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June 14, 2009

4 minutes read


Late last year, while campaigning for California’s “Prop 2”—a ballot measure that required the phasing out of some of the most inhumane factory farm methods—Farm Forward declared that the tide of public opinion has turned against intensive confinement farming in a decisive way. The evidence that Americans are rejecting factory farming has continued to mount. Prop 2 is now law.

Within six months of that victory, Colorado passed similar but less comprehensive legislation. The work of Farm Forward board member Bernard Rollin was instrumental to that victory. Now, still less than a year since Prop 2’s passage, the Michigan State Legislature has passed a similarly progressive bill mandating increased animal welfare standards.

Michigan’s HB 5127, which passed both houses of the state legislature by wide margins (the House 86-20 and the Senate by 36-0), is expected to be signed into law when it reaches Governor Granholm’s desk. The bill will amend the Animal Industry Act to ensure that enclosures and tethering equipment must allow farmed animals enough room to stand, lie, turn around, and extend their limbs. HB 5127 specifically ameliorates the conditions endured by breeding sows, egg-laying hens, and veal calves by phasing out:

  • sow gestation crates over the next ten years; making Michigan the 7th state to do so,
  • hen battery cages over the next ten years; only the 2nd state to do so, and,
  • veal crates over the next three years; the 5th state to do so.

These amendments will slowly make the lives of over ten million hens and approximately 100,000 sows more bearable.1

In its final iteration, HB 5127 earned the endorsement of the Humane Society of the United States, the Michigan Humane Society, and Farm Sanctuary. According to industry trade journals, the bill is also supported by the Michigan Farm Bureau and a wide range of cattle, poultry, and pig industry associations. While still resistant to change, even factory farmers know they must address the most egregious abuses or risk alienating consumers entirely. In announcing this victory, the President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, recognized the importance of the public/private collaborative process, stating, “With this measure, stakeholders from all sides came together to advance basic animal welfare concerns.”

Agribusiness interests are changing their strategy in the face of an increasingly organized and insistent public. Tonia Ritter, manager of the Michigan Farm Bureau’s State Governmental Affairs explained that HB 5127 began as an attempt by “Michigan farmers to meet the questions from society about how food comes from farms to their plate.” Instead of simply attempting to block this legislation, which has been the common industry response in the past, the Michigan Farm Bureau took steps to ensure they had a voice in the policy battle they foresaw. The more cooperative approach of Michigan’s agribusiness community did not come from within; they are responding to public demands, as Ritter herself suggested.

Farm Forward applauds these changes and especially the trend in agribusiness to sit at the negotiation table. That said, over the course of the next decade more than 6.3 billion laying hens will live and die without basic space requirements. This victory is to be celebrated but not overestimated.

Most importantly, we need to recognize that even though these laws mean real improvement for animals, they in no way take animals out of the dismal conditions of factory farms. They mitigate but don’t fundamentally change the disturbing state of animal agriculture. Even when these laws take effect, chickensturkeys, and pigs especially will still live and die in ways that are inhumane according to commonsense standards. For example, these changes do nothing to alter what is arguably the greatest single factor contributing to farmed animal suffering: the fact that nearly 100 percent of chickens and turkeys have been genetically engineered to grow so large so fast that their very genetics destines them to suffer from a range of deformities, diseases, and structural problems.

At Farm Forward we believe America can do better than this. Small family farmers like those which sell their meat through Niman Ranch Pork Company or Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch already offer meat from animals raised largely or entirely outside of the factory system. And of course conscientious eaters don’t need to wait for legislation to choose to eat a factory-farm free diet. While Farm Forward fully supports legislative change, we also work to pair these efforts with programs that support the highest welfare methods. As momentum builds we can do more than demand that the worst abuses end. We can take the factory out of farming.

For more information on the wave of animal welfare legislation sweeping the country and the growth of alternative animal agriculture, join our mailing list. Ohio residents, you may be next…

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According to HSUS: “The state has more than ten million laying hens, approximately 100,000 breeding pigs, and is ranked by the Cattleman’s Beef Board as a top veal-producing state (no official numbers are available).”