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AVMA Disgraces Itself and its Members With Stance on Humane Farming Initiative

A quote from Albert Camus' The Fall has haunted me since I first read it years ago. I was tempted to dust off my copy...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Sep 16th 2008

A quote from Albert Camus’ The Fall has haunted me since I first read it years ago. I was tempted to dust off my copy of the book and find the quote for this post, but let’s face it: I am a busy man living in the post-Google world. Thirty seconds after recalling the passage, I had successfully copied it onto my computer’s clipboard.

To be sure, you are not familiar with that dungeon cell that was called the little-ease in the Middle Ages. In general, one was forgotten there for life. That cell was distinguished from others by ingenious dimensions. It was not high enough to stand up in nor yet wide enough to lie down in. One had to take on an awkward manner and live on the diagonal; sleep was a collapse, and waking a squatting. Mon cher, there was geniusand I am weighing my wordsin that so simple invention. Every day through the unchanging restriction that stiffened his body, the condemned man learned that he was guilty and that innocence consists in stretching joyously.

–Albert Camus, The Fall

At this point you may be wondering whether the vet blogger has lost his mind. What on earth does existential writing from 1956 have to do with a vet blog?

This topic is about California’s Proposition 2, the Humane Farming Initiative. I have covered Proposition 2 twice on this blog already: here and here.

My favorite summary of Proposition 2 comes directly from the text of the proposition(link is PDF format):

The purpose of this Act is to prohibit the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.

Current farming practices in California allow the use of sow gestation crates, veal crates, and egg production facilities (employing battery cages) that confine animals in conditions reminiscent of Camus’ “little-ease.” The idea behind Proposition 2 is to eliminate these practices by 2015.

The people who support these practices are not sadists or medieval-style torturers. The farming practices are economically motivated.

But I quote Camus to make a point. It is absolutely obvious–in fact, it is self-evident–that confining anybody or anything in a manner that does not allow it to rest, stand up, turn around or stretch is inhumane.

So when I saw that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the nation’s largest organization of veterinarians, had issued a statement on Proposition 2, I was anxious to read it. Here is an excerpt. (I encourage you to click on the link to the AVMA’s position statement. I find it interesting that the linked page includes a photograph of a free-range chicken farm, rather than a photo of battery cages such as the one at the start of this post. Proposition 2 would eliminate battery cages.)

Although the American Veterinary Medical Association applauds every effort to promote animal welfare, the AVMA is concerned about possible, unintended negative consequences to animal welfare of enacting Proposition 2.

I beg your pardon? Allowing animals to stand up, lie down, turn around, and stretch their limbs may have negative consequences on their welfare? Does the AVMA truly think that anyone will believe such nonsense?

The AVMA is the voice of veterinary medicine in America. The AVMA represents and speaks for all vets in this nation, whether it claims to or not. When the AVMA releases a statement like the one above it damages the credibility of all veterinarians. And I don’t appreciate that.