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Cramped conditions cruel to animals, bad for people who eat them

Earlier this year, Americans were shocked by the sickening mistreatment of downer cows at a California slaughter plant. One of my colleagues at The Humane Society of the United States went undercover to document crippled cows being tortured to get them to their feet and into the kill box. Government inspectors and plant managers either missed the abuse or allowed it to continue, sending meat from these animals into our National School Lunch program. This investigation finally pressed the California legislature and the federal government into closing loopholes that had allowed the continued sale of meat from sick and crippled animals to consumers.

 This investigation is also proof that we cannot always wait for government and industry to protect animals from abuse or to guard us from food safety threats. That’s precisely why Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act – which phases out the cramming of veal calves, breeding pigs, and laying hens into small cages and crates – is so important and timely.

Prop 2 would allow animals raised for food to turn around and fully stretch their limbs – a matter of basic decency and an upholding of the principle that all animals, including those raised for food, deserve humane treatment.

It is inhumane to confine animals in ways that deny them basic movement. On factory farms, veal calves are chained by the neck and confined in tiny stalls; pigs are kept in metal cages barely larger than their bodies; and 6 to 7 hens are crammed into cages where each bird has less space than a letter-sized sheet of paper in which to live her whole life. We would never keep our pets in cramped, filthy cages for their whole lives, and farm animals should not endure this misery either.

The greatest nation in the world, with the most innovative farmers, can do better than this. And many family farmers already are. Farmers who know that food quality is enhanced by more humane farming methods also know that there is a balance – and oftentimes a synergy – between animal care and economics. And farmers who strike this balance better by not confining animals to tiny cages are increasingly supplying major retailers like Burger King and Safeway. That’s why more than 100 California family farmers, the United Farm Workers, and Family Farm Defenders have endorsed Prop 2.

The prestigious Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production – an independent panel chaired by former Kansas Governor John Carlin and including former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and leading veterinarians and farmers – issued a report earlier this year concluding that Prop 2 includes “the types of modest animal welfare public policy improvements that the Commissioners recommend implementing.”

Science has confirmed what common sense already knew: cramming animals into filthy, unsafe cages leads to higher rates of diseases such as Salmonella that can affect people. It is indisputable that factory farms cause immense animal suffering and the evidence is overwhelming that they jeopardize food safety and public health. It’s on the basis of human and animal health concerns that The Humane Society of the United States, the California Veterinary Medical Association, the Center for Food Safety, the Consumer Federation of America, and the Union of Concerned Scientists have endorsed Prop 2.

 We have long known that factory farms produce enormous volumes of waste that pollute the air and water. The Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and the Planning and Conservation League all endorse Prop 2.

These reforms are modest. The egg industry’s own California-based economist reports that converting and producing cage-free eggs costs less than one penny per egg more. Former state finance director Tim Gage and public policy expert Matthew Newman recently concluded in a report that because of the small relative size of the egg industry in California, any economic changes resulting from passage of Prop 2 are unlikely to be felt by average consumers. They write that in fact, “the impact on consumers is very likely positive and the overall fiscal effects of the measure are likely to be very modest.”

Arizona and Florida voters approved ballot initiatives to phase out these types of crates. And lawmakers in Colorado and Oregon have done the same. The European Union and its 27-member countries have already passed legislation against cruel confinement.
California can do better, too. Vote yes on Prop 2.

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