(We’ll do an after-action report later, but for my money, Prop. 2 has been the best-run progressive campaign in the state this year. – promoted by David Dayen)
Barack Obama’s campaign, as many commentators have often stated, has been brilliantly run. There’s another campaign which, in a different way and by a different yardstick, has done a superb job: the Yes on Prop 2 campaign in California. This proposition, under the rubric “Prevention of Farm Cruelty to Animals Act” initially but now officially titled “Standards for Confining Farm Animals”, seeks to codify minimum humane standards for farm animals. These standards are absolutely basic: “that they be allowed, for the majority of every day, to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up and turn around,” the measure reads.
Anyone who has ever taken pets on an airplane will know that airlines have strict regulations about the size of their carriers. We accept that pets should not travel – even for a few hours – if they do not have enough room to be comfortable. Yet what was perhaps not well-known before Prop 2 was that in factory farms in this country, millions of pigs, cows, veal calves, and chickens are confined to spaces which do not give them room to even stretch their limbs, and they are kept that way for their entire lives.
HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States — which the No on Prop 2 side refers to, ominously, as a “well-funded, Washington, DC-based special interest group” — has been urging California legislators to institute humane farming standards for 20 years. (‘Humaneness’ being the “special interest”, I guess, which nefarious animal lovers’ $20 and $30 donations have funded.) On several occasions, California state legislators have even stood up for livestock’s lying down and rolling over, but the bills that would require factory farms to make that much room have been killed in committee. Big Agribusiness has of course, been considered the culprit behind the bills’ demise.
Yet in spite of the formidable foe, the ad hoc Californians for Humane Farms got this initiative on the ballot through months of hard work by volunteer signature-gatherers. If the No on 2 side doesn’t believe it was volunteer, I’ll send them the old emails I received requesting I attend planning sessions, take petitioning shifts, follow careful directions on ensuring the validity of signatures, make deadlines, etc. (I expressed interest and never took the time to help out – so PLEASE vote Yes on 2. I’ll feel really guilty if it fails!)
Since making the ballot, the energetic Yes on 2 activists have gone for it, if you will, whole hog. Knowing the fight that Big Agribusiness would put up, Yes on 2 volunteers have secured endorsements from 700 veterinarians in the state, 90 veterinary clinics and hospitals, 150 veterinary students, and the California Veterinary Medical Association; and also from 70 doctors who treat human animals. The Center for Food Safety, the Consumer Federation of America, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are on board. The simple decency and the common sense of the proposition moved celebrities
to do testimonies for Prop 2 – even the cynic Bill Maher endorsed it – and Ellen and Oprah spread the word about the ballot initiative on their shows. Supporters have pounded the pavement and very sagely reached out to a wide swath of Californians, garnering even more endorsements from 400 California business, over 100 religious leaders, and just as many small farmers and organizations for farmers and farm workers’ rights like Family Farm Defenders, National Black Farmers Association, United Farm Workers, and the Cesar Chavez Foundation. And, what I think is a really wonderful coup: the California Democratic Party. Animal welfare concerns weren’t always part of the Democratic Party platform. But now Prop 2 materials are at Obama campaign offices, and a slew of City Councils, Mayors, Assembly Members, State Senators, U.S. Representatives, and both Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein back the measure. Various newspapers have been impressed by Prop 2’s arguments as well.
I think this is incredible. Campaign manager Jennifer Fearing, who says she witnessed the cruel conditions of factory farming first-hand,
has created a grassroots effort that has caught fire and, like Obama’s, attests to what passion and conviction can inspire and achieve.
As for the No on Prop 2 side, well, they did come up with a lovely name for their coalition – “Californians for SAFE Food.” They boast that they have small farmers on their side, too, but when Green reporter Cameron Scott checked, those claims turned out to be deceptive.
Meanwhile, coalition members who are definitely in good standing include: Alliance of Western Milk Producers, Broiler & Egg Association, California Cattlemen’s Association, California Dairy Campaign, California Egg Marketing Association, California Pork Producers Association, National Pork Producers Council, Texas Egg Council, Western United Dairymen and other purely-good-samaritan folk. One of their gambits is to claim that suddenly your food will be less safe if, for instance, hens are not confined in wire-floor battery cages stacked on top of each other so that the ones on top defecate all over the ones below. Mmmm. Yumm. Let’s watch that on the Food Network.
Actually, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production reports that restriction of natural motion in farm animals creates a great deal of stress. (I’d like to see the No on Prop 2 people prove this isn’t so by confining themselves to a space with no elbow room or head space. Let’s say for a month or two.) Of course, when animals experience that much stress, they tend to chew, bite, scratch, scrape – develop festering wounds, in short, and inflict them on their cell-block mates. Their overcrowding also spreads diseases quickly. On the other hand, the Pew Commission finds, when the animals are reared with humane standards and have at least minimal living space, they are safer for the food chain.
It isn’t just liberal bastions like California who care about this issue. In the last six years, four states have banned gestation crates for pregnant sows: Oregon and Colorado via their legislatures, and Florida and Arizona via ballot initiatives. These states did not try to address as many species at one time as California’s Proposition 2 does, but that’s why Prop 2 is historic in an election year of firsts. Still, Prop 2 isn’t out to turn factory farming on its head, it just asks that specific species of animals be given a modicum of space; and it gives these companies 7 years to comply.
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, an author who explores animal emotions, writes in his book The Pig Who Sang to the Moon,
that for “farm animals subjected to factory farming…it is impossible to perform any meaningful natural behavior.” Yet “domesticated animals who live on our farms are very little removed from their wild ancestors and therefore have all the emotions that belong to those wild animals who live under conditions of freedom. This means that confinement is going to be all the more painful for farm animals, conflicting as it does with emotions that evolved under far different conditions.”
Prop 2 simply offers a recognition that animals in factory farms are living beings. Yes, please!