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Opinion

The Podium

State bill would threaten farmers

Names can be deceiving. In Communist countries, “the people’s party” is really the dictators’ party. A “pre-owned” car can be a lemon. And in the Bay State, the so-called Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act is less about helping animals and more about a fringe agenda to bankrupt farmers.

The Act would ban modern farm housing systems that were developed to better protect animals, such as maternity pens, which are used for pregnant pigs. Let’s be clear that these systems, which animal liberation activists claim are inhumane, are supported by veterinary science.

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For sow housing, both the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians both find that maternity pens provide for animal welfare. For hen housing, the AVMA finds that cages provide lower mortality rates and protection from disease and predators.

The most important part of taking care of animals is good management. Many systems can provide for welfare. But the proposed legislation, which takes choices away from farmers, is like putting the fox in the henhouse. Animal liberation activists support this bill because it boosts their new strategy in their fight to get rid of every dairy, pork, egg, beef, veal, and poultry farm across America by increasing the cost of production and hence increasing the price of food.

The old strategy of the animal liberation movement was to make incendiary statements. Bruce Friedrich himself said about 10 years ago: “I think it’s perfectly appropriate for people to take bricks and toss them through the windows, and everything else along the line. Hallelujah to the people who are willing to do it.”

That kind of rhetoric and bizarre viewpoint doesn’t go over well with the 99 percent of the population that consumes hamburgers and scrambled eggs. So now, Friedrich and other radicals want to sound moderate and have adopted a long-term strategy. That strategy is to incrementally drive up the costs of farmers, under the guise of improving animal welfare.

Imagine building a house — only to have to gut it and rebuild the interior, or even to have to build a new house, after just a few years. That’s what farmers are facing when animal liberation activists push for bans on current animal housing. What’s worse is that smaller farmers, who have less financial leverage, are more likely to go out of business as they may not be able to secure capital for costly infrastructure changes as easily.

To see the bigger picture of animal liberation activism, look at Europe. Following the EU’s hen-cage ban, which took effect in 2012, countries experienced egg supply shortages as prices shot up 67 percent. EU regulations banning sow maternity pens just took effect in January, and experts predict a significant supply drop will occur.

There’s even more that will give farmers heartburn. A proposed Massachusetts law on egg production mimics the vague language of a 2008 California ballot initiative called Proposition 2, bankrolled by the Humane Society of the United States (unaffiliated with Bay State pet shelters). It’s unclear to California egg farmers what kind of housing they can legally use, and the Humane Society of the United States has given shifting answers. And when California farmers have sought to gain clarity in the court system, the Humane Society has opposed them.

If California egg farmers can’t figure out what barns they are allowed to build, they may simply go out of business. But that’s exactly what animal liberation radicals hope for.

For them, there is no animal product produced on any farm under any system that is “humane” enough. Not even if the hen stayed in a 5-star hotel.

While appearing to be good-intentioned, the legislation is likely to produce unintended consequences that harm farmers. A much better option already exists for consumers. Grocery stores offer all kinds of choices: Free-range pork, organic eggs, cage-free eggs, and so on. If consumers demand something at higher prices then farmers will supply it. That keeps all stakeholders involved.

Rick Berman is executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom.
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