By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
The animal rights movement may be the most successful campaign to change corporate practice since the labor movement in the early 20th century. Emphasizing healthy diet, environmental impacts of factory farming and the treatment of animals has led to a series of changes that affect millions of animals. Some feel concern about your fellow beings starts with taking an interest in what the lives of those affected are like each day.
Many advocates point out that caged hens have the cruelest daily treatment among current US food production. Around 95% of egg-laying hens spend their entire lives in cages too small to fully spread their wings. Cages are smaller than the average sheet of paper but it is common for 3 or more hens to be in one cage. The process is illegal in Europe and has led to a public outcry among animal rights advocates in the US. Many point to what the industry calls cage fatigue – a problem where the hens suffer bone loss due to the confined conditions to a point of paralysis. Whole Foods is the only national grocer to ban the sale of eggs from caged hens. Burger King is the only major restaurant chain to promise to stop using the practice. Many consumers have given up eggs entirely or have switched to certified humane eggs which are independently third party verified as having ample space and care in handling.
In the lives of pigs a battle for their well-being focuses on the use of gestation crates. These crates hold about 80 percent of the United States 5.5 million breeding pigs and are where they spend their entire lives. The pregnant pigs are unable to engage in basic behaviors such as turning around or lie down to sleep at night. In recent years, nine states have banned the use of crates including Arizona in 2006. A number of large corporations-such as Smithfield Foods, Oscar Mayer, Costco and Hormel-have already phased out or are beginning to phase out pork from crate systems. The immobilization of pigs in crates is highly damaging for them, both mentally from confinement and physically through muscle and bone loss. Infection is common in the process leading to sickness, death and some fear an effect on the meat being consumed by humans.
Veal is perhaps the most controversial area in meat production. Young calves are separated from their mom often days after birth. They are then raised with little room to move, are deprived of exposure to the outdoors, and experience social and sensory deprivation. Campaigns have grown since the 1980’s to stop this treatment and several states,including Arizona, have banned the veal crates as has the UK and European Union. The American Veal Association has announced their plan to phase out the use of crates by 2017. Strauss Brands led the way by raising veal calves completely tether-free and group-raised in the United States.
These controversial practices have changed due to campaigns which raise awareness of the conditions animals are living in, by campaigns to bring corporate and legislative change and by individuals switching to more humanely raised products. Perhaps the most impact is due to consumers who have given up meat entirely. The pressure to improve an industry comes from the public being aware of these practices and working together for change.
A free presentation on animal rights advocacy with Queenie Tsui, a longtime advocate, will be held on Saturday February 2nd 7:30pm at Aside of Heart as part of the buildup to Humane Lobby Day at the Arizona State Capital on Wednesday February 6th.