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HSUS goes after sow gestation, veal stalls in California

Cage-free living
Ballot initiative would eliminate sow stalls by 2021 and veal gestation stalls by 2019 and update cage-free egg standards.

The Humane Society of the United States and a coalition of groups filed ballot language that seeks to upgrade California’s laws aimed at setting production standard sizes.

Once the Secretary of State issues a ballot title and summary, the coalition will set its sights on gathering the 365,880 signatures required—within 180 days—for placement on the statewide ballot in November 2018.

The ballot initiative would establish that eggs produced and sold in California must come from cage-free birds, requiring that within one year of enactment, eggs sold statewide would have to come from birds given one square foot of space each – often regarded as a cage-free standard. It would subsequently explicitly require that by Dec.  31, 2021, all birds must live in cage-free systems.

The new initiative will prohibit sales of products derived from pork sold from farms that confine sows in gestation crates by Dec. 31, 2021 and require that veal sold in California come from farms that don’t lock calves in veal crates by Dec. 31, 2019.

Prop 2, which passed in a 63.5 to 36.5% vote in 2008, established that hens, pigs and calves statewide must be able to stand up, lie down, turn around freely and fully extend their limbs, and went into effect in 2015. Two years later, in 2010, the California legislature enacted AB 1437 to apply Prop 2’s standards to eggs sold statewide, regardless of where the laying hens produced the eggs. While the two laws faced legal attacks from farm trade groups and state attorneys general, California prevailed in a series of state and federal challenges, with the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the latest appeal in an AB 1437 case earlier this year.

“Despite some progress on animal welfare in California, we have more to do and there is a clear need to upgrade the law to protect farm animals and consumers,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.

In a statement, the National  Pork Producers Council said it believes any changes in production practices should be based on signals from the marketplace – not the misleading agenda of an activist group under the guise of animal welfare.

“Pork producers, not activists, know what’s best for the proper care of their animals and their farming operations,” said NPPC in a response to Feedstuffs.

NPPC noted there is a significant cost when changing from one housing system to another. Those costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher food prices. An example according to Cornell University, California’s ban on the sale of eggs that come from hens housed in battery cages, including eggs from out-of-state, resulted in a 49-cent increase in the price of eggs per dozen.

“If all pork producers were forced to abandon gestation stalls, it would cost the pork industry between $1.9 billion and more than $3.2 billion to transition to an alternative housing system,” NPPC said.

The National Assn. of Egg Farmers (NAEF) said the cost to produce cage-free eggs is 36% higher than conventional cages, but that increased cost is not being supported by consumers everywhere. This California reporter below says consumers are not likely to pay $3.50-$4 per dozen for cage-free when regular eggs cost $1.33 per dozen.

From an animal welfare standpoint, NAEF also cited the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply reported at an international forum on January 26, 2016 that the total accumulated mortality was highest in the aviary (cage-free) system (11.5%), due to aggressive pecking and cannibalism. It was 4.7% in conventional cages. This results from the hens establishing a pecking order among their population.  

They also explain keel bone breakage was highest in the aviary system. Increased keel bone breakage was confirmed with New Research at the University of California-Davis with Dr. Maja Makagon showing the majority of breast bone damage originates from collisions with perches in cage-free environments. 


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