To show the size of some animals' quarters in large-scale farm operations, Oprah stands with replicas of cages and crates for each animal affected by Proposition 2. In an egg-laying hen cage, five to six hens could be in a single cage. The typical crate for a young male calf being raised for veal has enough room for him to stick his head out. Pregnant pigs—which can weigh more than 500 pounds—are about 5 to 6 feet long, while the cages they live in are about 7 feet long.
Those who support Proposition 2 say these animals have the right to more space during their lives. Opponents of Proposition 2, including farmers and industry representatives, say the new law would drive up costs, put farmers out of business and end the egg industry in California, and deny consumers the right to choose less-expensive food.
Read Nicholas' New York Times essay from July 31, 2008.
"Yes, I do eat meat," he wrote. "But I draw the line at animals being raised in cruel conditions. ... Defining what is cruel is, of course, extraordinarily difficult. But penning pigs or veal calves so tightly that they cannot turn around seems to cross that line."
Nicholas recalls how his experiences as a boy on his family's farm continue to inform his feelings about animal cruelty, particularly after his family started raising a flock of geese.
Nicholas says he admired the geese, which are known for mating for life. When it was time to slaughter one of the geese, young Nicholas was given the task of rushing into the barn to grab a goose for the chopping block. "Then I'd be walking out to the door, and out of that panicked flock one goose would emerge and walk toward me absolutely terrified, but sort of protesting in a very 'goosian' way. It would be the mate of the one that I was holding," he says. "And boy, that is a kind of courage—and it sounds funny to say it, but courage and humanity, if you will—that I have just never seen since. That has haunted me ever since."
Nicholas says he still enjoys eating meat. In fact, he wrote his original column partially in celebration of the opening of "barbecue season."
"My hope in writing that column was really that we would begin to appreciate that what we eat does have a story back there and that we can affect, by our own eating choices, the ways those animals are raised," he says. "I'm eating meat. I certainly wouldn't want to evangelize for vegetarianism. But I do think that we can, with some modest choices—and Proposition 2 is one example of that—have a great impact on the quality of life on farms all over the country and help preserve the family farm while we're at it."
"Are we so uncharitable that we cannot let these animals, who make the ultimate sacrifice for us, move around a little bit?" Wayne says. "If you were immobilized for your entire life, wouldn't that be a form of torment?"
Ryan Armstrong (left), a third-generation egg farmer from California, is strongly opposed to Proposition 2. He says that if Proposition 2 passes, it will make eggs produced in California too expensive for most consumers, creating the possibility that eggs will be imported from places without these animal housing laws.
This, he says, would put his farm out of business and hurt every consumer in the state. "At a time when everybody's looking at every penny they spend, pennies an egg equal dollars a dozen. By the time it gets to the grocery store, we're spending more on eggs now than we ever have because of the rising corn prices," he says. "We have to feed our chickens the highest quality grains we can get, and those are scarce in the United States these days."
To find out where, exactly, all those USDA-approved eggs come from, Lisa Ling visited two very different farms with egg distributor John Baker. Their first stop is Ivan Martin's cage-free organic egg farm. When Lisa and John arrive in the early afternoon, Ivan lets his 990 chickens out to roam the farm freely, which they do every day.
After a day spent dust-bathing, flying, perching on fence posts and eating the feed distributed by Ivan, the chickens head back inside when the sun goes down. "Then they go in themselves," Ivan says.
While they're out, Ivan collects the day's eggs—about 900 on the day Lisa visits.
Before they enter the building that houses the laying hens, Lisa and John are required to put on sanitation suits to protect both themselves and the birds from disease. When they step inside, Lisa says she is struck by the unbelievable smell of 87,000 chickens under one roof. There are about six birds inside each cage, and the cages are stacked to the ceiling. John explains that this is to allow for laid eggs to roll out onto a belt.
"Clearly, the farms couldn't be more different," Lisa says. "In the caged facility, it was eye-opening to see six chickens in one small cage. ... And this is their entire lives."
"I think everybody who does consume animal products—eggs, meat, dairy—wants to know that the animals are decently treated. I mean, we're a society that loves animals. We have 165 million pets in households; 80 million people are wildlife watchers. We have anti-cruelty standards in this society," Wayne says. "The problem with the factory farm industry ... is that they don't think it's wrong because they have a worldview that animals are commodities. They're units of production. They're objects."
Each chicken has 67 square inches of space—which is about two-thirds the size of a standard sheet of paper. "That's their living space, Oprah, for two years," Wayne says. "I mean, give me a break. That is just awful."
Julie also says Proposition 2 would create serious space issues. "Look how much space those crates and those cages took up on your stage. Imagine if we had to create that much more space for so many animals to produce the food you said we eat—76 billion eggs a year," she says. "I don't want animals to suffer, but I don't want human beings to suffer either. And I really want to talk about the impact on people that this initiative has as well as the impact on animals."
Allowing chicken, hogs and cattle to have more space, Julie says, is a choice consumers can make already. "We can either buy animal products, if we so choose, and we can buy them at the cheapest, most affordable, safest cost, or we can choose to pay more for cage-free, free-range eggs and pork and cattle. And that's a personal choice," she says. "But there will not be a choice after this Proposition 2."
"These animals, we think, have a God-given right to move, at least," he says. "They have lives. They have the same spark of life that we have. They have the same will to live. They want to avoid suffering just as much as we do."
Ryan says he believes his chickens have plenty of room to move around, though multiple birds live in one cage. "We've been in the egg business now for 60 years," he says. "These birds are our livelihood. We make them as comfortable as we can and still provide the consumer with a safe, economical egg."
If California voters also support the initiative, Ryan says consumers will feel the effects at the supermarket. "If we take two-thirds of the birds out of our current cages and [go] cage-free, we will have to increase all of the prices on eggs," he says.
Matt Kellogg and his father, John, say they raise about 32,000 hogs every year at Kellogg Farm, a business that's been in their family for 162 years. While touring the farm, Lisa gets a look inside the birthing barn. There, John says about 100 piglets are born every day.
In a separate barn, 6-foot-long pregnant sows are housed in individual gestation stalls, which are approximately 7 feet long. John says the stalls help them care for each animal conscientiously. "The air movement, the environment is controlled," he says. "The sow being in an individual stall like that protects her from the aggressive nature of other sows." Each sow also has her own feed box and water dispenser, which can be adjusted to meet different needs.
Sows live in these stalls throughout their pregnancies, which last 112 days. After giving birth, Lisa says they are artificially inseminated again and put back in a stall. When a sow stops producing litters, she's sent to slaughter.
If Kellogg Farm were located in California and had to meet the standards proposed in Proposition 2, John says his family business would probably fail. "I would try to make some adjustments. My understanding is they would not want [the sows] to be in gestation stalls, so that would be a major expense," he says. "I wouldn't be able to handle the financial demands of totally refitting the farm."
Matt says the legislation is not only bad for business—he also thinks it is isn't the best situation for the animals. "It's not in my belief that that's the best way to take care of the animals," he says. "In the stalls, the employees can safely approach the animal, give them medication. They're all individually fed so that we can control their diet so they're getting enough to eat. In a pen situation or other situations, it's a dominance factor. So it's first come, first served."
Ten years ago, Jude took over the family business and transformed it into an organic pig farm. They started small, and today, they have 500 sows. "From those sows, if we get two litters a year, we can market around 6,000 pigs in one year," he says.
When a sow is pregnant, Jude moves her to a spacious field. Currently, he says he has close to 300 pregnant sows spread out over 32 acres. "We spread the food over a big area," he says. "Even a sow that could be smaller, weaker, lower ranked still has the opportunity to eat food."
Jude says he would never keep his sows in gestation crates. He prefers to see them root around in a grassy field. "Something about it just makes me feel good. The positive energy from the animals translates to me," he says. "I think it translates into the food as well. Food is about energy."
Some may think small, organic farms can't turn a profit or keep up with consumer demands, but Jude says they're wrong. "Consumers definitely want this product and are willing to pay the farmer to recoup those costs," he says.
Jude looks to European farmers for inspiration. For the past 20 years, he says innovative British farmers and legislators have worked together to change the way they produce pork. "Now, we have a third of all pigs produced in England today produced outdoors," Jude says.
By 2012, Wayne says gestation crates will be banned throughout the European union. "This is not pie in the sky. We're the nation that put a man on the moon nearly 40 years ago," he says. "Can't we allow animals to move? That's the basic question."
Matt says farmers must consider many factors when deciding how to house sows, including climate, cleanliness and temperature control. Indoor housing has its benefits. "There are systems to keep them cool and keep them healthy, and we can control that," he says. "In the past, that wasn't possible, and I feel lucky that we can take care of them the way we can now."
When Jude took over his family farm, he says he dealt with similar considerations. "People said: 'You can't keep these sows outside. It's winter. It's cold. It's rainy. It's muddy,'" he says. "I learned the hard way, and for years and years, I kept believing in this."
Thanks to the research coming out of Europe, Jude says farmers now have large-scale solutions to these problems. "[We know] how to keep sows, let's say, in a hoop barn or in a larger barn that isn't maybe at the far end of the spectrum," Jude says to Matt. "My farm is very, very spectrally opposite of what you do, but I think there's some middle ground."
Bradley says the calves are fed an all-liquid diet. "Many of the calves were so weak, they couldn't even stand up. They were just lying and coughing from pneumonia," he says. "When it comes time to slaughter, some of these calves literally need to be dragged out of their crates because they had never walked before."
Bryan Scott, a representative with the American Veal Processors Association, says while the calf crates Oprah showed are representative of 80 to 85 percent of what goes on in the veal production, Bradley's footage is not representative of the industry. "There's always some bad actors," he says. "I don't think [the footage] is a fair portrayal at all. We have a quality assurance program in place for our members. The barns are inspected every year, reviewed and audited by a veterinarian."
The veal industry is changing the way it operates, however, whether Proposition 2 passes or fails. By 2017, Bryan says all farmers will be raising their calves in group housing. "[That means] six or more animals per pen, free to roam in their own area," he says. "No tethers. No restraints, except for vaccinations and early socialization."
Bryan says he opposes the California initiative because these regulations shouldn't be dictated by lawmakers. "It's just a matter of allowing flexibility and letting quality scientists and quality universities make the decisions—not making this about a political campaign," he says. "There's room to meet on this and we're certainly moving that way, but it's a more complicated and intricate system."
Amy says their natural approach—without antibiotics or growth hormones—actually costs less than alternative methods. "While no farming is cheap by any means ... we don't have the buildings it takes to house that many calves," she says. "So we don't have to upkeep those buildings or build any of those structures on our farm."
Free-raise farming also reduces the workload, Bart says. "Anytime you can remove the stress from an animal and leave it out [with] its mother like Mother Nature originally intended to, we feel that the day-to-day and hands-on activities that we would have with that calf are actually less," he says.
Other incentives can't be quantified or calculated in a spreadsheet. "We're really proud to be able to be raising calves in a way that Mother Nature intended," Amy says. "It's better for the planet, and it's better for the calf."
In 2005, Whole Foods Market began exclusively selling eggs from cage-free hens. Then, Ben & Jerry's followed suit and became the first major food manufacturer to commit to using only cage-free eggs in their ice cream. Burger King, the world's second largest burger chain, has also announced that 5 percent of its eggs and 10 percent of its pork now comes from animals not confined to crates or cages.
Now that you've heard both sides of the argument, Oprah says you can start making conscious choices about the food you eat. "California voters, Proposition 2 will be on your ballot next month," she says. "The rest of us can vote at the grocery store with the food we buy for our tables."
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