In 2008, Gallup found that two-thirds of Americans support strong legal protections for farm animals, yet because of the agribusiness lobby, there are no federal laws that protect farm animals from even the most extreme on-farm abuse. Thus, practices that would warrant felony cruelty charges if done to dogs or cats are routine and legal when done to pigs or chickens.
For example, pregnant pigs and baby calves are routinely confined in crates where they can’t turn around or engage in most of their natural behaviors. In these horrible devices, the animals’ muscles and bones waste away, they suffer from ammonia blisters from being cooped in their own waste, and they suffer extreme psychological stress, a natural result of being unable to even turn around for almost their entire lives.
In recent years, states and corporations have been stepping in, working to get rid of some of some of the worst abuses. For example, the nation’s largest veal producer has already gotten rid of veal crates, and the industry’s trade group has recommended that all veal producers follow suit. Just this year, the two best-known pork producers — Hormel and Smithfield — have promised to stop using gestation crates by 2017. In recent months, Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Safeway have announced plans to ban gestation crates from their supply chains.
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee recently signed a bill that will ban gestation crates for pigs and veal crates for calves in that state — making it the ninth state to do so. New Jersey’s Senate passed a similar bill, and prospects for it going forward are good.
These common-sense pieces of humane legislation are similar to a bill currently before the Judiciary Committee in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act (H458/S786). The bill, which has just a few more weeks to be passed out of committee, would ban tiny crates for calves and pregnant pigs.
My organization, Farm Sanctuary, operates three sanctuaries for rescued farm animals, and so we have learned first-hand the cognitive and physiological needs of farm animals, who have the same behavioral needs, capacities for cognition and emotion, and range of personalities that we all know to exist in dogs and cats. Dr. Jane Goodall writes that “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.” They deserve better than to be crammed into tiny crates for their entire lives.
As a long-time Massachusetts resident, I am particularly invested in ensuring that my state does not lag behind the pork and veal industries on this critically important issue. The Joint Committee on the Judiciary should pass this bill out of committee this week, so that the full legislature can pass it and Governor Patrick can sign it.
Isn’t this the least we can do?
Dr. Allan Kornberg is executive director of Farm Sanctuary in Rockland.