Matthew Liebman is a senior attorney in the litigation program and works on all aspects of ALDF’s civil cases, including investigating reports of animal cruelty, conducting legal research, developing new legal theories, and appearing in court. He has litigated cases including ALDF v. Conyers, which resulted in the rescue of more than 100 dogs from a North Carolina hoarder; ALDF v. Keating, in which seven horses were saved from starvation; and Animal Place v. Cheung, which seeks justice for 50,000 hens abandoned without food by egg farmers. Matthew’s writing has appeared in the Animal Law Review, the Journal of Animal Law, the Stanford Environmental Law Journal, and the Animal Legal & Historical Web Center. With Bruce Wagman, Matthew co-authored A Worldview of Animal Law, which examines how the legal systems of different countries govern our interactions with animals.
Before coming to ALDF, Matthew clerked for the Honorable Warren J. Ferguson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Matthew graduated with distinction from Stanford Law School in 2006 and with highest honors from the University of Texas at Austin in 2001 with a degree in philosophy. While a law student at Stanford, Matthew co-founded a chapter of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund and was an active member of Animal Rights on the Farm, where he worked on campaigns against factory farming and vivisection. He lives with his human companion and their five feline companions Kitty Kitty, Ollie, Emma, Spider, and Niecey.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to the second part of our show today, It’s All About Food, and I’m going to bring out my next guest. We had him on the program recently in August, and now he’s back to talk about some other very important issues. Matthew Liebman is a senior attorney in the litigation program and works on all aspects of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s civil cases, including investigating reports of animal cruelty, conducting legal research, developing new legal theories, and appearing in court. Matthew, welcome to It’s All About Food.
Matthew Liebman: Thanks for having me back.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well, thanks for stepping in at the last minute because we were going—originally scheduled to speak with your colleague, Carter Dillard, and I’m glad that you’re here, and we’re going to talk about a few things, I think, that are going on at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, but the first thing that was brought to my attention has to do with Candy, the chimpanzee. Can you fill us in on that?
Matthew Liebman: Sure, yeah, Candy is a 50-year-old female chimpanzee who spent virtually her entire life in captivity and not only captive but isolated from all other chimpanzees for at least the last 40 years. She’s currently in a barren cage at a facility in Baton Rouge that’s an amusement park called Dixie Landin’, and the owner keeps her by herself, and for an incredibly social and intelligent species like chimpanzees, that’s inhumane, to say the least. So the Animal Legal Defense Fund, on behalf of two local Louisiana residents and a Louisiana animal rights organization, has filed a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act to rescue Candy and have her moved to a sanctuary that can give her the kind of care and attention that she deserves.
Caryn Hartglass: My understanding is that you lawyers have to be very clever in order to reach a goal using our current legal system, like finding little ways to open the door a little bit more to reduce the exploitation that goes on and that is actually legal.
Matthew Liebman: That’s right. So in this case, there was a recent, recent change in the law that empowered us to bring this lawsuit, and as people may know, animals, as far as the law is concerned, are generally considered property, but there are laws here and there that do start to recognize the kinds of inherent value that animals have. And one of those statutes is the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits anyone from treating animals—at least those animals that are listed as endangered—in ways that interfere with their natural behavioral patterns. And so in this case, up until very recently—up until September—there was a rule that extended the protections of the Endangered Species Act to chimpanzees in the wild, but it carved out an exemption for captive chimpanzees, and so there was nothing we could do to bring the protections and the rights granted under the Endangered Species Act to protect captive chimps. But thankfully the agency that oversees the statute realized that it doesn’t have the legal authority to make those kinds of distinctions, and in September extended the same protections to captive chimps, and so we said, obviously, Candy is confined in a way that interferes with her natural behavioral patterns that causes her injury, that causes her to suffer, both physically and psychologically, and so we’re using the protections of the Endangered Species Act to sort of carve out some protections for Candy.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve got all these different questions popping into my head. So do you know what was the motivation behind changing the Endangered Species Act? What triggered someone to say, oh, the captive chimps, we really shouldn’t have them as an exemption?
