California Voters May Force Meat And Egg Producers Across The Country To Go Cage-Free
California voters will soon decide whether to ban the sale of meat and eggs from farm animals raised in cages. A November ballot measure, Proposition 12, would require more spacious digs for pigs, veal calves and egg-laying hens. It applies to animals in California and to those raised elsewhere for products sold in the Golden State.
If you're experiencing a bit of déjà vu right now, it makes sense.
Back in 2008, voters overwhelmingly passed a strikingly similar animal welfare law. But some farmers argued the measure's language was too vague to interpret in practical terms.
The point for me is to raise animals in a way that they were intended to live.
After the 2008 law took effect, state agriculture officials ruled that farmers could comply with the law without getting rid of their cages as long as they provided more space within the cages.
To end confinement altogether, the Humane Society of the United States sponsored Proposition 12 this year.
The measure is also endorsed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Sierra Club, the California Democratic Party, the United Farm Workers, and the Center for Food Safety. The Yes on 12 campaign has raised $6.1 million as of Sept. 28, while the opponents, Stop the Rotten Egg Initiative, have raised about $566,000. The next financial reporting deadline is Oct. 25.
You know I don't believe fundamentally that animals have the same rights as humans.
Dede Boies supports the measure because it aligns with her farming philosophy. She raises chickens, ducks, turkeys and pigs on Root Down Farm, a huge open field in Pescadero, about an hour south of San Francisco.
"The point for me is to raise animals in a way that they were intended to live," says Boies. "And to basically give them the best life possible."
For Boies, confining animals in cages reduces them to products.
Proposition 12 requires each farm animal to have a specific amount of floor space beginning in 2020: 43 square feet for a veal calf; 24 square feet for a breeding pig; and 1 square foot for an egg-laying hen. Cage-free conditions will be mandatory for hens by 2022.
The Association of California Egg Farmers and the National Pork Producers Council oppose Proposition 12 primarily because the measure applies to all veal, pork and eggs sold in California, even when the animals are raised in other states. For example, a pig raised and slaughtered in Illinois could not be housed in a crate if bacon or sausage from that animal is headed to California.
Ken Maschhoff is a fifth-generation hog farmer based in Carlyle, Ill., who runs one of the largest pork operations in the U.S.
"I certainly have a bone to pick with those that try to force their agenda and those costs on to others that would just as soon not bear those," says Maschhoff.
When his pigs are pregnant, which occurs twice a year or so, they're confined for about 100 days in a gestation crate that is 7 to 8 feet long and 24 to 30 inches wide. It does not allow the pigs to turn around.
Maschhoff says confining pigs during pregnancy is both humane and cost-effective because it prevents fighting between the animals, allowing more piglets to survive in the womb.
"I don't believe fundamentally that animals have the same rights as humans," says Maschhoff. "I believe that farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, are animal welfare-ists. So there's a difference between animal rights and animal welfare."
What's this going to cost consumers?
Maschhoff says Proposition 12 will require the pork industry nationwide to spend billions on new facilities, costs that will likely trickle down to pork consumers. Economists, though, say it's tough to forecast exact pork price increases.
It's easier to predict the cost of egg because cage-free eggs are already on store shelves. They're usually priced at about 50 cents to a dollar more per dozen than conventional eggs.
"People spend $50 to $100 a year on eggs," says University of California, Davis economist Dan Sumner. "It'll go up to $100 to $150."
Another factor could also be at play in egg prices: an uncertain future.
"The concern for the people investing in these new standards is that it's not at all clear that they're going to last very long," says Sumner.
In fact, animal welfare groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are opposed to the new ballot measure. PETA says it doesn't go far enough to protect chickens, which still can be confined in barns if the proposal passes. So, even if voters approve Proposition 12 on Nov. 6, the battle over how much space farm animals need is likely not over.
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