Commodity status of animals

Liniers cattle market, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2009

The commodity status of animals refers to 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.[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

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 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]