Business & Policy
No More Minefields
By Kristy Nudds
November 4 marks the seventh anniversary of the passing of Proposition 2, a ballot referendum in the state of California initiated primarily by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Farm Sanctuary to prohibit the confinement of certain farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.
Prop 2, officially known as the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, requires that California farmers end the use of conventional “battery” cages for laying hens, as well as the use of crates for veal and sow gestation, by
January 1, 2015.
The language of Prop 2 was vague with respect to what housing standard was acceptable and the ambiguity of the law set off a complicated legal minefield that is still being navigated — with only two months until its implementation.
In a 2012 news release the Association of California Egg Farmers (ACEF), a statewide trade association representing California’s egg farmers, said they were filing a lawsuit in an attempt “to gain a clear understanding of how to comply with Proposition 2.”
Earlier that same year the ACEF had supported the congressional effort by the HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP) to establish national standards on egg laying hen enclosures, including dimensions and other key elements that are not found in Proposition 2 (for more go to page 24).
While the so-called Egg Bill was not passed, the ACEF was able to get clarity on space requirements from the state — birds must have 116 square inches, which can be satisfied with enriched or aviary systems. However, according to industry estimates, there will be a significant shortfall in the number of eggs produced that meet Prop 2 standards. This shortfall can be filled by producers meeting the requirements in other states, as outlined in a 2010 Assembly Bill (AB 1437) where the California legislature tried to level the playing field, requiring that all eggs consumed in the state meet Prop 2 housing standards, regardless of where they were produced. Earlier this year the state of Missouri, along with five other states, filed a federal lawsuit claiming that attempts to regulate egg production outside of California violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
It will be interesting to watch what unfolds in January and how California’s consumer egg needs will be met. Regardless of what happens, one thing is clear — Prop 2 was a wake-up call for the egg industry in North America to start seriously addressing layer hen housing concerns and provided activist groups ammunition to pressure retailers into requiring housing standards from suppliers.
But left out of the discussion is what is truly best for the hen, not just what we have assumed is best. That’s why research such as that featured in our cover story (page 10) is so important. Are we really improving welfare by
placing hens in systems that may cause them undue injury and stress?