Beginning next year, farmers must provide hens with enough space to stand up, lie down and extend their wings fully without touching another bird in order for their eggs to be sold in California. While this may seem like a step forward in securing animal rights, this law fails to make the necessary progress in animal rights. Although animal rightists should fight to give chickens more space, they should also focus on the rights of wild animals.
While it remains important that all animals are treated humanely, there lies an injustice in how we go to secure the rights of animals in the food industry and leave countless wild animals to suffer and die every day as a result of our pollution.
In 2008, California approved a ballot initiative that bans farmers from housing egg-laying hens in enclosures that are too small for the birds to lie down, stand up or fully spread their wings. Following this, in 2010, state legislators passed a law that extends these standards to all producers who sell eggs in California.
Now, in 2014, Missouri’s Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a suit to block the California law. Officials of Iowa, Nebraska, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Alabama joined the suit on March 5. The lawsuit’s expansion follows Iowa representative Steve King’s failed attempt to add an amendment to the latest federal farm bill. This amendment would have banned states from setting mandatory standards for agricultural products from other states.
King argues that this law would hurt his state’s egg producers, which sell about a third of their eggs in California. In order to comply with the law, out-of-state farmers would have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to change their facilities and provide hens with 116 square inches of space, up from 67.
And while it is true this law would have some financial impact on out-of-state farmers, animal rights activists among others, argue that this effort represents a reasonable change that can help improve the horrible conditions we often see in industrial farming.
While it is fine we promote the rights of the chickens to enough space to move, we should focus our animal rights efforts on wild animals that are suffering and dying without purpose.
It is estimated that more than 100 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris floating in the ocean, with around 80 percent of this plastic coming from land and the other 20 percent originating from boats or swimmers in the water, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy. Rather than pushing legislation in order to give chickens more space, animal rightists should focus on creating legislation that will help eliminate pollution, specifically plastic pollution, but also including pollution related to oil spills and other trash.