Tabitha “Nikki” Mitchell, a 2011 graduate of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, was honored recently by the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Animals and the Law for her paper, “Cage-Free, Free-Range, Organic? Why Animal Welfare Depends on a New Government Labeling Scheme.” The paper won the second place prize in the Fourth Annual Student Writing Competition sponsored by the Committee.
The Committee on Animals and the Law was established to provide information resources for the New York State Bar Association’s members and the public about non-human, animal related humane issues, which arise from and have an effect upon our legal system. This competition seeks to foster legal scholarship among law students in the area of animals and the law. This competition provides law students with an incentive and opportunity to learn more about this area of law.
Ms. Mitchell’s paper was initially written for an Animals and the Law Seminar taught by Prof. Susan Hankin. Shortly before enrolling in that seminar, Ms. Mitchell had become interested in the relationship between animal welfare and food labeling.
“I started buying products I thought were helping animals, like cage-free eggs and “all-natural” chicken. I was so surprised when further research exposed the true meaning of these labels.”
Ms. Mitchell said she felt betrayed as a welfare-conscious consumer, but she was also concerned that clever marketing was taking advantage of consumers and having no real impact on animal welfare.
In her paper, Ms. Mitchell advocates for a national system similar to the U.S.D.A. Organic program and the European Union’s labeling requirements. This program would take into consideration the natural etiological behaviors of farm animals and make allowances for them in husbandry guidelines. Using behavioral science research, inspectors can make determinations on the quality of animal welfare on any farm.
Ms. Mitchell believes that in combination with public education about the animal welfare benefits these requirements would impart, animal welfare-conscious consumers will be able to make more informed purchases. She notes that statistics show that a large percentage of consumers care about animal welfare and, if given the opportunity, would make purchases that complied with their beliefs.
“A voluntary, but national federal labeling scheme is an effective way to do this and have a real impact on animal welfare for farmed animals in this country,” commented Ms. Mitchell.
With a life-long interest in advocating for shelter pets, Ms. Mitchell’s interest in animal welfare combines her love of animals with interest in the law.
“One of my first jobs after high school was at an animal hospital that worked closely with the local shelter. I often saw the effects of cruelty when an abandoned pet was brought in for treatment. I was fortunate to find my first dog in this job and rescued her when her owners abandoned her in front of the hospital with serious wounds. Another dog and three children later, she’s still my first “kid.”
Ms. Mitchell is currently living in Columbus, Georgia, where her husband is stationed at Fort Benning with the 3/75th Ranger Regiment. She is working as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) while awaiting admission to the Bar. Her goal is to work in the area of child advocacy, most especially in a health care setting.