Life in a Cage.


As Erik Eckholm reports in The New York Times, animal-welfare activists in Ohio have made real headway in a campaign to sharply restrict the close confinement of hens, hogs and other livestock:

A recent agreement between farmers and animal rights activists here is a rare compromise in the bitter and growing debate over large-scale, intensive methods of producing eggs and meat, and may well push farmers in other states to give ground, experts say. […]

After secret negotiations, the sides agreed to bar new construction of egg farms that pack birds in cages, and to phase out the tight caging of pregnant sows within 15 years and of veal calves by 2017.

With these new rules, Ohio joins California, Michigan, Florida, and Arizona in a growing list of states who have decided to bar new construction of egg farms that pack birds in cages. As it stands, laying hens are among the most intensively confined livestock in agribusiness; according to the Humane Society of the United States, the average caged laying hen is afforded only 67 square inches of cage space, the equivalent of a single letter-sized sheet of paper. These cages thwart the simplest movements; hens are unable to flap their wings, walk, or scratch for food. Affording larger cages won't solve the problem, but at the very least, life for those hens will be a little better.

That said, rules and regulations are only part of the battle in the fight to improve animal welfare in farming. Our massive feed lots and assembly-line meat factories exist mainly to serve our country's near-insatiable appetite for meat; per capita, Americans eat eight ounces of meat a day, roughly twice the global average, and in total, the United States slaughters nearly 10 billion animals a year, roughly 15 percent of the global total. In the end, to make meaningful improvements in animal welfare, Americans must dramatically reduce their consumption of meat and animal products, which -- given the huge place heavy meat-eating has in our culture -- is easier said than done.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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