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Lending a hand to the farm

Lending a hand to the farm
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Monday, July 16, 2012 - 4:20pm

(CNN) -- As food policy director for The Humane Society of the United States, I have the privilege of working with people all over the country taking steps to help farm animals every day. Fortunately for the animals, one needn't be a full time advocate to help make things better for pigs, chickens, cows and other farm animals. Here are five small ways to make a big impact toward building a more humane food system.

Five Easy Things You (Yes, You!) Can Do To Help Farm Animals: Matthew Prescott

1. Change your diet

Many Americans eat way too much meat, though over the past few years, that amount has started to drop. Most of us know that eating large amounts of meat is bad for our health and the environment. It's also bad for farm animals, the vast majority of whom suffer immensely on industrialized factory farms where they're treated more like machines than animals.

If each American simply chose to go meat-free just one day a week, more than a billion fewer chickens, pigs and other farm animals would be caught up in the factory farming system each year. The Humane Society of the United States advocates an approach of reducing the amount of animal products in your diet, replacing animal products with plant-based options and refining your choices by being a conscious consumer and seeking products with a higher welfare standard.

As more people de-emphasize meat in their diet, it's no surprise to see Meatless Monday programs taking root in households, schools, hospitals and restaurants. Meatless Mondays , a popular international movement that promoted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, offers a great opportunity to celebrate a fresh take on eating in a way that people can feel good about.

2. Ask your legislators to support farm animal welfare reforms

Farm animals are often unprotected from everyday factory farming abuses, such as being locked in cages in which they can barely move an inch their whole lives. There are no federal laws that protect animals on farms and only a few state laws that do. Many states even have laws that exempt common agricultural practices from animal welfare statutes - regardless of how abusive they are.

Right now, there are bills pending in Congress (H.R. 3798 and S. 3239) that would offer some protection to hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens. Amazingly, in an all-too-rare case of adversaries finding common ground, most animal protection groups and most egg producers jointly support the legislation. But other factory farming industries - like the industrial pork and beef industry - have voiced opposition.

3. Support the movement to let pigs turn around

Last month, Eatocracy drew attention to the misery of pig "gestation crates" - tiny cages that virtually immobilize breeding pigs. These cages are so small, the animals locked inside spend basically their entire lives unable even to turn around. Of all the hideous things that happen to farm animals, this is among the worst.

Fortunately, major food companies that purchase vast quantities of pork are taking a stand against this abuse. Since February, The HSUS has helped leading food companies announce policies that will require their pork suppliers to give pigs some freedom of movement and socialization. Taking this stance are some heavyweights in the food industry, including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Kroger, Safeway, Denny's, Sodexo, Oscar Mayer, Kraft Foods, Sonic, Cracker Barrel, Carl's Jr., Hardee's and Baja Fresh.

Despite all of this, there are some major pork producers that refuse to budge, and continue defending lifelong immobilization. You can help pigs today by using resources on our site to take action and let your voice be heard.

4. Encourage food businesses to switch to more humane products

Each time you go out to eat or buy groceries, ask about more humane options. Grabbing some coffee? See if there's soy cream available. As a customer, you deserve to know the source of your food, so don't hesitate to ask.

Next time you are at your favorite restaurant, ask if the pork comes from factory farms that confine pigs in gestation crates, and if they do, explain why this concerns you. If they don't have a veggie burger, ask why not. Every time you ask these questions, it plants a seed that can grow into significant change.

5. Get social! Let your online friends know you care

The Internet has made helping animals easy. With just the click of a mouse -- a simple "Share" or "Like" or tweet, for example -- you can help reach vast audiences with messages of compassion for farm animals.

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