Courses in Animals & Law


The Law School regularly offers an overview course on animal law and an experiential course dedicated to developing new legal strategies to address exploitative industrial practices that jointly impact animals and other social causes. In addition, the Law School periodically offers novel, specialized and timely animal law and policy courses and seminars, such as “Climate Change and Animal Law,” as well as a wide range of supporting experiential and academic classes. These courses include Environmental Law and Policy, Administrative Law, Health Law, Bioethics and Law, American Indian Law, Food and Drug Administration Law and Policy, The Regulations of Labor Relations, Immigration Law, Land Use, Property, and more. Multiple Yale Law School legal clinics are currently, or have recently been, involved in animal welfare-related cases, including the Environmental Protection Clinic and the Media Freedom Information and Access Clinic. 

Students in the Climate, Animal, Food, and Environmental Law & Policy Lab (“CAFE Lab”) will gain firsthand experience working with faculty, outside experts, and non-governmental organizations to develop innovative law and policy initiatives to bring systemic change to the global food industry, which is one of the top contributors to climate change, animal suffering, human exploitation, and environmental degradation worldwide. The Lab’s mission is to devise and propagate novel legal and policy strategies to compel industrial food producers to pay the currently uncounted, externalized costs of industrial agriculture for animals, workers, communities, and the environment.

Students enrolled in the Lab will work in small teams on initiatives to create a more equitable food system. Potential projects for the CAFE Lab include developing legislative, regulatory, and litigation prototypes to reduce suffering of factory farmed animals; stop physical abuse, labor violations, wage theft, and other methods of exploiting workers; require reporting and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from industrial agriculture; hold corporations accountable for self-declared deadlines for climate, labor, and animal welfare reforms; remove legal barriers to sustainable alternatives products; and challenge false “humane,” “sustainable,” “green,” “fair trade,” or “environmentally friendly” marketing claims.

The Lab will be supervised by faculty with expertise in food, animal, climate, and environmental law and policy. Guest lecturers will be drawn from the world of practitioners, scholars, journalists, legislators, farmers, corporate innovators, and other stakeholders. The CAFE Lab will provide a creative space for students to develop and launch new prototypes each year that will be shared in open source format with the express purpose of fostering imitation and adoption by a wide-ranging cross-section of nonprofit, government, and corporate leaders. Also F&ES. Paper required. Enrollment limited. Permission of instructors is required. 

The Advanced Climate, Animal, Food, and Environmental Law and Policy Lab, offered in both the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, allows students who have already completed the CAFE Lab to continue working on projects that advance industrial animal agriculture reform. Enrollment limited. Permission of instructors required.

In spring 2021, Earthjustice Managing Attorney Peter Lehner will teach Food Systems and Environmental Law.

We eat food every day. The food system, from agricultural production to processing and distribution to consumption and waste, shapes our lives. Less well known, but of equal or greater impact, the food system profoundly affects our environment, climate, and public health. This course takes the food one eats in a day and uses those to demonstrate the environmental impact of modern agriculture and the U.S. laws that attempt to reduce those harms.

Today’s industrial food system bears little relation to the bucolic family farms we imagine – and that were in Congress’s mind when it passed most modern environmental laws. Since the 1970’s when most environmental laws were enacted, U.S. agriculture has grown increasingly concentrated and industrial. In terms of output of cheap food, the system is a success: we now produce about 60% more food than we need, food is about one-third less expensive today than in 1980; and less than 2% of U.S. employment is in agriculture. In addition, agriculture now also produces about 10% of the nation’s vehicle fuel (mostly corn-based ethanol).

On the other hand, the increased industrialization, without the environmental safeguards applicable to other industries, has led to agriculture being a major source of environmental and health harm. Agriculture occupies approximately 60% of the country’s contiguous land and thus is the main driver of loss of native habitats. Almost 800 million acres of U.S. land are used for pasture or range for livestock—activities that often destroy habitat, imperil native species, and pollute waters. Most row crops are monocultures dependent on high doses of fertilizers and pesticides that pollute waters and endanger workers, surrounding communities, and downstream consumers. The vast majority of our meat is produced in industrial-scale “concentrated animal feeding operations” that house thousands or even millions of animals producing more waste than many cities, yet without sewage treatment systems, and thus cause significant water and air pollution. Agriculture is responsible for about 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and the food system as a whole contributes a quarter to a third of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Beyond agriculture itself, the manufacture of farm inputs is energy-intensive and highly polluting; animal slaughtering is highly polluting; and food processing, distribution, and preparation is energy-intensive. At the end of the system, approximately 35% of food is wasted and most of that ends up in landfills where it releases methane.

