Friday, April 18, 2008

Colo. Legislature Sends Enlightened Farm Animal Welfare Measure to Governor

Mohandas Ghandi (the Mahatma) once said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated." Colorado just took a giant karmic step in the right direction with some enlightened legislation.

On April 7, the House gave final approval to a bill that will phase out the use of veal crates and gestation crates in Colorado. The measure came at the recommendation of a coalition of Colorado-based animal agriculture organizations and The Humane Society of the United States.

SB 201 was introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Jim Isgar (D-Hesperus) and House Agriculture Committee Chair Kathleen Curry (D-Gunnison). Governor Bill Ritter and Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp played a crucial and leading role in the negotiations. When Governor Bill Ritter signs the bill -- which rumor tells us he'll do -- Colorado will be the fourth state to prohibit gestation crates and the second to prohibit veal crates.

We've talked about the dangers of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and other "factory farm" measures in relation to raising cattle for beef. (See previous post "The Great Grass vs. Corn Debate.") The same thing goes for chickens, veal and pigs.

Chickens are typically raised in warehouses where thousands of birds are crowded together with barely enough room to turn around (more on this later). Veal and pork come from animals raised in crates as well. In industrial hog production, Michael Pollan tells us that it's not uncommon to find "tens of thousands of hogs spending their entire lives ignorant of earth or straw or sunshine, crowded together beneath a metal roof standing on metal slats suspended over a septic tank." And according to the American Humane Society, in the U.S., nearly six million breeding sows suffer a similar fate: "throughout nearly their entire four-month pregnancies, they're are confined inside individual metal gestation crates barely bigger than their own bodies, unable to perform many of their natural behaviors."

Currently, there is no veal industry in Colorado; however, according to The Humane Society, nearly 150,000 breeding pigs are confined in gestation crates across the state. This is what that looks like:

You've got to wonder what Ghandi would say to that! For both calves and pigs, intensive confinement in crates causes painful and severe welfare problems -- not to mention an issue with concentrated waste. The entire European Union has already banned gestation crates, effective in 2007 and 2013, respectively; however, in the United States, the use of these abusive crates remains customary practice.

Thank goodness, we live in an enlightened state.

SB 201 phases out veal crates within four years, and it phases out gestation crates within 10 years. It also jumpstarts a process, to be administered by the Agriculture Commissioner, to allow for ongoing deliberation about animal welfare issues in animal agriculture.

Here are some related items of interest, compliments of The Humane Society:
  • Florida, Arizona and Oregon have prohibited gestation crates. Arizona has prohibited veal crates. And nearly 800,000 Californians have signed petitions to initiate a measure to prohibit veal crates, gestation crates and battery cages (for chickens).
  • Smithfield Foods, the largest U.S. pig producer, is phasing out gestation crates, and the American Veal Association voted to urge the entire veal industry to phase out veal crates.
  • Colorado-based chain Chipotle already refuses to buy any pork from producers that use gestation crates.
  • Chains such as Safeway, Burger King, Carl's Junior and Hardees have also implemented policies to reduce their reliance on gestation crate pork.

I don't know about you, but I'm tickled pink to live in a state that's in the vanguard on these issues. Congratulations to our legislators, coalitions and citizens on a job well done!

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