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Related Categories: California | Animal Liberation
The California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act
by Mark Hawthorne
Wednesday Jan 2nd, 2008 7:41 AM
The California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act 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.
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Few issues in this state are as contentious, or as critical, as agriculture. California is the largest agricultural state in the country, generating nearly $32 billion annually, about a quarter of which comes from animal agribusiness. We got there in large part through corporate expansion and an industrial model that streamlines the production of food from farm to fork.

While this process helps lower the retail price of meat, egg and dairy products, such cheap food comes at a high cost: the suffering of millions of animals every year intensively confined in massive warehouses that may contain hundreds of thousands of animals. But a proposed statewide ballot measure could help improve the situation. Humane advocates, veterinarians and public health officials throughout California are now volunteering their time to gather the signatures needed to place the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act on the ballot for November’s general election.

The improvements this measure will ask for could not be more moderate: It will simply give egg-laying hens, pregnant sows and calves raised for veal enough room to stand up, turn around, lie comfortably and extend their limbs. That’s it.

Perhaps the animal-confinement device readers are most familiar with is the notoriously cruel veal crate: a barren structure just two feet wide in which a newly-born male 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.

Although animal advocates have been decrying the horrors of veal crates for decades, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs endure lives of similar frustration and suffering as well.

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. It is difficult to imagine a crueler fate.

Pigs used for breeding, meanwhile, are confined to “gestation crates” in which 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 metal enclosure merely two feet wide. 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. Like cows and chickens, pigs are intelligent, social beings; forcing them to live isolated in crates needlessly fills their lives with misery.

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 last year. Oregon’s governor recently signed a bill banning gestation crates as well. And some businesses and agribusiness corporations are 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 the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.

For more on this ballot initiative, please visit http://www.HumaneCalifornia.org.

Mark Hawthorne is the author of “Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism” (O Books).