In a major victory against inhumane animal farming practices, two of Australia's biggest supermarket chains have pledged to phase out factory farmed pork and eggs.
Coles, the country's largest supermarket chain, will ban these products starting January 1, and a phaseout under way at competitor Woolworths will be complete by mid-2013, reports Ocean Robbins in a blog in the Huffington Post.
Together , the two companies account for 80% of grocery sales in Australia.
Coles's ban will impact 34,000 mother pigs and 350,000 hens, the company says.
Factory farms use gestation crates (sometimes called "sow stalls") that confine mother pigs much like a medieval torture device. Roughly the size of the pig's body, they prevent the animal from turning or moving during their four-month pregnancy.
Likewise, egg-laying hens are crammed into cages so small that they can't even spread their wings.
The two companies are responding to pressures from non-profit groups, including a television campaign against factory farming led by Animals Australia. The campaign encourages people to stop buying ham, turkey, eggs and other animal products that come from factory farms.
"We know that factory farming only exists because their secrets are secured behind high walls and closed doors - and that an informed community would not knowingly support such cruelty. This campaign will inform, inspire and empower Australians to make compassionate choices that will improve the lives of these animals, by refusing factory farmed products, buying fewer animals products, or by going meat free," Campaign Director Lyn White told the International Business Times.
In the US, there are laws against animal cruelty, but not for animals destined for human consumption. 90% of the 280 million egg-laying hens that supply the US market come from factory farms and 60% -70% of the more than five million breeding pigs are kept in gestation crates, says Ocean Robbins.
"Most of the anti-cruelty laws exempt farm animals as long as the practices are considered to be normal by the agriculture industry. What has happened is that bad has become normal, and no matter how cruel it is, normal is legal," Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, told Robbins.
This year, a major food distributor to restaurants, Sysco, pledged to stop buying pigs raised in gestation cages - a big deal because it supplies 17.5% of the market. This will make it much easier for smaller restaurants and food companies to adopt the same policy.
Supermarket chains Safeway and Kroger have announced similar policies, although without specific timeframes, as have a slew of other major food restaurants and manufacturers: McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Kraft Foods, Oscar Mayer, Denny's, Cracker Barrel, Sonic, Carl's Jr., Hardee's, Baja Fresh, Compass Group and Sodexo. Pork Smithfield and Hormel say they will end the practice by 2017, and Cargill says it is 50% crate-free.
California and Michigan passed laws that make battery cages for hens illegal and nine other states have joined the European Union in moving toward banning gestation cages.
So, things are changing for the better, but much of that is due to undercover investigations that prove "egregious, inhumane handling and treatment of livestock." Industry leaders are therefore trying to get laws passed make these investigations illegal. They have been passed in Iowa and Utah.
Robbins points a poll that shows an overwhelming majority of Americans (94%) want animals used for food to be free from abuse and cruelty, and 71% support undercover investigations by animal welfare organizations.
"Most farmers don't try to be cruel to animals, but they do worry about how to cut costs. And so long as consumers are kept in the dark about the real source of their food, farm owners have no economic incentive to do more than the minimum necessary to appease regulatory authorities," says Robbins.
Factory farms are also a huge source of water and air pollution, including greenhouse gases.
Organic farms operate on different principles.
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