The happiness of chickens, pigs, and cows rests in California voters’ hands this November as they decide whether or not to support Proposition 12, the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative. If passed, Prop. 12 would ban the sale of eggs, pork, and veal raised in areas that don’t adhere to new minimum-confinement guidelines. It would give California farmers a little more than a year to expand their cages to create at least 43 square feet for calves, and 24 square feet for breeding pigs. In addition, starting in 2022, chickens would not be allowed to be held in cages, and instead must be allowed to roam “free-range” — with a minimum of 1 square foot per hen.
Ethical farm practices don’t commonly pop up on the ballot, and many people see Prop. 12 as a unique opportunity to support animal rights. Online images of chickens held in cages so tight they can’t extend their wings or move around are heartbreaking, and the idea of a 150-pound pig living in quarters smaller than 7-by-7 feet is horrific. Next week, Californians will finally have a chance to put their votes where their stomachs are, but people may be perplexed when flipping through their voter guides to learn that one of the largest animal-rights organizations in the country, PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — opposes Prop. 12.
It’s odd to see PETA’s name on the “No” list next to the Association of California Egg Farmers and the National Pork Producers Council, both of which obviously have farmers’ rights front of mind. In a 1,000-word blog post, PETA explains its position, which can be summed up thusly: “We cannot pretend that such meager improvements are acceptable. They’re not.”
“In my and PETA’s view, there is no such thing as humane meat,” President Ingrid Newkirk says in an 11-minute video espousing an anti-Prop. 12 message. “Perhaps if we were eating roadkill — which at least wouldn’t be cruel if it were scraped off the road and eaten — but that’s not what we’re being asked. Rather, it’s being suggested that we actually buy and accept that it’s somehow all right eating the flesh of animals who are very much alive, who had friends and family … and who go through enormous trauma despite some small courtesies like a little extra space in their overcrowded prison cells.”
It’s an understandable opinion, for sure — free-range chickens are often kept in fluorescent-lit warehouses, in conditions that are dangerous not only for birds but human workers. And yet, this may be a case where we accept that while not perfect, Prop. 12 is nevertheless a small step in the right direction. It’s been 10 years since we had an item on the ballot that addresses the ethics behind how meat is raised, and in that time, PETA has failed to get anything better in front of voters.
And, although PETA doesn’t support the measure, most animal rights organizations and professionals do. Prop. 12 has the backing of the Humane Society, the ASPCA, and various veterinary professionals and organizations.
In fact, if you believe farm animals deserve a slightly better quality of life, there’s no reason not to vote yes on Prop. 12; there’s no clause in it that limits future propositions that could expand upon it down the line. And at the end of the day, it’s probably not a great idea to listen to an organization that links drinking cow’s milk to white supremacy and who waged a lengthy, time-consuming battle against the makers of animal crackers to remove the cage bars on their packaging — albeit only after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus had already closed.
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