Commodity status of animals

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Liniers cattle market, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2009

The commodity status of animals is the legal status as property of most non-human animals, particularly farmed animals, working animals and animals in sport, and their use as objects of trade.[1][2][3][n 1] In the United States, Free-roaming animals (ferae naturae) are (broadly) held in trust by the state; only if captured can be claimed as personal property.[a][6]

Animals regarded as commodities may be bought, sold, given away, bequeathed, killed, and used as commodity producers: producers of meat, eggs, milk, fur, wool, skin and offspring, among other things.[7][8] The exchange value of the animal does not depend on quality of life.[9]

The commodity status of livestock is evident in auction yards, where they are tagged with a barcode and traded according to certain qualities, including age, weight, sex and breeding history.[10][11][n 2]

In commodity markets, animals and animal products are classified as soft commodities, along with goods such as coffee and sugar, because they are grown, as opposed to hard commodities, such as gold and copper, which are mined.[12][n 3]

Researchers identify viewing animals as commodities by humans as a manifestation of speciesism. The vegan and animal rights movements, chiefly the abolitionist approach, of the twentieth century calls for eliminating the commodity or property status of animals.

History and law[edit]

Animals, when owned, are classified as personal property (movable property not attached to real property/real estate).[n 4] The word cattle derives from the French word cheptel or Old French word chatel, or personal property.[15]

Historian Joyce E. Salisbury writes that the relationship between humans and animals was always expressed in terms of control, and the idea that animals become property by being domesticated. She notes that Saint Ambrose (340–397) held the view that God controlled wild animals while humanity controlled the rest. Isidore of Seville (560–636) distinguished between "cattle", a term for animals that had been domesticated, and "beasts" or wild animals, as did Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274).[16]

The English jurist William Blackstone (1723–1780) wrote of domesticated animals, in Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–1769):

In such as are of a nature tame and domestic (as horses, kine [cows], sheep, poultry, and the like), a man may have as absolute a property as in any inanimate beings ... because these continue perpetually in his occupation, and will not stray from his house or person, unless by accident or fraudulent entitlement, in either of which cases the owner does not lose his property ..."[17]

That wild animals belong in common to everyone, or to the state, and can become personal property only if captured, is known as the "animals ferae naturae" doctrine.[6] Blackstone wrote of wild animals that they are either "not the objects of property at all, or else fall under our other division, namely, that of qualified, limited, or special property, which is such as is not in its nature permanent, but may sometimes subsist, and at other times not subsist."[18]


Writing about wild animals being imported into France in the 18th century, historian Louise Robbins writes that a "cultural biography of things" would show animals "sliding in and out of commodity status and taking on different values for different people" as they make their way from their homes to the streets of Paris.[19] Sociologist Rhoda Wilkie has used the term "sentient commodity" to describe this view of how the conception of animals as commodities can shift depending on whether a human being forms a relationship with them.[20] Geographers Rosemary-Claire Collard and Jessica Dempsey use the term "lively commodities."[2]

Political scientist Sami Torssonen argues that animal welfare has itself been commodified since the 1990s because of public concern for animals. "Scientifically-certified welfare products," which Torssonen calls "sellfare," are "producible and salable at various points in the commodity chain," subject to competition like any other commodity.[21] Social scientist Jacy Reese Anthis argues that, while there is no immanent right for animals or humans to not be commodified, there are strong practical reasons to oppose any commodification of animals, not just that which is cruel or egregious.[22]

Commodification of nonhuman animals is one of the primary impacts of the animal–industrial complex. In the book Education for Total Liberation, Meneka Repka cites Barbara Noske as saying that the commodification of nonhuman animals in food systems is directly linked to capitalist systems that prioritize "monopolistically inclined financial interests" over the well-being of humans, nonhumans, and the environment.[23] Richard Twine furthers this stating that "corporate influences have had a direct interest through marketing, advertising, and flavour manipulation in constructing the consumption of animal products as a sensual material pleasure."[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David N. Cassuto (Professor of Law, Pace Law School), 2009: "These [farmer–animal] relationships did not necessarily maximize yield but were rather based on a set of normative guidelines even as the ultimate reality of the animals' commodity status inevitably imbued that bond with a sense of unreality."[4]

    Samantha Hillyard (Reader in Sociology, Durham University), 2007: "The construction of FMD (foot-and-mouth disease) as an 'economic' disease (a disease that is controlled for economic and financial reasons, rather than purely animal health or welfare concerns) recognised animals' commodity status."[5]

