The world’s first legal challenge against factory farming

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Represented by human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield, Scrap Factory Farming is the first-of-its-kind legal challenge aimed at the UK government.

Suffering, climate chaos, ravaging the planet, antibiotic resistance, pandemics, and disease. That’s what ‘Scrap’ stands for in non-profit group Humane Being’s legal challenge against the UK government, Scrap Factory Farming.

In what the campaign claims is the world’s first such legal fight against factory farming, it’s launching with a letter to George Eustice, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs. It asks for clarification on whether the measures have been considered or if there are plans to ban the sale of factory- and intensive-farmed produce.

Scrap Factory Farming is the brainchild of Humane Being founder Jane Tredgett, Green Party animal rights policy group member David Finney, animal rights and environmental campaigner Peta Smith, who were inspired by activist Clare Druce and her book Chickens’ Lib.

scrap factory farming
David Finney, who came up with the idea to launch a legal challenge.

Tredgett, a former trustee at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, established Humane Being to encourage cruelty-free living in a way that supports animals, people and the planet. She says the climate chaos, ecological crises and extinction of species are interlinked with animal suffering.

The legal challenge is being represented by Michael Mansfield, the barrister known for cases like Hillsborough and Grenfell and called “the king of human rights work”. “I just decided one day: ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, and sent him an email,” Tredgett tells me. “He responded immediately: ‘Yes, interested, let’s chat.’”

Read our story about the legal framework of animal protection across the world.

As a former board member of the RSPCA, Tredgett finds its involvement a major plus for their campaign. “The RSPCA, WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, RSPB, Sir David Attenborough are all powerful influencers. People listen to them,” she says.

“When they are all clearly aligned on the messaging that we need to eat less meat and dairy and end factory farming, that is really powerful and hopefully helps people — and governments — understand that we do have to change.”

Scrap Factory Farming is preparing for a potential court case and reaching out to experts with knowledge in the relevant fields to provide written submissions. These include academics, scientists, lawyers, health professionals, vets, farmers, food production industry workers, undercover investigators, influencers, and policymakers for input in areas like animal welfare, antibiotic resistance, climate change, farm conditions, food security, human health, pandemics, and pollution.

So far, it has received 50 submissions, from organisations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth. The deadline for these submissions is Thursday, March 26, and they’re actively seeking out more people to collate as much evidence as possible.

While Scrap Factory Farming cannot propose legal solutions — as that is up to the government — Tredgett would like the following to be included:

  • Agreeing on a formal definition of factory farming.
  • Publicly acknowledging the need for change; good leadership by governments is not always the same as being popular, but Covid-19 has shown the importance of strong messaging.
  • Ensuring farming subsidies are given to sustainable farming.
  • Providing training for factory farmers.
  • Stopping new factory farms from being built.
  • Helping factory farmers transition.
  • Setting clear phase-out goals.

As for current workers in the factory farming industry, Tredgett says it’s important that the current subsidies given to farmers are deployed effectively. She adds that horticulture employs more people per farm than animal farming, and farmworkers could be helped in transitioning to safer jobs with less mental stress through a re-training scheme.

To prepare for a court challenge, the group is fundraising for legal fees and has set a minimum target of £60,000. It has raised £25,000 thus far.

This week, Scrap Factory Farming will issue a ‘letter before action’ to the UK government, which will state its intent to apply for court proceedings if it doesn’t get better answers. That formally carries a 14-day response deadline. “Assuming we don’t get anything better back, the legal team will go through all the witness submissions, collate a bundle of evidence and apply for permission to go to court,” explains Tredgett. “Then, we wait to see if that is granted, or appeal if it isn’t.”

Does Tredgett feel hopeful that the government will take action? “It’s hard to tell,” she admits. With Covid-19 opening people’s eyes to the horrors of pandemics, the science behind climate change crystal clear, and factory farms not fulfilling the legislative requirements for animals, she says the government will need to act if her team wins the case.

“But so far, they have brushed our concerns away,” she adds. “At the very least, we want to raise as much awareness and move things along as far as we can. People have to see the need to change and the more who do, the more the pressure will build.”

Scrap Factory Farming is fundraising through CrowdJustice and PayPal.

Anay Mridul
Anay Mridul
Anay is journalism graduate from City, University of London, he was a barista for three years, and never shuts up about coffee. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford Comma. Originally from India, he went vegan in 2020, after attempting (and failing) Veganuary. He believes being environmentally conscious is a basic responsibility, and veganism is the best thing you can do to battle climate change. He gets lost at Whole Foods sometimes.