Pigs, calves and US democracy

US - Agribusiness has put millions of dollars into the pockets of US congressional representatives, to the detriment of animal welfare, according to Peter Singer.
calendar icon 18 December 2006
clock icon 3 minute read

A midst all the headlines about the Democrats gaining control of the US Congress in last month's elections, one big election result was largely ignored. Although it illuminated the flaws of the US political system, it also restored my belief in the compassion of ordinary Americans.

In Arizona, citizens can, by gathering a sufficient number of signatures, put a proposed law to a direct popular vote. This year, one of the issues on the ballot was an act to prohibit tethering or confining a pregnant pig, or a calf raised for veal, in a manner that prevents the animal from turning around freely, lying down, and fully extending his or her limbs.

Those who know little about modern factory farming may wonder why such legislation would be necessary. Under farming methods that were universal 50 years ago, and that are still common in some countries today, all animals have the space to turn around and stretch their limbs.

Today, however, about 90 percent of US breeding sows -- the mothers of the pigs that are raised and killed for pork, bacon, and ham -- spend most of their lives locked in cages that measure about 0.6m by 2.2m.

Other sows are kept on short tethers that also prevent them turning around. Veal calves are similarly confined for all their lives in individual stalls that do not permit them to turn around, lie down or stretch their limbs. These methods are, essentially, labor-saving devices -- they make management of the animals easier and enable units with thousands or tens of thousands of animals to employ fewer and less skilled workers.

The EU set dates by which close confinement of these animals would be prohibited. For veal calves, that date, Jan. 1, next year, is almost here. Individual stalls for sows, already outlawed in the UK and Sweden, will be banned across the entire EU from 2013. Measures to improve the welfare of laying hens, which are typically kept crammed into bare wire cages with no room to stretch their wings, are also being phased in.

In the US, no such national measures are anywhere in sight. In the past, when my European friends have asked me why the US lags so far behind Europe in matters of animal welfare, I have had no answer.

Source: Taipet Times

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