Consumers Vote For Better Farmed Animal Welfare
According to a poll by Data for Progress (DFP), consumers are willing to change the way they shop for meat and dairy products to support the ethical treatment of animals farmed for food. DFP’s research — which explores U.S. consumers’ attitudes toward animal welfare issues and California’s recent “Proposition 12” initiative — shows that for 80% of likely voters, preventing animal cruelty is a matter of personal moral concern.
Minimum Space Standards
The Proposition 12, or Prop 12, initiative passed with a 63% majority in California, making it a milestone moment in the history of farmed animal rights. The law bans the sale of eggs, veal, and pig products from animals who were maintained in cruel conditions and unsanitary environments during their short lives.
Unlike the basic laws that exist to protect animals used in research or in zoos, farmed animals have no protection under current U.S. laws. Hence, they can be maintained in factory farms under brutal conditions aimed solely at maximizing profits for the meat and dairy industry.
For example, impregnated female pigs weigh between 300 to 800 pounds and are kept in gestation crates that are only slightly larger than their bodies for up to 115 days at a stretch. When unconfined, pregnant pigs will turn around up to 200 times a day, but in gestation crates, they cannot move more than a few steps forward and backward. Prop 12 wants companies that sell their products in California to give pregnant pigs the space to extend their limbs and turn around.
Along with pigs and egg-laying hens, Prop 12 also provides temporary relief for calves raised for veal. These calves are maintained in “veal crates” designed to allow them to stand with no movement so as to weaken their muscles. Weakened muscles that come from no movement and exercise give veal its characteristic taste. Prop 12 will grant calves raised for veal at least 43 square feet of floor space, which will allow them more space to move.
Moving From Words To Action
While some pig producers support Prop 12 as a step toward better animal welfare, not all producers agree. Many pig producers are part of a recent lawsuit that challenges Prop 12 and have fought its implementation all the way to the Supreme Court. Prop 12 opponents are backed by the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Opponents of Prop 12 say that it will interfere with interstate commerce. The pig industry argues that it will be a huge drain on farmers, although comprehensive analysis shows that the industry will be largely unaffected. Prop 12-compliant pork will cost an additional $8 per person, per year, but the cost will largely be passed on to consumers in California. Furthermore, as California represents just 9% of the U.S. pork market, the losses predicted in the lawsuits are unlikely to happen.
However, the DFP poll suggests that consumers in other states may be interested in implementing farmed animal welfare reforms in their own states. When asked whether they would support or oppose a law similar to Prop 12 in their own state, 80% of U.S. respondents said they would “somewhat” or “strongly” support the initiative. This hints at a potential trickle-down effect of the legislation that could result in a larger impact for animals and the meat and dairy industries in the future.
The meat production slowdowns of COVID-19 and a growing awareness of climate change have likely contributed to consumer concerns for animals. The first half of 2022 was the sixth-warmest on record and has been catastrophic for the billions of farmed animals across the globe. In 2021, a heat wave in Canada killed 651,000 chickens within a week, a number that was released only after a Freedom of Information Act request.
Factory farms are part of global enterprises that share a reluctance to accurately report the horrific toll from adverse events such as inclement weather, or the number of pigs and chickens who are killed on factory farms to mitigate disease outbreaks.
According to the DFP poll, U.S. consumers are demanding more transparency from companies that raise farmed animals. Across party lines, 79% of respondents believe it is “somewhat” or “very” important to buy cruelty-free products. For companies that claim to sell products only from fairly-treated animals, 82% of likely U.S. voters feel they should be open about their animal protection measures.
Consumers are also less inclined to purchase from companies if they are caught lying about animal welfare, as 42% said they would stop purchasing products from such companies while 37% would think twice about buying products from them in the future.
A Shift In Consumer Awareness
Currently, a handful of other states — which represent 3% of the expected production of pork in 2022 — have banned the use of gestation crates. This number represents a small fraction of the over six million breeding sows in the U.S. who spend their pregnancies in gestation crates. Recognizing that compassion for animals need no longer be restricted by state boundaries, the DFP data suggests that a majority of U.S. consumers are concerned about how farmed animals are being treated.
Prop 12, and the increased consumer awareness around farmed animal welfare, can be used to garner support for further measures that can positively impact farmed animals. Animal advocates can also point consumers toward the wide variety of alternative protein options that are now available. Any laws — on a local, state, or national level — that mandate more compassionate ways toward farmed animals are a positive step forward for the billions of animals housed in factory farms across the United States.