Updated July 2013
Activists challenging housing and confinement of various farm animals have used a variety of legal and policy tools to pursue their goals. These have included ballot initiatives, legislation and the judicial system.
Florida saw the first successful challenge in 2002. After lobbying the state legislature unsuccessfully, activists gathered 690,000 signatures to get a proposed amendment to the state constitution on the ballot to prohibit the confinement or tethering of pregnant pigs in such a manner that the pig is prevented from turning around freely.
In 2002, Florida voters approved the amendment. According to the final results, 2,611,011 Floridians or about 55% voted in favor of the amendment and 2,157,047 or 45% voted against it.
Arizona voters followed suit in 2006 by voting in favor of a ballot initiative to ban intensive confinement of gestating pigs and calves raised for veal by 2013. The proposal was approved by 61% of the voters.
In Nov. 2008, California voters approved the ballot initiative Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, also known as Proposition 2, with 63% of the vote. It will prohibit, effective 2015, confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. This is the first time voters were asked to eliminate the practice of confining chickens in battery cages. Because there are few veal producers in California and the largest pork producer in the state voluntarily had planned to eliminate small crates, the law will mostly affect the state's 20 million egg-laying hens. Statements from supporters of the initiative indicate that similar measures could be headed to other states.
Each year, a handful of state legislatures introduce bills on this topic, and several have been enacted and signed into law. In 2007, Oregon adopted SB 694 to prohibit the confinement of a pregnant pig by tether or other means for 12 hours or more, where it prohibits the animal from turning around freely and lying down to fully extend its limbs. SB 694 contains an exemption for veterinarians and will apply on or after January 1, 2012.
In 2008, Colorado SB 201 was passed, requiring that calves raised for veal (after Jan. 1, 2012) and gestation sows (after Jan. 1, 2018, and no earlier than 12 days prior to expected date of farrowing) be able to stand up, lie down and turn around without touching the sides of their enclosure. Exemptions include scientific or agricultural research; veterinary treatment; transportation; rodeo exhibitions, fairs and youth programs; and legally sanctioned slaughter. The law also charges the state agriculture commissioner to establish a process for considering questions about animal husbandry and humane production practices. The approval of this bill led to the withdrawal of a ballot initiative on the subject.
Maine enacted similar legislation in 2009, SP 385/LD1021, which takes effect in 2011. This law prohibits a person from tethering or confining a sow during gestation or a calf raised for veal that is kept on a farm for all or the majority of a day in a manner that prevents the animal from (1) lying down, standing up and fully extending the animal's limbs, and (2) turning around freely. Several exemptions are listed, including examination, testing, individual treatment of or operation on an animal for veterinary purposes.
In October 2009, Michigan adopted HB 5127 which requires that any pig during pregnancy, calf raised for veal, and egg-laying hen that is kept on a farm, must be housed so the animal can lie down, stand up and turn around freely. Exemptions include research, veterinary treatment, transportation, rodeos and state fairs, during slaughter and, in the case of pregnant sows, housing seven days before expected birth. Producers and farmers will have three years to comply with the veal calf restrictions and 10 years to comply with the rules for pregnant sows and egg-laying hens.
In the 2011 legislative session, Washington adopted SB 5487, which established enforceable minimum standards to protect the health and well-being of egg laying hens in commercial egg laying operations. The bill provides that entities providing eggs or egg products for intrastate commerce that apply for either an egg handler or egg dealer license before January 1, 2026, must include proof that their eggs are produced by egg layer operations that meet the 2010 version of the United Egg Producer's (UEP) animal husbandry guidelines. It further provides that any new facilities built between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2016, must also show they were approved under or convertible to the American Humane Association (AHA) Facility System Plan for Enriched Colony Housing in effect on January 1, 2011.
Oregon also adopted laws concerning egg-laying hens in the 2011 legislative session. Senate Bill 805 directs the Department of Agriculture to adopt rules regulating the manner in which egg laying hens may be confined in an enclosure. The new law requires enclosures constructed or acquired before January 1, 2012 to meet standards equivalent to the requirements for certification established in the United Egg Producers' Animal Husbandry Guidelines for US Egg Laying Flocks. The law also requires enclosures constructed or acquired on or after that date to be convertible into enclosures that meet standards equivalent to the requirements for certification of enriched colony facility systems established in the American Humane Association's farm animal welfare certification program. The law continues to set out more stringent standards that will be progressively implemented over the course of 15 years.
No state has adopted legislation prohibiting confinement of chickens, although a few bills are introduced every year on the subject.
In 2012, Rhode Island adopted legislation that provides that a person is guilty of unlawful confinement of a sow or calf if the person knowingly tethers or confines a sow or calf in a manner that prevents the animal from turning around freely, lying down, standing up, or fully extending its limbs. Exemptions in this legislation include confinement for medical research; for veterinary purposes; for transportation; for rodeo, fair, or other exhibition purposes; during confinement for animal husbandry purposes for no more than 6 hours in any 24-hour period; during humane slaughter; during the 14-day period prior to a sow giving birth; and for calves being trained to either exit, or accept routine confinement in dairy and beef housing. This bill will take effect in June 2013.
Most recently, in June 2013, the Governor of New Jersey vetoed a bill that would have banned the use of gestation crates for pregnant sows. In his veto message, Governor Christie pointed out that “The proper balancing of the humane treatment of gestating pigs with the interest of farmers whose livelihood depends on their ability to properly manage their livestock best rests with the State’s farming experts- the State Board and the Department.”
On occasion, even courts are asked to rule on animal agriculture issues. In 2008, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld most of the state's regulations on the treatment of livestock as consistent with the meaning of the term "humane," including castration, debeaking of poultry, toe-trimming of turkeys, crating, tethering, and transport to slaughter. The court, however, struck down the Department of Agriculture's exemption for "routine husbandry practices" and directed the agency to clarify exactly who is properly trained to perform procedures to make sure they are sanitary and minimize pain. The court also criticized the practice of tail docking, the amputation of part of a cow's tail. The department was directed to revise the rules to be in compliance with the court opinion.
The New Jersey case goes back to 2004, when the state adopted regulations meant to provide for the humane treatment of farm animals. A coalition of organizations filed a civil lawsuit contending the regulations authorized industry practices that are inhumane and provided no benefit to the animals.
The AVMA's positions on the housing of layer chickens, veal calves, and pregnant sows are available on the AVMA Web site, and can be viewed along with other animal welfare polices, at http://www.avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/policies.asp.