Uncaging the Truth

By on August 11, 2008 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

This past week, I campaigned in California for Proposition 2—the November ballot initiative to combat the intensive confinement of certain animals on factory farms.  In the middle of the trip was a public forum in San Luis Obispo before several members of the Senate and Assembly Agriculture Committees, led by Senator Abel Maldonado and including Prop 2 supporter Senator Dean Florez.

© Compassion Over Killing
Egg-laying hens are confined so tightly they can barely move.

I testified in favor of Prop 2 and had two other outstanding advocates by my side in state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and veterinarian Sherstin Rosenberg.  About 30 other Prop 2 backers also showed up to voice their support.

The opponents trotted out their spokespersons, too.  If you had heard their arguments, you wouldn’t have had any idea that the measure—in addition to banning battery cages for laying hens—also bans confining veal calves and breeding sows in crates just barely wider than their bodies.      

Keep in mind that the opposition campaign is being bankrolled by some of the largest agribusiness giants in the country—many of whom have a documented history of animal mistreatment, consumer deception, environmental degradation, and labor problems.

The opponents, somehow with a straight face, argue that it’s better for the birds to be crammed into cages so small they cannot move.  They argue that cage-free hens suffer more leg and wing injuries because they are permitted to move.  Well, that kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?  If you were kept virtually immobilized, and barely allowed to use your legs or arms, you wouldn’t injure your limbs either. 

© The HSUS
Prop 2 would ban tiny crates for pregnant pigs, too.

I told the committee members that they wouldn’t face much of a risk being in a car crash or being mugged if they were crammed side by side in an elevator for 12-15 months.

I also said that I was pretty sure they’d be willing to take their chances if it meant getting out of that elevator.  People and other animals built to move should be allowed to move, and only in the reductionist world of factory farming can their avian welfare argument be viewed as even mildly logical.

But that wasn’t the only doublespeak and hypocrisy on display.  The egg factory farmers denigrated cage-free housing systems, saying it was a public health menace not to raise birds in cages.  The unbelievable irony is that almost all of the battery-cage egg producers also maintain cage-free operations.

So, if it’s so dangerous to produce cage-free eggs, I had to wonder why these very farmers would produce and market eggs in this way.  It seemed to be a pretty serious self-inflicted wound.  But they didn’t seem to notice. 

They also promised that they’d shut down their operations if they were forced to stop confining birds in battery cages—even though Prop 2 gives them a full six years to convert to these alternative systems.  Yet at the same hearing, they talked about how public health would be jeopardized with all of this cage-free egg production.  Well, which is it?  Are they going to stay in business and jeopardize the health of the public by raising cage-free hens, as they are doing now?  Or are they are all going to close their operations, leaving not a laying hen in the state, and keeping the state bare of “menacing” cage-free hens?

© The HSUS
As many as 6-8 birds are crammed in every battery cage.

And one more point.  Let’s also be clear that there are 9.5 billion broiler chickens raised in cage-free houses every year—for meat. The 280 million laying hens in the U.S. comprise less than 3 percent of that number.  The idea that it is dangerous to raise birds in a cage-free environment is invalidated by this fact.

In my work through the years, I’ve heard every rationalization from people exploiting animals for fun or for profit.  Whether it’s dogfighters, cockfighters, puppy millers, horse slaughterers or others, they’ll all have their excuses and their defenses of the status quo. 

The factory farmers are no different—it’s just that they make more money doing it than some of the other people exploiting animals. They can hire better consultants and trot out more scientists beholden to the industry. 

The bottom line is that confining a million birds on a single battery cage factory farm isn’t good for animals, for the environment, or for the health of the public.  On my flight home last night, I ran through 10 arguments in favor of the ballot initiative to underscore the point.

Because agribusiness has millions of dollars to amplify its arguments—even though they may seem ludicrous on their face—we have to outwork our opponents and not let their claims go unanswered.  Please forward this to every California voter you know and urge them to vote yes on Prop 2.  You’ll be hearing more from me on Prop 2 over the next 85 days.  It’s a battle we must win.

Companion Animals, Farm Animals

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