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The Silence of the Sows (hens and calves, too)

Uploaded: Oct 26, 2018
As the saying goes, “democracy dies in darkness.” Industrial agriculture, however, thrives in its dark and muted isolation from consumers. Prop 12 sheds a little light on the subject, gives voice to its victims and asks us to care – I’m writing to request your Yes vote in support.

So distant are we 21st-century consumers from the factories that produce our food, that we may choose to believe that pork chops grow in shrink wrap, our eggs laid by Tweety Bird. Unfortunately, and cruelly, it just ain’t so. As the author Michael Pollan has written: agriculture has changed more in the past fifty years than in the previous 10,000 years. That’s been good for grains, but for food animals it’s a continuing holocaust of lifelong suffering.

In contrast to current practices, Prop 12 phases-in mandates that the animals whose lives and death sustain us be allowed at least some minimal space to move around. Laying hens require at least one square foot, growing to 1.5 – the monitor on which you’re reading this is probably bigger. For veal calves, it’s 43 sq. ft. (think king-size mattress), while breeding sows (400-500 lb. average) get twin mattress treatment. Yes, that’s actually dramatically more spacious than typical, current conditions on the factory farms where most of our food is produced.

Prop 12 also forbids the CA sale of eggs (shelled or liquid), pork or veal from non-compliant operations elsewhere. It deputizes California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Department of Public Health to enforce its rules. Violations would be misdemeanors, with fines up to $1,000.

Central to the approach of Prop 12 is the concept of ‘telos,’ as popularized by philosophy prof Dr. Bernie Rollin at Colorado State University, a leading veterinary college (now, stay with me, here). For the, uh, eggheads among us, telos means that ‘fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly.’ It stands for the proposition that the least we owe to food animals is to respect their essence – their nature – while they’re alive. As above, mobility is pretty basic to every animal’s telos.* It’s not a lot to ask.

Here’s a handy FAQ section for further elaboration.

Who’s behind Prop 12?

The Humane Society of the United States, and numerous other mainstream animal welfare organizations. It is roughly the same coalition that previously sponsored Prop 2, in 2008.

Why wasn’t Prop 2 enough – didn’t it cover the same turf? Can’t those do-gooders get it right?

There were high hopes for Prop 2, but it contained several flaws and loopholes. It failed provide for enforcement, it was denominated in more vague mobility terms, and it failed to ban eggs no longer in the shell, leading to an influx of liquid egg products. Some of its promise has been unrealized, so the issue is back, with better language. Is once a decade too often to have to think about these issues?

Okay, who’s against it? Isn’t PETA opposed?

The opposition is an odd-coupling of food producers, whose natural motivation is profit, and a few of the more fringe-y humane groups like PETA. Their argument is that Prop 12 doesn’t go far enough – it reads something like this: ‘animals should never be eaten by people, this Prop makes it more, uh, palatable for people to eat animals, therefore we're against it.’

What about existing laws?

State anti-cruelty laws date from the late 1800s, and have mostly to do with conditions in the era when animals used for labor, more than raised for sale as food. They have simply never been applied in the ag communities where confinement practices are routine. As one commentator wrote in the Michigan Law Review: “while protection of animals from cruelty was developing in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries into a basic public value, farm animals, with few exceptions, were being moved outside legal protection-either through their exemption from the definition of animals protected, or through the exemption of cruel practices in farming from the definition of cruel practices.”

Similar federal laws generally exempt agriculture, because: farm lobby.

Why can’t the legislature handle this kind of issue?

In Sacramento, Ag interests drive a very big plow. These kinds of measures have been routinely tried but they get furrowed-under; our reps have been well-greased by the farm lobby'$ large$$e. Personally, your blogger once drafted some pretty innovative anti-cruelty legislation and got it approved by the CA Bar's Conference of Delegates - only to become roadkill under Big Ag/Harris Ranch's combine in Sacramento.** The direct Proposition process is the practical alternative – Prop 2 passed in 2008, better than 2-1.

Why should we care – these animals are going to die, anyway. Besides, I heard that cruelly-raised meat just tastes better.