US environmental law directly and indirectly seeks to reduce these harms, although often in partial, ineffective, or unenforceable ways. While there are alternative production systems that have been demonstrated to produce sufficient food with much less environmental impact, the law rarely encourages, and often discourages such approaches. This course studies existing US environmental law and its strengths and weaknesses, and explores alternative approaches to environmental and public health protections. We start and end with climate change – its impact on agriculture and agriculture’s impact on climate – and address other impacts and statutes between. Paper required. Enrollment limited to eighteen. Also ENV. 2 units. P. Lehner.

This course will examine the application of the law to non-human animals, the rules and regulations that govern their treatment, and the concepts of "animal welfare" and "animal rights." The course will explore the historical and philosophical treatment of animals, discuss how such treatment impacts the way judges, politicians, lawyers, legal scholars and lay people see, speak about, and use animals; survey current animal protection laws and regulations, including overlap with such policy issues as food and agriculture, climate change, and biodiversity protection; describe recent political and legal campaigns to reform animal protection laws; examine the concept of "standing" and the problems of litigating on behalf of animals; discuss the current classification of animals as "property" and the impacts of that classification, and debate the merits and limitations of alternative classifications, such as the recognition of "legal rights" for animals. Students will write a series of short response papers. An option to produce a longer research paper for Substantial or Supervised Analytic Writing credit will be available. Enrollment limited. Also F&ES. 

This course will examine the relationship between climate change, humans, and animals. With few exceptions, researchers and policy advocates looking at the impact of climate change on animals tend to focus on species loss and biodiversity at a macro level. But climate change is also having profound impacts on the individual lives and well-being of billions of animals. Large-scale human use of animals for food is also a significant and often overlooked cause of climate change emissions. The course seeks to develop a deeper understanding of the impacts of climate change on animals, the power dynamic between privileged human actors and the disenfranchised victims of climate change, and the intersection of animal welfare, environmentalism, food policy, and climate change. The course will be organized partly as a traditional seminar and partly as a collective research endeavor to gather and analyze information on this significant and neglected topic. As part of the course experience, students will work in small groups to conduct research and write a report on an underdeveloped topic concerning animals and climate change. The various sub-reports will be edited into a single white paper that will be distributed to the animal welfare, environmental, food policy, and climate change advocacy communities. Depending on the scope of their work, YLS students may be eligible to receive Substantial Paper or Supervised Analytical Writing credit. Paper required. Enrollment limited. Permission of the instructors required. Also F&ES.

Courses Outsides the Law School


There is a tremendous amount of work being done across Yale University about what nonhuman animals think and feel, and the nature, complexity, and significance — ecologically, morally, legally and politically — of human-animal relationships. The University offers courses on these topics in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences through Yale College, the School of Forestry & Environment Studies, the School of Public Health, the Divinity School, and more. Examples of courses offered currently or in recent years include: 

Research Topics in Animal Cognition
The Ecology of Food
The Mind of a Dog
The Evolution of Beauty
Human-Wildlife Conflict in Africa
Making Climate Knowledge
Animals in Modern American Fiction
Animals in Indian Religions
Multispecies Worlds
Global Food Challenges: Environmental Politics & Law
Food & Documentary
Agriculture: Origins, Evolutionary, Crises
Primate Behavior & Ecology
Topics in Evolutionary Theory
Global Aspects of Food & Nutrition
Conservation Biology
Ichthyology
Mammalogy
Ornithology
Comparative Physiology
Biology of Terrestrial Arthropods
The Nonhuman in Literature since 1800
Animals in Literature & Theory
Multifunctional Carbon Sequestration
Wetlands Ecology
Native American Religions & Ecology
Social Movements
Human-Animal Encounters

American Environmental History
Mental Lives of Babies and Animals
Speaking for Others: Law & Literature
Being a Person
History of Life
Biological Oceanography
Writing about Science, Medicine and the Environment
Studies in Sound and Voice
Food, Race & Migration in the U.S.
Ecology, Economics & Politics of Species Invasion
Conservation in Practice: International Perspectives
Toolkit for Conservation Project Planning
Pests, Pathogens & Parasites
Climate Change & Societal Collapse
Ecological Urban Design
Problems in the History of Science
American Indian Law & Policy
Perspectives on Environmental Injustices
Bioethics in Neuroscience
Evolution of Primate Intelligence
Large-Scale Conservation
Theories in Human Uniqueness
Wilderness in North American Imagination
Other Minds
Law, Environment and Religion
Age of Extinction Risk
Animal Ethics
The Evolution of Morality