Cage-free living

Animal welfare groups push forward on California cage-free law

Coalition including HSUS exceeded its goal of 600,000 signatures on most far-reaching farm animal confinement law.

Prevent Cruelty California, a coalition composed of several animal rights groups, including The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Mercy for Animals, has produced enough signatures to have the most far-reaching farm animal law included on the November 2018 ballot in California.

The coalition has exceeded its goal of 600,000 signatures and is embarking upon “phase 2” of its campaign, which will focus on fundraising and endorsement gathering. 

The ballot initiative would require cage-free housing in California for breeding pigs, egg-laying hens and veal calves. It additionally would require that all pork, eggs and veal sold in the state come from operations meeting this standard. 

The ballot initiative would establish that eggs produced and sold in California must come from only cage-free birds and that, within one year of enactment, eggs sold statewide would have to come from birds given 144 sq. in. of space each — which meets the United Egg Producers' (UEP) already established “cage-free standard.” The typical cage system normally provides 67-86 sq. in. of space. The measure subsequently would explicitly require that all birds must live in cage-free systems by Dec. 31, 2021.

The new initiative prohibits sales of pork products derived from farms that confine sows in gestation crates by Dec. 31, 2021, and requires that veal sold in California come from farms that do not put calves in veal crates by Dec. 31, 2019.

It also prohibits certain commercial sales of specified meat and egg products from animals confined in a non-compliant manner and defines sales violations as unfair competition. Both shell and liquid eggs are included.

Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal protection at HSUS, said the ballot proposal will build off the success of Prop 2 and mandate cage-free conditions for egg laying hens and additional space for mothering pigs and veal calves.

“At the time, Proposition 2 was the most far-reaching law for farm animals,” Balk said. However, since then, major corporations have made commitments to offer only cage-free eggs. “In a natural evolution in farming progressing to better reflect the norms of how animals should be treated, it made sense California standards would mirror how society is shifting,” he added.

Balk cited current polling data showing that 72% of California voters support the enhanced standards. “When three-fourths of the population believes in something, you know you've hit a mainstream,” he said.

In November 2016, Massachusetts voters decided in favor of Question 3 by a 78% to 22% margin to make it the first state to ban confinement of farm animals and to restrict the sale of products in the state that come from animals raised in confinement.

Balk said HSUS is confident that it will succeed with the California ballot initiative in enhancing those standards further and expects the final vote in California to show an even higher margin than Massachusetts' 78%.

Opposition to ballot

Opposition to the ballot initiative is coming from both sides of the issue.

The Humane Farming Assn. (HFA) has said HSUS isn't going far enough in its push to enhance animal standards, and it intends to lead the fight against the egg industry initiative. HFA contends that HSUS is colluding with UEP to actually loosen standards. UEP said it is not supporting the California ballot initiative.

HFA argued that, in 2008, HSUS said Prop 2 would ban all egg industry cages by 2015 and that laying hens would have no less than 216 sq. in. of floor space per bird.

“Referred to by critics as 'the rotten egg initiative,' the new measure would explicitly legalize egg industry cages throughout California until, at the very least, 2022. It would also sharply reduce the amount of floor space required by allowing the egg industry to confine hens with as little as 1 sq. ft. (144 sq. in.) per bird,” HFA said.

At the end of April, HFA said 125,000 people had already signed an online petition opposing the initiative.

The Association of California Egg Farmers also opposes the ballot initiative because it puts its growers in a difficult position after having made changes to abide by the standards mandated in Prop 2. "With this new initiative now calling for full compliance by the end of 2021, HSUS is reneging on the original agreement, and this expedited timeline may result in supply disruptions, price spikes and a shortage of eggs for sale,” the group warned.

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