Aren’t we special mammals all going to croak too, someday? When we do, will it not matter how we lived?

As to taste, unhealthy confinement over time actually damages both the taste and nutritional value in meats and eggs. Try some backyard eggs and see for yourself. Acutely, adrenaline leaves residues that toughen meats. In an odd kind of twist, that latter fact has been used to advocate for more humane conditions in-transit and at slaughterhouses, so the doomed critters don’t have to anticipate the slicing and dicing to come. I have no idea where that ‘cruelty is yummy’ trope got started, but like many a rationalizing myth, the evidence is quite contrary.

Won’t this Prop drive up the price of meat and eggs?

Yes almost certainly, a bit. Every business naturally wants to minimize cost – food producers are no different. But society tries to require that all industries pay the full cost of their operations, including costs like minimum wages and proper waste disposal. Here, Industrial Ag is Not paying for minimum-decent treatment of the animals it raises and slaughters for sale. And currently, the most ethical farmers are at the greatest cost disadvantage – this Prop levels that playing field by leveling-up the conditions under which all food animals are raised.

Prop 12’s provisions will also be phased-in gradually, allowing for normal depreciation and replacement of facilities.

But isn’t California bullying other states by requiring them to upgrade their operations for access to the CA market?

Interesting choice of words, but yes indeedy – and more power to us. If some pregnant sow in Reno can stand-up and turn around because of what we do here, well, I can live with that. We’re her only voice in an overwhelming void of silence.

Please vote yes on Prop 12.

* Gluttons for this kind of idea can read more about it in a review of Rollin’s memoir “Putting the Horse Before Descartes” :

** it was aimed at hoarding and other cruel circumstances, and it even exempted Ag(!) – but they killed it anyway because they could, plus they wanted no toe-holds that might be expanded in the future.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by jacksmitha, a resident of Apperson Ridge,
on Oct 28, 2018 at 7:14 am

Thanks for sharing.I found a lot of interesting information here. A really good post, very thankful and hopeful that you will write many more posts like this one.

Posted by My opinion, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Oct 28, 2018 at 12:17 pm

My opinion is a registered user.

Thank you for this post. We are longtime supporters of an organization that rescues abused farm animals. It is easy to see why people get salmonella from eggs when you realize that these confined chickens are layers deep, with feces everywhere. It's why in the US eggs are refrigerated, they have been washed. That is not the case in most other countries.

Million of chickens and pigs died in the flooding in the Carolinas from the hurricane. Why did the farm owners do nothing to save them? Because their "inventory" was insured. The insurance company paid to replace all of the dead animals so why care how they died?

An even more cruel injustice is Kaporos, a ritual practiced by Orthodox Jews. This happens every year in NY and to a smaller degree, in other cities. Thousands of chickens are used to "take away the sins" of the men. The birds are pulled from crates, their wings are broken, they are swung above the heads of the humans to transfer the sins of the man to the bird. Then their throats are slit and they are allowed to bleed out in piles in the streets. Yes, in the streets. This ritual violates dozens of health codes yet the mayor of NY and the health commissioner allow it in order to cater to the Orthodox voters.

There really is no limit to the cruelty that we allow in the name of religion. Passing this proposition will not stop that but it will improve the lives of these helpless, and blameless, farm animals. Thank you for your support.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Oct 28, 2018 at 12:25 pm



Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Oct 28, 2018 at 12:28 pm

Kaporos: Web Link

Not all Jews practice Kaporos.

Posted by sam olsen, a resident of another community,
on Oct 29, 2018 at 11:40 am

Proposition 12 is an outright scam.
This measure was co-written by United Egg Producers and would explicitly legalize cruel battery cages in California until at least 2022. And it would forever confine hens inside massive factory farms that restrict hens to only one square foot floor space per bird!

No one should fall for HSUS's bogus claims that this will regulate the sale and production of veal and pork from other states. That cynical and constitutionally flawed window dressing will never survive the inevitable years of legal challenges. It was only inserted into the initiative to distract from its massive sell-out to the egg industry.

