ALBANY, N.Y. — Legislators in New York introduced a new bill that would prohibit the confinement of breeding pigs, veal calves and egg-laying hens by 2015. New York State Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, introduced the bill.
Rosenthal has served in the assembly since 2006 and has been a supporter of the Humane Society of the United States for many years.
She recently helped the organization use undercover cameras to target New York retailers selling mislabeled fur. In March, the society presented Rosenthal with a humane legislator award.
Her most recent sponsored legislation, bill A08163, states that confined animals are unable to engage in natural behavior and “experience extensive and significant physical and psychological trauma.”
“[Rosenthal] has been an animal rights activist for a number of years, and this bill is another step in her commitment,” said Meghan Nutting, legislative director to Rosenthal.
“This was an issue she pursued on her own, and the Humane Society of the United States has thrown their full support behind her.”
Nutting said Rosenthal sponsored a bill similar to this one last year and has introduced many other bills related to the humane treatment of animals.
Although 10 other assembly members, most located in the New York City area, have co-sponsored the legislation, New York agricultural producers shouldn’t be too worried, said New York Farm Bureau Government Relations Director Julie Suarez.
“The bill has been introduced in legislation, but it must be voted on and passed in the agriculture committee,” she said.
This committee is chaired by William Magee, an auctioneer in Madison County, N.Y., who graduated from Cornell in agricultural economics. Magee said committee members are reviewing the bill, and a vote will probably not take place before 2010.
“We have to take a close look at it,” Magee said. “We understand the concerns of the sponsor, but we also have to consider the negative impact for farmers.”
Magee said of the 22 other members of the agriculture committee, many have similar backgrounds to his and are well-versed in production agriculture.
Magee said, however, the bill provides an opportunity to re-evaluate New York’s agricultural industry.
“We want to protect farmers, but they should take a look at what they’re doing and see what they can do differently,” he said.
Although New York farmers may be breathing a sigh of relief for now, others aren’t so lucky. Similar action to this bill has succeeded in other states, such as the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act (Proposition 2) that was passed in California last fall by ballot initiative.
Reforms for so-called “factory farms” were also passed in Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Oregon.
Suarez said part of the reason the Humane Society of the United States and Farm Sanctuary have been so successful in other states is because the initiative and referendum process allows legislators to obtain signatures and support for a one- or two-sentence ballot that does not fully represent the entire proposed action.
“[Legislators] use language that is posed very simplistically,” Suarez said. “The agriculture industry does not have the funds to educate the public about that language.”
Washington D.C. and 24 states, including Ohio, allow for these ballot initiatives.
“What is needed here is more consumer education,” said David White, Ohio Farm Bureau’s senior director for policy research and development. “As agricultural producers, we need to do a better job of telling our story.”
Ohio agricultural leaders like White have been evaluating consumer education programs more closely since the February 2009 meeting between representatives from the Humane Society of the United States and Ohio’s livestock industry leaders.
White said the best way to counteract the efforts of the Humane Society of the United States and similar activist organizations is to emphasize that although farmers have a variety of production systems, they are all dedicated to caring for animals.
White said producers need to understand that even if the legislation does not pass, the issue still creates a buzz and initiates a ripple effect.
“This type of legislation affects all states and all commodities related to livestock production throughout the nation,” White said. “Now is the time to educate the public.”