Matthew Liebman: Yeah, well, the Endangered Species Act itself hasn’t been changed. The change is in how the Fish and Wildlife Service has interpreted the statute.
Caryn Hartglass: Why did they change their interpretation? Who was behind that?
Matthew Liebman: Well, that was a coalition of organizations that filed a petition essentially pointing out that the agency didn’t have the authority to draw lines between captive and wild animals, and given the way that Congress wrote the Endangered Species Act, it should apply equally. And I think the agency saw the petition, saw comments that were submitted on the petition, like ones that we at ALDF submitted, and agreed that it ought to abolish the split listing.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, chip, chip, chip—we have to chip away at all of these things to really get to a better place. Now how did Candy get to where she is today? What was she involved in as a young chimp?
Matthew Liebman: She was actually purchased in 1965 when she was six months old by the family of the person we’re suing now—this is a man named Samuel Haynes Jr., and his family has owned amusement parks in Baton Rouge for a couple of generations. In 1965, the family purchased Candy from just a breeder in New York and kept her as essentially a family pet for a couple of years, and then as she got older and more unwieldy, they moved her to their park, which at that time was called Fun Fair Park. They had her doing tricks—riding a tricycle, the kind of circus tricks you would imagine at an amusement park in the 1968. She did that for a few years until about 1971 and then was just put in a cage and stayed there. That cage was about the size of a large dog kennel—ten feet by four feet by six feet, so incredibly small. She was in that cage for 20 years until 1990, and then she had a slightly larger cage built where she lived for another 10 years and then was moved to the cage she’s in now where she’s been for 15 years. And for that entire duration, she’s been by herself.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, I’m just sitting here thinking of the word amusement park, and for someone like Candy, there’s no amusement.
Matthew Liebman: No. A friend of mine came up with the term abusement park, which I think is much more appropriate.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Wow. Okay, so what’s, what do you think is going to happen?
Matthew Liebman: Well, we’re optimistic. The Endangered Species Act is one of the most robust statutes protecting those animals who are unlucky enough to be endangered, and so we think we have a very strong case on the law. We have two incredible plaintiffs—a woman named Cathy Breaux and a woman named Holly Reynolds—who have both been working on Candy’s cause and campaigns to free her for more than 30 years. So we are really optimistic that once this case gets before a judge that we’ll be in a good spot, but time will tell.
Caryn Hartglass: So, chimpanzees are considered an endangered species?
Matthew Liebman: They are, yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And don’t we have chimpanzees in laboratories for animal testing?
Matthew Liebman: Well, we do. There’s been other developments on that as well. In 2013, the National Institutes of Health announced that it was going to essentially cease funding biomedical research that involves chimpanzees, which is an incredibly significant development. The United States is one of only two countries in the world that conducts biomedical research, or invasive biomedical research, on chimpanzees. There was a caveat to that announcement in 2013, which was that they had some sort of strict guidelines for research they would continue to still fund, and they were going to maintain a colony of 50 chimpanzees just in case they needed them for research. Just last week, they announced that they were going to go the rest of the distance and stop funding it entirely and not maintain a colony of 50 chimpanzees. So all the federally owned chimpanzees are going to be sent to sanctuaries, and there won’t be any more federal funding for invasive research on chimpanzees. There’s still some research that’s conducted on chimpanzees that’s not federally funded, and those chimps aren’t owned by the federal government, so the NIH decision won’t affect those, but this is definitely a huge step in the abolition of the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research.
Caryn Hartglass: I understand now, so if it’s not related, if their work isn’t related to the NIH, they can do whatever they want.
Matthew Liebman: Yeah, although those will also—now that chimps are listed under, or captive chimps are listed under the ESA—those, anyone proposing to do research that actually harms these animals will need to at least apply for and receive a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service before they can violate the Endangered Species Act.
