The Cost of Compassion: Why State Ballot Initiatives Complicate Farm Animal Welfare and Overlook the True Problems in Modern Agriculture
Farm animal welfare, concentrated animal feeding operations, CAFO, state ballot initiatives, California Proposition 2, California’s Proposition 12, Massachusetts Question 3
Farm animal welfare is a concern for many Americans, both among those who value a higher standard of care for the animals’ own sake, and those concerned with food safety. Industrial agriculture has become the dominant form of animal production to satiate a daunting demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products. Industrial animal-raising facilities, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (“CAFOs”), prioritize volume and efficiency and are a key factor in keeping consumer prices low. CAFOs are highly specialized and excel at production by minimizing inputs, maximizing confined animals, and externalizing environmental costs. This production method comes at the cost of natural conditions, and animal welfare organizations routinely target CAFOs, depicting these operations as horrendous and inhumane. Despite these concerns, federal law provides practically no protections for farm animals. State laws grant greater safeguards, but protections vary greatly between jurisdictions. As both federal and state governments are subject to the congressional gridlock that has stimmed various legislation over the last decade, passing new welfare laws can be a herculean effort. Animal advocacy groups have responded to these legislative difficulties by increasingly focusing their efforts on individual state ballot initiatives, banking on the direct will of the people to advance welfare laws. This strategy has been effective, notably with the success of California’s Proposition 2 and Proposition 12, and Massachusetts’s Question 3, all of which mandate larger space and better enrichment for laying hens (“layers”) and sows. The meat and egg industries have painted these measures as an anathema to the American food system, a subversion of American democracy, and an attack against affordable food. Advocates applaud a step towards greater welfare protections, believing industrial animal production itself a crime against basic animal rights. Still others believe recent ballot initiatives addressing animal welfare do not make a sufficient difference.
Victor, S. (2023). The Cost of Compassion: Why State Ballot Initiatives Complicate Farm Animal Welfare and Overlook the True Problems in Modern Agriculture. Journal of Food Law & Policy, 18(2). Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/jflp/vol18/iss2/5