American agriculture has replaced traditional family farms with the large, industrial-like CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, that dominate the industry today. The modern agricultural industry, however, has raised many animal welfare concerns. These concerns, in turn, have given rise to ballot initiatives and state legislation regarding these issues.
Over the past century, animal agriculture (meaning the raising of animals for food) has undergone great change. Although American agriculture traditionally consisted of small family farms, agriculture today is a large industry, with only four companies producing most of the meat that Americans eat. In the current agricultural industry, the traditional small, outdoor farms have been replaced by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, commonly called “factory farms.” Rather than having animals graze in outdoor pastures, CAFOs congregate large numbers of animals in small lots or indoor pens, crates, or cages.
Modern farming attempts to produce as much meat as possible at as little cost as possible. However, this system results in animal welfare, environmental, and human health consequences. With so many animals being raised on CAFOs, many animal welfare issues arise concerning the confinement of these animals and the overcrowded conditions in which they live. These crowded conditions and large numbers of animals also create an overwhelming amount of animal waste, which raises environmental and human health concerns because it pollutes the surrounding soil and water.
In response to the animal welfare concerns arising from the treatment of animals on CAFOs, several states have enacted laws to regulate the treatment of these animals. These laws may concern issues other than just the confinement of agricultural animals, such as the manner of slaughter of the animals, the treatment of nonambulatory (meaning unable to walk or stand without assistance) animals, tail docking, and the force-feeding of birds. Ballot initiatives, which are forms of legislation created and voted on directly by individual persons, rather than by the state legislatures, have also been enacted to provide protections for animals on CAFOs.
Ballot initiatives concerning the treatment of animals on CAFOs began in Florida in 2002 and were supported by animal interest groups. Since then, ballot initiatives have arisen in several states, generally empowered by animal welfare or animal interest organizations. Since these ballot initiatives come directly from the people, rather than through any state’s legislative body, they tend to provide more protection for animals on CAFOs than do regular acts of legislation.