Caryn Hartglass: I was reading, about a week ago, this story about Candy was in the New York Times, and I just thought it was interesting how they kind of focused on the fact that she smokes.
Matthew Liebman: Yeah, you know, that’s one of tragic parts of this is she’s confined in a cage, but there’s no real barrier from the public and no signage or anything, and people will actually throw lit cigarettes into her cage, and she’ll pick them up and smoke them, and the facility just seems to find that to be a joke rather than sort of the real threat to her health that it is. And the other thing that they do is instead of providing her with water, which chimps obviously need, they give her Coke to drink, so she smokes cigarettes and drinks Coca-Cola, and that’s been one of the aspects of it that people have picked up on because they I that’s so intuitively upsetting that this social animal that should be thriving with members of her own kind and eating fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking water is sitting alone in a concrete cage drinking Coke and smoking cigarettes.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just wrong from so many angles, and—where people would be amused that a chimp would want to drink Coke and smoke cigarettes, it’s like, “Oh, they’re just like us,” but then if we thought they were just like us, why would we want to keep them in a cage?
Matthew Liebman: Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: It doesn’t make sense ever.
Matthew Liebman: Yep, yep. And it does seem to be on the way out. I mean, with the announcement from NIH, with the fact that the captive chimps are also listed under the ESA now, with the fact that the federal Animal Welfare Act requires that anyone exhibiting these animals provide them with an environment that’s suitable to their psychological well-being, I think is all suggesting that these animals are much more than property, and we can’t do what we want with them just to amuse ourselves.
Caryn Hartglass: And where would Candy go, if they let her go?
Matthew Liebman: She would go to a wonderful sanctuary in Louisiana called Chimp Haven, which has offered to take Candy. I actually visited there about eight years ago, right before I started at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and toured their facility, and it’s amazing—outdoor, naturalistic enclosures where these chimpanzees really have the opportunity to be chimpanzees again. They have, I think, close to 200 chimpanzees on site, full-time veterinarians, and animal behaviorists, and a whole host of people ready to provide Candy with the life that she’s been denied for so long.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I wish the best for Candy, and not just for Candy but for all chimps because, as we were talking about earlier, once improvements are made, it’s good for all, and then there’s an opportunity to make things even better as you continue to chip away at the laws to make it harder and harder to exploit any sentient being.
Matthew Liebman: Yeah, and I think these cases, and the language of the Endangered Species Act recognizes an implicit right of animals to sort of exist in their own context, to be who they are. There is a prohibition on what the statute calls “harassing animals,” and that’s been interpreted to mean anything that interferes with their natural behavior, so I think there’s an implicit right to autonomy, an implicit right for these animals to act in ways that’s consistent with their capacities, and, you know, when humans deny that, that’s a violation of their rights.
Caryn Hartglass: When you come from the perspective that we do, I find that some of these laws are kind of ridiculous. So, we have the Endangered Species Act, but if we can breed millions of animals, and they’re not endangered, then we can do whatever we want with them.
Matthew Liebman: Yeah, it’s unfortunate that there’s selective appreciation of how—what animals are and their right to exist on their own. Just as we sort of don’t say, humans shouldn’t have rights just because there’s a lot of us, we shouldn’t make the same arguments for animals, so the fact that a cow or a chicken or a pig is not endangered doesn’t mean we have a right to do with them what we will. But for various reasons, the law has decided to focus on those animals who have threats to their very existence, and certainly extinction is a unique kind of harm, and we should avoid it, but I think from a moral philosophy perspective, it doesn’t make sense to only protect only those animals who are endangered, and we ought to recognize that even non-endangered animals deserve compassion and rights.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, can we talk about some other things that the Animal League is working on?
Matthew Liebman: Sure.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so in August we talked about the ag-gag law that was overturned in Idaho—was it Idaho?
Matthew Liebman: Yep, Idaho.
Caryn Hartglass: Are there any new updates on that?
