The plight of the animals we raise for food in this country rarely enters the forefront of our societal consciousness, but Californians are about to learn a whole lot more about what these animals go through when election season kicks off this fall.
That’s because they’ll cast their ballots this November on Prop 2—the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act—a measure endorsed by Slow Food Nation, the Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Food Safety, and authors such as Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser.
This moderate measure merely seeks to provide certain farm animals with enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around, and extend their limbs. It really is that basic.
Unfortunately, the majority of egg-laying hens, calves raised for veal, and breeding pigs in the United States are confined in tiny cages and crates where they can barely move an inch their whole lives. In effect, Prop 2 will phase out the extreme confinement of these animals.
These three inhumane systems epitomize the abuse that can occur when we take industrialization of our food system to the extreme—abuse that the Slow Food movement has rightly objected to for years.
Perhaps the least well-known of the three systems is the so-called “battery cage” for egg-laying hens. In Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan writes:
“Egg and hog operations are the worst….Broiler chickens…at least don’t spend their eight-week lives in cages too small to ever stretch a wing. That fate is reserved for the American laying hen, who passes her brief span piled together with a half-dozen other hens in a wire cage whose floor a single page of this magazine could carpet. Every natural instinct of this animal is thwarted, leading to a range of behavioral ‘vices’ that can include cannibalizing her cagemates and rubbing her body against the wire mesh until it is featherless and bleeding. Pain? Suffering? Madness? The operative suspension of disbelief depends on more neutral descriptors, like ‘vices’ and ‘stress.’ Whatever you want to call what’s going on in those cages, the 10 percent or so of hens that can’t bear it and simply die is built into the cost of production.”
This routine cruelty we force upon egg-laying hens and other factory-farmed animals is perhaps the most egregious example of the abrogation of our responsibility to treat animals with a sense of basic decency.
In endorsing Prop 2, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asks, “The law punishes teenage boys who tie up and abuse a stray cat. So why allow industrialists to run factory farms that keep pigs almost all their lives in tiny pens that are barely bigger than they are?”
Kristof isn’t alone in wondering about this schism we face in terms of our love of dogs and cats and near-total disregard for even the most basic interests of farm animals who are capable of suffering every bit as much as the animals we welcome into families. The fact that we would never force our dogs and cats to live in filthy, cramped cages for their whole lives begs the question of whether we should force farm animals to endure such misery, either.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that nearly 600 California veterinarians, along with the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), are endorsing the “Yes” vote on Prop 2. Dr. Jeff Smith, former president of the CVMA writes in the Modesto Bee, “As a veterinarian, I support Proposition 2 because I can think of no other animals confined to this degree that are deemed humanely housed.”
As to be expected, Prop 2 does indeed have some opponents. On the other side of this initiative is a cast of characters from the factory farming industry with a particularly sordid history of cruelty to animals and consumer fraud. Major financial contributors to the opposition have been caught abusing animals in undercover exposés, paid big bucks to settle criminal animal cruelty charges, and even paid $100,000 to settle allegations of 17 attorneys general—including California’s—that they were misleading the public about animal welfare.
These well-financed opponents are already planning on spending millions of dollars to confuse voters and deceive them about Prop 2. And one thing is for certain: The agribusiness industry doesn’t like to lose, especially in the nation’s top agricultural state. It intends to fight hard, meaning Californians will be hearing quite a lot about the treatment of farm animals in the next three months. Voters will have to sort fact from fiction.
Each one of us can help win a victory for animal welfare, the environment, food safety, and public health by getting involved and supporting the Yes on Prop 2 campaign. The opportunity for so many social movements to join together and fight for a common cause is exciting, and one that will likely yield positive results not only in this election, but for years to come.
Make sure to check out YESonProp2.com – and remember to vote where your mouth is by voting YES! on 2 this November.