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Patt Morrison Headshot

Two Hooves and Two Wings Up for Proposition 2

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I am looking at a Yes-on-Proposition 2 California campaign mailer with a picture of a piglet and the line, ''you are their only voice.''

But I am thinking of another piglet, and a hideous story out of an Iowa pig farm, an undercover video of farm hands slamming little pigs down on a concrete floor and beating the piglets' mothers with iron rods -- abusing pigs, creatures who sometimes live with humans as pets, and who some credit with the intelligence and emotional capacity of a two-year-old human.

There are other hideous stories, some right out of California, like the undercover video of the appalling abuse of sick and lame "downer'' cows being shoved and beaten into the butchering maw our food system ... veal calves being imprisoned in tiny crates for all of their short lives ... California's egg ''ranches,'' where four, five, six hens spend their lives crammed in the same small wire cage - their feet never touching ground, the living and the dead sometimes stuffed together, the filth falling on them from the hens in the cages above them. Now multiply this times millions of hens and millions of eggs in the same ''ranch.''

You really want to eat this?

California's Proposition 2, on the November 4 ballot, could do something about this.

A ''yes'' vote on Proposition 2 would add California to Arizona and Florida as a state requiring more humane treatment of many of the multiple, multiple millions of animals in our state's food chain.

In California, breeding pigs now spend their entire pregnancies standing up, and they do it on concrete. There isn't even enough room for them to turn all the way around or to completely lie down.

Veal calves don't live very long before they're slaughtered for your plate, and for all their brief lives, they're caged, tied up by the neck. They can't lie down. They can't even stretch their legs out, much less walk or gambol - heaven forbid they might toughen their meat.

Our livestock factory farming practices are repugnant. Proposition 2 would do something - not nearly enough, but something - to amend them.

Under Proposition 2, all caged and crated animals would have to be able to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs. Businesses would have six full years before the rules took full effect, and rodeos, fairs, 4-H programs and a few other purposes would be exempt.

How can we not make this small humane gesture?

Too costly? One California-based poultry economist cited by the Humane Society puts the cost at less than one cent per egg. And there's profit to be had in humane treatment. Just as ''organic'' has become a desirable food quality, I think foods labeled ''cruelty-free'' and ''California grown'' have the same promise to attract consumers. The Humane Society also tells me that some retailers, like Safeway and Burger King, are already going out of their way to ask for humane animal products.

Opponents warn that if Proposition 2 passes, we'll start importing cheaper food. Oh yeah? From where? China? That's a swell idea. First China sends us poisoned pet food. Now there's news that Chinese eggs have also turned up contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine; evidently Chinese hens were ''doped up'' with it to register higher levels of protein.

And even if you don't give a hen's heinie for a chicken's welfare or any other animal's, what about your own health? Some scientific reckonings find that ``factory farm'' eggs are as much as 20 times likelier to be contaminated by salmonella or other icky bugs.

"Meghan'' sent a blog comment to my program on KPCC 89.3 public radio, which said, "My husband and I have a small backyard chicken flock and the chickens are happy, free to roam, eat bugs, and scratch around to their hearts' content. We have no problems with ... health issues ... Most of the problems that battery, and even cage free, egg operations are a direct result of not allowing chickens to be chickens. As an industry they need to stop treating these animals as egg factories, and eggs as simple units of financial gain.''

My friend, the wonderful actor Henry Gibson, of ''Nashville'' and ''Laugh-In,'' fame, faxed me, apropos of Proposition 2, something he read at a performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 1971. Here's a pertinent part of his re-worked libretto to Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals.''

"Hens and roosters lead terrible lives.

Well, hens do. Roosters have all those wives.

They chatter, grow fatter, what does it matter?

They're bound to end up on somebody's platter.

Egged on artificially, no place to run,

Cocks crow at sockets to plug in the sun.

If to such an Orwellian life I were fated,

I would will myself never to be incubated.''

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