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Factory farming is cruel: Gene Baur at the editorial board Add to ...

Q: But there’s also a cost there. It becomes people with means who can afford to buy this kind of food.

A: One of the reasons that costs are so much higher for certain types of meat products is because the market is so strong. I don’t necessarily think the production costs are that much higher. And also, the profit margins on those products are higher for the retailers and also sometimes for the farmers. And eating plant-based foods doesn’t have to be that expensive. Rice and beans aren’t expensive. Instead of buying a bag of potato chips for example, you could buy a sack of potatoes. For probably about the same amount, you get a lot more nutrition. So I think we have developed some very bad habits about how we eat. I don’t believe that eating well always has to be expensive.

Q: What about the legislation prohibiting video cameras on farms? Was it federal or state legislation and how has that evolved?

Yes. Well it’s quite telling I think that agri-business has introduced bills in several states, in four states during this last legislative session to make it illegal to take pictures on farms. And to make it illegal to disseminate pictures from farms. Thankfully all four of those bills were defeated.

Q: What is your position on the consumption of fish?

In terms of fish, I believe they, like mammals and birds, are sentient creatures. We are concerned about the way wild-caught fish are caught. We’re also concerned about the factory-fish farms.

I think human beings are mammals so we are more easily able to understand cows and dogs and pigs and cats and other mammals. Because we’re kind of like them. Birds are a little different. So it’s kind of harder for us to really connect with them. Fish are even more different, so it can be even harder to connect with them. But they are individuals. They have feelings, they have emotional lives, and they develop relationships. A friend of mine is a New York City is a psychologist, and she has some fish that she pets at the top of her tank. We can live without eating them.

Q: What political strategies do you use to combat agri-business practices and laws that you oppose?

In the U.S., you introduce a bill either in Washington D.C. or in a state capital and it’s referred to a committee. And the committees it’s referred to are the agriculture committee in most cases. The agriculture committee is made up of legislators who represent agricultural areas so they’re very friendly to agri-business.

And we’ve had bills introduced and have died without even having a hearing. What we’ve done, and we started this in Florida back in 2000, was we went to the initiative process, which allows citizens to collect a certain number of signatures to put a measure on the ballot for a popular vote. About 24 states in the U.S. allow the initiative. We got on the ballot in 2002 with a measure to ban gestation crates, and it was approved by voters with 55 per cent of the vote. We then went to Arizona and in 2006, we put another measure on the ballot to ban gestation crates and veal crates, which is how veal calves are raised; they’re chained by the neck in these small wooden crates for their whole lives. And then gestation crates for pigs, which are also two foot wide enclosures where these breeding sows are kept for their whole lives, unable to even turn around. In Arizona in 2006, we got on the ballot and 62 per cent voted to ban veal crates and gestation crates. After that, Smithfield announced that they were going to phase out gestation crates. And the American Veal Association and some of the larger veal companies announced they were going to phase out veal crates. These things kind of play off of each other. In California in 2008 we got a measure on the ballot to ban veal crates, gestation crates and battery cages for egg-laying hens. This was the biggest effort of them all. This affected the lives of about 19 or 20 million animals. California is the sixth largest egg producing state in the U.S. The industry spent nearly $10 million trying to defeat it, but we won with 64 per cent of the vote.

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