Animals raised for food currently have no federal protection, but Congress will soon consider changing that. A bill called the “Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act” (HR 4733) has been introduced in the House of Representatives that would follow the lead of several states by taking a stand against gestation crates, veal crates, and battery cages. These are three methods of confining animals that are widespread (to the point of ubiquity) in factory farms and that cause animals relentless suffering.
Gestation crates are small metal cages only two feet wide that prevent pregnant pigs from turning around and even lying down comfortably). Sows spend most of their adult lives in these crates as they are inseminated soon after they give birth and thus kept pregnant over four out of every five months. Gestation crates cripple pregnant pigs and cause obesity. The fumes and toxins produced from the concentration of so many animals in one space sicken them (and the humans who “take care of” them). Pigs are smart animals, and the constant confinement, lack of activity or stimulation, and pain lead to neurotic behaviors like biting the bars of their cages over and over, or chewing on nothing.
Veal crates are also about two feet wide. Baby calves taken away from their mothers right after birth are chained by their necks inside these tiny wooden crates to keep them from moving – muscles would make their meat tougher. (Veal producers also deprive them of iron and fiber so their meat will be white.) Calves in veal crates never get to run, stretch, turn around, or even lie down comfortably, and they never will. They are usually killed at four or five months of age for “special-fed” veal or after just three weeks of life for “bob” veal.
Battery cages provide about four inches per hen in compliance with federal guidelines. Poultry producers cram four chickens into each 16-inch wide cage in order to maximize the number of eggs they can collect per square inch. The birds cannot spread their wings or lie down. They stand on wire mesh that cuts into their feet; sometimes their toes grow around the wire. The walls of the cage rub off the birds’ feathers and cause blood blisters. With no outlet to express their natural urges to dust bathe and to peck at the ground, birds peck at and injure each other (most have the ends of their beaks burned off as chicks in a painful, mutilating procedure intended to prevent this pecking). The concentration of so many hens in one space creates so much ammonia that it sickens the birds, hurting their lungs and making their eyes burn.
The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act would not outlaw any of these cages, or any other form of cruelty against animals raised for food. It would only prevent the federal government from buying the meat of animals who were confined in gestation crates, veal crates, or battery cages. Several states have already gone further than this by banning these crates and cages, including Michigan, California, and Ohio, which banned or placed a moratorium on new gestation crates, veal crates, and battery cages; Colorado, Arizona, and Maine, which banned gestation and veal crates; and Oregon and Florida, which banned gestation crates. (All but Florida have phase-out periods before the prohibitions kick in. The federal law includes a two-year phase-out.)
Nevertheless, the federal bill is necessary. The major existing federal anti-cruelty statute, the Animal Welfare Act, excludes “farm animals, such as, but not limited to livestock or poultry, used or intended for use as food or fiber.” The only statute that offers animals any protection from the cruelty inherent in agribusiness is the Humane Slaughter Act, which is primarily honored in the breach. Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz documents the frequent violations of the Humane Slaughter Act in horrific detail. And the Humane Slaughter Act does not protect poultry, thanks to a USDA regulation that hacks away at the statute. There is no federal law that prohibits cruelty to animals in factory farms for their entire lives before slaughter, and no federal law that gives poultry any protection at all.
It would be a victory just to have Congress adopt the Declaration of Policy in the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act: “It is the policy of the United States that the raising of livestock for food production shall be consistent with the basic principles of animal welfare.” More importantly, this bill would result in improvements to the lives of millions of farm animals because the federal government is one of the country’s biggest purchasers of meat. Paul Shapiro, Senior Director of the Factory Farming Campaign at the Humane Society of the United States, notes that the federal government buys approximately 1% of all the meat sold nationally. That translates to close to four million animals each year who would be spared three cruel forms of confinement, and in reality, the reforms would help many more animals than that as producers converted their entire facilities in order to qualify as government suppliers. Right there are four million reasons to contact your representative and ask her or him to support HR 4733.