By Bruce Friedrich
The past few months have been deeply encouraging for Americans who care about the worst abuses of farm animals, as legislation has been introduced that would—once and for all—relegate the barren battery cage to the dust bin of history and the two most well-known pork producers have pledged to stop using gestation crates by 2017.
Battery cages (aka “conventional cages”) are tiny cages that confine five hens per cage, with more than 100,000 hens in a shed. In these tiny cages, the animals can’t spread a single wing or do anything else that is natural to them (well, beyond breathing). Their muscles and bones waste away and the animals go insane from stress and boredom. Right now, roughly 95 percent of the nation’s 250 million hens are suffering in these tiny torture devices.
Thanks to undercover investigation after undercover investigation of battery cages by the animal rights group Mercy for Animals—most recently just a few months back in Minnesota, Iowa, and Colorado—Americans are learning just how horribly cruel these cages are. And thanks to that knowledge, citizens in the state of California voted to ban them, by the widest margin in California ballot initiative history.
The egg industry saw the writing on the wall, and is now supporting legislation that will phase out barren cages over 18 years. Obviously that’s an unfortunate timeframe, but it’s a lot better than never, and the legislation will almost immediately improve conditions for tens of millions of hens (by giving them 40 percent more space and banning starvation-induced molting) and will require labels on cartons within a year—provisions that would warrant support for the legislation even without the cage ban.
A gestation crate is a tiny stall that is roughly the size of a pregnant pig’s body; roughly 85 percent of pregnant pigs live almost their entire lives crammed into these hideous devices, where—just like battery cages—the animals’ muscles and bones waste away, their bodies develop sores from laying in their own ammonia-laden waste, and these very intelligent animals go insane from stress and boredom.
Although federal legislation is not yet possible to ban gestation crates, corporations are taking notice. Thanks to undercover investigations by the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, combined with successful efforts at the state level—where Florida, Arizona, and California have banned the crates in landslide votes—the nation’s two most well-known pork companies, Hormel and Smithfield, have pledged to get rid of the crates by 2017.
At Farm Sanctuary, we spend our lives with farm animals, and we know them as individuals. For the same reason I wouldn’t eat my cats, I wouldn’t eat a chicken, pig, or any animal. I know that other animals are individuals, with needs and emotions and the full range of emotion and cognition. There really is no difference between eating a cat or a chicken, a pig or a dog. As Jane Goodall explains, “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined . . . they are individuals in their own right.”
But like 92 percent of Americans, I also support improved treatment for farm animals, and at the very least, that means an end to confinement systems like gestation crates and battery cages that are horrible for animals, both physiologically and psychologically.
This is where you come in: These horrid industries are listening, but there is still opposition. If you want to see an end to battery cages, sign up for email alerts at FarmSanctuary.org; we’ll keep you updated on all the latest efforts to relegate these horrid devices to the dustbin of history where they belong.