On the morning of Wednesday April 9th, this city girl put on her most fashionable vegan suit and headed up to New York’s capital. I’ve never been to Albany before. So, this was actually quite exciting. As a graduate student in social work on the community organizing/policy track, this was a great opportunity to practice my lobbying skills (although I don’t particularly like the term lobbying). Too often, animal activists forget that being vegan is not just a lifestyle. It’s also a social justice issue as well. In order live in a world where cruelty is not a part of the equation, it is important to relate to those who are not vegan.
I arrived in the well under the legislative office building, where it was filled with activists just like me. I cannot express how overjoyed I was to see so many people who share my passion for these issues. I got a chance to network and learned a lot about a lot of great veg-resources. Someone was adamant about mentioning Coleen Patrick-Goudreau. So I made sure to take note of that for when I got back. Her perspective on humans and species-ism is very interesting. She equates the human as the main obstacle to living a compassionate life style. As we begin to expand the boundaries of the ego, it allows us to embrace a simple reality about our own species: we are all animals. This simple fact is hardly addressed or recognized in mainstream culture. In fact, it seems to be safe-guarded and tucked away from public discourse in order to further perpetuate the division between humans and the rest of our animal neighbors. It’s “Us vs. Them,” and rarely “we” or just “us.” This expansion of the ego is what may very well open the door to living in a world that consists of coexistence and co-habitation, rather than a dominant superiority complex over other sentient beings. While this is a wonderful concept and I find myself agreeing with a lot of the core principles, it’s definitely a topic that’s up for debate by most.
I digress a little. Back in Albany, I made my way for an appointment to sit down with a senate staffer from my district. Pleasantly surprised, he came well equipped with advance knowledge of the three bills up for discussion on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States.
Here they are:
- The Consolidated Animal Crimes Bill (A.775b/(A.775b/S.6643) – Stricter animal cruelty laws
- Save the Elephants (A.8824) – Banning the sale, purchase, trade, barter and distribution of ivory
- Protect Farm Animals from Cruel Intensive Confinement (A.0424) – Banning confinement of factory farm animals
There was overwhelming agreement and support for the first two bills regarding animal cruelty law enforcement and banning ivory trade. However, it turns out that they were on the fence about animal confinement. Like many political officials, costs on businesses and consumers is always a concern. Factory farms rely heavily on confinement crates in order to maximize “efficiency” while expending as little money as possible. The bill in question addresses gestation crates (pigs), veal crates (male baby cows), and battery cages (chickens). The debate over these conditions of confinement is heavily debated in a number of other students around the U.S. As some of you may know, California was the first state to ban the sale of eggs from battery caged chickens. Unfortunately they are running into a lot of resistance from other farming states like Missouri because they feel that this gives advantages to inner state
producers. One-third of Missouri’s egg sales went to California. Their solution to what they see as a problem, is to sue them for economic damages. Fortunately for California, there is legal precedence to support their case. So, I doubt this lawsuit will stand a chance. The truth of the matter is that the consumers have spoken. Californians passed their law because they don’t want eggs to be produced from farming facilities where chickens are confined to one small battery cage with 4 other chickens. Chickens’ natural behavior is to perch, but battery chickens are unable to do so. Humans can be empathetic animals, and so the thought of a chicken not being able to stand, perch, or spread their wings is something that totally seems inhumane… Well, actually it IS inhumane.
Confinement cages cause a great amount of stress on animals. Fun fact; did you know that pigs are as intelligent as a 3 year old child? With that said, you can only imagine how it might feel if your 3 year old was stuck in a confined gestation crate where there is only enough room to lie down; never mind turning around or walking around. Highly social creatures are not meant to be confined in this manner.
This issue goes above and beyond the argument of ethical treatment of animals. We all know stress as an incredible force for afflicting our bodily systems (particularly our immune system). The same applies to factory farm animals. Common farming practice in these situations is to pump these animals with antibiotics. Typically, this is used as a preventative measure in order avert any illness. Part of my own personal work over the past year has revolved around food in the public school system. Through an abundance of research in terms of food quality, I have learned that the United States school food program is the #2 largest food program and relies heavily on the industrialized farming industry. This food ends up on their plate. So imagine factory farm animals are pumped with antibiotics in order to ward off sickness in order for industrial farm owners to keep costs down. This hardly makes any sense in terms of ethics and public safety.
What’s the solution? There are plenty! As I mentioned before, there is a lot of concern around costs. Group housing facilities, hoop barns, or even open field structures could save farmers up to 30% in construction and/or production costs. This all depends on the scale of housing structure, type of feed, and space required. The fact of the matter is that conventional confinement equipment does wear out over some time and so transitioning to alternative housing for factory farm animals could be the most ideal scenario. Yes, this is not the most ideal alternative from an ethical vegan perspective. However, it’s important to understand that this is a step in the right direction. For more information on economics and alternatives to gestation crates visit Humane Society of United State’s research document, The Economics of Adopting Alternatives to Gestation Crate Confinement of Sows.
I encourage everyone; vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, and meat lovers to stand up for better practices in factory farms. Find out what policies your state is trying to pass in terms of public health/animal rights and contact your local legislative official so you can sit down and tell them how these policies affect you.