Studies show that the average American spends 40 minutes every day thinking about food. We all need food to survive. Not only is food essential to our well-being, we have a deeply personal relationship with food. This relationship can be informed by politics, culture, ethics, religion, and taste preferences. Food can also be a way to express love, extend comfort and connect with friends and family.
Ubiquitous as food may be, in many places around the world it is becoming increasingly difficult to find healthy and nutritious food. In 2023, a record 349 million people across 79 countries are facing acute food insecurity. This food insecurity is exacerbated by the climate crisis and internal political conflicts. As the world’s population is set to increase by 2 billion in the next 30 years, the need to ensure access to safe and healthy food is more dire than ever.
The Impact of Our Food Systems on Animals
The food system is one of the biggest sources of animal exploitation in this day and age. In the U.S. alone, 10 billion land animals per year are slaughtered for food. Across the world, 80 billion land animals are slaughtered for food annually. Those numbers do not include aquatic animals, who are not even counted as individuals and are instead measured in tons.
Animals raised for food in industrial animal agriculture are routinely subjected to intensive confinement and filthy living conditions. The food system also contributes to one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, of which a substantial portion is from animal agriculture. On the public health front, the intensive confinement of animals can also be the source of zoonotic diseases and food-borne infections. Therefore, when producing food, it is vital to safeguard animal welfare as well as environmental and public health.
Food products sourced from animals pose unique safety, animal disease, and food labeling concerns. For this reason, the regulation of food can be incredibly complicated. In the United States alone, food safety is regulated on the federal, state and local levels. When it comes to federal laws, there are multiple federal agencies involved with food regulation and oversight. These regulators often have to make decisions involving scientific uncertainties, and have to balance conflicting public interests when doing so. The larger questions are: how do we effectively regulate the food system, and who should carry out the regulation? For those who care about animals, those concerns take on particular importance given the sheer magnitude of suffering caused to animals used as food.
Thinking about Regulating Food Systems Through the Law
Against this backdrop, Lewis & Clark’s Food Law course, co-taught by Professors Pamela Frasch and Hira Jaleel, aims to introduce students to modern day food law issues in the United States and abroad. Designed as a survey course, Food Law examines contemporary food law and policy and introduces students to a number of issues and concepts. Students cover the history of food laws in the United States, food safety, food labeling and animal farming practices. The course also delves into cutting-edge issues in food law, such as safeguarding farmed animals against diseases, food innovation in the alternative protein space and comparative international issues.
Food law is evolving rapidly, and regulators are grappling with questions of how to regulate novel food products such as cultivated meat and other alternative proteins. Similarly, ever increasing outbreaks of animal diseases call for reimagining the food system. This fully online and asynchronous course is designed not only to introduce students to current laws and regulations, but to also encourage reflection on what the laws and regulations should be.
With this course, Professors Frasch and Jaleel encourage students to think creatively about food law. Food not only impacts animals, but also significantly implicates environmental concerns and public health issues. Students engage with different perspectives on how to best regulate food systems, so as to minimize the adverse impacts of animal-based foods on animals, the environment, and human beings. At the same time, students are encouraged to think about the goal of ensuring a supply of ample, nutritious food for the growing world population.
Using Food Law to Help Animals
Food law is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary field of law. It is also unique for one main reason: everybody eats. The study of food law and policy serves as a promising arena to bring about change for animals. With the food system’s ever-increasing detrimental impact on animals, public health and the environment, learning more about food law can equip students with the knowledge required to meaningfully regulate food and to ensure consumers are not misled about what is on their plate. Teachings from this course can be used for further academic research, food regulation, food law litigation, and food justice advocacy.
If you’re passionate about ensuring the safety of the food system for humans and animals, or interested in completely overhauling how food has historically been produced or regulated, this course is for you.
CALS Alumni Pave the Way in Food Law
The Center for Animal Law Studies is dedicated to training the next generation of animal law advocates. The LLM in Animal Law and MSL in Animal Law advanced degrees equip lawyers and non-lawyers alike with tools to protect animals through the law. Lewis & Clark’s Food Law course offers an intersectional approach to animal law and encourages prospective animal advocates to examine linkages between animal law and other areas of legal inquiry.
CALS’ alumni are also experts in the field of Food Law. Alumna Alice Di Concetto (LLM ’16, France) recently published a paper titled “Farm Animal Welfare and Food Information for European Union Consumers: Harmonising the Regulatory Framework for More Policy Coherence” in the European Journal of Risk Regulation. Her research analyzes the animal welfare food labeling landscape in the European Union and presents different regulatory pathways to best harmonize consumer information on farmed animal welfare. She has also previously researched the impacts of the U.S. Farm Bill on animal welfare.
The rising success of plant-based meat and the looming competition of cultivated meat has sparked state legislation censoring the words that can be used on labels for these foods. Bianka Atlas (LLM ’20, New Zealand) has written about and presented on the plant-based meat labeling landscape in the United States, with a focus on current and pending state legislation and lawsuits.