National Legislation Introduced to End Gestation Crates in Pig Industry
As the pig industry rails against state and corporate policies aimed at banning the housing of sows in two-foot by seven-foot gestation crates, Congresswomen Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and Nancy Mace, R-S.C., have proposed a nifty and straightforward solution: ban the crates nationwide. Level the playing field for producers, corporations, and consumers. No more patchwork of state laws and corporate policies. One national standard that provides a minimum amount of space for the 5 million sows who give birth to 120 million pigs a year sent to slaughter.
Their bill, the Pigs in Gestation Stalls (PIGS) Act, H.R 7004, would end the era of extreme confinement of sows. It is not prescriptive about other important animal welfare standards. It starts with one notion: motion. Animals used in food production should be allowed to move.
The PIGS Act draws dollars from the National Pork Check-Off program to help pig farmers who have not yet made the transition to crate-free housing. Congress could up that dollar figure if it chooses to do so. Federal lawmakers already dole out billions in support to the industry, and it could redirect some of those dollars to make sure that the animals at the center of the industry – who provide wealth for their owners and sustenance for their end users – are taken care of, at least a little.
Allowing Farm Animals to Move Not a Novel Idea
In the 1960s, scientists in the U.K. developed a framework called the “Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare,” and one of them was that animals should be offered space to move. They shouldn’t, in a word, be trapped in a cage or crate that immobilizes them.
The idea has had its own simple logic and force and has been widely accepted as an animal-care baseline standard in the free world. Consumers have volition and speak with their wallets and also through their elected representatives to breathe life into that principle.
California voters said they want nothing to do with extreme confinement of farm animals in a landslide vote 14 years ago by-passing Proposition 2 and then strengthening it further by-passing Prop 12 in 2018. Voters in Florida in 2002 and in Arizona in 2006 showed the way by voting in overwhelming numbers to ban extreme confinement of sows. And in 2016, Massachusetts voters, with 78 percent of voters favoring the measure, passed a measure that banned in-state confinement and also called for pork, eggs, and veal sold in the state to conform to those same standards.
In all, 10 states – with more than 100 million people between them – have also passed laws banning gestation crates, and so has the entire European Union, with 450 million people. More than 60 of the largest food retailers – who serve all 330 million Americans – have pledged to stop buying pork from operations that confine breeding sows, with many of them promising to put their sourcing policies in place by the close of 2022.
McDonald’s announced in 2012 that it “believes gestation stalls are not a sustainable production system for the future.” Kroger announced that “a gestation crate-free environment is more humane and that the pork industry should work toward gestation crate-free housing.” Costco said it wants “all of the hogs throughout our pork supply chain to be housed in groups” and said, “this transition should be accomplished no later than 2022.”
Closing Out the 60-Year Experiment of Extreme Confinement
The veal and egg industries have accepted that cage or crate confinement as a routine animal husbandry practice is no longer acceptable to consumers. The cattle industry has never kept animals in cages, and for most of the animals’ lives, they live on pastures. But the pig industry seems confounded by the idea that there’s a problem with routine, lifetime cage confinement.
The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and other agribusiness players have filed a torrent of lawsuits to undermine California’s Proposition 12, which is set to take full effect in 2022 and which bans the sale of pork to the state’s 40 million consumers if the meat derives from operations using gestation crates. At least 10 federal court rulings have rejected their claims, and now NPPC and the American Farm Bureau Federation are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the statute.
With their constitutional claims undercut by the courts so far, the pork industry has been doing its best to manufacture a consumer crisis, falsely claiming that Prop 12 will cause bacon prices to surge in California. But, in a case of unfortunate timing for them, agribusiness giants are playing defense because of inflated meat prices that hit consumers well before the ballot measure took effect. The Biden Administration has called out price-gouging by the highly consolidated meat industry, including meat packers. Its “the greed of meat conglomerates,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “You could call it jacking up prices during a pandemic.”
The industry has made its own appeal to Congress for relief from state standards. They have reprised the infamous “King amendment,” named for former Congressman Steve King of Iowa, to forbid any state from restricting the means of agricultural production. Their bill, the Exposing Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act, would not only bar state or local animal welfare standards, but also nullify limits on the use of dangerous pesticides, unsafe working conditions, and untreated manure being spilled into rivers and streams. The Congress, which has never passed any animal welfare standards for animals on farms, would emerge as the sole, all-powerful authority for all agriculture policy in the country.
Force Feeding Their Customers
Foie gras (“fatty liver) is generally produced by sticking a pneumatic feeding device down the throat of ducks and geese and pumping in volumes of corn, swelling their livers to 10 times its normal size. The duck or goose is killed, and high-end consumers eat the diseased, gorged liver.
The pork industry isn’t force-feeding pigs. But it is, in a way, trying to force-feed American consumers. Take the 50 million consumers in California and Massachusetts. The industry is demanding they continue to eat pork that comes from factory farms, all the while pleading with the federal courts and the Congress to unwind state policies. Just eat your pork the way we serve it up, they tell their customers. Be quiet. We know best.
That’s called one thing: contempt for your customers.
Mind you, California and Massachusetts voters have not said that they don’t want pork coming in. If an Iowa pork producer wants to sell into the California market, he or she simply must give the animals space. Major corporations, including Tyson and Perdue, and thousands of farmers are already abiding by these standards and selling their pork into those markets and around the rest of the nation. Niman Ranch, a cooperative of 600 farmers in the Midwest, raise animals in extensive systems. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
Farm Animals Are Animals, Too
Most Americans would be shocked to learn that there are no federal laws to protect animals on farms. The pork industry takes billions in subsidies from the federal government, but squeals at pitch level when that same federal government asks them to have minimum standards of care for animals. Consistency is not their strong suit.
The industry will respond by saying it has its own animal-care standards, but they are voluntary and do not address the most basic standards of care, including extreme confinement, mutilation, or psychological well-being.
It’s long past time that pork producers align their production practices with the values of the American public. That’s the problem they face. Keeping animals in cages doesn’t pass the smell test, especially in a society with anti-cruelty laws and norms.
In the end, it’s not a big ask from Congresswomen Escobar and Mace. You make your living off the animals – just do a little something for the mother pigs.