Owning What You Eat: The Discourse of Food


16 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2010 Last revised: 6 May 2012

See all articles by David N. Cassuto

David N. Cassuto

Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University

Date Written: January 22, 2010


Discussions of animal treatment within the global food industry often devolve into debates about animal rights. Such detours needlessly distract from an ongoing social and environmental catastrophe. This essay attempts to reframe the global food debate in a manner that more directly acknowledges our obligations to and the needs of the billions of animals enslaved within the industrial food apparatus.

Industrial agriculture has refashioned animal husbandry into a mechanized process that ignores historic methods of human/nonhuman animal interaction (methods that evolved over millennia) as well as ethical mores. These industrial methods – cloaked in the mantle of efficiency – have become deeply entrenched despite clear evidence of their unsustainability and unworkability. This intractability results from a systemic flaw inherent in the role of efficiency in society. Not only is efficiency an amoral concept devoid of any normative component, but those who lionize it also routinely exclude externalities from their calculus. This makes any cost-based risk equation potentially unsound and misleading.

Consequently, using efficiency as an ethical barometer is flawed both hermeneutically and practically. It should never have acquired a normative aspect and it should never have been defined to exclude externalities. The upshot of this double mistake is that the prevailing mode of human/animal interaction is unsustainable (inefficient) and ethically bankrupt. Reframing that interaction will require refashioning the legal system that enables it.

Part II of this essay examines the role of communication in the formation of law and social norms and the implications of that role for animal law and ethics. Part III contextualizes animal law within contemporary risk society. Part IV looks at how efficiency has transformed from an economic concept into a normative guideline and discusses how that transformation has affected animals and agriculture. It tracks the rise of industrial agriculture and ties it to this fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of efficiency. The essay concludes with some thoughts on how to reformulate contemporary notions of efficiency and ethics to account for the idealism that should be a necessary component of communication and, consequently, of law.

Keywords: animal law, animal rights, industrial agriculture, factory farming, environmental law, environmental ethics, risk management, risk theory, agribusiness

JEL Classification: D63, D81, H18, K10, K19, K23, K29, K30, K32, K39, K42, L50, M14, Q10, Q13, Q18, Q19, Q20, Q24, Q25

Suggested Citation

Cassuto, David N., Owning What You Eat: The Discourse of Food (January 22, 2010). DEMOCRACY, ECOLOGICAL INTEGRITY AND INTERNATIONAL LAW, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2010 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1540895

David N. Cassuto (Contact Author)

Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University ( email )

78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States

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