthermore, food loss looks at both the actual products lost, and the resources utilized to produce food. The significant amounts of land and water utilized to raise animals for meat are ultimately wasted when animals are lost to natural disasters.47

        Cost to Taxpayers

The USDA’s payouts to farmers not only incentivize profit over economic security for farmers, the environment, human health, and animal welfare—they also come at great cost to local economies and taxpayers. The LIP is the consummate example of this untenable economic truth.

The Farm Service Agency is tasked with administration of the LIP through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).48 The CCC was created by the first Farm Bill, in 1933, and funds agricultural programs established by Congress.49 The CCC’s purpose is to support U.S. agriculture, and it is currently authorized to borrow up to $30 billion from the U.S. Treasury, in addition to borrowing from private lending agencies.50

The payouts made by the CCC have little oversight and no requirements for disaster preparedness, human health protections, or safeguards for farmed animals. The LIP is an example of the excessive spending under this program: according to the USDA Economic Research Service, in 2019 alone, the CCC allocated $95.9 million of taxpayer money to the LIP.51 By way of comparison, the entire federal assistance obligations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2019 amounted to only $3.2 billion, with $2.7 billion of that in the form of grants. An additional $1.17 billion was obligated to the operations and support of FEMA.52 Shifting focus to preparedness would not only prevent losses, it would also create significant cost-savings for the U.S. government.

Ongoing Policy Efforts

In 2018, several members of Congress urged the USDA to “implement common sense changes to the information collected from farmers prior to providing reimbursement for animals that have died as a result of adverse weather events.”53 Specifically, the letter addressed to then USDA Secretary Perdue, noted that, “many animals are provided little to no shelter and subjected to prolonged suffering and agonizing deaths that could be preventable if proper weather precautions and disaster management plans were encouraged by the FSA’s LIP.”54 Members expressed concern for the “clear disincentive” for farmers to provide for their animals and asked the Secretary to require producers applying for compensation to “provide direct proof, including but not limited to photos, videos, or records of preparations made. . . .”55

In December of 2020, the Congressional Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2021 passed and included language directing the USDA to work with producers who voluntarily choose to develop disaster plans, officially recognizing that “millions of farmed animals die each year due to the effects of adverse weather” and that “extreme weather events are occurring at increased frequency, putting additional livestock at risk.”56

Conclusion

Though Congress has taken steps towards addressing the issues associated with a lack of disaster preparedness for farmers and livestock, more needs to be done. To adequately protect animals used in agriculture, public health, and the environment, the USDA and Congress must incentivize adequate natural disaster preparedness

