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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How Farm Animal Reforms Also Benefit Residents

Florida became the first state to ban gestation crates for breeding pigs in 2002, and since then, six other states have followed suit on the extreme confinement of farm animals. The Broward-Palm Beach New Times published a feature story this week by Kristen Hinman looking at the national debate over farm animal welfare, which began in Florida eight years ago. There have not only been new public policies addressing these abuses, but corporate policies phasing in crate-free pork and cage-free eggs, and heightened consumer awareness about inhumane factory farming practices.

The accompanying business blog by Gail Shepherd focuses on the impact the Florida measure has had on farmers, and it’s an interesting read. Agribusiness opponents of proposals to phase out crates and cages typically bloviate about putting farmers out of business, but Shepherd’s piece shows just the opposite to be true.

Sow in gestation crate at Ohio factory farm
Humane Farming Association

Since the measure passed, no industrial hog farms have set up shop in Florida, meaning the state hasn’t had to deal with the air and water pollution and other problems associated with large hog states like North Carolina. And it’s opened the door for more small businesses and family farmers, who use more humane methods of animal husbandry and are not pushed out by the industrial factory farms cutting corners at the expense of animal welfare, the environment, and food safety. The ballot measure created a business-friendly environment for family farmers like Matt Thomas, who started Little Pig Farm in Homosassa, Fla., five years ago. He raises pigs without gestation crates, hormones, or antibiotics.

Factory farms are harming, not helping, rural communities. The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, an independent panel which included farmers, veterinarians, and public officials, studied these issues and concluded:

  • Industrialization has been accompanied by increasing farm size and gross farm sales, lower family income, higher poverty rates, lower retail sales, lower housing quality, and lower wages for farm workers.
  • The industrialization of American agriculture has transformed the character of agriculture itself and, in so doing, the face of rural America. The family-owned farm…is largely gone as an economic entity, replaced by ever larger industrial farms… and rural communities have fared poorly.
  • Reduced civic participation rates, higher levels of stress, and other less tangible impacts have all been associated with high concentrations of industrial farm production.

The commission recommended phasing out battery cages for laying hens, gestation crates for breeding sows, and veal crates for calves as one step toward correcting these problems; these policy reforms not only advance animal welfare, but also support family farmers and rural communities. That’s why more than 100 California farmers, including Bill Niman, Prather Ranch, Dobson Dairy Ranch, Eatwell Farms, Rumsey Farms, Flores Ranch, Lunny Ranch, and U.S. Farms, Inc., had actively supported Proposition 2 in 2008. And the ballot measure now being circulated by Ohioans for Humane Farms has already been endorsed by the United Farm Workers, the Ohio Environmental Stewardship Alliance, Farm Forward, the Organic Consumers Association, and other groups that support family farmers.

Ohioans for Humane Farms treasurer Tom Harrison, a retired sheep farmer, recently commented on the problems with industrialized agribusiness: “In these large operations...they don’t worry about the environment or how it affects the community—or about the animals.” And Wood County resident Vickie Askins, who grew up on an Ohio farm, says the landscape has changed so much she can hardly breathe: “It’s not just manure. I grew up around that smell with the dairy cows we had. But it’s more like a toxic smell...Imagine what it’s like for the animals inside.” Askins and others have been fighting to stop mega-factories from destroying their communities, and they see hope in the ballot initiative campaign to phase out crates and cages. “We are just so happy to get some help up here,” she said.

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