Pigs, Calves, and American Democracy

Amidst all the headlines about the Democrats gaining control of the United States Congress in the November elections, one big election result was largely ignored. Although it illuminated the flaws of America’s political system, it also restored my belief in the compassion of ordinary Americans.

In Arizona, citizens can, by gathering a sufficient number of signatures, put a proposed law to a direct popular vote. This year, one of the issues on the ballot was an act to prohibit tethering or confining a pregnant pig, or a calf raised for veal, in a manner that prevents the animal from turning around freely, lying down, and fully extending his or her limbs.

Those who know little about modern factory farming may wonder why such legislation would be necessary. Under farming methods that were universal 50 years ago, and that are still common in some countries today, all animals have the space to turn around and stretch their limbs.

Today, however, about 90% of US breeding sows – the mothers of the pigs that are raised and killed for pork, bacon, and ham – spend most of their lives locked in cages that measure about two feet by seven feet (0.6 meters by 2.2 meters). They are unable to turn around, lie down with their legs fully extended, or move more than a step forward or backward. Other sows are kept on short tethers that also prevent them turning around.