When Californians vote in the presidential election on November 4, they will also be able to vote for Proposition 2, The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.

Prop 2 requires the following: “[That] certain farm animals be allowed, for the majority of every day, to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up and turn around.”

Upon hearing about this initiative, people are often confused. They wonder why this legislation is even necessary, as it seems obvious that animals, even those used for food, should not be forced to remain completely immobile for the majority of the day. They think of happy California cows roaming in fields and the barnyard chickens pictured on their meat packages. Unfortunately, these are only images created by advertisers. The truth is that, on industrialized farms, all three types of animals specified in this legislation suffer inhumane living conditions. Veal calves are tethered by the neck, pregnant pigs are put into metal and concrete stalls, and egg-laying hens are crowded into wire cages. All these animals live the majority of their lives in extremely small spaces, which fit tightly around their bodies and prevent them from making even minimal movements.

When this type of corporate farming becomes the norm, both animals and people suffer. Animals raised under these stressful conditions are likely to become sick, and they spread their diseases to us. Concentrated waste contaminates our air and water. Antibiotics used to treat these compromised animals are additional sources of environmental pollution. It is important that we as a society put an end to these practices, and instead encourage sustainable farming methods used by smaller family farms. When animals are raised under more natural conditions, the result is more nutritious and tasteful food that is less likely to make us ill. This difference is often noticed by first-time visitors to the United States, who feel that the meat in their home country tastes much better. Usually, they come from places where factory farms are much less prevalent. Prop 2 encourages methods already used by local family farms, giving them a fighting chance in the marketplace against larger industrialized operations.

Another reason that Prop 2 is important is that it promotes compassion for all living beings. Psychological research has shown that treating animals humanely is a vital part of a stable society. People who are cruel to animals are also likely to be violent toward other humans. When we decide that all animals, even those to be used for food, should be treated with respect, it follows that we should also treat each other with dignity and respect. Whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian, most people agree that it is immoral to treat other living creatures simply as tools for human use, with absolute disregard for their well-being. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

If Prop 2 is passed, industrialized farms will have seven years to phase out these severe confinement methods and replace them with more humane, healthful, and environmentally friendly practices. Arizona, Colorado, Florida, and Oregon recently passed similar laws, which have already resulted in positive reforms in the farming industry. A YES vote on Prop 2 means that California will play an important role in continuing this process.

Sujatha Ramakrishna is a child and adolescent psychiatrist in San Jose, Calif.

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