Come November, farm animals will be front and center on the ballot. Proposition 2, also known as the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, would outlaw veal cages, pig gestation crates, and battery cages used to hold egg-laying hens throughout California.
If passed, all farms would have to be cage-free by 2015, and violators would face fines of up to $1,000 along the possibility of jail time.
At Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, however, egg production would have to undergo fairly drastic changes if the proposition passes.
“When you convert to cage-free production, it reduces the number of hens you can have on premises,” said Cal Poly’s Poultry Center manager, Steve Soderstrom. “We’d have to reduce our number of hens by about half.”
Recently, the act has met with staunch opposition from several farming-friendly organizations, including Californians for SAFE Food—a coalition composed of labor unions, consumers, farmers, and several food safety experts and veterinarians. Together, they say that the legislation would “ban almost all modern egg production in California.”
Dubbing Proposition 2 the “un-SAFE food initiative,” members of Californians for SAFE Food say that passage of the act would be detrimental to the state’s farming industry.
“While the proponents claim the measure is ‘moderate,’ it is really a wide-sweeping, risky, and dangerous measure that will have costly, negative consequences for California,” Julie Buckner, spokeswoman for the “NO on Prop 2” campaign, said.
However, organizations supporting the proposition have rebuked the coalition’s stance as unfounded and ill informed.
According to humanecalifornia.org, the Web site of the Californians for Humane Farms campaign, the regulations suggested in the legislation are “modest measures” meant to prevent cruel and inhumane practices toward animals.
At the heart of the disagreement is an economic impact study released earlier this month by the University of California at Davis that suggests Proposition 2 would likely force the state’s $300-million egg industry to move out of the state.
According to the report’s findings, the passage of Proposition 2 would virtually eliminate the current practice of confining laying hens to small cages, thus raising the cost of production by 20 percent or more and requiring the industry to invest hundreds of million of dollars in new housing for chickens.
This change, according to report, would most likely not affect the price of eggs, but it would affect egg production in California.
However, Jennifer Fearing, campaign manager for Yes on Prop. 2, said “the study’s findings are flawed.”
Also, Fearing criticized Californians for SAFE Food’s claim that passage of Proposition 2 would lead to the outsourcing of egg production.
California currently ships in approximately 50 percent of its eggs from other states, such as Iowa and Texas.
If Proposition 2 is passed, Sumner said, he suspects “that number will jump to almost 100 percent.”
Joy Mench, a fellow U.C. Davis professor who helped in the study and director of the Center for Animal Welfare, said that she agreed with Sumner’s findings.
“California is the only state with this kind of legislation,” she said, adding that, in economic terms, “even if Prop. 2 passes, the eggs will just be shipped out to a state that doesn’t have laws prohibiting caged egg production.”
For more information about Proposition 2 and other initiatives slated for the November ballot, visit sos.ca.gov/elections/.