Students Tackle Industrial Agriculture Exploitation in New CAFE Law & Policy Lab

On Friday April 24, 2020, student teams pitched innovative strategies aimed at addressing exploitative industrial animal agriculture practices to a panel of leading advocates, philanthropists, food industry experts, and scholars. The presentations were the culmination of the inaugural Climate, Animal, Food and Environment (CAFE) Law and Policy Lab, a course offered by the Law, Ethics & Animals Program (LEAP) at Yale Law School.

The CAFE Lab was designed to provide hands-on skills training to teach students how to apply systems thinking and build durable interventions in policy, legislation and litigation. Throughout the semester, the course challenged six interdisciplinary student teams to develop new strategies to address patterns of exploitation and abuse that jointly affect animals, people, the environment, and related causes, such as consumer safety, worker safety, fair markets, rural economies, and public health. The industrial-scale practices that dominate U.S. meat production are leading contributors to animal suffering, worker exploitation, and environmental degradation worldwide.

“Pedagogically, the CAFE Lab aims to offer students insight into the world of advocacy, its organizational context, its theories of change, and its modalities of intervention. The culminating workshop was designed to give students firsthand experience of what it is like to pitch an idea to a funder, a litigation committee, or other decisionmaker,” said Doug Kysar, Joseph M. Field ’55 Professor of Law and LEAP Faculty Co-Director.

In their final presentations, teams presented novel solutions to a variety of the most systemic and urgent industrial animal agriculture issues. Based on extensive research, interviews with experts, and an iterative feedback process during the semester, teams laid out diverse proposals for novel litigation strategies, private-sector incentives, advocacy movements, institutional transformation, and academic research.

Student proposals included a new litigation strategy designed to bypass right-to-farm laws and limit pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in states with constitutions that include a right to a healthy environment; mechanisms for harnessing carbon markets to help CAFO operators finance transitions to more sustainable farming models; a framework for ensuring that animal agriculture biogas subsidies are targeted only to facilities that consider climate, animal welfare, worker, safety and community concerns; a campaign to galvanize public and media support for slaughterhouse worker safety; a plan to harness the purchasing power of state institutions to support locally grown food; and a novel strategy for focusing on state law to protect contract poultry growers from unfair contracts.

“The CAFE Lab was founded on the belief that climate, animal, food, and environmental law and policy are inextricably linked, and that lawyers and scientist can achieve far more working together than siloed within a single discipline,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, Faculty Co-Director of LEAP and Co-Director of the CAFE Lab. “This first group of Lab students overwhelmingly confirmed our hypothesis about the power of interdisciplinary collaboration, and developed a model of intersectional problem solving that should resonate far beyond the walls of the university.”

An esteemed panel of guest experts joined the final presentations to ask tough questions and provide candid feedback. The panel included Tom Conger of Stray Dog Institute, Marianne Engelman-Lado of the Yale School of Public Health and Vermont Law School, Amanda Hungerford of the Open Philanthropy Project, Peter Lehner of Earthjustice, Beth Lyon of Cornell Law School, and Urvashi Rangan of the Grace Foundation.

“It was an intellectual treat to judge the final presentations of the YLS CAFE Lab,” said Lehner, who directs Earthjustice’s Sustainable Food & Farming Program. “The students tackled some of the hardest challenges in the current industrial food system and came up with creative responses. They recognized that, to be useful, a proposal must have a chance of success; they did a good job mixing theory with reality, aspiration with achievability, rhetoric with facts. I hope to work with some of the students to explore implementing some of the proposals.”

The CAFE Lab included 27 graduate and professional students from across Yale’s campus, including the Law School, the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the School of Public Health, the School of Management, and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.

“The CAFE Lab embodies the wide diversity of backgrounds and specialties of the students enrolled. Students have distinct expertise, but are united in their understanding of the tremendous and neglected consequences stemming from animal agriculture,” said Manny Rutinel, Law ’21. “It's an experience I'm looking forward to repeating every semester it is offered.”

“The CAFE Lab class was a unique and innovative opportunity to come up with our own legal, policy, and legislative interventions from day one, with outstanding faculty support and mentorship,” said Hope Bigda-Peyton, F&ES ’20. It was a terrific platform to learn from an amazing cohort of fellow students with shared interests, and work together to posit real solutions to food system challenges that serve the interests of the environment, animals, labor, and climate.”

Spring 2020 marks the first semester of the CAFE Law and Policy Lab. During the semester, the Lab hosted guest speakers who shared case studies of how they accomplished significant law and policy changes in their fields. Guests included Lisa Zucker, speaking on campaigning for enhanced labor protections for New York farmworkers, John Hughes, discussing North Carolina hog nuisance lawsuits, and Ben Goldsmith, presenting Farm Forward’s successful corporate campaign strategies.

The CAFE Law and Policy Lab is made possible by generous gifts to Yale Law School from Stray Dog Institute; Animal Welfare Trust, directed by Brad Goldberg; and a third anonymous founding donor.

The Law, Ethics & Animals Program (LEAP) is a new initiative at Yale Law School dedicated to developing new strategies to address industrialized animal cruelty and its impacts, and to drawing attention to the deep questions of conscience and law raised by humanity’s treatment of animals and the environment.

By Cortney Ahern