Cool to be kind

“The greatness of a nation,” Mohandas Gandhi once wrote, “and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Granted, most of us aren’t going to be able to live up to the standards of Gandhi, whose belief that humans have an obligation to nourish themselves in ways that don’t cause suffering for other creatures led him to vegetarianism. But even those of us who do eat meat can agree that we have some responsibilities to the animals we depend upon for food. We can act, as consumers and as voters, to provide reasonable protections for them, to support sustainable and humane farming practices, and to push for progress at every opportunity.

That’s why we support Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act that will appear on the California state ballot in November. The initiative, endorsed by the Humane Society, the California Veterinary Medical Association and the Sierra Club, and opposed by corporate agribusiness, would do away with three of the very worst abuses of modern factory farming: battery cages used to confine egg-laying hens, gestation crates used on pregnant pigs and veal crates. It’s an important step forward, and we urge readers to support it.

You don’t have to be a bleeding heart to object to the kind of cages that would be banned under Proposition 2. Battery cages confine egg-laying hens so tightly they can’t spread their wings, walk, perch, dust bathe or engage in other basic, natural behaviors. Gestation cages confine pregnant female pigs in stalls 2 feet wide, so that they can’t walk or turn around; while veal crates confine calves so young that they would normally still be nursing in crates too narrow for them to turn around or lie down comfortably, typically while tethered at the neck.

It should be obvious that animals kept in these extreme forms of confinement are going to suffer, and studies have shown that these types of cages cause physical problems such as joint disorders and lameness, as well as behaviors that veterinarians describe indicative of frustration. It should be equally apparent that such strict confinement isn’t necessary and is only utilized because it saves agribusiness a few pennies on the dollar, and because those who run these corporations believe the public doesn’t care.

Your vote for Proposition 2 can help to change that. The initiative would phase out battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates by requiring that animals have at least enough room to turn around and to extend their limbs. This is a modest, moderate reform offering a basic protection against the worst kinds of abusive confinement.

Proposition 2 isn’t perfect, and there are a host of issues related to the treatment of farm animals and the unsustainability of factory farming that it doesn’t address. But it’s start, and a chance to do away with some of the most egregious abuses. The European Union, as well as the states of Florida, Arizona, Oregon and Colorado, is already phasing out these kinds of extreme confinement. California should join them November 4.