Matthew Liebman: We just got a, the judgment from the court, so when we talked in August, the court had just issued its decision, which is a 29-page analysis of the law and conclusion that this law, which essentially makes it a crime to do an undercover investigation at a slaughterhouse or a factory farm, that that statute was unconstitutional. And obviously we were excited about that. Just last week, we got the judgment, which essentially gives effect to the decision and permanently enjoins the state from enforcing the statute, and so, as of now, it’s legal to conduct an undercover investigation in Idaho thanks to the lawsuit. It still remains to be seen whether the state is going to appeal that decision, and if they do, we are certainly ready to fight it all the way up to the Ninth Circuit and to the Supreme Court if it goes that far.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, great. I was also reading on your site that you’re suing the USDA to label foie gras. Are you working on that or are you familiar with that one?
Matthew Liebman: Yeah, I am familiar with it. It’s not one of my cases, but essentially this is a lawsuit that would require the USDA to put warning labels on foie gras, which as your listeners may know, is a delicacy, but it’s produced by force-feeding ducks and geese so much that their liver balloons to several times its normal size. And this is, medically speaking, the induction of a disease in the liver—it’s fatty liver disease that these farms are inducing in birds and then turning around and selling at exorbitant prices. And so given that this is a product from a diseased animal, it ought to bear some kind of warning to consumers to notify them of that fact.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s very clever. I mean, it’s crazy the things that we will eat. I would like to think that people, if they knew really what foie gras was, would think twice at least about eating it.
Matthew Liebman: Right, yeah, and we have laws that prohibit the sale of adulterated meat, and that includes meat that comes from a diseased animal. Just because the disease is the whole purpose doesn’t make it any less diseased.
Caryn Hartglass: No, but if they had a good marketing campaign behind them and a French name, they might be able to sell that diseased food.
Matthew Liebman: That’s right, and in fact that’s another lawsuit that we’ve done in the foie gras battle. There’s a place called Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York that was advertising their foie gras as the humane choice. And anyone who knows anything about how foie gras is produced knows that there’s nothing humane about it, so we sued them under false-advertising law, and they ultimately decided to remove that term from their marketing.
Caryn Hartglass: Did they have any basis—were they doing anything different that they thought made it more humane?
Matthew Liebman: No, and you know, foie gras, the foie gras lobby likes to portray itself as this sort of artisanal, local, small-scale endeavor, but the fact is that foie gras farms are for all practical purposes, factory farms. We’re talking about thousands and thousands of animals being treated like objects, and that’s no different from factory farming as far as I’m concerned.
Caryn Hartglass: I lived in the south of France in the early nineties, and I had a friend who was classic French, and he believed in all of the French culinary traditions, and he would smirk and sneer at my vegan dishes and all of the things that I would talk about, and he was absolutely convinced that the geese and ducks that were being force-fed with a tube down their throat enjoyed it.
Matthew Liebman: Yeah, we hear that a lot from their side, and I think it’s cognitive dissonance or an echo chamber, but all the veterinarians who we speak to about this issue certainly say that it can be immensely painful for the animals, and undercover investigations at these farms, which anyone can find on YouTube, exposes that lie.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, we have a few minutes left. Can you tell us what other interesting things you’re working on?
Matthew Liebman: Sure, so I’ve got—well, let’s see. One of my other cases is another Endangered Species Act case concerning an orca named Lolita, who has been confined in a small tank at a place called the Miami Seaquarium for more than forty years. She was captured in the wild off of Puget Sound in Washington when she was just a few years old and then sold to this facility that’s kept her in what would for us equate to virtually a bathtub. She’s been there for decades. So we filed a suit under the Endangered Species Act because her pod is listed as endangered—the population that she comes from is an endangered species. So this is a similar case to the one I talked about with Candy, and that case is currently pending, so that’s another one of the areas we’re working on. We do a lot of captive wildlife issues as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Who names these nonhuman animals? Candy and Lolita?
Matthew Liebman: Yeah, you know…I don’t know where they come up with it.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know, but they sound like abused women names to me.