  1. 7 C.F.R. § 1416.301 (2020). The LIP was the first program enacted specifically for the purpose of reimbursing farmers and contract growers for a variety of animal losses. It was authorized by the 1997 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act. Livestock Indemnity Program, EMERGENCY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS—NATURAL DISASTERS—OVERSEAS PEACEKEEPING EFFORTS, PL 105–18, June 12, 1997, 111 Stat 158. An interim rule was first published in 62 Fed. Reg. 121,33982 (June 24, 1997) (to be codified at 7 C.F.R. pts. 1414-16, 1434, 1437, 1439, 1468, 1477, 1479 & 1489). The written agreement sets the specific terms, conditions, and obligations of the parties involved regarding the production of livestock or livestock products. 7 C.F.R. § 1416.302. In order to make a claim under the LIP, contract growers must have had a risk of loss in the animal, possession and control of the livestock at the time of the eligible loss condition as well as a written agreement with an eligible livestock owner. 7 C.F.R. § 1416.303. Other programs that reimburse farmers and contract growers for livestock and other animal losses include the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) and the Livestock Forage Program (LFP). “LFP provides compensation to eligible livestock producers that have suffered grazing losses due to drought or fire on land that is native or improved pastureland with permanent vegetative cover or that is planted specifically for grazing. ELAP provides emergency assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish for losses due to disease, adverse weather, or other conditions, such as blizzards and wildfires, not covered by LFP and LIP.” Disaster Assistance Programs, U.S. Dep’t Agric., https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/disaster-assistance-program/index (last visited Oct. 13, 2021).
  2. Lynn A. Hayes & Karen R. Krub, Livestock Indemnity Program 2 (Farmers’ Legal Action Group, 2009), http://www.flaginc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/LIP.pdf.
  3. As shown by the enactment of the LIP in 1997. Livestock Indemnity Program, 62 Fed. Reg.121,33982 (June 24, 1997).
  4. Extreme Weather, Animal Welfare Inst., https://awionline.org/content/extreme-weather (last visited Oct. 13, 2021); Protecting Farm Animals in Extreme Winter Weather, Animal Welfare Inst., https://awionline.org/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/ProtectingFarmAnimalsinExtremeWinterWeather.pdf (last visited Oct. 13, 2021).
  5. USAspending.gov, https://www.usaspending.gov/#/search/586fa7962a53ac7c2b8e502b5aa269aa (last visited Oct. 13, 2021).
  6. H.R. REP. 116-107, 40 (2019), https://www.congress.gov/116/crpt/hrpt107/CRPT-116hrpt107.pdf.
  7. The USDA is currently required to work with farmers and contract growers who volunteer to develop disaster plans. Staff of H. Comm. on Appropriations, 116th Cong., Further Consolidated Appropriations Act 316 (Comm. Print 2020), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CPRT-116HPRT38679/pdf/CPRT-116HPRT38679.pdf.
  8. Do YOU Have a Plan for Your Livestock Should Disaster Strike?, USDA Preparedness Fact Sheet, U.S. Dep’t Agric. (Oct. 2016), https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/usda-livestock-preparedness-fact-sheet.pdf [hereinafter USDA Preparedness Fact Sheet].
  9. Livestock Industry Recognizes Importance of Disaster Planning, Animal Welfare Inst. (2020) (on file with the authors).
  10. USDA Preparedness Fact Sheet, supra note 8, Large animals and livestock in disasters, Am. Vet. Med. Ass’n., https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters (last visited Nov. 1, 2021).
  11. Food & Agric. Org., FAO’s Work on Climate Change 8 (U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018), http://www.fao.org/3/CA2607EN/ca2607en.pdf.
  12. Id. at 7.
  13. Id.
  14. A Safe, Sustainable Food System, Food & Water Watch, https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/2021/03/08/a-safe-sustainable-food-system/ (last visited Oct. 4, 2021).
  15. Soren Rundquist, Exposing Fields of Filth: After Hurricane, First Detailed Look at Flooding of Feces-Laden N.C. Factory Farms, Envtl. Working Group (Nov. 4, 2016), https://www.ewg.org/research/exposing-fields-filth.
  16. Id..; see also Daniel Ross, Factory Farms Pollute the Environment and Poison Drinking Water, EcoWatch (Feb. 20, 2019, 11:38 AM), https://www.ecowatch.com/factory-farms-drinking-water-pollution-2629508815.html (some states even permit application of waste on frozen ground).
