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Harvard, Cambridge, MA

Nov 06, 2008

Dog-lovers nationwide cheered Tuesday night as Barack Obama declared that he will be bringing a puppy to the White House. But the real victory for animals came at the polls themselves. In California and Massachusetts, voters passed ballot propositions that could have far-reaching consequences for animal protection in America.

The biggest victory came in California, where 63 percent of voters passed into law Proposition 2, which effectively bans the caged confinement of veal calves, gestating pigs and egg-laying hens. California's hens will be the most immediate beneficiaries of the ban -- 20 million of them will be released from their crammed battery cages by 2015, when the law comes into effect. But long term, the effects could go national: After Arizona's voters passed a similar ban in 2006, Smithfield Foods -- one of the nation's largest pork producers -- announced it would start phasing out gestation crates.

Closer to home, Massachusetts voters banned greyhound racing. In doing so, voters sent a clear condemnation of keeping active dogs in tight wire cages for 20 or more hours a day. They also rejected the notion that a sport propped up by state-sponsored gambling (a 1986 state law granted the racetracks subsidies and tax breaks) can be a bastion of free market liberalism. The vote made Massachusetts the 35th state to no longer participate in a pastime that, with 800 injuries on the state's tracks alone since 2002, is one of the few remaining legal blood sports.


Most significantly, though, voters burst the myth that the animal protection movement can't achieve real change. In the past, animal-abusing industries have relied on lobbyists to keep effective regulation at bay -- with the result that no federal law exists to ensure humane standards on America's farms. When animal advocates brought a bill to California's State Assembly similar to Proposition Two, it never left the Agriculture Committee.

On Tuesday night, America's voters sidelined such lobbyists. The National Pork Producers Council responded with shock: Its president, Bryan Black, was quoted in Pork Magazine worrying that California could be a "bellwether" for similar initiatives in other states. For the sake of the animals, let's hope he's right.


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