The measure would take effect in 2015, and would set minimum space requirements for chickens, veal calves, and breeding pigs; allowing them to stand, turn around, and stretch their limbs. It would mostly affect the state’s egg-laying chickens—now housed in battery cages—since producers have already eliminated the use of crates and cages for newborn calves and pregnant sows.
Many people, including those who think of themselves as animal rights supporters, believe Proposition 2 is a reasonable measure worthy of their support. I probably would have felt the same way three years ago when I was collecting signatures needed to get a similar proposition on the ballot in Arizona.
One winter evening while gathering signatures at a large outdoor public event, someone remarked to the volunteer I was working with: “What’s the point? They’re going to be killed anyway.” We both thought that was an insensitive and illogical attitude. Yes, they are “going to be killed anyway,” but why not still try to make their lives a little better?
A year-and-a-half went by before I again gave what he said much thought. But when I did, it dawned on me that while he may have been coming from a different perspective, he had an excellent point. Why are ethically motivated vegans and major animal protection organizations wasting time and money on efforts to regulate exploitation, rather than putting those resources toward abolition? The problem is not the size of the cages. It’s not about cubic inches or efficiencies of production verses degrees of cruelty. This is about basic morality. We should not be breeding, enslaving, and killing these animals in the first place. It is unnecessary and unjustified. Any and all efforts by individuals and organizations that purport to be advocates for animal rights should be directly focused on reducing and ultimately ending this horrific behavior.
Not only does proposition 2 represent the wrong approach, it’s morally bankrupt. Proposition 2 reinforces the property status of nonhumans, adds legitimacy to their continued exploitation and oppression, while conferring little or no benefits to them. It sends the message to consumers that it’s okay to exploit animals, up to and including killing them, as long as it’s done “humanely.” But calling unnecessary killing “humane” does not make it so. We should not seek to regulate something that is fundamentally wrong to begin with. As a civilized society, we don't regulate rape or human slavery. We prohibit such behavior. The fact that there is currently insufficient political will to outlaw the raising and killing of animals for food doesn’t mean that Proposition 2 represents an acceptable interim alternative. Nor does it mean that it’s the only alternative.
If the big animal advocacy organizations that are behind Proposition 2 would abandon these types of efforts and instead steer their dollars and talents to vegan education, perhaps we can begin to see some real results.