Vegans And Meat-Eaters Unite To Support California's Proposition 2

Proposition 2, a sweeping California ballot initiative designed to improve the treatment that farm animals receive, will be decided by voters on November 4th. The proposition, co-sponsored by the Humane Society and Farm Sanctuary, the biggest farm-animal-rights group in the United States, requires that by 2015 farm animals be able to stand up, lie down, turn around and fully extend their limbs. If passed, the measure would ban the two-foot-wide crates that regularly confine pregnant pigs and calves raised for veal, as well as "battery cages," in which several hens are crammed into a small wire-mesh cage.

Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register asserts that although the bill will primarily affect egg-laying operations, as the state has little pork or beef industry, "the measure could have ramifications well beyond California if it passes."

If nothing else, it would send a message to the next Congress, which is likely to be one of the most liberal in history. "One of the major effects will be on the retail sector," said Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, which has spent more than $4 million so far on the campaign to pass Proposition 2. "It will be another indicator that the public finds these intensive confinement practices are out of bounds and unacceptable."

Passing the measure also would provide "additional momentum to our efforts at the federal level," Pacelle said.

Maggie Jones of the New York Times Magazine describes how Pacelle, who recently succeeded in shuttering $100 million strikingly inhumane Westland/Hallmark Meat Company slaughter house with the help of an undercover investigator wearing a hidden video camera with a lens the size of the tip of a pen, resulting in the largest beef recall in U.S. history, has been working feverishly to garner support for Proposition 2.

The question, as Pacelle sees it, is how to create change when Big Agriculture, with its big money, has made it nearly impossible to get meaningful farm-animal-welfare legislation passed. Here the ballot-initiative process is crucial, since it offers an end run around legislators by taking issues directly to voters. Another key element in Pacelle's strategy has been to create ballot measures that offer only modest reforms on which both vegans and hamburger lovers (at least many of them) can agree. That tactic, however, has earned Pacelle his share of critics, including some who claim that while the ballot initiatives may seem moderate, they are just a first step in a vegan agenda to dictate what Americans eat. On the other side, extreme vegan groups say Pacelle has sold out, giving carnivores a reason to feel virtuous about eating "happy meat." Pacelle counters that he can't please everybody: "Part of my job is to challenge certain orthodoxies. For people who want a vegan revolution -- that's too passive for me."

Tom Hennessy wrote a column in the Press Telegram in support of Proposition 2. In it he recalls Pacelle's recent appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Pacelle began the program by saying this:

"This is just about basic decency. It's not a debate of vegetarianism versus meat eating. It's about if animals are going to be raised for food - and that's certainly the case in this country - then the least we can do for them is allow them to move. What's more basic than allowing animals with legs and wings to move around?"

Winfrey intervened to say, "I'm sure there are a lot of people watching who say, `Well, what do I care? It's just a chicken."'

That, said Pacelle, plays to the industry's "view that animals are commodities, they're units of production, they're objects." Each chicken, he notes, has 67 square inches of living space, or two-thirds the size of a sheet of paper.

Washington Post reporter Ashley Surdin recently pointed out that critics of the bill insist the regulations would harm farmers, as non-cage systems would increase their production costs at least 20 percent. Proponents of the bill, however, refer to the 2 1/2 -year independent analysis "Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Production in America."

The study found that factory farming takes a hidden toll on human health and the environment, is undermining rural America's economic stability and fails to provide the humane treatment of livestock increasingly demanded by American consumers. In particular, the report found that keeping thousands of animals in close quarters spreads disease quickly, spurring factory farms to treat animals with antibiotics that in some cases render medications less effective in people.

Among other things, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production called for a 10-year phaseout of cages and gestation crates. A similar plan was passed by the European Union, which ordered its farmers to phase out the cages by 2012.