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by Mark Hawthorne
Friday, Jul. 04, 2008 at 10:00 AM
In November, Californians can hold corporate agriculture to basic standards of humanity by voting YES on Proposition 2, which will allow farmed animals to fully extend their limbs, lie comfortably and turn around. Prop 2, modeled on a reform passed by Arizona voters last year, would prohibit some of the most egregious practices in factory farming, including packing egg-laying hens into wire “battery cages” and confining pregnant pigs and baby calves in crates so small that the animals cannot even turn around or extend their limbs.
gestation_crate.jpg, image/jpeg, 270x400
Suppose for a moment you are a passenger on a crowded airliner, unable to leave your middle seat in the economy-class section. Now imagine not being able to budge from that seat -- not for hours, but for months. As much as you may want to get up, stretch your legs or walk to the lavatory, your movements are totally restricted. Soon discomfort turns into severe pain. Eventually the frustration literally becomes maddening.
If this disturbing scenario makes you squirm, consider that pregnant pigs inside factory farms live with this torture every day. Indeed, sows used for breeding endure a nightmare beyond imagination. Confined for four months in “gestation crates” just two feet wide, these pigs are denied nearly all their natural instincts. They don’t even have enough room to turn around. The sows’ movements are essentially limited to head-waving, vacuum-chewing (chewing nothing), bar-biting and other neurotic coping behaviors caused by the chronic stress of being imprisoned in a small metal enclosure. No soft bedding comforts these mothers-to-be, only cold concrete. If this weren’t bad enough, standing in crates barely larger than their bodies causes pigs to develop crippling joint disorders and lameness. Pigs are intelligent, social beings; forcing them to live isolated in crates needlessly fills their lives with misery.
But there is hope for these and millions of other animals. In November, Californians will have the opportunity to cast a vote for compassion by turning Proposition 2 -- the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act -- into state law. Doing so will simply require that farmers give animals raised for food enough room to stand up, turn around, lie comfortably and extend their limbs. This measure is designed to free pigs used for breeding from gestation crates, veal calves from veal crates and egg-laying hens from battery cages.
By far the largest population of animals to benefit from this new law will be hens used in California’s egg industry. Inside the egg-producing factory farms that have gradually taken over small family farms in the U.S., hens are crammed together into wire “battery cages” that restrict their ability to spread their wings. At this moment in California, nearly 19 million hens are packed together like this, often eight to a cage, with each animal denied her natural instinct to nest, roost or even walk. Each hen confined in a battery cage has less space than a letter-sized sheet of paper on which to live for more than a year before she’s slaughtered. “The worst torture to which a battery hen is exposed is the inability to retire somewhere for the laying act,” wrote the animal behaviorist and Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz. “For the person who knows something about animals it is truly heart-rending to watch how a chicken tries again and again to crawl beneath her fellow cagemates to search there in vain for cover.”
Many of the male calves born into the dairy industry, meanwhile, are greeted by the notoriously cruel veal crate: a barren structure just two feet wide in which the calf is tethered by his neck to restrict his movement and atrophy his muscles. The isolated calf lives inside this crate, devoid of even the barest comfort, for four months. The close confinement causes chronic stress as the baby calf’s powerful desire to move and exercise -- even to turn around -- is constantly thwarted.
Opposition to these industrial farming practices, once only associated with animal advocates, includes the entire European Union, which has legislated against the cruelest confinement systems for farmed animals. Voters in Florida banned gestation crates, as have voters in Arizona, which also banned veal crates in a landslide vote in 2006. In May of this year, Colorado’s governor signed a bill to phase out gestation crates and veal crates, and Oregon’s governor recently signed a bill banning gestation crates. Some businesses and agribusiness corporations are also responding to their customers’ wishes by switching to cage-free eggs or phasing out gestation crates.
Our turn to speak out is approaching. California prides itself on being among the most progressive states in the country as well as the most abundant. Let’s show the rest of the nation, and the world, that we are leaders not just in the production of food, but in maintaining the most basic standards of humanity by supporting Prop 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.
What You Can Do:
• Write letters to editors in support of Proposition 2
• Gather endorsements from veterinarians, civic organizations, businesses and influential individuals
• Show your support online in chat rooms, on blogs, etc.
• Order bumper stickers and other items
• Tell family, friends and co-workers why you support this measure
• Visit http://www.HumaneCalifornia.org for more information
Mark Hawthorne is the author of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism (http://www.strikingattheroots.com)
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