Two weeks ago, video from an undercover investigation at Norco Ranch, owned by Missouri-based Moark, was released to the public showing pitiful images of animals abused at a California factory farm. The undercover investigator not only recorded images of four to six birds crammed into small cages and unable to extend their wings, but also dead birds in cages, birds with legs or other body parts caught in the wire caging, and the animals living in absolute filth and squalor.
A California initiative on the November ballot -- Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act -- would phase out the cramming of veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens into small cages and crates. Moark and Norco together are the largest funders of the campaign against Proposition 2, and Norco is the largest egg factory farm in the state, with 8 million birds crammed into tiny cages.
If you only listened to the arguments of the opponents of Proposition 2 or read their news releases, you'd think they were the greatest caretakers of animals and protectors of food safety. Their self-image is miles from the reality.
Earlier this year, there was another investigation that shocked Californians and the nation. It showed the mistreatment of "downer" cows at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. slaughter plant in Chino. An investigator from the Humane Society of the United States went undercover there and documented sick and crippled cows being brutalized in order to get them into the "kill box."
Government inspectors and plant management either missed the abuse or allowed it to persist. Agribusiness apologists tried their best to deny that this happened until confronted with graphic videotape evidence.
These two investigations show that we cannot allow the factory farming industry to self-regulate, nor can we wait for government to step up and protect animals from abuse or to guard us from food safety threats. That's precisely why Proposition 2 is so important and timely.
Animals with wings and legs need to be allowed to use them, and they should not be denied enough room to stand up, turn around and stretch their limbs. That's the simple fix behind Proposition 2, and it's phased in over a six-year period to allow farmers to transition to more humane production practices.
Proposition 2 will not restore the placid imagery of "Old MacDonald's Farm," but veal calves will no longer be chained by the neck and confined in tiny stalls until slaughter; pigs will not be imprisoned in metal cages that are barely larger than their bodies; and eight hens at a time will not be crammed into wire cages with each bird having less floor space than a letter-sized sheet of paper.
The greatest nation in the world, with the most innovative farmers, can do better than immobilize animals in severe confinement systems for their entire lives. Family farmers know food quality is enhanced by more humane farming methods, and they know there is a balance between animal care and economics.
The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production issued a report concluding that Proposition 2 includes "the types of modest animal welfare public policy improvements that the commissioners recommend implementing." This independent panel, chaired by former Kansas Gov. John Carlin and including among its members former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and leading veterinarians and farmers, said, "Practices that restrict natural motion, such as sow gestation crates, induce high levels of stress in the animals and threaten their health, which in turn may threaten human health."
Science has confirmed what common sense already tells us: Cramming animals into filthy, unsafe cages leads to higher rates of diseases such as salmonella, which can spread to people. It's on the basis of human and animal health concerns that the California Veterinary Medical Assn., the Center for Food Safety, the Consumer Federation of America and the Union of Concerned Scientists, along with more than 40 newspapers, have endorsed Proposition 2.
These modest reforms of farm practices won't be costly to implement. The egg industry's own California-based economist reports that producing cage-free eggs costs less than one penny per egg more.
For consumers, it's such a small price to pay. For millions of farm animals, though, a yes vote on Proposition 2 means so very much.
Wayne Pacelle is president
and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States. www.YesonProp2.com