In industrialized meat and egg factory farms across the country, mother pigs, egg-laying hens and newborn calves raised for veal are often locked in cages barely larger than their own bodies.
These animals are unable to walk or do virtually anything that comes naturally to them. Despite obvious physical differences between farm animals and pets, there’s no real difference in their ability to suffer.
Like dogs and cats, chickens, pigs, and cows can experience fear and stress. Scientists specializing in animal behavior attest that farm animals suffer profoundly, both physically and mentally, when locked in tiny cages. It’s time we end the extreme confinement of farm animals once and for all by passing Proposition 12 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
In 2008, California passed Proposition 2, a landmark ballot measure giving farm animals within our borders enough space to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs. This successful law reduced animal suffering significantly, but a decade has passed and it’s time for an update.
That’s where Proposition 12 would come in.
Many of the eggs and much of the pork and veal sold in California come from facilities that still confine animals in cages. Proposition 12 would strengthen California law and ensure that meat and eggs produced and sold here come from cage-free conditions.
Cage-free facilities aren’t perfect, but decades of research shows that cage-free animals are significantly better off than their caged counterparts
Caging animals is also disastrous for public health. Eggs are consistently one of the biggest culprits in Salmonella outbreaks nationwide. An important reason is that the majority, albeit a shrinking majority, of eggs in the nation, still come from caged hens.
It’s not hard to understand why this is a problem: a bird can barely move when crammed into a tiny cage with up to 10 other cage mates. Her immune system breaks down, leading to illness and disease.
Then consider that she’s packed into a filth-encrusted cage in a shed with thousands of more potentially sick birds, and you get the ideal conditions for dangerous bacteria like Salmonella to proliferate. The bacteria often end up in the eggs themselves, and eventually in our kitchens.
Environmental groups like Sierra Club California, Earthjustice and the Center for Biological Diversity are supporting Proposition 12 because factory farms that cage animals are horrible for the environment.
With thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of animals in a single facility, these facilities produce enormous amounts of concentrated fecal waste. There’s frequently too much to spread on farmland, and it’s often contaminated with antibiotic residue and other toxins.
This concentrated slurry of fecal matter and chemicals can end up polluting our water and airways. Fortunately, family farmers that provide cage-free housing for their animals are typically much more sustainable.
Politics in our country these days are fractured and divisive. But the remarkably large and diverse coalition in support of Proposition 12 shows that we can come together to make important advances.
Please join me, more than 600 other California veterinarians and vet clinics, the Center For Food Safety, and the Humane Society of the United States in voting yes on Proposition 12. By doing so, we’ll prevent cruelty, reduce foodborne illness, support responsible farmers, and protect California’s environment.
Brenda Forsythe is a veterinarian in Santa Maria, [email protected] She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.