A New Year of Hope for Animals

The moral progress of a society, it has often been said, can be judged by how it treats its weakest members. In this sense, 2013 got off to a good start in Europe and the US, with measures aimed at improving conditions for millions of sows and eliminating invasive medical research on chimpanzees.

PRINCETON – The moral progress of a society, it has often been said, can be judged by how it treats its weakest members. Individual chimpanzees are much stronger than human beings, but as a species, we can, and do, hold them captive, and essentially helpless, in zoos and laboratories. Equally subject to human power are the animals that we raise for food, among them sows confined for their entire pregnancies – four months per pregnancy, two pregnancies per year – in stalls too narrow for them even to turn around.

In this sense, 2013 got off to a good start in Europe and the United States. On January 1, a European Union directive came into effect banning the use of individual sow stalls from the fourth week of pregnancy until one week before the sow gives birth. Millions of sows must now have the elementary freedom not only to turn around, but to walk. Nor can they be kept on bare concrete without straw or some other material that allows them to satisfy their natural instinct to root. By the end of January, 20 of the 27 EU member states were at least 90% compliant with the directive, and the European Commission was preparing to take action to ensure full compliance.

Meanwhile, in America, active campaigning by the Humane Society of the US has led to about 50 major pork buyers announcing that they will phase out their purchase of pork from suppliers who use sow stalls. (Some, including Chipotle and Whole Foods, already have.)

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