Today, The HSUS and a remarkable group of organizational partners launched a ballot initiative campaign in Massachusetts that, if successful, will bring our society dramatically closer to ending the era of extreme animal confinement on the nation’s factory farms. Just moments ago, I announced the initiative petition at the state house in Boston, accompanied by the CEOs of the Massachusetts SPCA, ASPCA, Animal Rescue League of Boston, and Zoo New England. Other endorsers include the United Farm Workers, Mercy For Animals, the Center for Food Safety, Bon Appétit Management Company, and a long list of others.
The measure, which will appear on the November 2016 ballot once we gather enough signatures from qualified Massachusetts voters, will require that veal calves, breeding sows, and laying hens have enough room to turn around, stand up, lie down, and freely extend their limbs. In short, it gets the animals out of cages barely larger than their bodies – specifically out of veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages. The measure also says that whole shell eggs and whole uncooked cuts of veal and pork sold in Massachusetts must come from animals kept in conditions that comply with its anti-confinement standards. That means that anyone wanting to sell such products in the Commonwealth, regardless of where they’re based, must comply by the effective date of 2022. By dealing with production and sales, this measure will protect Massachusetts consumers from unsafe and inhumane products.
This ballot measure comes after more than 100 major American food retailers have already adopted corporate policies to move in this direction – in a cascade of announcements, made jointly with The HSUS in many cases, in the last four years. For instance, in May, in concert with The HSUS and other organizations, Walmart announced it would adopt the Five Freedoms of Farm Animal Welfare as a framework to guide its purchases of animal products. One of the Five Freedoms speaks to allowing animals to exhibit natural behaviors, and extreme confinement of sows in gestation crates or hens in battery cages certainly violates that principle. Aramark, Compass Group, General Mills, and Kellogg have also adopted the Five Freedoms. The nation’s four largest food service providers – which serve tens of millions of meals each day at university and corporate cafeterias, professional sports food sales operations, and so many others – have all pledged to stop selling any eggs that come from caged hens.
The Massachusetts ballot initiative, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, is a balanced measure that gives producers more than five years to come into compliance with the standards, so they can appropriately shift their production systems to allow animals to move. We’d love to put it into practice tomorrow, but it’s just not possible for it to happen that quickly, and we’ve been guided in part by the timelines set by some of the major food retailers in codifying these standards in Massachusetts. For instance, McDonald’s has publicly announced it will be fully compliant with a no-gestation crate policy by the timeline set forth in this ballot measure.
The American public and the rest of the global community are waking up to animal welfare. Look at the outrage over the appalling killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, and the move by more than 30 airlines to stop shipping trophies from the Africa Big Five. Consider that Ringling Brothers earlier this year announced it would phase out its traveling elephant acts. Take the Walmart announcement on the Five Freedoms. This is the world’s largest food retailer, and it has branded itself around the notion of keeping prices low for its customers. If it can make this humane pledge, then the day has arrived when we can set a baseline standard for the entire food sector. No producer, and no food retailer, should take moral shortcuts and allow animals to be subjected to lifelong privation and misery by immobilizing them in a cage or a crate barely larger than their body. So many forward-looking producers are transitioning to better systems and getting animals out of cages, and these corporate policies and public policies will provide incentives to get the remaining food companies on board.
It is time to end the era of extreme confinement of animals, just as we are halting the era of trophy hunting of endangered or threatened species, as we end the era of commercial whaling, as we eliminate the era of legal dogfighting and cockfighting.
The industrial agribusiness lobby will holler about this ballot initiative. But they are whistling not just in the wind, but in a gale force of societal disapproval for conduct that is appalling and unacceptable. We draw a line in the sand in Massachusetts. No more extreme confinement of animals raised for food. They deserve better. A civil society demands better. The rules of decency demand better.