In a recent case in North Carolina, Smithfields, an industrial pork farming concern versus around five hundred local residents, and who were mostly black, and who had filed almost two dozen lawsuits complaining of the stench, flies and buzzards attracted by their farming practises was won by the residents after a six year court battle when Smithfield sued to settle.

One of the judges in the case, J Harvie Wilkinson III, denouncec

the outrageous conditions ... conditions that there is no reason to suppose unique to that facility.

He goes on to add:

What was missing from Kinlaw Farms and Murphy-Brown [the former name of Smithfields] was the recognition that treating animals better will benefit humans. What was neglected is that animal welfare and human welfare, far from advancing at cross-purposes, are actually integrally connected. The decades long transition to concentrated animal feeding operations lays bare this connection, and the consequences of its breach, with startling clarity.

He described a system where they expected to live in enclosures that they had outgrown, reducing them

to almost suffocating closeness ... the dangers endemic to such appalling conditions [are] always manifested first in animal suffering.

In such cases, I've noted that how we are to treat animals is linked, as in this case, to the benefit of hums beings. This is, as far as I understand, a utilitarian argument.

Q. Can legal arguments be advanced in situations of this kind to treat animals well simply because it is right?

Obviously, a court can only take into account what has been legislated into law. So more broadly speaking:

Q. Have such arguments been advanced to the legislating body, the body that actually writes the law?

It's probably worth adding that punitive damages of around 500 million dollars were originally granted. (But was reduced to 90 million on dollars on appeal by Smithfields).


@Ryan M: I haven't invalidated my earlier question, as you can observe, I've said it's a more broadly based question. And a good answer can address both.

Legislatures consider moral questions and this has an impact on legal discourse, so it's a judicial question as well as being a political question; though in my opinion, more moral than political. I've tagged it jurisprudence to point this out.

  • 2
    Please don't edit questions in such a way that invalidates answers; at any rate, your new question about whether arguments have been advanced to legislatures is a political question, not a legal one, and so is off-topic here.
    – Ryan M
    Nov 21, 2020 at 5:53
  • 1
    What is the relevance or significance of the claimants being "mostly black"?
    – user35069
    Nov 21, 2020 at 8:31

2 Answers 2


There are laws against animal cruelty

What counts as cruel is a social convention that changes over time. It is a fundamental principle of common law jurisdictions (like most of the ) that courts have the power to interpret (and re-interpret) the law so that as society’s standards change, so does the law.


No: these sorts of arguments should be taken to a legislature, not a court

In the United States, the fact that something is immoral does not make it illegal—there must be a specific law prohibiting it. In this case, the suit was over the negative effects to the residents, such as stench, flies, and truck traffic, which allegedly violated the law. One judge took the opportunity to write a concurring opinion scolding the farm for their inhumane practices as well, while agreeing with the court's main opinion. Judges are generally allowed to write concurring opinions about whatever they want; there's not always any legal impact to them (though sometimes there is).

If one wanted a particular immoral practice to be illegal, they could bring it to the attention of their elected representative in a legislature (whether state, local, or federal), who could help pass a law banning it.

To be clear, there are laws banning animal cruelty in many jurisdictions; a judge can of course rule against industrial farms due to violating these laws, but they cannot do so simply because it's not the right thing to do.

  • 1
    I've edited my answer to clarify that I'm not referring to cases where the cruelty violates existing law. That is, of course, punishable by a judge.
    – Ryan M
    Nov 21, 2020 at 11:33

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