I’m convinced we’ll look back 30 or 40 years from now and wonder how our society could have tolerated the appalling abuses of animals on industrialized factory farms. It is a ruthless and miserly system, where animals are treated like things or units of production, rather than feeling, suffering creatures. There’s no mercy, nor even enough space for the animals to turn around in their crates or cages.
Most of the people caught up in this system cannot see it, blinded as they are by the bottom line and rigid in their obedience to the norms of the industry. Whether they are contract farmers, the veterinarians in their employ, or agribusiness overlords who control the system, they’ve developed a multi-layered set of defenses and rationalizations to shield themselves from the harsh truth of their mistreatment of animals. And they’ve had, until recently, enough resources to fend off challenges to the status quo from animal advocates, environmentalists, and food safety advocates.
Occasionally, there are thought leaders who see straight through the rationalizations. They see a moral wrong and call for reform. The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production wrote a damning report earlier this year that exposed not only the cruelty of modern industrial agriculture, but also its threats to food safety, the environment, and the rural way of life.
Today, the editorial board of The New York Times weighed in and powerfully so, by emphatically endorsing Proposition 2, the California ballot initiative to ban veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages.
The editorial writers didn’t hedge about an extra penny-per-egg cost to shift from barren battery cages to cage-free housing systems. They didn’t buy into the scare-mongering that any change in production systems means that all farmers will go out of business. They didn’t buy into the false thinking that giant factory farms are good for rural communities.
It’s an editorial I hope every California voter sees. You can help make that a reality by forwarding it to every California voter you know. Indeed, it’s valuable reading elsewhere too, which is why a powerful voice on one coast spoke across the land to citizens on another for the sake of millions of animals. It’s pasted below.
October 9, 2008
The goal of the California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act — Proposition 2 on the state’s November ballot — sounds extremely modest. It would ban the confinement of animals in a way that keeps them from being able to stand, sit, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs. The fact that such fundamental decencies have to be forced upon factory farming says a lot about its horrors. We urge California voters to pass Proposition 2. We urge every state to enact similar laws.
Americans are becoming increasingly aware of how and where food is raised. With that should come real concern. The mantra of industrial farming has always been efficiency, but efficiency has come to mean a pregnant sow — millions of them — confined in a gestation crate barely 2 feet wide and only as long as she is. It means veal-calves rendered virtually immobile in crates barely large enough to contain their bodies. It means endless rows of laying hens kept in battery cages so small that the birds cannot even stretch their wings.
No philosophy can justify this kind of cruelty, not even the philosophy of cheapness. Proposition 2 will not just improve the square footage available to these suffering animals. Reducing the concentration of animals will also help reduce the water and air pollution created by factory farms. It will also begin to redress the imbalance between small farmers and the huge corporations that have acquired vertical, and fundamentally anti-competitive, control over the meat industry.
To a California voter still undecided on Proposition 2, we say simply, imagine being confined in the voting booth for life. Would you vote for the right to be able to sit down and turn around and raise your arms?