California’s new animal welfare legislation offers Minnesota a path toward more humane farming

‘Prop 12’ restrictions will likely alter the way hogs are raised in Minnesota.

A guest blog by Julie Knopp, CAA Board Member, as originally appeared on MINNPOST

A mother pig and her piglets in a gestation crate

February 6, 2024

In Minnesota, hogs outnumber humans. With roughly 15 million pigs sold each year, Minnesota is the second largest pork producing state in the nation. 

As of Jan. 1, new animal welfare legislation known as Proposition 12 took full effect in California, impacting thousands of Minnesota hog farmers. Approved by California voters in 2018 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2023, Prop 12 establishes minimum space allowances for egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and calves raised for veal. The law also prohibits the sale of meat and eggs from producers that do not comply with these requirements.

As some Minnesota hog farmers adapt to Prop 12, we have an opportunity to reconsider conventional agricultural practices and raise the ethical standard for animal farming in our state.

Many Minnesota hog farmers use gestation crates, which prevent breeding pigs from comfortably turning around or lying down for most of their lives. Under the new law, Minnesota hog farmers who choose to sell their pork products to California must provide each animal with a minimum of 24 square feet of floor space. According to recent reporting in the Star Tribune, Minnesota pork producers state that the costs to upgrade their facilities to comply with Prop 12 are significant.

The extreme confinement of breeding pigs is just one of the many horrors of hog farming in Minnesota. Hogs are highly intelligent and emotional animals, but roughly 98% of pigs in the U.S. spend their lives confined to factory farms. Packed into industrial warehouses by the thousands, pigs are unable to properly socialize or express natural behaviors. In these grim conditions, pigs suffer extreme boredom and isolation, without access to dirt, companionship or sunshine.

A recent investigation of a pig-breeding operation in southeastern Minnesota owned by pork giant Holden Farms revealed egregious abuses. Undercover video from advocacy organization Animal Outlook depicts workers feeding mother pigs a mixture of dead piglet intestines, bodily fluids and feces. Additional footage shows workers beating mother pigs on a routine basis, including those who are too sick or injured to walk. One undercover investigator described Holden Farms as a “house of horrors.” (Editor’s note: Holden Farms, in responding to the allegations,  said it adheres to “high-quality animal care standards” and will “vigorously defend these frivolous allegations.”) 

According to polling data, most pork consumers in the U.S. believe that the use of gestation crates is objectionable. California voters aren’t the only ones taking action to better align their agricultural practices with their values. In 2016, Massachusetts voters approved similar legislation, banning the sale of pork products from breeding pigs confined to pens. Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Rhode Island have all banned gestation crates.

Acclaimed primatologist Jane Goodall once said: “Farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined. They are individuals in their own right.”

Research supports Goodall’s claim. Farm animals are surprisingly intellectually and socially complex. Cognitive assessments rank pigs’ intelligence above dogs and even 3-year-old human children. Pigs form strong social bonds, show empathy towards fellow pigs and express a diverse array of emotions, such as joy, sorrow and stress. Some studies suggest pigs may even act altruistically, seeking to help another pig if it is confined to a separate enclosure from the rest of the group. 

Julie Knopp
Julie Knopp

To protect our moral legacy and show kindness to the animals born into our food system, the least we can do is provide them with enough space to turn around, lie down and extend their limbs. Prop 12 creates challenges for many Minnesota hog farmers, but the challenges are worth embracing. As a leading agricultural state, Minnesota must raise the standard of care for farm animals and pave the way towards a more humane future.

Julie Knopp is a board member at Compassionate Action for Animals in Minneapolis.

If you would like to see a law similar to Prop 12 in our state then sign our petition.

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