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By Tom Cushing

The Silence of the Sows (hens and calves, too)

Uploaded: Oct 26, 2018

As the saying goes, “democracy dies in darkness.” Industrial agriculture, however, thrives in its dark and muted isolation from consumers. Prop 12 sheds a little light on the subject, gives voice to its victims and asks us to care – I’m writing to request your Yes vote in support.

So distant are we 21st-century consumers from the factories that produce our food, that we may choose to believe that pork chops grow in shrink wrap, our eggs laid by Tweety Bird. Unfortunately, and cruelly, it just ain’t so. As the author Michael Pollan has written: agriculture has changed more in the past fifty years than in the previous 10,000 years. That’s been good for grains, but for food animals it’s a continuing holocaust of lifelong suffering.

In contrast to current practices, Prop 12 phases-in mandates that the animals whose lives and death sustain us be allowed at least some minimal space to move around. Laying hens require at least one square foot, growing to 1.5 – the monitor on which you’re reading this is probably bigger. For veal calves, it’s 43 sq. ft. (think king-size mattress), while breeding sows (400-500 lb. average) get twin mattress treatment. Yes, that’s actually dramatically more spacious than typical, current conditions on the factory farms where most of our food is produced.

Prop 12 also forbids the CA sale of eggs (shelled or liquid), pork or veal from non-compliant operations elsewhere. It deputizes California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Department of Public Health to enforce its rules. Violations would be misdemeanors, with fines up to $1,000.

Central to the approach of Prop 12 is the concept of ‘telos,’ as popularized by philosophy prof Dr. Bernie Rollin at Colorado State University, a leading veterinary college (now, stay with me, here). For the, uh, eggheads among us, telos means that ‘fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly.’ It stands for the proposition that the least we owe to food animals is to respect their essence – their nature – while they’re alive. As above, mobility is pretty basic to every animal’s telos.* It’s not a lot to ask.

Here’s a handy FAQ section for further elaboration.

Who’s behind Prop 12?

The Humane Society of the United States, and numerous other mainstream animal welfare organizations. It is roughly the same coalition that previously sponsored Prop 2, in 2008.

Why wasn’t Prop 2 enough – didn’t it cover the same turf? Can’t those do-gooders get it right?

There were high hopes for Prop 2, but it contained several flaws and loopholes. It failed provide for enforcement, it was denominated in more vague mobility terms, and it failed to ban eggs no longer in the shell, leading to an influx of liquid egg products. Some of its promise has been unrealized, so the issue is back, with better language. Is once a decade too often to have to think about these issues?

Okay, who’s against it? Isn’t PETA opposed?

The opposition is an odd-coupling of food producers, whose natural motivation is profit, and a few of the more fringe-y humane groups like PETA. Their argument is that Prop 12 doesn’t go far enough – it reads something like this: ‘animals should never be eaten by people, this Prop makes it more, uh, palatable for people to eat animals, therefore we're against it.’

What about existing laws?

State anti-cruelty laws date from the late 1800s, and have mostly to do with conditions in the era when animals used for labor, more than raised for sale as food. They have simply never been applied in the ag communities where confinement practices are routine. As one commentator wrote in the Michigan Law Review: “while protection of animals from cruelty was developing in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries into a basic public value, farm animals, with few exceptions, were being moved outside legal protection-either through their exemption from the definition of animals protected, or through the exemption of cruel practices in farming from the definition of cruel practices.”

Similar federal laws generally exempt agriculture, because: farm lobby.

Why can’t the legislature handle this kind of issue?

In Sacramento, Ag interests drive a very big plow. These kinds of measures have been routinely tried but they get furrowed-under; our reps have been well-greased by the farm lobby'$ large$$e. Personally, your blogger once drafted some pretty innovative anti-cruelty legislation and got it approved by the CA Bar's Conference of Delegates - only to become roadkill under Big Ag/Harris Ranch's combine in Sacramento.** The direct Proposition process is the practical alternative – Prop 2 passed in 2008, better than 2-1.

Why should we care – these animals are going to die, anyway. Besides, I heard that cruelly-raised meat just tastes better.

Aren’t we special mammals all going to croak too, someday? When we do, will it not matter how we lived?

As to taste, unhealthy confinement over time actually damages both the taste and nutritional value in meats and eggs. Try some backyard eggs and see for yourself. Acutely, adrenaline leaves residues that toughen meats. In an odd kind of twist, that latter fact has been used to advocate for more humane conditions in-transit and at slaughterhouses, so the doomed critters don’t have to anticipate the slicing and dicing to come. I have no idea where that ‘cruelty is yummy’ trope got started, but like many a rationalizing myth, the evidence is quite contrary.

Won’t this Prop drive up the price of meat and eggs?

Yes almost certainly, a bit. Every business naturally wants to minimize cost – food producers are no different. But society tries to require that all industries pay the full cost of their operations, including costs like minimum wages and proper waste disposal. Here, Industrial Ag is Not paying for minimum-decent treatment of the animals it raises and slaughters for sale. And currently, the most ethical farmers are at the greatest cost disadvantage – this Prop levels that playing field by leveling-up the conditions under which all food animals are raised.

Prop 12’s provisions will also be phased-in gradually, allowing for normal depreciation and replacement of facilities.

But isn’t California bullying other states by requiring them to upgrade their operations for access to the CA market?

Interesting choice of words, but yes indeedy – and more power to us. If some pregnant sow in Reno can stand-up and turn around because of what we do here, well, I can live with that. We’re her only voice in an overwhelming void of silence.

Please vote yes on Prop 12.

* Gluttons for this kind of idea can read more about it in a review of Rollin’s memoir “Putting the Horse Before Descartes” :

** it was aimed at hoarding and other cruel circumstances, and it even exempted Ag(!) – but they killed it anyway because they could, plus they wanted no toe-holds that might be expanded in the future.