In the furor over the outcome of the United States presidential election, an important victory for the animal welfare movement has gone largely unnoticed. On November 8th, Massachusetts voters passed a ballot measure that will improve living conditions for animals all across the country.
New Law Revolutionizes Housing for Farm Animals
The groundbreaking ballot initiative, drafted by a coalition of animal welfare experts and advocates, outlaws the production or sale of pork, veal, and eggs from pigs, calves, and laying hens living in ultra-tight quarters. The primary proponent of the measure, Paul Shapiro, vice president of policy at the Humane Society of the United States, called the win “a historic advancement for animal welfare.”
The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who also vocally supported the measure, called current housing conditions for farm animals “unspeakably savage.” Hens are often confined to cages smaller than an 81/2-by-11 inch piece of paper, and sows restricted to pens so tiny they are unable to move whatsoever. The ballot measure, they said, will ensure that at minimum, animals can stand up, turn around, and stretch their limbs.
Voters Can Prevent Cruelty to Animals
Previous ballot measures have banned certain farming practices, but the Massachusetts measure was the first to outlaw the sale of products from producers who fail to comply with certain standards for animal welfare. “To have an entire states declare that cruelty to farm animals is such a pressing matter that it is establishing a retail standard to ensure that animals are able to at least engage in basic movement really sends a powerful signal” Shapiro said.
The ballot measure grew out of a strategy adopted by a pragmatic group of animal welfare activists: to target aspects of farm animal production that will appeal to the emotions of vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike. This forces companies who own farms where cutting off piglets’ tails without anesthesia is common practice to defend these inhumane choices.
The victory in Massachusetts is the most consequential result of this strategy so far. Nearly 80 percent of voters supported the measure, despite the $302,000 spent by the opposition. The measure will impact farming practices in Massachusetts, as well as any place producers plan to sell goods to the 6.7 million individuals living in Massachusetts.
Changing the Farming Industry from the Outside In
Shapiro intends to replicate the success of the Massachusetts campaign in other population-dense states with liberal majorities. The Humane Society will partner with an outside polling firm to determine the cities and states where similar measures would be most likely to pass.
This ingenious strategy can result in widespread changes to the food system, without relying on meat and dairy producers themselves to agree to the changes. If cities and states nationwide demand that their chicken, beef, pork, eggs, and dairy come from companies that prioritize animal welfare, the farming and agricultural industry will have no choice but to comply.