The first decade of this millennium has been marked by stark contrasts. Industrialized animal farming continued to expand and gain control over an ever greater share of the marketplace, and the number of animals exploited for food in the U.S. increased steadily, reaching 10 billion per year. At the same time, there’s been growing public awareness and unprecedented opposition to the waste, inefficiency and abuses of animal agriculture. While agribusiness spends billions of dollars to sell its products, bestselling books like "Skinny Bitch" and "Eating Animals" have exposed millions to the harms of factory farming for the first time.
At the beginning of the last decade, no U.S. law existed to prohibit cruel confinement systems, like veal crates, gestation crates and battery cages. In fact, most state anti-cruelty laws exempted farm animals from basic humane protections. But, over the past decade, some states took action to outlaw common factory farming cruelties. Two states passed laws to ban battery cages (CA, MI), five passed laws to ban veal crates (AZ, CA, CO, ME, MI), and seven passed laws to ban gestation crates (AZ, CA, CO, FL, OR, ME, MI). Responding to growing public pressure, Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, pledged to phase out gestation crates (2–foot-wide metal enclosures where female breeding pigs are confined for years). We have a long way to go, but as the new decade dawns, we are poised to see additional laws and policies enacted to prevent cruel factory farming practices.
The last decade started with Farm Sanctuary suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to compel the agency to prohibit the marketing and slaughter of downed animals (animals who are too sick or injured even to stand) for human food. By the end of the decade, the Obama administration had locked in a federal ban on slaughtering downed cattle for human food. A similar ban should be enacted to apply to pigs and other species.
The Obama family recently planted an organic vegetable garden at the White House to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables, and the USDA established a community garden, dubbed "The People’s Garden," at its headquarters in the nation’s capital. I recently moved to Washington, D.C. to further our work with policy makers to protect animals, consumers and the environment, and promote plant-based agriculture.
We are in the midst of a growing food movement, and I am optimistic about the coming decade. As agribusiness interests convene for meetings to discuss ways to defend their practices, compassionate citizens are picking up steam. Scientists and researchers at leading universities and institutions are issuing reports that decry the many harms of animal agriculture.
At the end of the last decade, for the first time in generations, the USDA’s year-end records showed that the number of animals killed for food in the U.S. dropped. Let’s hope that this is the beginning of a solid trend, along with the increasing number of farmer’s markets, community supported agriculture programs and community gardens across the U.S. We have a long way to go, but there is definitely reason for hope.