Animal law scholars demonstrate the many aspects of the field at the second edition of the Animal Law Conference in Helsinki

By Veerle Platvoet

Now that the new academic year is in full swing, it is time to look back on the event that, at the Helsinki Animal Law Centre, closed the last academic year in June. Right before summer, the second edition of our animal law conference took place, with the Emergence and Establishment of Animal Law as a Legal Discipline as its theme. The conference was packed with fascinating and thought-provoking presentations from animal law scholars over the whole world.  

The conference consisted of three days, with a relatively closed-circle PhD workshop on the first day. With a total of four PhD researchers, their work was discussed by all participants in a pre-read paper format. The topics provided a sample of the broad spectrum of animal law. We discussed animal labor rights, the enforcement of EU farm animal regulations, wolf litigation in Norway, and the welfare of farmed salmon. The workshop created grounds for rich discussions on the papers and the wider PhD projects from the participants.  

The first day of the conference kicked off with a keynote speech by Alasdair Cochrane on the Speciesism of Human Rights. Cochrane discussed human rights from the perspective of animal rights, thereby creating a more in-depth view on both. His presentation provided food for thought for those interested in the function of rights in general, or looking to overcome the difficulties of creating more-than-human rights.  

After Cochrane’s keynote and the lively discussion that followed, the first parallel sessions were on Rights and Animals and Regional Approaches. Regionally, Norway was well represented with two presentations on wolf litigation and animal welfare more generally, as well as the concept of dignity in Swiss animal welfare law. In the rights-based session, different aspects of animal rights were examined. Animal agency, the relationship between animal rights and the Five Freedoms, and the criminological and environmental synergies and conflicts with animal rights were reviewed.   

The first day concluded with the formal launch of the Helsinki Animal Law Centre. Already established in February, we decided to launch the Centre during the conference, to be able to celebrate with the large community of animal law scholars that came to Helsinki. For the occasion, we organized a panel on the definition of animal law. As animal law as a legal discipline is relatively new, there are as many definitions on the discipline as there are scholars – and the three presentations on the panel evidenced this with their own interpretations of the field. Whether animal law is about the interest of the animal, limited by the rules by which the court plays, or largely informed by ‘scholactivism’, its framework leaves plenty of space for discussion to occupy its own conference.  

After a lovely dinner and a bright Finnish evening, the second day of the conference commenced with the keynote by Jessica Eisen on Constitutionalism and Animals. This keynote, much like the first did with human rights, provided as many insights into the more general theme of constitutionalism as well as its relation to animal law. Eisen illuminated the ‘hidden’ constitutional principle of animal exploitation, which explains the potentially contradictory constitutional protections many countries have for animals. Eisen’s presentation was very thought-provoking, as demonstrated by the following Q&A.  

Two parallel sessions were scheduled for the second day of the conference, with the first sessions discussing the role of science and ethics. Again, the sessions were varied, with the science-based session discussing invertebrate welfare, the importance of meat reduction, and the relation between science and law in the European Union welfare legislation. On the side of ethics, moral animal rights were discussed, as well as reframing animal exploitation as oppression, and the importance of animal culture.  

The final sessions were on procedural improvements and international animal law. The procedural aspects of animal law are often overlooked, and the presentations on continental animal standing, strategic litigation, and animal consent all provided engaging angles to the field. Globally, animal law can take many forms, and this was demonstrated by the presentations on diplomatic animals, global animal protection treaties, and animals in humanitarian law in the second parallel session.  

All in all, it is astounding how such a young and emerging field already consists of so many passionate and engaged scholars, that all have their role in illustrating the diverse interpretations and aspects of the discipline. Although the definition of animal law is still undecided, it is clear that each of these themes contribute to the establishment of the discipline, and the animal law community will ensure its further growth. 






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