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From her office in San Francisco, the Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Paige Tomaselli, lives to fight “factory farms.” Her mission: to protect animals, the environment, and the public health from the practices which these farms routinely employ. Indeed, Tomaselli and her D.C.-based organization have multiple cases pending in federal and state courts. As plaintiffs, CFS has sued the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), seeking access to records regarding controversial animal growth drugs; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for withdrawing a proposal that would have allowed the agency to collect information, including numbers of animals, from so-called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs); and the state of Texas, for allegedly failing to enforce sanitation requirements against large egg producers. As defendant-interveners, the Center for Food Safety has sought to uphold limits on CAFO pollution under the Clean Water Act.
“Unless you search for the information, you won’t see it. It’s not in the news, not in your face. If more people knew, they wouldn’t necessarily not eat meat, but they’d choose more carefully what they did eat.”
Why target factory farms? Tomaselli cites animal welfare violations, environmental hazards, and worker abuse. “Most people don’t understand the gravity of the issues,” she says. “Unless you search for the information, you won’t see it. It’s not in the news, not in your face. If more people knew, they wouldn’t necessarily not eat meat, but they’d choose more carefully what they did eat.”
Tomaselli first studied factory farming at Humboldt State University, where, as a philosophy major, she took courses in Environmental Ethics, the Ethics of Genetic Engineering, and Animal Ethics. “CAFOs brought me into this world. I was appalled by conditions at factory farms,” she says. After asking a professor and mentor, Susan Armstrong, how to make a difference, Tomaselli was encouraged to go to law school and then work as a non-profit advocate.
At Vermont Law, Tomaselli studied animal law and environmental law, participated in the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, served as President of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, and published a “Detailed Discussion of International Comparative Animal Cruelty Laws.” She focused on animal welfare and the environmental implications of agribusiness.
After VLS, she worked for two years as a staff attorney at Sher Leff in San Franciso, representing public water suppliers and public agencies seeking remediation from petrochemical corporations for groundwater contamination. In 2008, she joined the Center for Food Safety, a non-profit public interest and environmental advocacy organization “working to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture.” The center offered Tomaselli the opportunity to re-focus on the issue that had moved her to attend law school in the first place.
“Historically, it’s been hard to find ways to challenge them,” according to Tomaselli. In her view, “powerful lobbying, government subsidies, weak regulatory enforcement, and the prevalence of confidential business information” inhibit reform. But she is already winning her battles. In October 2013, CFS and eight other U.S. food safety, agriculture, public health, and environmental groups, compelled the FDA to withdraw its approval for three of four arsenic-based animal feed additives and 98 of 101 associated arsenic-based animal drugs. According to the center, despite being deleterious to the public health, “arsenic is added to poultry feed for the purposes of inducing faster weight gain on less feed, and creating the perceived appearance of a healthy color in meat from chickens, turkeys, and hogs.”
She is not stopping to celebrate. The way Tomaselli sees it, the FDA withdrew only 98 of its 101 prior approvals. “Now,” she says, in addition to her expanding caseload, her work on the Board of the San Francisco Permaculture Guild, and her move to the East Bay (where she is busy creating a garden and habitats for ducks and bees), “I’m working to stop the other three approvals.”