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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

September, 2008


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Abusive Factory Farming Initiative
By Mark Hawthorne

Among the propositions Californians will decide on in November's general election, including public transportation, crime and healthcare, there is one issue that voters rarely see: the treatment of animals raised for food. But Prop 2 gives California voters a unique opportunity to weigh in on some of today's most abusive factory farming practices.
Animal agribusiness takes great care to keep its methods, which include confining animals in grim cages and crates so small they cannot turn around or extend their limbs, hidden from view, in order to keep consumers in the dark.

This has not prevented animal advocates from exposing the appalling conditions in which chickens, pigs, cows and other animals are raised and handled in today's corporate farms. Undercover videos released this year by the Humane Society of the United States and Mercy For Animals, for example, graphically demonstrate the blatant disregard factory farms have for animals, and they illustrate why California citizens must take action to ensure that even the most modest reforms are in place to help reduce cruel conditions.

Simply put, Prop 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, will give animals raised for food a little room to move. It would prohibit some of the worst abuses in factory farming, including packing egg-laying hens into wire cages and confining pregnant pigs and baby calves in crates that restrict their movement. The measure will help prevent cruelty to nearly 20 million animals intensively confined in industrial factory farms throughout the state.

Under animal agribusiness' current business model, most hens in California's egg industry spend their lives crammed into small wire cages with six or more other hens. Trapped inside these "battery cages," each hen has less space than a sheet of letter-sized paper on which to live - not even enough room to spread her wings, let alone walk. At this moment, almost all of California's 19 million egg-laying hens are packed into battery cages, forced to stand on wire and denied the ability to perch or nest.

Sows used for breeding, meanwhile, are confined for four months in "gestation crates" just two feet wide. Unable to so much as turn around, these pigs are deprived of nearly all their natural instincts. But it gets worse. Sows callously enclosed in gestation crates stand on concrete amid their own feces and urine or on slatted floors that allow their waste to drop into large pits. In addition to physical pain, including leg weakness and broken bones, sows in such solitary confinement suffer chronic stress, frustration and depression. Not surprisingly, when sows are imprisoned with no environmental stimulation, they develop neurotic coping behaviors, such as bar-biting, head- waving and vacuum-chewing (chewing nothing).

Perhaps the best-known animal-confinement device is the notorious veal crate, a barren structure about two feet wide in which a newly born male calf is tethered by his neck to constrain his movement and atrophy his muscles. The isolated calf lives inside this crate, devoid of even the barest comfort, for sixteen weeks. The close confinement causes chronic stress as the baby calf's powerful desire to move and exercise - even to turn around - is constantly thwarted. No wonder the entire European Union has already banned veal crates.

Tightly packing animals together is also bad for human health and the environment, which is why Prop 2 is endorsed by the Center for Food Safety, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the prestigious Pew Commission on animal agriculture.

In fact, the Pew Commission released a two-year study recommending a phase-out of "the most intensive and inhumane confinement practices": gestation crates, veal crates and battery cages. According to the Pew Commission's esteemed panel of scientists, veterinary school officials, ranchers and public officials, "Practices that restrict natural motion, such as sow gestation crates, induce high levels of stress in the animals and threaten their health, which in turn may threaten human health."

Clearly, animal agribusiness doesn't want to face the fact that many of its practices are out of step with mainstream American values. Most people abhor cruelty to animals, and once they learn about it, they agree that encasing animals in cages and crates is inhumane. These animals deserve better, and we have the power to make a difference for them. We can start by voting Yes on Proposition 2. For more on this ballot initiative, please visit YesOnProp2.org.

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

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