Cruelty to animals: most people agree we must stop it. Yet every day in California, more than twenty million animals are forced into cages so small they cannot turn around or stretch their limbs. The stress of confinement is so prevalent that animals self-mutilate, attack each other, and engage in abnormal coping behaviors like bar-chewing and head bobbing. Their health suffers too – abscesses, bone breaks, overgrown nails, and joint weaknesses are common side effects of their confinement.
This system of housing – denying the most basic of natural behaviors – is legal. If you treated your cat or dog in this manner, you would be charged under state anti-cruelty laws for mistreatment. But because the animals are young calves, hens and pigs the mistreatment is standard industry practice. You do not need to be an animal biologist to know that pigs, chickens and cattle all can experience pain and fear as dogs and cats. That most of us relate to them only as “food” is no excuse for such egregious methods of confinement.
The way egg-laying hens, pregnant sows and veal calves are housed could change this November when voters decide if they support The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. The measure would phase out battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates. It would require that hens, pregnant sows and calves raised for veal be given enough room to turn around and stretch their limbs or wings comfortably. It would improve the welfare of more than twenty million animals in California!
Conveying the tightness and bareness of these confinement systems is difficult. We infrequently encounter battery cages or gestation crates, because producers keep them hidden from the public eye. Here’s a little experiment – take a standard sized sheet of paper. Shave off one-third of that paper and what remains (~66 square inches) is how much standing room an egg-laying hen has in a battery cage. She needs more than twice that space just to stretch her wings! Adding to her misery, she’s stuck in a cage with six other birds. She can’t nest, dust bathe, forage or perch – all behaviors scientific research has deemed high priority, instinctive behaviors.
For pregnant pigs – animals as intelligent and social as dogs – life in a gestation crate is horrific. Weighing between 500-700 lbs., adult sows are housed in metal crates so small, they cannot turn around. Pigs dislike defecating where they sleep, yet they must in gestation crates. They cannot engage in innate behaviors, like nesting and are denied interaction with other pigs.
Many people are familiar with veal crates – wooden or metal enclosures that severely restrict the movement of male dairy calves. After their sixteen week nightmare, the calves are often unable to walk due to lack of exercise. They cannot turn around in their crate and they are denied interaction with other cattle.
These three housing systems – battery cages, gestation crates, veal crates – are unnecessary and inhumane. Producers claim prices will skyrocket, that consumers can never buy a dozen eggs without forking out a lot of money. Untrue! According to a report by Professor Don Bell, a Poultry Specialist from the University of California, Riverside – going to a cage-free system will cost consumers a measly extra 11 cents per dozen eggs. An extra dime! That’s it to make the lives of hens on egg factory farms incrementally better.
With pregnant pigs, producers in the European Union have seen an increase in profits associated with an increase in housing space. Research at Iowa State University has shown that group-housed sows gave birth to more piglets. Additionally, they found that the start-up costs were 32% cheaper for group-housing than for single gestation crates. Farmers have argued that group housing would increase mortality rates in piglets. The Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals act includes a provision permitting the use of farrowing crates during the 2-3 week weaning process.
California’s veal industry is incredibly small. Most male dairy calves will be raised to supply fast food restaurants with cheap beef. The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act would prevent the introduction of the unarguably cruel veal crate system.
When faced with the reality these animals endure, it is only fair to evaluate how we house and treat them. Farmers opine that consumers have no clue what constitutes appropriate housing for these animals. Yet in an industry spurred by consumer dollars, considering the opinion of those buying their product seems prudent for producers. The fact remains that The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is based not just on ethical consideration but on sound science and research. Voters have the right to decide how their money is spent, and they have that chance this November. This author hopes they will vote for the animals and give them a little more room to roam.