Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Torture in the Henhouse

(Note – off-topic.)

Online streaming video interview at – Yes on Prop 2 – tomorrow, Thu., 10/16, 2:00 pm Pacific / 5:00 pm Eastern.

I like my eggs scrambled.  That’s real comfort food:  hot, tasty, and hard to screw up.  An added bonus is the association with brunch.  Turkey bacon, scrambled eggs, and fresh-squeezed OJ is a great way to start a weekend day at a fun restaurant, surrounded by happy people.

Unfortunately, many of those people wouldn’t be so happy if they knew what the animals went through to get to the table.  I’m not.  Commercial farming often involves confining cattle, pregnant pigs and chickens to tiny cages in which the animals have no room to move.  According to the Yes on Prop 2 campaign, hens live for more than a year in a space smaller than a sheet of letter-size paper.  Then they're killed.  The LA Times reports undercover video released by animal rights activists that shows, in the paper’s words, “egg-laying hens crammed into filthy cages, while, nearby, discarded birds are left to die in piles of corpses.”

Prop 2 would change that in California.  It’s a modest measure, requiring only that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs be confined only in such a way that they can lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs or wings, and turn around freely.  The primary industry affected is the egg business, since the other two are quite small in California.

The new statute would not require that these animals be free range – but granting farm animals the ability to move about, even while caged, is just basic decency.  The New York Times says as much in a strong editorial, stating that “The fact that such fundamental decencies have to be forced upon factory farming says a lot about its horrors.”  The Times urges a yes vote, and that every state enact such legislation.  I agree.

The LA Times has a different spin.  The editorial starts off strong:

The egg industry is rife with cruelty to animals. Millions of hens in California are kept in cages so small that every natural instinct is thwarted: They cannot perch, walk or spread their wings. On some farms, cages are stacked and hens on the bottom live in waste.

All creatures, even those bred to provide food, deserve to be treated humanely.

Surprisingly, though, the LAT then veers into cost benefit analysis, arguing that producing eggs in non-cage systems results in 25% higher prices to the consumer.  It’s unclear why this is the comparison, since the Act would not prohibit cage systems if the cages are large enough to allow movement.  Such cages would presumably result in a more modest increase in costs.

But leave that aside.  Leave aside also that the cost estimate was produced by researchers at a school, UC Davis, deep in the heart of ag country.  The real issue is whether we’re willing to treat farm animals with no more decency than the dirt they walk on, if they’re allowed to walk at all.  The NYT has an answer to this, and it’s spot on:  “No philosophy can justify this kind of cruelty, not even the philosophy of cheapness.”

For more information, watch my online streaming video interview at with a representative of Yes on Prop 2.  It airs tomorrow, Thu., 10/16,at  2:00 pm Pacific / 5:00 pm Eastern.  I invited No on 2 as well, but they never got back to me with availability of a representative.