Why 2016 Is a Pivotal Year in the Fight for Farm Animal Welfare

This year is shaping up to be a pivotal one in the fight against inhumane practices in the meat and egg industries.


A tidal wave of grocery and restaurant companies have announced that they’ll require their egg suppliers to stop locking hens in metal cages so small the birds can’t even extend their wings. The voters of Massachusetts will have the opportunity to pass a ballot measure that would prohibit the extreme confinement of hens, pigs and calves, and also set a standard so that meat and eggs sold in the state meet this commonsense requirement. And 94 percent of Americans say they believe it’s important to ensure that animals used for food aren’t abused.

Many in the food industry see the writing on the wall and are switching to more humane housing systems. In fact, as of July, all of the top 25 grocers in the nation announced cage-free timelines. But some industry lobbyists are continuing to fight lost battles, while also trying to block future reforms. Slathering campaign contributions around state capitol buildings, these lobbyists have convinced some lawmakers to introduce misleading legislation intended to subvert popular animal welfare measures. Thanks to the work of animal advocates across the country, these efforts have almost all been defeated.

Perhaps the most dangerous type of attack has the most innocuous title: Right to Farm. It’s the perfect example of a straw man argument, implying that without it, citizens won’t have a right to farm. The true goal is to exploit the public’s respect for responsible farmers to insert language into state constitutions barring virtually any restriction of “livestock production and ranching practices.” Of course, that includes practices that consumers (and independent animal welfare scientists) find morally reprehensible, such as extreme confinement, or mutilating animals without painkillers. Thankfully, The Humane Society of the United States, along with local and national allies, has been able to shine enough light on these undemocratic efforts to stop the Right to Farm measures introduced in state legislatures in 2016, including in Indiana and Nebraska. Volunteers and non-profits across Oklahoma are working hard to defeat a similar measure on the ballot in that state this November.

Fortunately, a different (but equally cynical) ploy by factory farming corporations appears to be on the decline. These “Ag-gag” measures come in many different forms, but the intent is always the same: to suppress or intimidate whistleblowers from documenting conditions at factory farms. Over the past several years, a broad coalition of advocates for animal welfare, food safety, the environment and the First Amendment has defeated more than 30 ag-gag bills across the country. Perhaps growing tired of the harsh media coverage resulting from trying to keep the public in the dark, this year agribusinesses only introduced one ag-gag measure, in Tennessee. We were able to help stop it before it gained momentum.

Animal advocates have also helped halt legislative efforts to weaken existing or future animal protection measures in Massachusetts, West Virginia and Arizona. We have no illusions that these attacks will end anytime soon, and animals need kind-hearted people everywhere to continue to speak out. And we’ll continue to work proudly with forward-thinking CEOs, lawmakers and consumers who are committed to further progress in shaping a more humane society.

RELATED STORIES

Here's Proof That the Humane Treatment of Farm Animals Is Now a Mainstream Issue

Pragmatism vs. Purity: How Animal Advocates Are Taking on the Meat Lobby—and Winning

Walmart's Decision to Switch to Cage-Free Eggs Signals End of Era of Extreme Confinement for Hens

Horrific Treatment of Hens at New England’s Largest Egg Producer Revealed by Undercover Investigation

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