Leave it to California to once again lead the way on one of the most important social issues of our time. This time, it's animal cruelty in factory farming. Next month, Californians will have the opportunity to ameliorate conditions for the millions of factory-farmed animals in that state. At factory (mass production) farms, animals from chickens to pigs and veal calves are crated in tiny spaces where some of them spend their entire suffering lives (more on that later.)
California's Proposition 2 requires, according to the Los Angeles Times, "that confined cattle, pigs and chickens have enough space to lie down, stand up, turn around freely and extend their limbs. Because there are few veal producers in the state and the largest pork producer here has already said it would eliminate small crates, the initiative would apply to the 19 million laying hens in California."
Doesn't sound horrendous, does it, to give an animal enough room to stand up and move around? Can you imagine spending your entire life tied to your bed, unable to get up and move around? Even if you don't care a whit about animals, consider what type of food animals living in intolerable situations produce. It isn't pretty. Animals living in horrendous conditions suffer from stress as do we. When their bodies are rife with stress hormones, so is the food they produce. Guess what: animals' stress hormones are not good for people, either. I have a saying: Animals bite back. If you eat them, they bite back and kill you by raising your cholesterol level and contributing to heart disease.
Here's another question. What's the No. 1 killer in America? The answer is heart disease. It's no mystery why.
Organic farming and free-range chicken production represent only a tiny percentage of all egg production in the U.S., for example. Why? Farmers can produce more eggs on much less space. But the eggs are cheaper for a reason. They are of lower quality than those produced by free-range hens.
California's egg industry is headquartered in Petaluma, where reporter Robert Digitale of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat described what goes on in the typical factory egg farm:
In an era of high-tech efficiency and fears of avian influenza, only a sliver of the nation's egg production occurs in the barnyard or the chicken coop. Nearly all egg-laying hens, both caged and cage-free, spend their lives inside large barns and warehouses. Bred for egg production, not meat, the hens typically live less than two years and are then disposed of. About 95 percent of the state's egg-laying hens live in cages. A typical cage at one of Riebli's (a producer in Digitale's territory) facilities measures 27 inches wide, 24 inches deep and 16 inches high. It normally holds eight chickens.
And if you need to see it for yourself, follow this YouTube link for one of the most horrific video journeys of your life. It was made by undercover members of an animal rights group called Mercy for Animals. The video speaks volumes as it shows how chickens at a Southern California chicken farm are subjected to unimaginable cruelty in the name of the god of mass production:
Farm industry groups fighting Prop 2 are using methods more cynical than Sen. John McCain's selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate (one of the high-water mark acts of cynicism of our time) to try to persuade voters to vote against Prop 2. They're claiming Prop 2 would make egg production so expensive, the industry would move out of California and into Mexico.
That reasoning is so hollow it echoes. It reminds me of opponents to a raise in the minimum wage claiming raising the wage would cost jobs. The only thing it costs is a bit of the profits greedy producers hoard for themselves.
A poll late last month by SurveyUSA for several large California TV stations shows the factory farming lobbyists' efforts are for naught. The poll shows Prop 2 passing by a 7 to 1 margin. It's enough to restore one's faith in humanity.