Find out why Californians Against Cruelty, Cages, and Fraud, the Humane Farming Association (HFA), Friends of Animals (FoA), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and many others are strongly opposing the measure. Please visit

Posted by Doug, a resident of Birdland,
on Oct 29, 2018 at 12:13 pm

Not convinced that Prop 12 is a "scam" like sam olson writes, but I did look at the voter's guide and was surprised to see that some organization called "Californians Against Cruelty, Cages, and Fraud" was claiming to have the moral high ground and arguing against Prop 12. So what's the story on that?

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Oct 29, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Sam: kindly supply a link for the claim about any co-writing of the Prop. Thanks.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Oct 29, 2018 at 2:27 pm

This may be of help: Web Link

Posted by RozRogoff2, a resident of San Ramon,
on Oct 29, 2018 at 5:29 pm

RozRogoff2 is a registered user.


Your link to Prop. 12 above no longer works.

I would also like to confirm that most Orthodox Jews do not practice "Kaporos." I am a descendant of Orthodox Jews and my maternal Grandmother lived with us when I was growing up. I never heard of "Kaporos," and nobody in my family practiced such vile actions in the name of our religion.

Posted by Zane , a resident of another community,
on Oct 30, 2018 at 7:11 am

Thank you, Tom, for endorsing Prop 12! This is the most comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of Prop 12 that I've seen yet! Prop 12 would reduce the suffering of millions of animals by ending the cruel practice of immobilizing them in cages at factory farms. Like you said, this basic anti-cruelty measure is something that we can all get behind, no matter our diet. Hundreds of responsible farmers, animal protection groups, environmental organizations, food safety specialists, farm worker advocates, and Californian veterinarians have endorsed Prop 12. Vote ethically; vote YES on Prop 12.

Posted by David , a resident of another community,
on Oct 30, 2018 at 7:14 am

Hey, Doug. Californians Against Cruelty, Cages, and Fraud is a front group by the HFA, which is who Sam Olson works for. They're campaigning against Prop 12 for the media attention.

Posted by Doug, a resident of Birdland,
on Oct 30, 2018 at 8:04 am


I did a google search on the “Humane Farming Association" (HFA) and as far as I can tell they seem to be a legitimate animal welfare organization and not just a fake front for some business interests. For example, they filed a complaint and lawsuit in Washington state concerning slaughterhouse conditions at a plant there. ( Web Link ).

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Oct 30, 2018 at 9:10 am

@Doug: as I read David's comment, he said that the "Californians Against" was a front group, not HFA. In the rough-and-tumble of referendum politics, organizations are not always what they seem, and some are formed for the specific purpose of fighting or supporting particular proposition. I suspect that's the case here with the "Californians".

As to HFA, I'd note, as in the blog, that there are several fringey humane groups opposed because the prop doesn't go far enough to suit their philosophies. Animal Welfare, like every other movement, has its wide spectrum of opinions. Not all support P12, nor should unanimity be expected. Politics is the art of the possible, P12 may not be a perfect solution wished for by some, but it IS possible.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Oct 30, 2018 at 10:10 am

Hi Roz...this may be of interest: Web Link

Posted by Doug, a resident of Birdland,
on Oct 30, 2018 at 12:34 pm

@Tom Cushing

OK, well I was hoping that the case for this Proposition would be more clear cut, with white hats on one side and black hats on the other side, but it appears that there are people who are concerned for the welfare of animals on both sides of the argument (and, no, I'm not just talking about PETA which as you know has a rather extreme don't-eat-meat-at-all view on this). Will read over the Proposition and the background for all of this more carefully before voting.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Oct 31, 2018 at 12:56 pm

Kapparot: Web Link

Roz...Hope you're well!

Posted by facts, a resident of Horizon High School,
on Nov 1, 2018 at 9:35 pm

you have no idea what you are taking about. sows giving birth prefer small areas away from other sows that will kill her babies. educate your

Posted by unblocked games 24h, a resident of Bridle Creek,
on Jan 20, 2019 at 6:20 pm

I like the helpful information you provide in your articles

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