California Voters Pass Proposition 2 with 63% of the Vote
“Modern cage housing for hens already provides the highest standards of animal welfare as prescribed by animal ethicists and scientists.” – Feedstuffs, The Weekly Newspaper for Agribusiness, October 13, 2008
California voters – 7.5 million of them – did not agree with Feedstuffs, or with the American Veterinary Medical Association, which joined agribusiness in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the state’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, or Proposition 2, on the November ballot.
The law, which takes effect in 2015, requires that calves raised for veal, pregnant pigs, and hens used for commercial egg production must be given enough space to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around without bumping into other animals, walls and bars in the confinement area. Though the law affects pregnant pigs and “veal” calves, the majority of animals affected are the state’s nearly 20 million egg-laying hens.
A massive campaign to defeat Proposition 2 was waged by the egg industry and related business interests to persuade California voters that the law would raise the price of eggs, ruin the California egg industry, and force consumers to buy eggs from states and countries that lack California’s food-safety standards.
However, the majority of voters were more deeply influenced by the intense campaign waged by The Humane Society of the United States, and joined by groups including United Poultry Concerns, showing the absolute cruelty of the egg industry’s practice of cramming hens into “small wire cages stacked to the rafters, in the name of efficiency and profits,” as noted by the Internet magazine Grist shortly before the election. To underscore the brutality of the egg industry, investigators for the animal rights group, Mercy For Animals, released documentary footage showing horrific abuse of battery-caged hens by workers at a facility run by Norco, one of California’s largest egg producers.
Groundbreaking as the new law is – for nothing is crueler than the battery-cage system of confinement – it does not require California egg producers to eliminate cages. It will, however, make cage systems more difficult to maintain, due to the, albeit minimal, spatial requirements for confining hens once the 2015 law goes into effect. Instead of cages, many California egg producers are expected to switch to “cage-free” housing, in which thousands of hens are enclosed in buildings in huge “floor systems,” often including platforms and perches designed to crowd even more hens into the volume of space.
The law will not stop the systematic destruction of millions of newborn male chicks who are suffocated, electrocuted and ground up alive at the hatchery, because male chicks do not lay eggs and are considered mere “hatchery debris” on the way to becoming pet food and farmed animal feed.
Nor does the law affect the brutal catching, transport and disposal of hens considered “spent” – no longer economically worth keeping – by the egg industry. Indeed, many “cage-free” hens end up in squalid cages in live poultry markets, where they are as pitiful, featherless and miserable as their sad sisters from battery-cage systems. The new law will not stop the suffering and abuse of hens, or alleviate the putrid conditions that prevail when thousands of living creatures are crowded together in buildings without sunshine and fresh air. However, despite these facts, as UPC President, Karen Davis, pointed out in a letter published in The New York Times on October 9, 2008, Proposition 2 should, if implemented, bring “a smidgeon of comfort to millions of hens used for egg production” compared to the current, unregulated system. It therefore “deserves voter support and extension to other states.”