Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vote Yes! on Prop 2

I made a startling discovery recently. It turns out those delicious cheeseburgers I’ve been eating all these years don’t come from a magical plant after all (I had assumed the genus cheesia burgerus). I was shocked to discover that they come from…cows. The very same cows (ok, maybe not the exact ones) that also provide us with the ambrosia that is chocolate milk. That’s why I’m urging all you CA voters, if you haven’t hit the polls yet, to vote YES on Prop 2. And then to take a little time to see where your food comes from and how to improve the lives of your food producing friends.

Prop 2, for those of you still confused about the issue, would enact a state law that would take effect January 1, 2015 prohibiting “the confinement on a farm of pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.”[1] It has been a particularly controversial issue this election, and I know a lot of voters are still on the fence. I hope I’m preaching to the choir, but if not, read on.

Businesses that will be affected

First let’s start by talking about who this will affect, because I think the biggest misconception in this argument is who will be most impacted by the new law. You gotta love the anti-Prop 2 commercials with their images of hard working Joe Farmer and his little red barn, workin’ the land, wiping sweat from his brow, blah, blah. Well if you replace Joe Farmer with factory farmer, you’ll be a bit more accurate. The majority of businesses and “farms” affected by Prop 2’s humane treatment expectations are the agribusiness giants; I like to think of them as the Lehman Brothers of the farm industry, but even less sympathetic. They will have to spend a little more moolah to let the animals actually move around their pens and cages. Tragically, this will cut into their profits, which is the reason why so many of them have pumped thousands of dollars into ads against Prop 2—money that could have been spent improving the living conditions of their animals.

All this squawk about chickens...

Eggs. I love them. I have previously volunteered my thoughts on eggs and the feathered units that produce them. Those miracles of nature are of course commonly known as chickens, and they do indeed belong to the animal kingdom. This has been the crux of the Prop 2 argument: the cost of eggs and safety of our food. Yes, Prop 2 will increase the production costs because more space will be needed for the animals, and if you buy the cheapest eggs on the market, you might even see a nominal increase in the cost of those eggs. It’s more likely however, that the biggest effect will be the profit lost by the factory farms who treat animals like machines.

This is where I really hoist myself up onto the soap box (it’s very tall.) Pay attention to where your food comes from. I know that the grocery store seems like a mystical place, but that food does not just materialize out of the thin air and land on the shelves. I am not criticizing your frugality if you buy the cheapest eggs, I just want consumers to know where they come from. These lower priced eggs come at a high cost to their producers; no, I don’t mean the farmer, but the fowl. They often live in cages only slightly larger than their bodies, are often subjected to forced molting (the result of a week or two of starvation), and are essentially used up, like an object.

And don’t forget about the other animals at stake here. If chickens don’t pull at your heartstrings, think about what goes on in the pig industry. Pigs raised for the purpose of breeding are kept in pens where the sow is unable to even stand up. Why? Because the sow’s “natural behavior” is to build a nest and to tend to her young, which she would easily be able to manage with enough space.[2] But these farms don’t rely on nature to take its course, that method is far too expensive. “When industrial agriculture puts sows in pens so narrow they couldn’t turn around, sows, sadly, crush their babies,” writes Catherine Friend, author of Compassionate Carnivore. [3] Therefore the practice of restraining the sows while they nurse becomes necessary due to the refusal of these companies to allow adequate space for the pigs, all so they can make a few extra bucks on some bacon.

Safety Concerns

Opponents of Prop 2 argue that there will be an increased risk of salmonella in eggs if chicken are allowed to go outside or eat insects and dig around in the dirt (all natural habits). If I’m not mistaken, chickens lived outside for many a year before the farm industry giants learned how to mass produce. My family and I ate eggs raised by my great-grandmother without a second thought. Many people go out of their way to purchase eggs from small, local, farms that raise their chickens humanely. They cost more, but I know what I’m getting. I know that the chickens are healthy, actually able to walk, and participate in the normal daily functions of a chicken (they have social lives too, ya know). It never crossed my mind that I should be worried about increased contamination from the eggs I get from my local CSA farm or the farmers market—I don’t bat an eye before digging into raw cookie dough containing these eggs.

You know what does worry me? Chickens crammed into tiny living spaces with weakened immune systems. You know the crazy lady with the 50 cats who lives down the street, and all those cats have the mange? Well that’s what happens when you cram animals together in a small space. They don’t like it and it isn’t good for them. “Hens kept inside do not remain healthy, so they are kept alive with antibiotics until they have produced enough eggs to be considered profitable,” writes Friend.[4] Furthermore, pasture animals have less of a negative impact on the environment, and can reduce some of the air and water quality issues associated with factory farms.[5]

Take Control: Decide Where Your Money Goes—Guiltless Conscience, Free of Charge

Last, I’d just like to say, think about what is going in your body and where it comes from.
If you wouldn’t treat your pet this way, why should these cows, chickens, and pigs be any different? They have personalities and emotions, and need simple creature comforts, just like a cat or dog. Just give it some thought. Money is a powerful force, so decide which types of businesses you want your hard-earned cash to support. I consider meat and eggs a luxury, so I if I can’t afford to buy from farmers who raise animals humanely, I try to eat less of these items. I’m not saying you have to be perfect or stop eating at all of your favorite restaurants, but even a slight change in your consumption habits will have an impact.

All puns intended. My cats approve this message.

More information: -- check out the myths and facts page

The Humane Society of the US
California Veterinary Medical Assn
Center for Food Safety
Union of Concerned Scientists
Sierra Club
Consumer Federation of America
California Democratic Party

[1] California General Election Official Voter Information Guide, 6.
[2] Catherine Friend, The Compassionate Carnivore (De Capo Press), 12.
[3] Catherine Friend, The Compassionate Carnivore (De Capo Press), 13
[4]Catherine Friend, The Compassionate Carnivore (De Capo Press), 74.
[5] Union of Concerned Scientists,

Comic Strips: Mutts, by Patrick McDonnell

1 comment:

  1. Good article.
    Here is some additional info on chickens. Chickens lay alot of eggs when they are young and production drops off as they get older. It was discovered when older chickens with reduced egg production are starved they will go through a molting process. Once that is complete their egg production goes back up to when they were young. HOWEVER, their egg shell composition following this process becomes compromised. It is thinner and more susceptible to allow salmonella to pass. This discover and practice of increased egg production resulted in the sudden increase of salmonella several years ago. As an fyi, McDonald's refuses to purchase eggs from any producer who uses this method and is very aggressive in elevating the ethical treatment of animals and animal byproducts in their industry.