Yesterday, on its front page, the Washington Post’s Karin Brulliard reported on the animal protection movement’s running the table with major American food retailers on the issue of cage confinement of hens. They are all converting to cage-free, as I’ve written about numerous times in the blog and also in detail in The Humane Economy. The catalyst came less than a year ago in the form of McDonald’s, which announced a cage-free egg sales policy. Encouraged by The HSUS and other groups, nearly 200 other retailers followed—just about every big name brand in fast food, restaurant chains, food service, and the grocery sector. Within the last month, Publix, after we launched a powerful advertising campaign, became the 25th of the top 25 grocers to get on board with our cage-free campaign.
Before we clinched the case on the battery cage issue, we focused on gestation crates. And again, it was McDonald’s that played a major role, announcing in February 2012 that it would phase out the purchase of pork from operators that confined the pigs. Last week, the Chicago Tribune—the paper of record in the city that made stockyards famous—ran an extraordinary series about the problems associated with industrial pig farming—focusing on the manure loads, food safety issues, animal welfare problems, and other problems linked to large-scale operations. Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the U.S. Senate and a former chairman of the agriculture appropriations subcommittee, decried the abuse of the animals and said reforms are needed.
I can remember when we launched Proposition 2 in California in 2008; there was very limited coverage of animal welfare issues in agriculture, little political support for our positions, and virtually no food retailers on our side (one exception was Whole Foods Market). Not one of the major newspapers in the nation opposed confinement of animals on factory farms. Now virtually all of them, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today, oppose cage confinement of farm animals as a routine housing system.
And in terms of news coverage, it’s no longer that unusual to see the kind of in-depth treatment on display this past week.
As we enter the election season, Question 3 in Massachusetts—which restricts confining animals or selling animal products from confinement operations—does not even have a formal opposition committee yet. That opposition still may come, but by this time in the campaign in California on Proposition 2, our opponents had already raised millions in what turned out to be a vain attempt to defeat the measure.
But make no mistake, this is by no means a settled issue, and agribusiness interests haven’t capitulated. They still oppose our anti-confinement campaigns. They are suing to invalidate the laws we’ve worked to pass. They’ve only recently quieted down a bit on their ag-gag measures—measures that bar taking pictures or videos of animals on factory farms or ban undercover investigations by other means—because of the beating they’ve taken in the press.
But their biggest offensive now is passing “right to farm” measures in Midwest states, where they are trying to block any local or state lawmaking to restrict any practices in agriculture. The Oklahoma Farm Bureau and other agribusiness interests in Oklahoma have already raised a million dollars for a right to farm measure on the November ballot. They’re probably illegally funding the campaign through the misappropriations of “check off” funds for different agricultural commodities forcing farmers to pay for political initiatives and programs that they don’t support.
We will be working hard to pass Question 3 in Massachusetts in November and to block SQ 777 in Oklahoma. We’ll need your help. But as we look back over the last eight years, the sand has shifted on these issues, and the animals now face a much different future than they did less than a decade ago. An issue once on the margins is now squarely in the mainstream.