Ours is a country of animal lovers. It's not just Fido curled up at our feet we feel for, but as a society, we believe that all animals — including those raised for food — deserve humane treatment. Statistics prove the point — a poll by the American Farm Bureau found that 95 percent of Americans believe farm animals should be well cared for.
Those of us in Connecticut are no different in this regard. The Provision State has strong animal cruelty laws such as our anti-dog-fighting law. And now, we have the chance to pass legislation that would further align our animal welfare laws with our values.
The Connecticut General Assembly is considering a bill that would ban the use of small crates that are used in the pork industry to cage breeding pigs during their pregnancies.
Pigs in gestation crates suffer among the worst conditions in all of industrial agribusiness because of the duration and severity of their confinement. They spend their lives virtually immobilized in crates barely larger than their bodies, enduring a cycle of repeated impregnation. The crates are about two feet wide — so small the animals can't even turn around or take more than a step forward or backward.
This immobilization causes them to suffer muscle and bone weakness that often leads to lameness. The harm goes beyond physical ailments and injuries. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that housing should be designed to "allow sows to express normal patterns of behavior," while noting that "stall systems restrict normal behavioral expression." Since these intelligent, inquisitive animals are denied any mental stimulation, many become neurotic when confined in gestation crates. They engage in repetitive coping behaviors, such as constantly biting the bars in front of them.
Gestation crates are so inhumane that nine U.S. states, including Maine and Rhode Island, have passed laws to ban them. New Jersey could soon become the 10th state, while Massachusetts, New York and Vermont are considering similar laws. The European Union has also passed legislation to outlaw gestation crates.
A statewide survey conducted recently by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research finds that an overwhelming majority of Connecticut voters favor legislation to require that breeding pigs have enough space to stand up, lie down, turn around and fully extend their limbs. Large majorities in all demographic groups and party affiliations support such legislation — 91 percent of voters overall.
Smithfield Foods, the nation's largest pork producer, and Hormel Foods, maker of SPAM, have already announced that they will end the confinement of sows in gestation crates in their company-owned facilities. Additionally, major corporations such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and more than 40 others have recently announced that they will end gestation crate use in their supply chains.
These welcome developments signal a reversal in a three-decade-old trend in the pork industry to use extreme confinement as a shortcut for old-fashioned animal husbandry. Meanwhile, many traditional family farmers have avoided using gestation crates all along.
The measure before the legislature would ensure that pigs can turn around, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. Free range or group housing systems allow this degree of motion, and it makes a big difference for the animals.
This bill would be a win for both animals and Connecticut's farmers as it promotes best practices and prevents large-scale factory farms from coming to Connecticut and putting our local farmers out of business as has happened elsewhere.
Our values and common sense tell us that farm animals should be able to at least have enough space to turn around, and by codifying this into law, Connecticut will demonstrate its strength in leadership by outlawing gestation crates.
Annie Hornish is the Connecticut state director for The Humane Society of the United States.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun