It’s an unfortunate reality that most animals raised and slaughtered for food are forced to live in cruel conditions that are able to exist because they’re hidden away from public view. While the suffering is overwhelming in the vast majority of meat, egg and dairy production, there’s welcome news of late. The past several months have been one of the most hopeful periods ever in the fight to improve the lives of factory farm animals.
This past Election Day, Californians overwhelmingly voted Proposition 12 into law. Prop 12 bans the production and sale of eggs, pork and veal that comes from operations that confine hens in tiny cages, mother pigs in cages known as “gestation crates,” and baby calves in veal crates. Passed despite big agribusiness’ strenuous opposition, Prop 12 creates the strongest law for farm animals in the world.
In an attempt to combat Prop 12 and other laws that require factory farmers to eliminate cruel cages and crates, Iowa Congressman Steve King — who recently made headlines for making racist statements and was stripped of Congressional committee assignments — had introduced an amendment in the federal Farm Bill that could have wiped out a plethora of state agricultural laws around the country, including those related to animal cruelty. However, good prevailed and in a rare bi-partisan move in Congress, his draconian amendment was excluded from the final Farm Bill that passed in December.
However, agribusiness interests didn’t put their hopes just in their champion Steve King to wipe out farm animal laws. On behalf of the industry, more than a dozen states sued California and Massachusetts over their laws that require higher standards for animals raised for meat and eggs sold within their borders. Fortunately, at the beginning of this year, the Supreme Court refused even to take these cases, repudiating the attempts to invalidate the laws.
The Court also refused to hear a case that sought to nullify California’s law to ban the sale of force-fed foie gras, a product created by shoving a pipe down the throat of a duck or goose and force-feeding him to the point that his liver becomes diseased. It’s this diseased liver that becomes foie gras. Thanks to the Supreme Court, California’s ban on this gruesome product stands.
The good news for animals continued only a few days later. A federal judge overturned Iowa’s “ag-gag” law, which essentially had made it a crime to get a job in order to blow the whistle on cruelty in factory farms. Rather than making conditions better for farm animals, this law and similar laws in other states are an attempt to pacify consumer outrage over the mistreatment and abuse by hiding from the public what’s actually happening.
For the past several months, big agribusiness has been on the losing side of voter initiatives, congressional activities and court decisions. Most industries understand that keeping stride with societal values is vital for a flourishing business model. But much of agribusiness still stridently fights against the basic belief, common to the vast majority of Americans, that the treatment of animals matters. Only time will tell if the industry will ever get the message.
Written by Josh Balk, vice president of Farm Animal Protection at the Humane Society of the United States