When Californians go to the polls in November they can set a precedent for the rest of the country by ending the worst animal and environmental abuses and simultaneously increasing the safety of our national food supply.

It’s an election year and we all know what that means — big money, big events, and big promises. As the rest of the country listens endlessly to the political propaganda of the last few desperate months before November, California voters are being fed an entirely different mouthful of issues — the living conditions of the billions of farm animals slaughtered in this country every year. This weekend the Humane Society of the United States will hold a series of cross-country parties to mark the celebration of their historical ballot initiative in California: the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act or Proposition 2.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Humane Society represents more than just dogs and cats and has stepped up its campaign to fight a staggering amount of the worst animal abuses from a variety of industries. Proposition 2 is its latest effort to halt the use of battery cages for laying hens, gestation crates for pregnant and nursing pigs, and veal crates. These production methods represent the worst of animal conditions where animals are unable to turn around, spread their wings and limbs, and exhibit other natural behaviors. Yet, these types of confined animal production methods are not just perpetuating misery in farm animals — they are devastating our environment and jeopardizing the food safety of our entire country.

Such factory farms create living conditions in which animals are sickened by close confinement, lack of fresh air, and improper handling techniques. It is precisely this type of confinement that has led to an increase in the past few decades of human food-borne illnesses including salmonella and contributed to increased antibiotic use in animals, and thus human resistance. Environmentally, manure and wastes from confined animal operations account for three times as much waste as humans produce and often go untreated. This waste is contributing to emissions that are rapidly warming the planet and creating water pollution and “dead zones” nationwide. Proposition 2 is supported by numerous highly regarded environmental, animal, and human health organizations in the country including the Center for Food Safety, the California Veterinary Medical Association, the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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Unfortunately, the egg, poultry, and veal industries are attacking the initiative with support from millions of dollars of industry money, by using a variety of health scare tactics that are simply false. In their ballot argument against Proposition 2, the industry opposition describes the initiative as “risky and extreme.” They note that “modern housing systems” (battery cages) will protect consumers against salmonella and Avian Influenza and other diseases and that Proposition 2 will “force” hens outdoors. But at least one study has clearly demonstrated that caged systems are in fact the greatest risk factor for salmonella contamination and an additional study demonstrated that industrial poultry production can increase the risk of Avian Influenza. The industry attempts to scare Californians into perpetuating an unsafe and inhumane production system when in reality the industry is likely concerned with its own profits if Proposition 2 passes. In a time when 76 million Americans are stricken by food poisoning every year, the last thing California and the rest of this country needs is a continuation of the status quo.

California is the world’s eighth largest economy and a powerhouse state that has a history of passing and enforcing laws that eventually become accepted nationally. When Californians go to the polls in November they can vote to end the most horrific animal abuses and environmental issues in this country. At the same time, they will be exercising their right to stand up for a healthier and safer national food supply that is so desperately needed. I am trusting Californians to vote yes on Proposition 2 and set the standard for animal, environmental, and food safety standards for the rest of the country to follow.

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