How the Animal Welfare Act Harms Animals

Justin Marceau

Volume 69, Issue 3, 925-960

The fiftieth anniversary of the Animal Welfare Act (“AWA”) was 2016. Most fiftieth anniversaries are cause for great celebration, but this one shouldn’t’ be because the AWA has caused more harm than good. In previous decades a wide range of sources have praised the Animal Welfare Act as a critical and noteworthy national legislative achievement that protects animals across the country. This Article, by contrast, demonstrates that animal protection efforts are affirmatively hindered by the AWA in both concrete, tangible applications and in a variety of more conceptual ways. Animal industries continually deploy the fact of an AWA license as an obstacle to transparency about the suffering of confined animals, as a soundbite in the media to quell public concern, and even as a basis for defamation and related litigation against animal protection groups who criticize the treatment of confined animals. In sum, the AWA’s prominence paired with its meagerness has set the stage for a powerful dualitythe AWA is invoked as the centerpiece, even the exclusive source of restrictions on the treatment of many animals, but the protections it provides are actually quite few and almost never enforced. The very existence of the AWA reinforces norms that exacerbate animal suffering. 

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