sow and litter

Californians advance Prop 12 animal housing criteria

Animal agriculture supporters warn of higher prices to consumers and farmers with increased housing space requirements.

In another round of establishing animal production standards, the voters of California overwhelmingly passed Proposition 12 by a vote of 61% to 39% at the polls Nov. 6. The proposition will move forward with mandating new minimum space requirements for the confinement of veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens and requires that eggs, pork and veal sold in California meet this same standard.

The proposal gave many Prop 2 déjà vu -- first passed in 2008 and brought before voters again this fall as The Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) attempt to dictate production standards. In 2008, the initiative was to “allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely,” which was judged to be 116 sq. in. of floor space per bird. According to HSUS, the new initiative “will require housing systems by 2019 that are impractical for cage confinement, and by 2021, it’s an absolute cage-free requirement.”

The new 2018 initiative sets the standard for egg-producing hens initially at 144 sq. in. per bird — 1 sq. ft. — which is the level at which a hen is considered by activists to be cage free -- by Dec. 31, 2019. By 2022, the hens and other animals will have to be cage free and allowed to roam inside barns.

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.

“The passage of Proposition 12 is groundbreaking for the welfare of animals and has raised the bar at an important time in our consideration of what farm to table means in this country,” said Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “Californians have resoundingly voted to acknowledge that further expanding the humane treatment of animals matters in our society and we applaud them.”

Meanwhile, Ken Klippen, president of the National Association of Egg Farmers, had attempted in recent months to offer the counterpoints on why Californians should vote no on the changes. Now, consumers and farmers alike will feel the repercussions.

“Facts are stubborn things. California consumers will see the price of their eggs virtually double and possibly discover a roundworm in their eggs from cage-free chickens walking in infected feces, but they have been convinced this is still better than what farmers already know to be facts,” Klippen said in a statement to Feedstuffs.

Bradley Miller, spokesperson for Californians Against Cruelty, Cages & Fraud and president of the Humane Farming Assn., actually criticized the vote, saying it renders the term “cage free utterly meaningless.” Miller stated, “HSUS has now squandered a combined $23 million to mislead California voters on two phony 'cage-free' initiatives with the result being that cages are now legal for years to come. If not for the malpractice of HSUS, California hens would be out of cages at this very moment.”  

The pork industry also is concerned about the ramifications of the passage. Dave Warner, spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, said, “Prop 12 will have severe negative consequences for California livestock farmers and low-income households in the state, driving up production costs and food prices just so the food elitists can feel good about what they’re eating.

“The initiative also could force hog farmers in other states who want to sell pork in the populous California market to switch to alternative sow housing systems at significant cost to them and consumers everywhere,” Warner added.

Ahead of the vote, Alison Van Eenennaam helped pen a letter detailing how the faculty in the University of California-Davis College of Agricultural & Environmental Science and the School of Veterinary Medicine were deeply concerned about the potential implications for University research, teaching and the perception of their work with farm animals if Prop 12 passed.

“It is not entirely clear whether the Proposition 12 language applies to educational institutions or whether this measure would impact university operations. The definitions contained within the initiative do not provide clear guidance for terms, such as ‘A farm owner or operator within the State of California’ as it applies to farm animal housing requirements, or ‘A business owner or operator’ as it relates to the sale of animal products from the affected animals. We request assistance in clarifying whether Proposition 12 would apply to educational institutions such as [the University of California-Davis],” the letter said.

If these terms were to apply to universities, as an example, the University of California-Davis would never be able to conduct experiments comparing the welfare of hens in caged versus cage-free housing on campus. Similarly, experiments where pigs or calves may need to be confined for the collection of fecal/urine samples during student-led projects and faculty research that has the potential of influencing/changing the livestock impact on the environment or where pigs need to be confined for the collection of samples by catheters would be outlawed.

TAGS: Policy
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