Matthew Liebman: They do, they do, and maybe that’s not accidental. Anyone who’s read Carol Adams and The Sexual Politics of Meat knows that patriarchy and animal abuse often go hand in hand.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, anything else?
Matthew Liebman: Sure, let’s see—what are some of the other cases…. We have the ag-gag fight is ongoing, as we talked about in Idaho, but we also have our case in Utah. So that case is wrapping up discovery, and we’re hoping that we get a little bit of movement on that case in the near future. People who want to stay up to date on that case and any of the others that I talked about, including a lot of cases that involve veganism and factory farming, you can sign up at our website, which is www.aldf.org, and we’re on all the usual social-media sites—we’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. People can learn how they can keep up with our cases and get involved themselves on anything from captive wildlife to dog and cat shelters to puppy mills to captive wildlife cases.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a great site; there’s a lot of wonderful information, and you’re doing great work.
Matthew Liebman: Thank you so much.
Caryn Hartglass: What I want to know now is what are you doing for Thanksgiving?
Matthew Liebman: Oh, we’re going to a vegan Thanksgiving—some friends of ours host vegan Thanksgiving that we’ve been to for the last four years. So I’m in charge of cocktails and a pie this year. My partner is going to be making some veggies as well. And I’ll probably make up a batch of seitan, but yeah, vegan Thanksgiving with some close friends and…should be fun.
Caryn Hartglass: And have you visited www.barnivore.com to check out all the alcoholic beverages that are vegan-friendly?
Matthew Liebman: I have, yes. I love that site.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s a very useful resource. That’s probably one of the last things people think about where you can find animal ingredients, but yes, they are there, unfortunately.
Matthew Liebman: Yep, unfortunately.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, Matthew, thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food again and on short notice. It was great to get updated on all of these great campaigns. Thank you so much.
Matthew Liebman: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me back.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, have a great Thanksgiving.
Matthew Liebman: You too, take care.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. All right, that was Matthew Liebman of the Animal League—the Animal Legal Defense Fund, yes, thank you very much. Go to www.aldf.org for more.
We just have a few minutes left, and yeah, it’s Thanksgiving. The thing that I’m excited about is we monitor what pages are visited on our nonprofit website, www.responsibleeatingandliving.com, and our Thanksgiving recipes have been getting lots and lots of hits, lots of traffic, and that’s exciting because more people want to know how to make delicious plant-based foods. Either they’re vegan or they want to eat more plant foods or maybe people are having a dinner and they know that there are vegans coming. Whatever it is, it’s good, and I’m thrilled to know about it, and if you haven’t decided what you are doing for Thanksgiving, or if you are looking for some plant-based items, we do have some wonderful recipes; some of them are traditions in our family. Right there at the front of our website, www.responsibleeatingandliving.com, you can see our Thanksgiving celebration feast, and there’s lots of recipes that are listed there.
The other thing I want to mention is we went to the Anti-Fur Society conference this past weekend, and we filmed a bit of the fashion show that went on. And this was a fashion show of US and international designers that are making cruelty-free clothing made from fabrics that don’t come from animals. And some of these outfits were stunning, and we made a little video, and again you can go to www.responsibleeatingandliving.com and watch that. It’s really fun, and you can check out all of the new designers that are creating some beautiful, beautiful clothing to show once again, everybody, we do not need to exploit, harm, kill, and torture nonhuman animals for food, for clothing, for personal care products; we can all lead a very happy, beautiful life in luxury, if we choose to, without exploitation.
Thank you very much.
I wish you all a very lovely Thanksgiving if you are celebrating it. And the best thing to do is to think about the things that you are grateful for. That’s what Thanksgiving is about, and I think it’s something that’s great to do absolutely every day. When we realize the things that we are grateful for—not the things that we want and the things we can’t have and the things that other people have that we want; no, no, no—the things that we have that we can be grateful for, it feels so good. So I’m sending that out to you. Let’s all tune in some love here and during the week and be grateful for what we have. And have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Kris McCoy 1/29/2016