From the Editor: August 2010

Dialogue Lessens Risk
Kristy Nudds
July 31, 2010
It’s official – Proposition 2 is now written law in the state of California. On July 6, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger approved Bill A.B. 1437, which prohibits the sale of shelled (whole) eggs for human consumption if the eggs are the product of an egg-laying hen that was confined on a farm or place that is not in compliance with the animal care standards set forth in Proposition 2. Compliance must be in place by Jan. 1, 2015.

The animal care standards set forth in Proposition 2, prohibit the confinement of pigs, veal calves and laying hens in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. Essentially, the Proposition was an attempt by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to have the use of battery cages, veal crates and sow gestation stalls in animal production discontinued.

The HSUS touted the signing of the bill as a victory for animal rights, with the organization’s leader Wayne Pacelle exclaiming on the HSUS website that “with 40 million consumers in California, it would be hard to overestimate the potential of this bill to change the way laying hens are treated throughout the United States.”

He makes a good point. With 63 per cent of voters saying yes to Proposition 2 in 2008, other states became nervous when the HSUS began similar initiatives on their soil. In the fall of 2009, Michigan’s governor signed Bill 5127, which will see the end of traditional cages for hens by 2019. Similarly, just days before the signing of Bill A.B. 1437 in California, Ohio’s governor appeased the HSUS by agreeing to have the state achieve several animal welfare “reforms.” Included in this agreement is a moratorium on permits for new battery cage confinement facilities for laying hens. 

The Ohio agreement stems from a petition by the Ohioans for Humane Farms (backed by the HSUS) that had gained nearly enough signatures for a ballot initiative similar to Proposition 2 in California to be introduced in Ohio. In a very smart move, Ohio’s governor Ted Strickland got the HSUS, Ohioans for Humane Farms and the Ohio Farm Bureau to discuss both sides of the issue, coming up with an agreement that satisfied all parties.

Well, I should say that the agreement has satisfied all parties for now. It’s not exactly clear what the HSUS will “allow” for laying hens in the future, now that it is making progress toward its primary goal of ending the use of traditional (battery) cages.

Ohio hasn’t indicated in the agreement what type of housing is permissible, only that new barns constructed will not contain cages. This is in contrast with Michigan and California, whose legislation specifies that the birds must have freedom of movement. Being the second-largest egg-producing state in the U.S., Ohio was prudent not to allow any major animal housing changes to occur too quickly.

Despite this, many agricultural groups in Ohio felt the governor and the Ohio Farm Bureau had made a back-room deal. Maybe they did, but there was a lot less risk involved in their move than in leaving the outcome in the hands of voters, who are more likely to listen to the HSUS than farm groups.

The dialogue between all parties is what has been key. I believe the HSUS essentially just wants to be heard. If farm groups continue to do a better job at telling their stories and helping consumers to understand why certain practices are used, while showing them that they are addressing animal welfare issues (without necessarily carrying out some of the drastic production changes proposed by animal rights groups), then decisions are less likely to be left solely in the hands of consumers who may not have all of the facts.

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