New Supreme Court Case Threatens Legal Protections for Animals
Law & Policy•5 min read
Lobbyists and legislators can only do so much. Public support is what pushes for bills to become laws—and right now, support for animals is soaring.
Words by Judie Mancuso
We all have that “aha” moment, a truly life-changing experience that changes the course of our lives. For me, that was Hurricane Katrina. After the hurricane, I went to New Orleans to volunteer and help with the hundreds of thousands of animals that were stranded as a result of the disaster. From that point forward, I knew what my purpose was. I quit my very comfortable 20+ year career in the IT industry and committed myself to helping animals. I just had one problem: how could I save them all?
I ultimately decided to dedicate myself to the legislative side of animal protection. Passing a law is how we get both individuals, companies, and governments to do right by animals, otherwise, they will face consequences. And as we know, people don’t always do the right thing when left to their own devices, especially when there’s an opportunity to profit. In 2007, Social Compassion in Legislation (SCIL) was born.
Since our inception, SCIL has sponsored 54 bills, 18 of which have become law: 17 in California and one in New York state. Sometimes we’re a testing ground, as other states will utilize our framework to introduce their own bills. For example, we were the first state in the nation to ban the sale of cosmetics and personal hygiene products that have been tested on animals with the CA Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act, and now two other states, Illinois and Nevada have followed suit and six more have bills in play this legislative season. It may take some time to see this come to fruition federally, but we’ve got to start somewhere.
It’s not easy to create a new law, by any means. It’s a massive undertaking that quite literally can take a village. We often work with other specialized advocacy groups that augment our team with more support and help organize grassroots movements. The legislators that author these bills are indispensable, as well as our teams of lobbyists we work with. It takes many of the right ingredients to turn a bill into law, including astute political intuition, good policy, great lobbyist, subject matter experts, grassroots support, time, patience, and relationships.
We introduced eight bills this year, and while the scope is wide, they all have one thing in common: to help save and protect voiceless animals. For example, the Whale Entanglement Prevention Act, was introduced to help save all the majestic sea creatures from getting trapped in fishing lines. I live in Laguna Beach, and the entire city knows every time an entangled whale is spotted off the coast. Rescue teams that are a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Stranding Network go out with the intention of having a triumphant rescue, but often the whales still end up drowning. These incredible creatures travel hundreds of miles and cause no harm, and due to human negligence and unwillingness to change, they perish a horrible and preventable death. New technology, called ropeless gear, allows fishermen to continue their lives without the risk of entanglements. The challenge is the industry won’t invest in the new gear until it’s mandated by law, which is why we wake up every day to fight for these animals and for what is right.
Not all of our bills are so obviously focused on helping animals. For example, one of the bills I am personally proud to sponsor this year is the Smart Climate Agriculture Program. This bill creates a grant program to help small to mid-sized farmers transition to plant-based farming and away from animal agriculture.
Factory farming has led to the degradation of our land, water, and air negatively impacts our health and forces animals to live in horrific conditions. After learning about a methane digesting grant program in California giving millions to fight climate change through cow manure, I thought it made more sense to look at the bigger picture and plan for a healthier future for all. We figured if the grants are there and we want to help farmers, we might as well provide them with a segue into an emerging market that will help fulfill California’s needs for a sustainable supply chain.
The plant-based market is booming, and general public sentiment is moving the needle. It’s not just a fringe group like some might want to believe. Everyone might not be going vegan, but people are becoming more conscious of what they eat and realizing how connected food is to our physical and mental health. The plant-based food market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 19.4 percent until 2027. Currently, much of our plant-based products have to be supplied by foreign commodities because we can’t keep up. This trend isn’t going away, so we need to prepare ourselves to feed our future generations, and that needs to begin now.
An estimated 14.5 percent of the world’s human-caused GHG emissions are directly linked to animal agriculture, which is why one of the overarching goals of this bill is to decrease this. The Smart Climate Agriculture Program helps fight climate change and reinforces the Californian values of having a healthier, more compassionate food chain and lifestyle. Additionally, increasing diversity in our agricultural lands also produces healthier soil, which has many benefits including stimulating plant growth, producing more nutrient-dense crops, and decreasing erosion and air pollution.
It’s also important to note this is a completely voluntary program. If passed, the bill will not mandate that a farmer must stop what they are growing and start doing something new; we are simply giving them help to migrate to a market prime for continued economic growth. Any farmer that is struggling to survive and compete against Big Ag will get the help they need, both financially and pragmatically. They can thrive in the growing plant-based industry for generations to come.
Lobbyists and legislators can only do so much. It is well known that public support is what pushes for bills to become laws. And while taking on Big Ag as an individual can feel daunting, as a community we can stand up and fight. This can come in many forms, whether it’s showing up at rallies, calling legislators, or donating when you can. So how can you help support this bill?
First and foremost, we need letters of support. All you have to do is visit our website and sign our pre-prepared letters. We’ll take all of these letters to the committee hearings, which is where the bills get debated (and pass or sometimes held or die). The more public support we have (ie more letters of support), the more it shows these committee members how many people care about each bill.
Additionally, sharing these bills and information on social media is how we are to grow awareness and get broad public support. Start a conversation with your friends and family about something you saw on our site. (Did you know California was the only state not allowing for community-sourced blood donations for pets? That means all dog and cat blood donors come from closed facilities that keep these animals in cages for the sole purpose of blood donation, rather than community or pet volunteer donation. Just a fun fact that’s not fun at all, and the subject of another bill we are sponsoring this year.)
When I first started Social Compassion in Legislation, I knew my main goal was to help animals, and I know I’m not alone in this endeavor. So many incredible people have helped along the way and it’s through this communal effort that SCIL is able to save and protect so many animal’s lives through legislation. One person can make a difference, but together we create a force that has the greatest impact.
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