The United States is an affluent country, we are fat cats. As people become more affluent, one of the first improvements they make is in their diets, often adding animal protein. That’s good news for pork producers.
On the flip side of that, once people’s bellies are full, consumers then turn their attention to how their food is being raised – are the animals producing the pork chops, bacon and hams being raised using the best possible production practices? That can be bad news for pork producers.
Animal rights organizations are mounting strong campaigns to legislate the way livestock are being raised. An example of this was approved in November as Massachusetts voters approved ballot Question 3, which prohibited breeding pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens from being held in confined spaces. Question 3 defined confined as meaning that which “prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely.” Livestock producers’ nemesis, the Humane Society of the U.S., was the driver behind getting this initiative passed by a 77.64% to 22.36% margin.
Diane Sullivan of Massachusetts says her state’s voters got duped by the HSUS message of the ballot question as a measure of humane animal care. “Who wouldn’t get behind that?” she says. “Everyone wants animals to be raised humanely.” What Sullivan has a problem with is when the rights of animals are put above the rights of humans.
Proponents of Question 3 monetized the issue as adding a penny an egg. That may not sound like too much. But a penny an egg is 12 pennies for a dozen eggs. That also does not sound like much. Sullivan says 12 pennies are a lot for a family who has had to sift through couch cushions just to find enough change to be able to provide food for her family. Sullivan knows this scenario all too well, because she was a mother who dug through her couch cushions to provide for her children.
Sullivan feels that “penny-an-egg” estimate is low-balling the cost to consumers, saying that when Proposition 2 was implemented in California in 2015 that the cost of egg went up 18%. Prop 2 required that by Jan. 1, 2015, egg-laying hens raised in California be able to stand up, lie down, turn around and fully extend their wings.
While such measures appear to be well-intentioned, Sullivan says they are putting further financial strains on those who are already financially strapped. She has become a passionate advocate for low-income people, and though her campaign to kill Question 3 failed, she will continue to work to battle social injustices.
“It’s hard for me to see people wanting to put the care of animals over the care of humans,” she says. “That’s really hard for me, as I faced nights where I knew my kids would have to go to bed without food.”