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From  Issue
7 April 2002
Setting The (Humane) Standard

by Gene Bauston, Gene@farmsanctuary.org - Farm Sanctuary
From The Animals' Agenda - March/April 2002

New Jersey is the only state in America with a law requiring the development of standards for the humane treatment of farmed animals, and this provides an unparalleled opportunity to prohibit inhumane factory-farming practices in the United States. Specifically, New Jersey's law, passed in 1995, requires the state Department of Agriculture to produce "standards for humane raising, keeping, care, treatment, marketing, and sale of domestic livestock." Certain practices commonly employed on farms are clearly not humane, and therefore cannot be allowed under meaningful humane standards. Among the cruel systems being banned across Europe -- and which should be banned in New Jersey -- are battery cages, gestation crates, and veal crates.

On industrialized farms, cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals are treated like inanimate commodities rather than as sentient, feeling animals. Farmed animals are specifically excluded from the federal Animal Welfare Act and from most state anti-cruelty laws; as a result, agribusiness systematically subjects animals to intolerable mistreatment with impunity.

During a Farm Sanctuary investigation in early 2000 of ISE egg factory in Broadway, New Jersey, two live hens were found dumped in a trash can full of dead birds. After much effort, ISE was charged with cruelty to animals and taken to court, but shockingly, the judge ruled that the company was not guilty of animal cruelty. Even worse, ISE's lawyer asserted that it was legally acceptable to discard live birds in the garbage and to treat them as if they were manure. When the judge asked, "Isn't there a big distinction between manure and live animals?" ISE's lawyer responded, "No, your honor."

ISE and other egg producers commonly subject egg-laying hens to blatant cruelty and neglect. Most laying hens are confined in battery cages, barren wire enclosures that are lined up in rows, stacked in tiers in huge factory warehouses. The birds are each given just a half square foot of space and packed so tightly that they cannot even stretch their wings. Constantly rubbing against the wires, the birds experience severe feather loss, and their bodies are covered with bruises and abrasions. Every natural chicken behavior is thwarted, and the frustrated birds are driven to excessive pecking and fighting. To reduce the injuries caused by this aberrant behavior, part of the birds' beaks are cut off in a painful procedure called debeaking.

Modern breeding pigs fare not better than egg-laying hens and live a continuous cycle of impregnation, birth, and re-impregnation. They spend most of their lives confined in narrow metal gestation crates where they cannot turn around. These imprisoned animals experience a wide range of physical and psychological disorders. The hard, slatted floors and lack of exercise cause crippling foot, leg, and joint disorders, while constantly rubbing against the bars of t heir crates causes o pen sores. Unable to fulfill their most basic behavioral needs, the highly intelligent pigs suffer from depression and frustration, leading to neurotic coping behaviors such as head-waving, bar-biting, and chewing the air.

Calves raised for veal are confined just as severely, spending their short lives chained by the neck in crates measuring just two feet wide. They are unable to stretch their limbs, turn around, or even lie down comfortably. This confinement prevents exercise and limits muscle development, which keeps the calves' meat tender. Veal producers also restrict the animals' diet, feeding them an all-liquid milk substitute that is purposely deficient in iron and fiber in order to produce borderline anemia and the pale-colored flesh fancied by "gourmets." Calves fed this inadequate diet would not survive to adulthood, and they are typically slaughtered at just 16 to 20 weeks of age.

New Jersey's humane standards were supposed to have been completed in 1996, but the state Department of Agriculture has yet to fulfill it's statutory responsibility, thereby severely hindering proper enforcement of the cruelty laws as they pertain to farmed animals. Indeed, factory farmers as well as livestock transporters have recently argued that the lack of standards has made the New Jersey animal cruelty law unenforceable since the agency has failed to put farmers on notice as to which practices are permissible and which are not. Furthermore, given the fact that the legislature has directed the department to promulgate humane standards, judges hearing cases involving cruelty to farmed animals may be reluctant to substitute their judgment for that of the Department of Agriculture.

A campaign is now under way to compel the Department of Agriculture to take action. So far, the state has received tens of thousands of letters, including several from legislators, urging that it draft meaningful humane standards that outlaw battery cages, gestation crates, veal crates and other cruel farming practices. State Assemblyman Christopher "Kip" Bateman (16th District) summed up the situation well in his letter to the Department: "New Jersey is in a position to play a key role in improving farm animal welfare....I believe we have an opportunity to prohibit inhumane practices that are already outlawed in other countries and should be banned here in the United States."

Gene Bauston is co-founder and Director of Farm Sanctuary, and has a master's degree in agricultural economics from Cornell University.

Your Agenda: Pressure the state agriculture department to comply with the law and draft humane standards that prohibit such cruel farming practices as veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages. Certain farming methods are clearly inhumane, and therefore cannot be allowed. Contact: Dr. Ernest Zirkle, Director, Division of Animal Health, State of New Jersey - Department of Agriculture, John Fitch Plaza, P.O. Box 330, Trenton, NJ 08625; fax 609.292.3978; ernest.zirkle@ag.state.nj.us 

"Reprinted with permission from The Animals' Agenda, P.O. Box 25881, Baltimore, MD 21224; 410.675.4566; www.animalsagenda.org ."
Email: office@animalsagenda.org 

[Editor's Note: Though the author of this article concentrated on New Jersey, it's important that you contact your own state representatives to encourage them to work on humane standards for farm animals. For those outside of the U.S. contact your own officials to find out your country's policies and encourage more humane treatment for animals.]

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