This year, Californians have an opportunity to vote for more humane and ethical treatment of some animals raised in the state and some animal products brought into California. California’s Proposition 12 would close loopholes in an earlier law that aimed to increase space for egg-laying hens. In 2008, a strong majority of voters approved legislation that established landmark, baseline protections for egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and baby veal calves, mandating that they be able to engage in basic natural behaviors such as standing and sitting, extending their limbs, and turning around. Proposition 12 closes some loopholes in that law and expands protections. It would require that all eggs sold in California come from cage-free hens by 2022. It will also require veal and pork sold in California come from animals that are not confined in certain cruel manners. If passed by voters, this initiative will likely improve the animal husbandry practices of some of the largest food animal producers in the country.
Food animal production has significant impact on health, environment, and climate. Factory farms, officially known as “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,” confine more than nine billion animals in the United States. They produce a staggering amount of waste each year, and confine animals in cruel, inhumane conditions. Egg-laying chickens, mother pigs, and veal calves are among the worst-treated animals in the system, often living their entire lives in cages where they cannot stand up or turn around. Scientists are starting to find that higher levels of stress in farm animals may have a negative effect on food safety for humans.
Not only are factory farms stressful and inhumane for many animals, they are also dangerous for the humans who live nearby. These industrial facilities contaminate air, surface waters and drinking water with many dangerous pollutants and they are hotbeds of drug-resistant bacteria (or “superbugs”). Neighbors suffer disproportionately from antibiotic-resistant infections. Many problematic aspects of the factory system need to be changed in order to mitigate harms resulting from these massive, polluting operations. California’s Proposition 12 is an important step in the journey toward reform.
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In addition to potentially record-setting winds and rain putting residents in immediate danger, the storm also threatens to compound risks that frontline communities in North Carolina face every day from two environmental threats: industrial animal production facilities, also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, and coal ash disposal sites.
As CAFO neighbors in rural North Carolina work to pick up the pieces and try to return to their lives, there will be one less layer of protection afforded to them by the federal government.