  2. ^ Rosemary-Claire Collard, Kathryn Gillespie, 2015: "Nonhuman animals are subjected to various modes of bodily control in the space of the auction yard where they are exchanged as commodities and used in the production of new commodities. ... Farmed animals, like the cow with barcode #743, are sold and bought at auction to be used as commodity producers (e.g. for breeding, milk production, semen production) and as commodities themselves (e.g. to be slaughtered for 'meat')."[7]
  3. ^ The United States Commodity Exchange Act, which regulates commodity futures trading, defines commodities as "wheat, cotton, rice, corn, oats, barley, rye, flaxseed, grain sorghums, mill feeds, butter, eggs, Solanum tuberosum (Irish potatoes), wool, wool tops, fats and oils (including lard, tallow, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, and all other fats and oils), cottonseed meal, cottonseed, peanuts, soybeans, soybean meal, livestock, livestock products, and frozen concentrated orange juice, and all other goods and articles, except onions (as provided by section 13–1 of this title) and motion picture box office receipts (or any index, measure, value, or data related to such receipts), and all services, rights, and interests (except motion picture box office receipts, or any index, measure, value or data related to such receipts) in which contracts for future delivery are presently or in the future dealt in."[13]
  4. ^ The four categories of property are personal property (movables, chattels), real property (land and fixtures), intellectual property (such as copyrights), and cultural property (such as national monuments).[14]


  1. ^ Prohibitions may exist in the US, however, against the capture of endangered species


  1. ^ Rhoda Wilkie, "Animals as Sentient Commodities", in Linda Kalof (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Animal Studies, Oxford University Press (forthcoming; Wilkie's article, August 2015). doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199927142.013.16
    Rhoda Wilkie, "Sentient Commodities: The Ambiguous Status of Livestock," Livestock/Deadstock: Working with Farm Animals from Birth to Slaughter, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2010, pp. 115–128; 176–177.
    Gregory R. Smulewicz-Zucker, "The Problem with Commodifying Animals," in Gregory R. Smulewicz-Zucker (ed.), Strangers to Nature: Animal Lives and Human Ethics, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012, pp. 157–175[permanent dead link].

    That companion animals are commodities, Lori Gruen, Ethics and Animals, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 156.

  2. ^ a b Rosemary-Claire Collard, Jessica Dempsey, "Life for Sale? The Politics of Lively Commodities", Environment and Planning, 45(11), November 2013. doi:10.1068/a45692
  3. ^ "United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database", UN ComTrade.

    "Health standards: commodity-based approach", OiE, World Organization for Animal Health.

  4. ^ David N. Cassuto, "Owning What You Eat: The Discourse of Food," in J. Ronald Engel, Laura Westra, Klaus Bosselman (eds.), Democracy, Ecological Integrity and International Law, Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009, p. 314; also see pp. 306–320.
  5. ^ Samantha Hillyard, The Sociology of Rural Life, Berg, 2007, p. 70.
  6. ^ a b Joan E. Shaffner, An Introduction to Animals and the Law, Palgrace Macmillan, 2001, pp. 19–20.
  7. ^ a b Rosemary-Claire Collard, Kathryn Gillespie, "Introduction," in Kathryn Gillespie, Rosemary-Claire Collard (eds.), Critical Animal Geographies, London: Routledge, 2015, p. 2.
  8. ^ Francione 2004, p. 116.
  9. ^ Cassuto 2009, p. 314.
  10. ^ Wilkie 2010, pp. 73ff, 79–81.
  11. ^ Kathryn Gillespie, "Nonhuman animal resistance and the improprieties of live property," in Irus Braverman (ed.), Animals, Biopolitics, Law, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2015, pp. 117–118; also see the section "The Animal-as-Commodity," p. 121ff.
  12. ^ Patrick Maul, Investing in Commodities, Hamburg: Diplomica Verlag GmbH, 2011, p. 8, table c.
  13. ^ Commodity Exchange Act, U.S. Code § 1a - Definitions, Cornell University Law School.
  14. ^ Shaffner 2001, p. 20.
  15. ^ Wilkie 2010, pp. 115–116; "Chattel", Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School.
  16. ^ Joyce Salisbury, The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages, Routledge, 2012 [1994], p. 10, 13–15.
  17. ^ William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Volume 1, Callaghan, 1884 [1765–1769], p. 389, cited in Wilkie 2010, p. 116.
  18. ^ Blackstone 1884, p. 390.
  19. ^ Louise E. Robbins, Elephant slaves and pampered parrots: Exotic animals and their meanings in eighteenth-century France, University of Wisconsin--Madison, 1998, p. 10.
  20. ^ Wilkie 2010, p. 115ff.
  21. ^ Sami Torssonen, "Sellfare: A History of Livestock Welfare Commodification as Governance", 71(1), Fall 2015.
  22. ^ Reese, Jacy (16 November 2018). "There's no such thing as humane meat or eggs. Stop kidding yourself". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 May 2020.
  23. ^ a b Repka, Meneka (2019). Education for Total Liberation: Critical Animal Pedagogy and Teaching Against Speciesism. Radical Animal Studies and Total Liberation (1 ed.). New York: Peter Lang. doi:10.3726/b14204. ISBN 978-1-4331-5789-9.

Further reading[edit]

External links
Books, papers
  • Pedersen, Helena; Staescu, Vasile. "Conclusion: Future Directions for Critical Animal Studies," in Nik Taylor, Richard Twine (eds.), The Rise of Critical Animal Studies: From the Margins to the Centre, London: Routledge, 2014, pp. 262–276.
  • Francione, Gary. Animals, Property and the Law, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1995.
  • Richards, John F. The World Hunt: An Environmental History of the Commodification of Animals, University of California Press, 2014.
  • Steiner, Gary. Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism, New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.