Thursday, July 23, 2009

Attack of the Anti-Prop 2’s!

Bills to kill farm animal protection invade three states

“This is Michigan, not California. We’re not going to allow an outside group to come into Michigan and give chickens the right to drive cars.”

- Michigan State Representative and House Agriculture Chairman Mike Simpson*

Since 2002, a total of six states have passed laws banning one or more of the main intensive confinement mechanisms factory farms use to maximize revenue (i.e., battery cages for egg-laying hens, gestation crates for pregnant pigs, and veal crates for calves). In the last year alone, four more state legislatures have introduced bills to ban all three of these industry-standard constraint systems — and they certainly won’t be the last to ponder such measures.

If you were a captain of the farm animal exploitation industry whose bottom line depended on treating cows, pigs and chickens however you damn well pleased, wouldn’t this revolting development freak you out? Well, of course, but the real question is, what would you do about it? Would you a) go about your business as usual and hope that your home state doesn’t try to restrict your legal right to abuse animals, b) proactively make operational changes that reflect current public attitudes about animal welfare, or c) go on the offensive by calling in some favors from your powerful politician friends who owe you big for those meaty campaign contributions you’ve been dishing out over the years?

You don’t need to be a whiz at multiple choice tests to know which one of these strategies corporate magnates in at least three states have collectively opted for:

- Michigan lawmakers have introduced HB 5127 and HB 5128, two bills that would create a statute to codify Big Ag’s animal welfare guidelines into law. Needless to say, their idea of “animal welfare” includes giving each egg-laying hen just 67 square inches of cage space, grinding their male chicks up alive for fertilizer as soon as they are born, and many other cruel but routine atrocities.

- Ohio legislators have already placed a “livestock standards” measure on the November 2009 ballot for voters’ consideration that would amend the State Constitution and give a council dominated by livestock industry “experts” sole authority to set “care and well-being” standards for the treatment of farm animals. Passage of this proposition would preempt lawmakers from debating animal welfare issues and be used to delude the public into believing that farm animals are not subjected to abusive practices when in fact they are.

- The Oklahoma legislature passed a law earlier this year that gives the the Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry exclusive authority to rule on animal welfare issues in the state. Essentially, this prohibits local governments from creating ordinances regarding “the care and handling of livestock” that are more restrictive than those enacted by the State Ag Department.

Why, you may wonder, can’t the government allow voters or their democratically-elected representatives decide where to draw the line on cruelty to farm animals? Because, as Michigan House Bills sponsor Representative Don Armes argues, these bills are needed to “ensure that livestock regulations are developed by experts at the state level who know what they’re doing.” And who are these quote-unquote “experts” to whom Rep. Armes so deferentially cedes all power? Why, the very same skilled professionals who made fortunes by enslaving, torturing, killing, and selling animals for profit, of course!

Despite such reassurances from trusted elected officials like Rep. Armes, the farm animal rights activists who have devoted much of their efforts in recent years to passing anti-confinement bills and initiatives have a different view of this matter. “These measures are obviously a counterattack against the success of Prop 2,” claims Paul Shapiro, Senior Director of HSUS’s Factory Farming Campaign. “The basic idea is to give the appearance of regulation, but in reality these programs won’t prohibit any of the inhumane practices that are already standard in the agriculture industry. In fact, they would actually codify the cruel status quo into law, effectively putting the foxes in charge of guarding the henhouse.”

Shapiro also points out that, with the full force of the mighty agribusiness lobby behind them, industry-friendly lawmakers have been able to move these bills forward quickly in an attempt to avoid legislative and public scrutiny. In response, HSUS is actively encouraging state lawmakers in Michigan to oppose the House Bills and mobilizing their members to put pressure on elected officials by contacting their offices. A campaign to inform Ohio voters about the deceptive intentions behind the November 2009 proposition is already in the planning stages, and the organization may attempt to place its own pro-animal measure on the ballot in 2010.

The crucial question here for both sides is, are these industry-driven proposals the magic bullet agribusiness needs to stop the state-to-state spread of Prop 2-inspired bills and ballot initiatives? Similarly, will they be able to deceive people into believing that current agribusiness practices — like confining animals in cages and crates, debeaking chickens and tail-docking cows — constitute “humane” treatment of living, feeling creatures? The answers depend in large measure on the outcomes in Michigan and Ohio — but much more so, in a deeper sense, on the determination, drive and energy of farm animal rights activists.

* It is important to note that, despite Rep. Simpson’s claim, chickens cannot legally drive automobiles in California: when Prop 2 is enacted in 2015, it will simply ensure that egg-laying hens (as well as breeding sows and veal calves) have enough room to stand up, stretch their limbs, and lie down without bumping up against a wall or another animal. The fact that the Honorable Mr. Simpson (sponsor of the Michigan animal "welfare" standards bills) issued this hyperbolic statement signifies nothing more than the fact that he has been watching too many old Foster Farms commercials, and that he is a pathetic suck-up and sellout to the animal corpse-food industry.

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