Factory farmed pigs in pens so small they cannot turn around (Photo/Flickr-Farm Sanctuary CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Factory farmed pigs in pens so small they cannot turn around (Photo/Flickr-Farm Sanctuary CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Prop 12: A sliver of freedom for factory-farmed animals

In my career as an animal welfare advocate, nothing has been more mortifying and heartbreaking than witnessing firsthand the horrors of the factory farming system. Chickens stuffed floor to ceiling in small, filthy cages struggling to breathe and spread their wings; veal calves bellowing and confined in crates where they’re prevented even from turning around their whole lives until slaughter; tired mother pigs feeding their young inside small cages; the foul odor of iron and fat wafting from the killing floor.

As an average citizen, these conditions terrorize my dreams. The conditions are so egregious they give me the impetus to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. And, most importantly, as a person of faith, I cannot ethically abide by these realities where the innocent suffer needlessly. Every inch of my soul cries out in pain because I know that, despite my best intentions, I alone cannot stop the gratuitous, sinful cruelty. I alone cannot simply end the suffering.

Despite the formidable odds, more opportunities are becoming available for people to reflect on how their actions affect the animals’ treatment. For the citizens of California, no action is more necessary and immediate to improve the lives of billions of factory-farmed animals than voting “Yes” on Proposition 12.

Proposition 12 lays out specific measures that, while not completely remedying every single problem associated with the industrial meat or dairy industries, will allow farm animals to see a vast improvement in their quality of life. The stipulations of Prop 12 call for cage-free conditions for egg-laying chickens, baby veal calves and mother pigs. This is a moderate ask, simply to allow farm animals to move. Proposition 12 accomplishes much by going incrementally, advocating for sensible steps that bring quiet dignity to animals.

Whenever I come across worthy initiatives like Proposition 12 that aim to reduce the amount of animal suffering, I always tend to reflect and return to the sources of our tradition that prescribe love for all of God’s creatures: that God cares for every being in creation; that God is kind and benevolent to all. Jewish tradition has long held that causing superfluous suffering in animals is a sin. Though animals don’t have the status as a human in terms of spiritual potential (tzelem Elokim), the fact remains they remain reflections of the Divine and, thus, are afforded certain privileges of dignity.

As Maimonides writes in his philosophical masterwork “The Guide for the Perplexed,” the fact that humans have the power to strip animals of their agency and their natural will to live means that we as a species have the added obligation not to cause unnecessary harm. As he states: “Since the necessity to have good food requires that animals be killed, the aim was to kill them in the easiest manner, and it was forbidden to torment them…” (Part 3, Chapter 48).

For too long, factory farms have disregarded pain for maximum profit. Countless lives have been destroyed because of wanton carelessness and greed. Though legislation and civic action is an imperfect means to engender utopia, it does bring about positive change nonetheless. And it is change that we should get behind at every opportunity. On Nov. 6, I urge my friends in California to support Proposition 12 and its singular call to reduce animal suffering in factory farms. It is a positive step toward a brighter future for all of God’s creation.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of the Shamayim V’Aretz Institute (the Jewish animal welfare movement) and the author of 14 books on Jewish ethics. The opinions expressed here represent the views of the author and not any of the organizations with which he is affiliated.