  17. Clean Water Act Section 404 and Agriculture, Envtl. Prot. Agency, https://www.epa.gov/cwa-404/clean-water-act-section-404-and-agriculture (last visited Oct. 1, 2021).
  18. John Flesher, Factory Farms Provide Abundant Food, But Environment Suffers, PBS (Feb. 6, 2020, 2:33 PM), https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/factory-farms-provide-abundant-food-but-environment-suffers.
  19. Id.
  20. Elke Weesjes, While Flood Water Recedes, Animal Waste Production Doesn’t, Nat. Hazards Ctr. (Oct. 28, 2016), https://hazards.colorado.edu/article/hogs-and-hurricanes-while-flood-water-recedes-animal-waste-pollution-doesn-t.
  21. Id.
  22. Id.
  23. Barbara King, Opinion, As Florence Kills Pigs And Millions Of Chickens, We Must ‘Open Our Hearts,’ NPR (Sept. 24, 2018, 5:33PM), https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/09/24/650437498/opinion-as-florence-kills-pigs-and-millions-of-chickens-we-must-open-our-hearts;Michael Biesecker, 3.4 Million Poultry, 5,500 Hogs Drowned in Florence Flooding, AP News (Sept. 18, 2018), https://apnews.com/article/401399af605f487db68c0447a1ebc358.
  24. John Murawski, The amount of E. coli and fecal matter in NC wells has spiked since Hurricane Florence, The News & Observer (Oct. 25, 2018 12:54 PM), https://www.newsobserver.com/news/business/article220561095.html.
  25. Id.
  26. Emilie Karrick Surrusco, The Storm Moved on, But North Carolina’s Hog Waste Didn’t, Earthjustice (Jan. 9, 2019), https://earthjustice.org/blog/2019-january/hog-waste-creates-problems-for-north-carolina-residents.
  27. Weesjes, Id.0. Dead hogs were composted on farms or sent to plants after Matthew according to Brian Long, public affairs director for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “’Composting is the preferred method,’ Long told North Carolina Health News. ‘It reduces leaching of farm waste, reduces pest and disease issues and prevents odor issues.’” Id..
  28. Jerad D. Bales et al., Two Months of Flooding in Eastern North Carolina, September-October 1999, at 29 (U.S. Geological Survey 2000), https://pubs.usgs.gov/wri/wri004093/pdf/waterquality.pdf; Carrie Hribar, Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities 4, 9 (Nat’l Ass’n of Local Boards of Health 2010), https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf.
  29. Peter T. Kilborn, Hurricane Reveals Flaws in Farm Law as Animal Waste Threatens N. Carolina Water, N.Y. Times (Oct. 17, 1999), https://www.nytimes.com/1999/10/17/us/hurricane-reveals-flaws-in-farm-law-as-animal-waste-threatens-n-carolina-water.html.
  30. Murawski, supra note 24; see also Healthy Pets, Healthy People: Farm Animals, Ctrs. for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/farm-animals.html (Select Diseases tab) (last visited Oct. 1, 2021).
  31. See Hribar, supra note 28, at 9; see also Social Justice, Farm Sanctuary, https://www.farmsanctuary.org/issue/social-justice/ (scroll to Workers & Communities Suffer & click the Environmental Racism bullet) (last visited Oct. 4, 2021).   
  32. Valerie Baron, Big Ag is Hiding in Plain Sight and It’s Making Us Sick, NRDC (Sept. 23, 2019), https://www.nrdc.org/experts/valerie-baron/factory-farms-what-we-dont-know-hurting-communities; Hribar, supra note 28, at 4; see also Social Justice, supra note 31.
  33. Hribar, supra note 28, at 4. 
  34. Food & Water Watch, Antibiotic Resistance 101: How Antibiotic Misuse on Factory Farms Can Make You Sick 4 (Sept. 2012), https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/24346542/antibiotic-resistance-101-food-water-watch.
  35. Id. at 4, 6-10.
  36. Bart Pfankuch, Human health, environmental and antibiotic concerns follow CAFO development, Argus Leader (Dec. 16, 2019, 8:31AM),https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2019/12/16/human-health-environmental-and-antibiotic-concerns-follow-cafo-development/2662208001/.
  37. Jan Dutkiewicz et al., Opinion, The Covid-19 Pandemic Shows We Must Transform the Global Food System, The Guardian (Apr. 16, 2020, 8:35), https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/16/coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-food-animals.
  38. See Social Justice, supra note 31; Ross, supra note 16.
  39. Emily Atkin, Hurricane Florence Is a Public Health Emergency, Too, New Republic (Sept. 13, 2018), https://newrepublic.com/article/151180/hurricane-florence-public-health-emergency.
  40. See Steve Wing et al., Community Based Collaboration for Environmental Justice: South-East Halifax Environmental Reawakening, 8 Env’t & Urbanization 129 (1996).
