There Should Be No Room for Cruelty to Livestock
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- Opinion; Part M; Page 5; Editorial Pages Desk
BYLINE: Peter Singer and Karen Dawn, Peter Singer, a professor
of bioethics at Princeton University,, is the author of several
books, including "Animal Liberation", (revised edition,
Ecco, 2001). Karen Dawn is an animal advocate who, runs a media
watch at www.DawnWatch.com.
What would you do if your neighbors kept their dog permanently
caged, never letting her out to exercise or relieve herself, in
a crate so narrow that she could not turn around or lie down with
her legs outstretched? You'd probably call the police and have them
charged with animal cruelty. In California, that is how the vast
majority of breeding sows and veal calves are treated -- and it's
Immobilized calves produce the most tender veal. Keeping sows in
crates yields a marginal saving on labor and feed costs. In agribusiness
today, profit eclipses animal welfare.
In February, Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) introduced Assembly Bill
732 to address the cruelest forms of confinement. The bill would
prohibit keeping a pregnant pig or a calf in a crate so small that
the animal is unable to turn around. It also requires that calves
have enough space to stretch out their legs while lying down.
These requirements do not appear to pamper pigs or calves excessively.
Yet the bill has fallen victim to the Assembly's Agriculture Committee,
which asked to review it after the Public Safety Committee had passed
it. Since there were not enough votes to get it out of the Agriculture
Committee, it had to be deferred and can't be brought up again until
A Zogby poll in April showed that more than 70% of Californians
support legislation to require that calves and pigs have freedom
to turn around.
This broad support is reflected in the varied public figures who
have spoken out against factory-farming practices. Pat Buchanan
said on MSNBC: "I've certainly seen some of these hog confinements...
They have no opportunity to move. And it looks like it's cruel."
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) spoke on the Senate floor against keeping
hogs and calves in crates. Reminding the Senate that these creatures
feel pain and suffer, he said "our inhumane treatment of livestock
is becoming widespread and more and more barbaric."
How could anybody be against giving all animals the freedom to
turn around and lie down comfortably?
Astonishingly, the California Veterinary Medical Assn. opposes
the Hancock bill, claiming that there is insufficient scientific
data to show that pigs and calves need to be able to turn around
or stretch their limbs. That ignores the extensive European data
on which sweeping changes in European farm animal law are based.
But unfortunately it is the owners -- in many cases, the agribusiness
industry -- not the animals, paying the vet's bills. Veterinary
associations are scarcely more "independent" about animal
welfare issues than are agribusiness industry groups, which have
also opposed the bill.
Both point to a lack of injuries from fighting when animals are
crated, but European farmers have found ways to overcome that problem
while still allowing their animals freedom to move around and socialize
with others of their species. The agribusiness groups complain that
the bill would make common animal husbandry practices a crime. So
it would. And so, when those practices are cruel, it should.
In Britain, the provisions of Hancock's bill are already law. And
the decision has been taken to phase out individual crates for pigs
and calves across the 15 current and 10 future member nations of
the European Union. Once the new European laws are fully in effect,
the U.S. will be notorious among industrialized nations for the
harshness with which it treats animals.
Current practices do not reflect the wishes of the American people.
In Florida last November, voters approved a ballot initiative that
banned gestation crates for sows. The Zogby poll tells us that Californians
would do the same, if given the chance. Will our legislators force
us into the expensive initiative process?
We hope that when AB 732 comes up again next year, members of the
Agriculture Committee will not prevent the entire Assembly from
having the opportunity to pass a bill that reflects the values of
the people. Its passage would be a step toward removing a dark shadow
from our claim to be a humane, civilized nation.