by Dr. Zarah Hedge
I’m proud to be among the nearly 500 veterinarians across California supporting Proposition 12. Prop 12 would prevent unnecessary animal suffering and ensure a safer food supply for California families.
Currently, much of the pork, eggs and veal sold in California is sourced from industrial “factory farms” that cram mother pigs, egg-laying hens and newborn calves in cages so small the animals can barely move an inch. Not only does this result in obvious suffering to the animals, but it also poses a serious risk to consumers.
Just like humans need exercise to maintain a healthy immune system, so do farm animals. When a caged chicken or pig can barely move, her immune system is prone to becoming severely compromised. Combine that with the fact that there are typically hundreds or thousands of other caged animals overcrowded into the same shed, and you’ve got a perfect breeding ground for disease. For example, numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrate that facilities that cage hens are far more likely to harbor the dangerous bacteria Salmonella than cage-free facilities. In fact, over the past decade nearly a billion eggs from caged hens have been recalled due to Salmonella outbreaks. As Poultry World, a leading egg industry publication admitted, “Salmonella thrives in caged housing.”
That’s where Proposition 12 comes in. Prop 12 bans the caging of egg-laying hens, mother pigs and veal calves, reducing the risk of disease for the animals and our families. That’s why the Center for Food Safety strongly supports Prop 12.
Of course, Prop 12 is worth supporting simply to combat animal abuse. Chickens, pigs and cows are intelligent beings who are just as capable of suffering as dogs and cats. When immobilized in a cage, these animals experience constant frustration. (Imagine being locked in a cage the size of a coffin for your entire life). Scientists routinely report classic signs of extreme stress in these animals, including incessant head waving and gnawing on the metal bars in front of them. And for social animals like pigs and calves, who are often confined in isolation, the loneliness is excruciating.
Prop 12 is a commonsense reform that’s bringing together groups that aren’t always on the same page. In addition to the veterinary community, food safety groups, and animal advocates like the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA, more than 100 California farmers have endorsed the measure, as have United Farm Workers, National Womens Farming Association, and National Black Farmers Association. For years, factory farms have undercut more responsible farmers by employing unethical practices like the extreme confinement of farm animals. But responsible farmers are pushing back, supporting modest laws (like Prop 12) that hold all food producers to baseline standards.
These family farms are also better for the environment than mega factory farms that pollute our air, water, and soil. That’s why Sierra Club California endorses Prop 12.
Moreover, switching to cage-free won’t cost Californians much—in fact, it might even save us money. For example, an Iowa State University study found that more humane housing for mother pigs can reduce operating costs, and the American Veal Association has already recommended its members switch to cage-free housing. The egg industry’s own economic analysis finds that switching to cage-free costs producers less than one cent per egg. In fact, McDonald’s has publicly committed to going completely cage-free without raising prices by even a penny. And we can’t forget the potential savings in reduced medical costs: a switch to cage-free will likely reduce the number of hospitalizations due to infections from foodborne bacteria.
You don’t need a degree in veterinary medicine to know it’s wrong to confine an animal in a cage so small she can’t move for her entire life. Let’s all vote YES on 12 to ensure that responsible
California farmers can thrive while producing food that’s both safer and more humane.
Dr. Zarah Hedge is a veterinarian in Los Angeles