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Isabella Nilsson

The Project

Isabella’s project will focus on work with Legal Impact for Chickens (LIC) to carry out novel litigation that reforms the poultry industry, improving conditions for poultry workers, contract growers, and animals.

Isabella’s inspiration is her grandmother, a guiding force in her life who has always encouraged her to embrace her Puerto Rican heritage, her desire to do justice, and her belief that she can effect positive change in the world.

Needs Addressed by Project

Ninety-seven percent of the 160 million chickens consumed weekly nationwide are produced through “contract” farming, a financially exploitative process in which an individual farmer takes out large loans in order to raise chickens for a large poultry corporation. Poultry slaughterhouse workers have some of the highest rates of depression, PTSD, and traumatic workplace injuries nationwide; amputations are routine and chronic illness common. Workers are constantly exposed to hazardous biological agents, and basic labor rights like bathroom breaks and overtime pay are often not respected. Most industry workers are people of color, many are women, and nearly one third are immigrants. Animals also suffer: most US chickens live in dark, crowded sheds that serve as breeding grounds for disease, and increased line speeds mean that birds are often accidentally scalded to death while still fully conscious.

Fellowship Plans

Large poultry companies make all the decisions about growers’ work, but reject legal liability, leaving growers indebted and stripped of basic labor rights. Isabella will explore USDA’s role in the economic condition of growers. Isabella will also investigate USDA decisions that impact worker safety; for instance, increased dispensation of line speed waivers and a recurrent lack of inspection in poultry slaughterhouses has increased worker injuries. Isabella will share her findings with allied coalition partners and use it to inform the specific legal strategy for a LIC impact litigation lawsuit.

“As an LGBTQ+ Latinx woman, I’m proud to be contributing to the diversity of the law and assisting those who lack access to traditional legal resources.”

Isabella Nilsson /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Amanda helped low-income individuals harmed by illegal pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) through community education, negotiation with CAFO owners, litigation, and administrative advocacy.

CAFOs are agricultural operations where animals are kept in confined areas on small land parcels. Each year CAFOs produce approximately 500 million tons of manure that emits ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, endotoxins, and inhalable particulate matter. The emissions can contaminate drinking water and pollute the air, thereby threatening public health. There is also risk of environmental disasters such as waste spills. Studies show that people who live near CAFOs suffer from various neurological and respiratory ailments linked to the harmful emissions. Because affluent communities have the political capital to keep CAFOs from being built or maintained near them, typically CAFOs locate in low-income, rural communities. Residents in communities where CAFOs operate also suffer economically from lower property values and difficulty selling their homes in order to move away from the health hazards.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Amanda:

  • Stopped a state agency’s practice of rubber-stamping water appropriation permit applications for CAFOs
  • Filed a nuisance suit against a CAFO that is devastating the quality of life in a rural community
  • Litigated a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case against an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to compel the agency to respond to a FOIA request
  • Built several impact litigation cases
  • Garnered media attention about CAFOs’ harmful effect

Next Steps

Amanda continues to work at The Humane Society of the United States, where is is working to file impact litigation cases to curb CAFO operations in low-income, rural communities.

The Project

Cody assisted local law enforcement, prosecutors, agencies, and civil litigators in bringing meaningful enforcement actions following whistleblower documentation of large-scale animal abuse.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project

Undercover investigations conducted by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have repeatedly exposed egregious misconduct in a variety of animal industries. Too often, however, the parties responsible are not sufficiently held legally accountable for this misconduct. This project seeks to use HSUS’s findings to spur civil and criminal enforcement actions capable of remedying ongoing harms and deterring future unlawful activity.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Cody has:
• Set up a whistle blower hotline for farm workers calling for stronger workplace hazard standards
• Helped devise and draft complaint for potential class action consumer fraud lawsuits against internet puppy dealers and misleading “happy chicken” representations on egg cartons
• Worked with a variety of federal agencies to implement protocols to reduce the suffering of egg-laying hens affected by bird flu, lower the cost of care for seized animals, and filed enforcement requests that result in administrative closure of roadside zoos and similar attractions

Where are they now?

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Cody plans to:

• Continue protecting animals from abuse and neglect through a position with Mercy for Animals focused on legislative advocacy

The Project

Valerie will use innovative litigation and advocacy strategies to improve animal health and welfare and environmental protection at the nation’s factory farms.

Billions of animals across the United States live their entire lives in factory farms—large industrial operations that confine animals in dismal settings. In recent decades, three changes in the industry have enabled this system to thrive at the expense of animal health, welfare, and the environment: (1) the rise of large meat corporations, that use contracts to control the supply chain; (2) the overuse of antibiotics to compensate for overcrowding and filthy conditions; and (3) the often disproportionate marketing and serving of meat and poultry rather than plant-based foods by many large food service institutions. Valerie’s project will address these three linchpins of the factory farm system to improve animal welfare.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Valerie:

  • Worked with legal experts inside and outside the Natural Resources Defense Council to develop innovative litigation theories to increase animal health, welfare, and environmental protection
  • Initiated dialogue with food service industry or institutional food providers to move towards menus with more plant-based options
  • Developed materials and identify partners for public education campaigns