MORRIS: Ban CT’s cruelest factory farm practices

An average mother pig raised in the pork industry weighs about 500 pounds. Yet it’s currently legal for farms in our state of Connecticut to confine her, day and night, for her entire life in a metal cage less than the width of this newspaper.

In “gestation crates,” these pigs, among the most highly intelligent creatures on earth, are unable to turn around or fully extend their limbs. If they can lie down at all, they must push their legs, fragile from lack of use, through the bars into the neighboring crates.

Veal calves, too, raised on Connecticut factory farms spend nearly their entire lives crammed into wooden crates so small they can hardly move. For their short 16-week lives, they are chained around the neck.

Most of us flinch to hear this. Treating animals with basic decency is a widely accepted, common-sense value of our society. We know this cruel confinement is just plain wrong, and we’re repulsed by it. Yet the law as it stands does not reflect these values. These cages are inexcusable, but gestation crates and veal crates remain legal in the state of Connecticut.

With your help, this wrong could be righted in the coming month. Thanks to Bill 5838, introduced to the Connecticut Legislature yesterday, we as Connecticut residents have the opportunity to join the nine other states that have already banned these unnecessarily cruel confinement systems. If passed, the bill, introduced by seven state representatives, will simply require that mother pigs and veal calves in our state have enough room to lie down, turn around and fully extend their legs.

In the process, we can become a leader in standing up for our nation’s treasured values of basic civility and respect.

The science is clear that pigs are one of the smartest animals on earth, with a highly inquisitive nature, intricate social structures and the ability to learn complex tasks with ease. Pigs can quickly learn how mirrors work and use reflected images to survey the land and food sources around them; can learn how to play video games with joysticks; have radar-dish-like ears that make them one of the best localizers of sound among animals; and have snouts that can locate truffles a dozen feet below the ground. In nature, they build communal nests and form strong social bonds, including special relationships between individuals who will join together to farrow, forage and sleep. Contrary to their reputation, they are very hygienic; they’ll go to great efforts to defecate far away from their nests.

Cows, too, are regarded as very smart animals. According to animal behaviorists, cows develop strong friendships, will hold grudges against cows that treat them poorly and mourn the deaths of cows to which they were close. Mother cows are deeply bonded to their young, and will cry frantically in search of their babies that have been taken away to be sent to veal farms.

It is beyond my comprehension to imagine what it must be like for such capable and feeling creatures to be confined to such cages, unable to express the most basic behaviors that come naturally to them. The closest analogy that I have come across is if we were forced to spend our entire lives strapped to an airplane seat, covered in our own feces.

Gestation crates and veal crates are unnecessary. Today, cost-efficient group housing systems exist as more humane alternatives that better allow pigs to be pigs and veal calves to be baby cows. There is no justification for their continued legality.

Even Randy Strauss, the CEO of Strauss Veal, the nation’s largest veal producer, called veal crates “inhumane and archaic” and said they “do nothing more than subject a calf to stress, fear, physical harm and pain.”

Yale undergraduates and Yale Law School students have already expressed support for the passage of Bill 5838 and plan to testify at the upcoming hearing. I encourage you to express your support as well by calling state Sen. Edward Meyer, the head of Connecticut’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and tell him that you want to see Bill 5838 passed. Call your state senator and representative and urge their support, too.

We each now have a short window of opportunity to make a difference. Let’s ban this cruelty from our state now and forever more.

Viveca Morris is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at viveca.morris@yale.edu .

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