Earlier this month, two congressmen-- Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced a bill called "the Farm Animal Stewardship Purchasing Act (HR-5557)." It requires producers who supply meat, dairy products and eggs to federal programs such as the military, federal prisons, school lunches and others, to comply with "moderate" animal-welfare standards.

What is "moderate" you may ask? The bill outlines basic animal-welfare standards as providing "farm" animals with adequate shelter, space, daily access to food and water, and adequate veterinary care. That all seems logical, fair and certainly agreeable. However, interpretation will enters into the scene.  For example, according to a Humane Society of the United States release, animals could not be "confined so restrictively that they are unable to turn around and extend their limbs." You can expect that to mean no gestation or farrowing crates.

Other guidelines focus on programs that starve (restrict feeding) or force-feed animals. Injured animals could not be left to "languish without treatment or humane euthanasia." Again, very agreeable standards on the surface, but interpretation is the key. HUSU's interpretation of "humane euthanasia" is different-- often involving injections, which is not practical-- than industry approved methods.

"The way a society treats its animals speaks to the core values and priorities of its citizens," Rep. Shays said. "Our government can have a tremendous impact in encouraging improved treatment of animals by requiring producers to meet basic federal animal-welfare requirements." Shay, who is co-chair of the Friends of Animals Caucus, cited his appreciation to HSUS specifically.

"Increasingly, Americans are demanding we treat farm animals more humanely," Rep. DeFazio said. "As a major buyer of farm animal products, the federal government can and should help lead the way, encouraging more humane practices."

"In the United States, many companies including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Natural Marketplace have raised standards for suppliers in recent years. Across the Atlantic, the entire European Union is mandating welfare improvements for suppliers as well," said the HSUS release.

A 2003 Gallup poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans "support passing strict laws concerning the treatment of farm animals." A 2003 Zogby poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans find it "unacceptable" that farm animals have no federal protection from abuse while on the farm, and nearly three quarters believe that farms ought to be "inspected by government inspectors to ensure that regulations to protect animals from cruelty are being followed."

Again, the issue is not that animals don't deserve care that promotes their well-being-- they certainly do. The issue lies within interpretations, as well as people with hidden agendas lacking real-world knowledge of the production process enforcing standards via a federal law.

This would be a good time to call or write your congressman.