The arguments of Arizona’s farmers and ranchers against Proposition 204 on the Nov. 7 ballot appeal strongly to the libertarian nature of the Tribune Editorial Board.
Initially, we were rather skeptical about an initiative sponsored by animal rights activists to regulate the proper caging of calves raised for veal meat and of breeding sows.
There is no veal industry in Arizona and the state’s lone hog confinement farm is in St. Johns. So we shared the concerns of farmers and ranchers about possible ulterior motives that include an agenda against eating meat.
But as with the other 18 ballot measures, we researched this issue further and discovered Prop. 204 isn’t as unreasonable as it might appear at first glance. Consider these facts:
• The welfare of farm animals is regulated by no one. Rules from the U.S. Department of Agriculture apply only after an animal is slaughtered. And agriculture uses are excluded from Arizona’s animal welfare laws.
• The proposed law is narrowly crafted to only require that veal calves and breeding sows be given enough room to lie down, turn around and stretch their legs. The obvious method to meet this standard would be to double the width of confinement pens that are the current standards of these industries. But no specific method is mandated in the law. So any affected farmers would have the freedom to find alternative, cost-effective ways of caging such animals.
• The rules of Prop. 204 wouldn’t apply during the week before a pregnant sow is expected to give birth. Most veterinarians agree this is the critical time when pigs need tight confinement to protect both mother and piglets.
• Prop. 204 wouldn’t go into effect until 2013, an appropriate delay to allow time for the St. Johns corporate operation to weigh its options and to budget appropriately if it wants to continue business here.
Unlike farmers and ranchers, we aren’t worried Prop. 204 could become a springboard to launch more restrictive laws that would have a much wider impact on Arizona agriculture.
We have faith that voters are wise enough to see the difference between providing a minimal level of animal comfort and a hypothetical future campaign to limit what meat reaches our dinner table.