Scientists shouldn’t shill for farm industry on animal welfare

Published 10/30 in The Sacramento Bee by Dean Florez

California is the nation’s leading state for agricultural production, and also the country’s leader on animal welfare.

When I was a state lawmaker, I endorsed Proposition 2, which required that laying hens be allowed to “stand up, lie down, turn around, and freely extend their limbs.” I saw no contradiction in advocating for our agricultural economy and for farm animals receiving proper care.

Proposition 2 was an important advance, but a decade later, it’s time for an upgrade. That’s precisely what a new proposed ballot measure would do. It would stipulate that laying hens live cage-free, and it would make sure that veal, eggs and pork sold in the state come from farms that do not keep animals in extreme confinement, no matter where the farms operate.

The Humane Society of the United States is leading the charge for this measure. While Prop. 2 passed overwhelmingly, there was a concerted disinformation campaign by the egg industry and other factory farm interests to frighten voters about food costs. They even worked after the election to promote an “egg safety” rule that kept laying hens in cages, despite the clear intention of voters.

Among the more surprising critics of farm animal welfare were some academics at UC Davis. Funded by agribusiness interests, some acted as their mouthpieces, doing interviews and putting out reports parroting the opposition campaign’s message. One particularly egregious report from two UC Davis scientists even predicted that Prop. 2 would result in “the elimination of almost all of the California egg industry over a few years.”

A decade later, California is still one of the nation’s biggest egg producers, with a number of major farms pledging to add massive cage-free facilities in the Central Valley.

There are signs that these UC Davis scientists will also be part of the opposition to the proposed ballot measure, seeking to establish a panel to offer official “advice” on animal welfare measures. Voters saw through their industry-speak 10 years ago, and they should do the same this time.

Our state’s academic institutions, including UC Davis, are known for excellence in research and teaching. But there are times when some academics get too closely aligned to industries that fund some of their work. Some UC Davis agribusiness professors are compromising the university’s reputation for academic integrity, and they should be very careful as the ballot measure campaign gains momentum in the next 12 months.

I’m proud to endorse this measure. No doubt there’ll be opponents with ulterior motives, but Californians know right from wrong, which is why I predict they’ll be even more supportive of this measure than Prop. 2 a decade ago.

Read the original article here.