War on Breakfast! — Really?

Julia Lubas/High Country News

In early January, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley took to his home state’s flagship newspaper, the Des Moines Register, to rail against California’s “war on breakfast.” The strongest animal welfare law in the nation had just gone into effect, and, according to Grassley, it threatened Iowa’s behemoth pork industry.

California’s Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act, or Proposition 12, mandates that factory farms make more physical space for some animals to reposition their limbs and move around. If factory farms across the country don’t comply, they’ll be barred from selling to the Golden State’s coveted consumers, who make up a whopping 15% of the United States pork market.

In 2018, the law passed with 63% of Californian voters supporting it. But in the years following, the powerful pork industry waged a protracted legal campaign to overturn it, filing three lawsuits alleging that it posed a serious threat to their business model…“Pork producers decided not to comply,” said Chris Green, the executive director of Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Program. “Instead, they pinned everything on litigation. And now that their litigation failed multiple times, they’re in this panic.”

California’s new law means that any pork companies that want to sell pork in California now have to give breeding mother pigs and their bacon-destined piglets enough space to stand up, turn around and stretch their limbs without touching another animal or the sides of an enclosure. To standardize the regulation for farmers, the law requires 24 feet of floor space for each sow and her piglets, a number based on welfare standards set by farm animal organizations.

For pork producers looking to sell to California’s large market, the requirement effectively bans a common practice: keeping pregnant mothers in gestation crates, which are metal cages designed to confine a sow while she is forcibly artificially inseminated through multiple pregnancies. The cages are unsparing. Josh Balk, the vice president of Animal Welfare at the Humane Society who led the campaign to pass the law, says it is the equivalent to spending your life in a coffin. “Can you imagine the pain, suffering and fear when you can’t turn around for four years? Pigs are social, smart creatures. If you did this to a dog, you’d be arrested in every state.”

Cruelty to animals no matter your diet, ethics or understanding of pain, restriction…especially for social animals is a crime. Folks aren’t debating nutritional standards or vegan philosophical roots here. Nor are these farmers raising protein amoebas. Cruel practices in farming – whether individual owners or factory behemoths – are not justifiable.

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