  41. Global Food Waste and its Environmental Impact, Reset, https://en.reset.org/knowledge/global-food-waste-and-its-environmental-impact-09122018 (last visited Oct. 9, 2021). This is different from food waste, which is when edible food is thrown away. Id.
  42. Tom Philpott, Millions of Farm Animals Fall Victim to Hurricane Matthew, Wired (Oct. 15, 2016, 7:00 AM), https://www.wired.com/2016/10/millions-farm-animals-fall-victim-hurricane-matthew/.
  43. See Kris Maher & Ben Kesling, Florence Flooding Hits North Carolina Hog Farms Hard, Wall St. J. (Sept. 19, 2018, 7:09 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/florence-flooding-hits-north-carolina-hog-farms-hard-1537398585 (some farmers did prepare for Hurricane Florence, saving around 20,000 hogs by moving them to higher ground, which is why this number is relatively low); see also Biesecker, supra note 23.
  44. Jason Hanna & Marlena Baldacci, The Midwest Flooding Has Killed Livestock, Ruined Harvests and Has Farmers Worried About Their Future, CNN (Mar. 27, 2019, 8:35 AM), https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/21/us/floods-nebraska-iowa-agriculture-farm-loss/index.html.
  45. See  Lucinda Holt & Fernanda Santos, Blizzard Buried Some Dairy Cows in the Snow; 35,000 Die, N.Y. Times (Jan. 5, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/06/us/in-west-texas-hundreds-of-dairy-cows-killed-by-blizzard.html; Allie Granger, Monster Storms Can Spell Disaster for Farm Animals, Austin-American Statesman (Mar. 23, 2021, 8:41 AM), https://www.statesman.com/story/opinion/columns/your-voice/2021/03/23/opinion-monster-storms-can-spell-disaster-farm-animals/4790270001/; Paul Schattenberg, Agricultural Losses From Winter Storm Exceed $600 Million, Tex. A&M Today (Mar. 2, 2021), https://today.tamu.edu/2021/03/02/agricultural-losses-from-winter-storm-exceed-600-million/.
  46. Food Wastage: Key Facts and Figures, Food & Agric. Org., http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/196402/icode/ (last visited Oct. 15, 2021); see also, Summary Report, Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources, Food & Agric. Org. (2013), http://www.fao.org/3/i3347e/i3347e.pdf (this is the full report).
  47. The Environmental Impact of Food Waste, Move for Hunger: Blog (May 11, 2015), https://moveforhunger.org/the-environmental-impact-of-food-waste.
  48. As the U.S. Treasury is funded by taxpayer dollars via the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), so is the CCC.
  49. Reviewing the Commodity Credit Corporation’s Borrowing Authority, Am. Farm Bureau Fed’n (Apr. 21, 2020), https://www.fb.org/market-intel/reviewing-the-commodity-credit-corporations-borrowing-authority.
  50. Id.
  51. Spending Explorer: Agency, USASpending.Gov, https://www.usaspending.gov/explorer/agency (last visited Oct. 13, 2021).
  52. Id.
  53. Letter from members of Congress to Sonny Perdue III, Sec. Ag. (Dec. 4, 2018), https://mma.prnewswire.com/media/795536/Humane_Farming_Association_Letter_to_the_USDA.pdf?p=pdf.
  54. Id.
  55. Id.
  56. H.R. Rep. No.116-446, at 46 (2020), https://www.congress.gov/116/crpt/hrpt446/CRPT-116hrpt446.pdf.

Alex Cerussi

State Policy Manager for Mercy For Animals

Alex serves as the State Policy Manager for Mercy For Animals and as the TIPS Animal Law Committee’s Membership Vice Chair and Co-Chair of the Policy & Alliances Subcommittee. She can be reached at [email protected]

Kayla Venckauskas

Associate Corporate Counsel for the International Fund for Animal Welfare

Kayla serves as Associate Corporate Counsel for the International Fund for Animal Welfare where she works on contracts, nonprofit compliance, and legacy matters. She also serves as the TIPS Animal Law Committee’s Technology Vice Chair and Young Lawyer Vice Chair. She can be reached at [email protected]

Molly Armus

Virginia State Director for the Humane Society of the United States

Molly is the Virginia State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. In this role, she advances stronger animal protection laws and policies through grassroots organizing and direct lobbying efforts. Molly is the TIPS Animal Law Committee’s Social Media Vice Chair and Co-Chair of the Policy & Alliances Subcommittee. She can be reached at [email protected].  

AJ Albrecht

US Director of Government Affairs at Mercy For Animals

AJ is the US Director of Government Affairs at Mercy For Animals and the immediate past chair of the TIPS Animal Law Committee. She can be reached at [email protected].

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