Activists Use Legislatures and Voters to Attack Farming Practices

Activists Use Legislatures and Voters to Attack Farming Practices

By: Staff  Date: 01/9/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation | Farm and Ranch Almanac |

Livestock farming practices are beset by activist attacks in two new arenas: at the ballot box and in state legislatures.

Radical groups took advantage of Florida’s initiative process to place a ban on the use of gestation crates for pigs in their state.

Farmers use two types of crates for pigs. Farrowing crates keep piglets safe from being crushed by the sow. Gestation crates separate sows during pregnancy for easier management. Confinement of the sows in the narrow stalls makes it easier to monitor diet for each animal, to treat injuries, and to prevent battles between dominant animals. Some farmers use a combination of gestation crates and pens and rotate animals between the two systems.

Condemned by animal rights advocates as cruel to pigs, the initiative had no organized opposition and passed with 55 percent of the vote. Almost immediately, Michael Markarian of the Fund for Animals announced that the victory would serve as the foundation to attack the use of crates by pig farmers in other states.

“Clearly, we will start planning for the 2004 election cycle very soon,” said the FFA president.(1)

Shortly after the election, Farm Sanctuary, another key participant in the campaign, was fined $50,000 for more than 200 violations of Florida campaign finance law.(2) The animal rights group conducted a nationwide fundraising effort for the initiative. Florida law requires that all donations go from the donor to the campaign treasurer, not through a third party.

Florida was ripe for the activists. The state has an initiative process for amending its constitution and only two farmers who used the crates. Both planned to go out of business if the initiative passed. The victory gives them momentum to try similar tactics in other states. Future campaigns are likely to blur the differences between gestation stalls and farrowing crates and have the potential to generate fierce battles in states where hog farms are an important component of the agricultural economy.

Although the initiative had no serious opposition in the state, Kathy Chinn, chairman of the National Pork Board’s Animal Welfare Committee, told an AgWeb reporter that the general public did not have the information or understanding necessary to make an informed decision.(3)

The AgWeb article noted that the American Veterinary Medical Association adopted a resolution this year that supports the use of sow housing configurations that

  • minimize aggression and competition between sows;
  • protect sows from detrimental effects associated with environmental extremes, particularly temperature extremes;
  • reduce exposure to hazards that result in injuries;
  • provide every animal with daily access to appropriate food and water; and
  • facilitate observation of individual sow appetite, respiratory rate, urination and defecation, and reproductive status by caretakers.


Gestation crates fit these requirements. However, in the interests of both animals and economics, livestock researchers are constantly evaluating current practices and searching for better ways to balance animal needs with effective farm management systems. Chinn told AgNews that pig farmers understand the importance of good animal husbandry and depend on scientific research to improve their animal welfare practices. Pork producers participate in a check-off program that spent $400,000 on swine welfare research in 2002, including four projects dealing with housing pregnant sows.

As a result of this and other initiatives passed this year, Florida lawmakers are exploring changes to the state’s initiative process.(4)
New Jersey

The New Jersey legislature is considering an animal rights bill (5) that outlaws the use of tie stalls for veal calves. New Jersey has no veal industry, but passage of the law will provide precedent for similar laws in other states.

Veal comes from male dairy calves. Practices vary according to the purpose for which the meat is to be used. Calves are separated from cows at a few days of age, after they nurse colostrum that provides maternal antibodies to disease but before the cow-calf bond matures. Those calves raised for pale meat are kept in tie stalls and fed a liquid diet until they reach at least 151 pounds but do not exceed 400 pounds. It generally takes 18-20 weeks for these calves to reach market weight.

According to Farm Animal Welfare Coalition (6), the use of tie stalls for special-diet veal calves is necessary for the health of the animals, an opinion backed by research (7) conducted by scientists at Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California at Davis. These scientists noted that more health problems were found in calves that were raised in groups and treatment was made more difficult when the calves ran together.

The scientists reported that tie stalls allow calves to move around, to groom most of their own bodies, and to interact with animals on either side. It also noted that the tethers are long enough to allow calves to lie in a natural sternal position and short enough to prevent the sucking of ears, navels, and genital sheaths of other calves that often occurs in group-raised calves and results in infected sores.

Tie stalls help farmers monitor calf diet, treat any medical problems, and, for calves raised for pale meat, to easily monitor iron levels and tailor supplements to each animal as needed. Contrary to the claims of activists who oppose raising livestock for meat and dairy products, veal calves are not denied iron and are not anemic – anemic calves do not eat well and are subject to disease. Farmers monitor iron levels and usually limit iron intake only during the last stages of production to avoid producing circulatory anemia.

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All Authors Of This Article: | Patti Strand |
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