Last year, Californians voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 2, which banned the harsh confinement of laying hens, pregnant sows and veal calves. A national Zogby poll from October 2003 entitled Nationwide Views on the Treatment of Farm Animals [pdf], found that 82% of respondents agreed that such laws protecting farm animals should be in effect nationwide. Now, as the interest in where our food comes from grows, it seems that the country at large is ready to extend animal welfare laws to farm animals.
In fact, the tide has been turning on farm animal treatment for years now. Before California’s well-publicized vote for the improved treatment of farm animals last November (which will take effect in 2015), Florida voters chose to amend their constitution in 2002 to ban gestation crates, and Arizona banned them in 2006, as did Oregon in 2007 and Colorado in 2008. But very few people know that a similar bill has been proposed in New York State’s Assembly, where it is currently stuck in the Agriculture Committee. But will the Chair of the committee, William Magee (D-Nelson), allow the issue to go to a vote?
Battery cages house multiple hens each without space to spread their wings. Sows stay in gestation crates where they cannot comfortably lay down or turn around for the four months of pregnancy, which they undergo 2.5 times per year on average. 80% of the nation’s breeding sows are being confined in such crates. Veal calves are often separated from their mother within days of birth and put in crates too small for them to turn around. These same veal crates were banned in the UK in 1987, and in Europe as a whole in 2007.
Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) introduced the bill to change these practices in New York to the State Assembly in May, and is currently looking for a sponsor in the State Senate. The New York Farm Bureau has told farmers that there is nothing to worry about with Committee Chair Magee and Clifford Crouch (R-Guilford), the leading Republican, both on the Agriculture Committee. This is the same Farm Bureau that threw its weight behind the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), which could disproportionately hurt small farmers. Right now it appears Magee — whose campaign donations leading up to his 2008 re-election campaign included those from The NY Apple Association Inc., NYS Food Industry PAC, the New York law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King (a defender of agribusiness interests), Phillip Morris and Kraft Foods — wants this bill to die a silent death as it was not brought up for a vote before the recess, which lasts until January.
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) owners have been the ones most resistant to this change. There are currently two veal calf CAFOs in New York State, both with over a thousand head. The one in Elba, New York has an assembly member on the Agriculture Committee, Stephen Hawley. There are twenty-four swine CAFOs in NYS (and many more under the 750-pig mark that aren’t registered CAFOs) that could be affected by such legislation. In addition, there are eight large laying hen operations in New York State, and two assembly members on the Agriculture Committee come from districts with Big Hen interests: Aileen Gunther from Sullivan County and Al Stirpe from Onondaga County.
Another New York State laying hen CAFO, Adams Henhouse (with the relatively speaking small population of 76,ooo) was featured in the New York Times in 2000 because of the excess-manure caused fly problem that was plaguing the town of Naples. By contrast, the largest New York laying hen operation is in Chazy, NY near the Canadian border and houses 1.4 million hens — that’s 583 chickens for every person living in Chazy, where there is an actual sewer system for human waste. Banning battery cages, and gestation and veal crates would require these CAFOs to downsize, reducing waste and environmental destruction in addition to promoting the humane treatment of animals.
The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a report last year entitled Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America [pdf of full report, and summary] that recommended a phase out of all intensive confinement systems within ten years, noting beyond the cruelty to animals these operations inflict, the public health issues resulting from such confinement operations: