An important bill concerning animal rights issues was signed into law this week in Michigan. As most of those who follow animal rights issues, specifically the treatment of animals that are processed and used in the food industry, California was the first state to ban the use of battery cages (or laying cages) in 2008. California has also banned the use of veal crates and gestation crates. This week Michigan has followed suit. On October 12, Governor Jennifer Granholm signed HB 5127, which mandates pen sizes for veal calves, egg-laying hens and pregnant sows. The law was created in collaboration with the Humane Society of the United States, which has a nationwide campaign to stop the use of battery cages, as well as gestation crates. (See Michigan’s Humane Society webpage for a complete list of other proposed Michigan legislation to protect animals, as well as feedback from the Humane Society.) Michigan is now the second state to ban battery cages, the fifth to ban veal crates, and the seventh to ban gestation crates.
The law requires that housing standards for these animals allow the animals to lie down, stand up, and turn around freely. According to the law, “turn around freely” means turning in a complete circle without any impediment, including a tether, and without touching the side of an enclosure or another animal. Thus, battery cages, which are usually the size of a typical filing cabinet drawer and hold 8-10 hens, will no longer be able to be used by Michigan farmers. The law also contains a citizen suit provision; allowing citizens to bring suit against farmer’s who disobey this law and seek either a temporary or permanent injunction. However, Michigan farmers will have three years to comply with the veal-calf restrictions and 10 years to comply with the rules for pregnant sows and egg-laying hens. Furthermore, the new law provides exemptions for research, veterinary treatment, transportation, at rodeos or state fairs, and during slaughter. Initially, one of the bills (HB 5128) put before Gov. Granholm provided for an “Animal Care Advisory Council” (as discussed in a previous Blawg post). The council would have 10 members, 2 of which would be connected to animal welfare issues and or animal welfare groups. However, this bill has not been signed into law and is still being tossed around the Michigan legislature.
HB 5127 is a substantial symbolic step towards better treatment for “food” animals, adding another state to the list of those that have passed laws regulating housing sizes and treatment of “food” animals. But I can’t help but think that this law lacks teeth, due to the phase out implementation aspect of the HB 5127. Why is it that farmers have three years to phase out veal crates and ten years to get rid of gestation crates and battery cages? I understand that it takes time to retrofit large CAFOs, e.g. removing all of the battery cages and replacing them with infrastructure that complies with the new law, but why allow a decade to pass before the law can be enforced? The agricultural industry is one of the most powerful lobbying powers in our country, ranking only slightly below pharmaceutical lobbyists. I can’t help but think that Michigan’s legislature felt the pressure from this lobbying giant and weakened the bill through the phase out mechanism. In order for laws like HB 5127 to be effective and revolutionary, they must include stricter implementation mechanisms. There are few lives more fraught with stress, pain, and despair than the lives of battery cage hens, veal crate calves, and gestation cage sows. A real change should be made by all states to ban these practices, effective immediately. At least Michigan is heading in the right direction, even if they might not get there for another ten years.
Filed under: animal law, animal welfare, factory farms Tagged: | animal abuse, animal cruelty, animal ethics, animal law, animal suffering, animal welfare, battery cages, egg production, factory farms, farmed animals, gestation crates, industrial farming, Michigan HB 5127, veal crates