Legislation that could be considered next year would create new standards for farm animal cruelty for egg-laying hens, calves raised for veal and breeding pigs.
Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, D-Manhattan, recently introduced A.7841 and attracted co-sponsorship from Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, D-Brooklyn. The legislation stipulates farm owners or operators in New York won’t knowingly cause any covered animal to be confined in a cruel manner and business owners or operators won’t knowingly sell eggs, veal or pork products that were raised in cruel conditions. Those in violation could be punished by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 180 days in jail.
“The proposed bill, which aims to prohibit the cruel confinement of farm animals, should be enacted into law due to its potential to improve animal welfare, promote ethical farming practices, and align with public sentiment and scientific evidence,” Epstein wrote in his legislative justification. “The bill addresses the issue of animal welfare by introducing measures to prevent the cruel confinement of farm animals. Numerous studies and reports from reputable sources have documented the adverse physical and psychological effects of intensive confinement on animals. For example, a comprehensive review published in the journal Animals in 2019 analyzed scientific literature and concluded that confinement systems often lead to poor welfare outcomes, including increased stress, injuries, and decreased ability to express natural behaviors.”
State law would be changed to favor eggs from hens housed in a cage-free housing system that allows hens to roam unrestricted and allow hens to exhibit natural behaviors, including, at a minimum, scratch areas, perches, nest boxes, and dust bathing areas; and within which farm employees can provide care while standing within the hens’ usable floorspace. Cage-free housing systems include, to the extent they comply with Epstein’s proposal, multitiered aviaries, in which hens have access to multiple elevated platforms that provide hens with usable floorspace both on top of and underneath the platforms; partially slatted systems, in which hens have access to elevated flat platforms under which manure drops through the flooring to a pit or litter removal belt below; or single-level all-litter floor systems bedded with litter, in which hens have limited or no access to elevated flat platforms.
Epstein’s bill also creates space requirements for egg-laying hens, calves raised for veal and breeding pigs. By Dec. 31, 2024, it would be considered cruel treatment to keep a calf raised for veal in less than 43 square feet of usable floor space per calf in a barn and breeding pigs in less than 24 square feet of usable floor space per pig. Farmers with egg-laying hens would have to adhere to the 2017 edition of the United Egg Producers’ Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg-Laying Flocks: Guidelines for Cage-Free Housing or in an enclosure other than a cage-free housing system.
Violations would also include times when egg-laying hens, calves raised for veal or breeding pigs are housed so that they can’t lay down, stand up, fully extend the their limbs or turn around freely.
There are exceptions in the law for during medical research; veterinarian exams and testing; transportation, rodeos, state or county fairs, 4-H programs and similar exhibitions; during slaughter and during breeding periods.
“Furthermore, public opinion increasingly favors humane treatment of animals,” Epstein wrote in his legislative justification. “A 2019 survey conducted by the University of Oxford found that 80% of respondents in the United States supported the banning of intensive confinement practices. Such widespread support indicates a growing societal recognition of the importance of animal welfare and the desire for responsible and compassionate farming practices. The bill also aligns with the scientific consensus on animal welfare. Various academic researchers and organizations, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association, have highlighted the need to provide animals with environments that allow for natural behaviors and minimize unnecessary suffering. These expert opinions and scientific findings emphasize the urgency and significance of enacting legislation to address the issue of cruel confinement. By enacting this bill, lawmakers would take a significant step towards ensuring the well-being of farm animals and fostering a more compassionate and sustainable food system.”
Epstein’s bill comes during a wider national debate and discussion of animal welfare in the nation’s food supply. The Associated Press reported recently that the U.S. Agriculture Department must approve all animal welfare claims on meat and poultry labels before products can be sold. Claims that products are organic are verified in person by government regulators but animal welfare claims are verified by paperwork submitted by producers. The USDA doesn’t have the regulatory authority to check animal welfare claims on farms, said Sandra Eskin, the USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety.
“There are plenty of companies out there that are following the law and many that are not, and that’s just not fair,” Eskin told the AP.
Eskin told the AP that the agency plans to update its guidelines to require more documentation from companies making animal welfare claims. It will also strongly encourage companies to hire third-party verification groups, such as Human Farm Animal Care, a non-profit organization in Virginia that certifies animal welfare claims.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year upheld a California law that requires more space for breeding pigs, a ruling the pork industry says will lead to higher costs nationwide for pork chops and bacon. The case before the court involved California’s Proposition 12, which voters passed in 2018. It said that pork sold in the state needs to come from pigs whose mothers were raised with at least 24 square feet of space, with the ability to lie down and turn around. That rules out confined “gestation crates,” metal enclosures that are common in the pork industry.
“While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in an opinion for the court.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa-based National Pork Producers Council sued. They said that while Californians consume 13% of the pork eaten in the United States, nearly 100% of it comes from hogs raised outside the state, including in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and North Carolina. The vast majority of sows, meanwhile, are not raised under conditions that would meet Proposition 12’s standards.
Scott Hays, the president of the National Pork Producers Council said in a statement following the ruling that the group was “very disappointed” with the court’s opinion.
“Allowing state overreach will increase prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business, leading to more consolidation,” he wrote, according to the Associated Press.
The Biden administration had urged the justices to side with pork producers, telling the court in written filings that Proposition 12 would be a “wholesale change in how pork is raised and marketed in this country” and that it has “thrown a giant wrench” into the nation’s pork market. Pork producers argued that 72% of farmers use individual pens for sows that do not allow them to turn around and that even farmers who house sows in larger group pens do not provide the space California would require.
They also say that the way the pork market works, with cuts of meat from various producers being combined before sale, it is likely all pork would have to meet California standards, regardless of where it is sold. Complying with Proposition 12 could cost the industry $290 million to $350 million, they said.