Ten years ago, Drake University law professor Jerry Anderson traveled to northwest Iowa to meet with a farmer who was concerned about an animal confinement being built across the road from his house.
The two hopped into the farmer's truck. On a tour of the county, the farmer questioned whether the soil could handle the amount of manure originating from local farm confinement operations. Anderson marveled at the scenery.
"It seemed like there was another hog confinement at each milepost," he remembers.
And all at once, as the vehicle crested a hill not far from the farmer's house, Anderson saw something that changed the scope of his research into animal agriculture.
"A huge windowless building rose up, sort of like the UNI-Dome, looking tremendously out of place in the middle of the countryside," Anderson says. "The farmer said it was an egg-laying facility and had 4 million chickens. I was shocked -- I had never seen anything like it.
"Of course, we couldn't get anywhere near it to see inside, but the thought that there were millions of chickens in one huge warehouse building, never seeing the light of day, definitely brought home to me the fact that we were in the midst of a historic shift in how animal food production was being carried out in this country.
Anderson's usual areas of research are property and environmental law, but his new paper shifts in focus to the larger implications of intensive agriculture. The paper, titled "Protection for the Powerless: Political Economy History Lessons for the Animal Welfare Movement ," was published in the January issue of the Stanford Journal of Animal Law and Policy.
The article focuses primarily on how legal reform may be achieved through legislative action. To build his thesis, Anderson compares the welfare of animals in large-scale farming operations to the plight of child workers in the 1800s. As powerless groups, both children and farm animals have had their welfare compromised for economic motivations.
"Like children in the 1800s, animals caught in the agricultural revolution have been subjected to worsening conditions due to the economic pressures of industrial concentration," Anderson writes. "Moreover, animals are powerless, in the sense of having no real choice in whether to accept the conditions of their confinement, just as children were unable to reject the conditions of their employment."
History, Anderson writes, has shown that legislative action can be a powerful intervention on behalf of the welfare of powerless groups. At great cost to economic interests, most democratic societies have passed legislation to protect children from abuse in the workplace. They've also passed laws to protect endangered wildlife from extinction.
Anderson worked alongside a student research assistant, Katie Kowalcyck, a third-year student, to research the history of legal intervention on behalf of child laborers.
Kowalcyck, who has researched case law and legislation for Anderson since August 2009, said the experience has allowed her to gain deeper understanding of her areas of interest.
"I have learned a lot about the areas of environmental and animal law due to my research," she said. "Professor Anderson gave me broad discretion in doing my research and if I got stuck he was always more than happy to assist me or point me in the right direction."
Anderson's knowledge of legislative history and processes has offered Drake Law School students a rare perspective on the legal process.
"Law schools don't spend a lot of time teaching about how legal regulations are enacted; we tend to focus on the laws after they are passed," Anderson said. "Yet, many of our graduates are engaged in the process of lawmaking, either as lobbyists or legislators or members of advocacy groups. Because the animal welfare reform movement is in many ways at the very beginning of this process, it seemed to me the perfect subject to study how advocates might be able to accomplish reform goals in the face of some formidable obstacles."