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When Size Ultimately Doesn’t Matter: Cages

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On the 8th of November 2016, Americans will vote for POTUS and other officials. The voters in the U.S. state of Massachusetts will also be asked to vote on a ballot initiative on whether “to prohibit the sale of eggs, veal, or pork of a farm animal confined in spaces that prevent the animal from lying down, standing up, extending its limbs, or turning around.” If the question were “is it necessary to kill animals for humans to live happy, delicious and healthy lives”, then this would be something to get excited about. However, as a vegan and an advocate, the size of the cage ultimately does not matter when the end result is still death.

With respect to the state’s chickens, all farms but one already use larger cages and, apparently, there are no farms that use crates for baby cows or pigs. Businesses in Massachusetts came up with these practices on their own without any legal obligation because there are no explicit prohibitions against small cages (whether for chickens, baby cows or pigs) in the state’s laws.

It is no surprise that Massachusetts businesses had already adopted this “gilded cage” model because the egg, veal and pork industries, as a whole and throughout the U.S. – e.g. supply side, large restaurant chains, supermarkets and catering businesses – have been heading in that direction since at least 2007 (and see this article and this one for more recent confirmation of these trends). So the odds of established businesses reverting to obsolete practices is slim to none.

Advocates say that this measure will improve the welfare of these animals. They do not ever mention the bit about the killing at the end (or at the beginning for those pesky and useless male chicks). Why is killing outside of welfare (or is it endfare)? Is it humane to kill a perfectly innocent being for no good reason? Is that what we want to advocate and support? In any event, even this claim of improvement in welfare seems misplaced when the industry has already been moving in that direction on its own for so long. In other words, these advocates are advocating for something that already exists and that supports the status quo for animals and not advocating for veganism, which is the only thing that will make any real difference in an animal’s life.

In addition, advocates say that because this law also prohibits the sale of eggs and raw flesh of animals who are reared in small cages, it will make other states that want to trade with Massachusetts up their welfare game and get some lovely gilded cages. Immediately when I read the additional part of the law, my lawyerly spidey sense rang Commerce Clause alarms because the U.S. Constitution provides that only Congress (meaning the government at the federal level) can regulate interstate commerce. A state cannot impose rules and regulations on other states that will impede, restrict or regulate commerce between it and other states. It was amusing to read that Bradley Miller, the national director of the California-based animal rights group, The Humane Farming Association, thought the same thing and called the measure (presumably with a nod to Pirandello) “’a publicity stunt in search of a lawsuit,’” precisely because of Commerce Clause concerns. So, hurrah for full employment for lawyers because if this measure passes and is adopted, there will be lawsuits.

As for the detractors, their only “concern” is that eggs will become more expensive. They claim eggs are “a nutritious staple food used disproportionately by low-income families” and that “[m]ost nutrition advice now favors greater egg consumption, especially for consumers who cannot afford more costly sources of high-quality protein.” The claim about the change in nutrition advice about eggs is patently mistaken. Most nutrition advice does not favour consuming more animal products (eggs or otherwise); rather, quite the opposite.

In addition, the detractors’ concern over the diets of low-income families is disingenuous. It is well established that low-income families in the U.S. shoulder a much greater burden of diet-related, chronic diseases than the population as a whole and that for a variety of reasons they also do not consume enough fruits, vegetables and healthy grains. Therefore, there is no basis upon which to continue to peddle the pernicious myth of the necessity or superiority of animal protein. A much more worthwhile discussion would be an analysis of prices and availability of pulses, grains, fruits and vegetables for low-income residents of the state and what is being done to ensure that everyone has access to, and can afford, such foods.

The “concern” over price and the “concern” over the size of a cage, however, completely fail to take into account or mention that whatever the monetary value of the animal product or the size of the cage, the animal who produced the secretion or whose body parts actually make up the product pays the ultimate price: life. Non-vegans and non-activists would not readily make this connection. However, it seems even animal “activists” fail to do so.

Paul Shapiro, Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States, says “’[t]here have to be some rules with regard to our conduct towards those who can’t defend themselves…. You’re talking about a cost that is extremely modest by any account with regard to not keeping animals locked in tiny cages.’” It seems the rules to defend those who cannot defend themselves clearly allow killing them for no greater reason than they are tasty. And it also seems that the life forcibly ended of the chickens, male chicks, baby cows and pigs are all extremely modest costs that we are willing to pay to satisfy our palates.

At an event at the Massachusetts State House, Matt Bershadker, president and chief executive of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says, “[t]his measure asserts that society will no longer accept the abject suffering of animals as a pathway to profit.” What this implies is that society will accept their slaughter, however, as that very same pathway to profit. Is killing not the ultimate abject suffering?

And Melissa Ghareeb, former barn manager of MSPCA-Nevin’s Farm, says “[i]t is unconscionable to cram animals into cages so small they cannot turn around or extend their limbs.” Is it conscionable, then, to kill them because you like to eat them? What have the animals done to require such extreme retribution from one’s conscience? She also goes on to say that “[v]oters can stop cruelty in its tracks, by voting yes.” Voting is a civic duty that we discharge every so often. Eating is a daily rite under our respective control. I believe that any of us can stop cruelty in its tracks by not using animals to eat their flesh or secretions; we do not need to vote on that and we certainly do not need to donate to anyone to make that happen in our lives.

However, support is what we did, to a tune of over $1.3 million donated to support this ballot initiative, with the Humane Society of the United States contributing the overwhelming majority. Wayne Pacelle, the President of the Humane Society, says that businesses are desperately attempting to defeat the ballot measure and that it is their last stand against ending “extreme confinement.” He also says “they’ll be hard pressed to withstand the influence and reach of our coalition and devoted advocates who toiled to gather the signatures to put this measure before voters.” The fight is not so epic as Mr Pacelle makes it sound. How can I say that? Follow the money, of course. The opposition raised just over $75,000 and spent none. None! That is how “epic” this fight is not. What a colossal waste of resources to get a measure passed that does nothing because 1) Massachusetts farms already use the called-for practices and 2) the animals are still getting killed because we think our taste buds trump their lives. If I had devotedly toiled to get this measure passed, I would be demanding my money and time back.

It should be obvious to you that I abhor the entire practice of caging anyone for no good reason, whatever the size of the cage and that I am not indifferent to the present suffering of animals. However, I will not advocate for gilded cages in the hope that someday the existence of these cages will convince humans to end the slaughter of completely innocent animals. There is no empirical evidence that any of the animal welfare laws or meat reduction campaigns have had any impact in reducing the number of animals killed for food (see here). If we want to end the senseless slaughter of animals, we need more vegans – not more gilded cages. Think about it like this, if I never ask directly for a raise in salary and instead only vaguely ask to be treated better, more kindly, get a better chair and a cute pencil sharpener, I will never see an additional cent. If all those devoted advocates had spent their resources educating themselves and others about going vegan, their efforts would have yielded the results that they – in their hearts – genuinely want: the end of suffering and death of animals.

Educate yourself and others. Please, go vegan.

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