By MAGGIE FAZELI FARD
Nov. 5 — After months of debate that shoe the spotlight of controversy on the incredible, edible egg for the first time since cholesterol-free diets came into fashion, California voters passed a ballot measure to give confined chickens and other farm animals a little more breathing room. Prop. 2, known as the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, won by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent.
Prop. 2 will prohibit the “cruel confinement” of California’s pigs, cows and chickens.
Officials from the Humane Society of the United States, which sponsored the measure, said that Prop. 2 is a good first step toward ending animal cruelty on farms by requiring that all animals have enough space to lie down, stand up, stretch out and turn freely.
But since California produces only small quantities of veal, and the confinement of sows to breeding crates has already been phased out by many farmers, Prop. 2’s greatest impact will be on the state’s chickens — and their eggs.
The Californians for Safe Food’s “No on 2” campaign, the leading front of opposition, asserted that Prop. 2 would increase the cost of eggs, require eggs to be imported from Mexico, spread infectious diseases and put local egg farmers out of business effectively toppling California’s $337-million egg industry, the sixth largest in the nation with more than 19 million hens producing 5 billion eggs every year.
According to the California Poultry Workgroup, the majority of the state’s egg-laying hens are kept in cages as part of what is known as the battery system. In this system, up to 11 hens are held in a single cage, with less than 70 inches of room per bird.
While the “Yes on 2” campaign insisted that Prop. 2 would make farm life more humane, Prop. 2 detractors said the battery system already complies with federal animal cruelty regulations and allows California’s farmers to remain competitive in the industry. To move away from convention would mean one of two things: farmers will have to invest in structural changes to provide more space to animals, or switch to a cage-free operation.
According to an economic impact study commissioned by Californians for Safe Food, the structural changes required by Prop. 2 will be costly, reducing the number of hens a farmer could keep in the same amount of space, thereby decreasing the number of eggs produced and bringing profits down.
Additionally, as Prop. 2 regulations will apply apply only to eggs produced in California, the “No on 2” campaign contended that out-of-state competitors would be able to provide eggs to California for a lower cost, putting California producers out of business and cutting thousands of jobs.
Not to be outdone, the Humane Society commissioned a study of its own with a very different conclusion: that it will cost only one additional cent per egg to not confine egg-laying hens to battery cages.
“While it’s possible that giving these animals better living conditions may increase consumer prices by a few pennies per dozen,” stated the “Yes on 2” Web site leading up to the election, “the hidden cost of such inhumane confinement is increased cruelty, and it’s the animals who are paying that extra price.”
Additionally, Prop. 2 advocates believe the California’s new regulations will inspire other states to follow suit in giving farm animals the room to stretch out in their cages.
The regulations go into effect Jan. 1, 2015, giving farmers six years to make the necessary adjustments, either increasing the amount of space within crates and cages or turning to cage-free practices.