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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Stimulating Markets for Farm Animal Welfare

Seven states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, and Oregon—have passed laws to phase out some of the most extreme types of confinement on industrial factory farms, where animals are basically immobilized in small crates and cages for their entire lives. The largest pork and veal producers in the country have pledged to phase out crates and move toward group housing of calves and breeding pigs. The largest food retailers—like Burger King, Safeway, Denny’s, IHOP, and Wendy’s—are increasingly using cage-free eggs. Just in the last few weeks, Wal-Mart announced that its store brand of eggs are all cage-free, and Hellman’s announced that its light mayonnaise uses only cage-free eggs and its regular mayonnaise will, too.

Chicken
The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty would require that
any food purchased for federal programs meet animal welfare
standards.

Now, some lawmakers want the federal government to support this growing marketplace trend. U.S. Reps. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) and Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) this week introduced the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, H.R. 4733, to require that any food purchased for federal programs come from animals raised in a way that they had adequate space to stand up, lie down, turn around, and stretch their limbs. Watson is the chair of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement, which oversees federal purchasing policy, and Gallegly is the co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus; both lawmakers had backed Proposition 2 in their home state of California which bans the use of crates for veal calves and breeding pigs and cages for egg-laying hens.

The legislation is a modest approach that allows the federal government to lead by example. The policy would stimulate markets for producers using higher animal welfare standards and ensure that federal tax dollars are spent in a manner consistent with the government’s longstanding commitment to the humane treatment of animals. Just as the federal government already requires contractors to meet various standards, including wage and labor requirements, and fuel economy standards for government vehicles, it can require them to meet animal welfare standards.

It also mirrors the approach taken by Congress in the original Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which when passed in 1958 only applied to slaughter plants that sold meat to the federal government. The policy was later expanded to include all USDA-inspected slaughter plants. The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act applies only to those producers who voluntarily choose to do business with the federal government. Federal procurement is estimated to involve approximately 1% of total meat, eggs, and dairy products sold in the U.S.

Both the U.S. House of Representatives’ and the U.S. Senate’s cafeteria already uses cage-free eggs, and the Watson-Gallegly legislation would allow other federal food purchases—such as the National School Lunch Program—to lead by example and set a higher animal welfare standard as well. Animals built to move should be allowed to move, and it’s the most basic of requirements that they shouldn’t be crammed into small crates and cages for virtually their entire lives.

If the nation’s largest food companies can do it, it’s time for the federal government to play a role and help keep the market moving in the right direction. Contact your members of Congress today and ask them to support the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.

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