Industry Stakeholders Respond to Passage of Prop. 2

US - Proposition 2, a proposal that would ban modern housing systems for egg-laying hens, veal calves and gestating sows by 2015, was approved Tuesday (November 4) by California voters. Responses from the industry have been brought together here specially for ThePoultrySite.
calendar icon 6 November 2008
clock icon 6 minute read

American Meat Institute Response

The American Meat Institute (AMI) announced that the proposal that would ban modern housing systems for egg-laying hens, veal calves and gestating sows by 2015 was approved on 4 November by California voters.

Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon have passed similar laws for swine and veal. California, however, becomes the first state to require that all egg-producing chickens be kept in more spacious enclosures or free to roam a henhouse. Most pig and veal farmers in the state have already expanded their pen sizes. As a result, the law's requirements will have the most significant impact on poultry farmers.

Supporters of Proposition 2 said the initiative would guarantee farm animals a better life, giving them the space they need to stand up, turn around, lie down and extend their wings, as well as prevent diseases caused by overcrowding.

Opponents argue that the cost of the measure threatens California's egg industry and may force California livestock and poultry operations into other states or put some out of business.

In approving the initiative, voters rejected the arguments of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the agriculture industry and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

In response to passage, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) CEO Ron DeHaven, DVM, said, "Now that the ballot initiative has passed, veterinarians and animal welfare scientists must be involved in its implementation to make sure that resulting changes in animal housing actually improve conditions for the animals they are intended to help. If we're not careful, animal health and welfare problems could be precipitated that are as significant as the concerns Proposition 2 aspires to address."

AFBF's Reaction

"While caring for their animals is the clear number one priority for America’s livestock producers, it is also clear that correcting misinformation from those opposed to modern farming is a close second."
Bob Stallman, AFBF President

On Wednesday (5 November), the American Farm Bureau Federation expressed its disappointment in the passage of the bill. Passage of the measure will cause more products to be produced outside the state of California and is likely to have serious impacts for consumers and California’s egg producers.

“The result points out the lack of understanding that people who voted for Proposition 2 have of agriculture, and it highlights the need for all of America’s farm and ranch families to focus on engaging consumers to communicate their knowledge of and commitment to animal care,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “The realities of modern, family-owned and -operated agriculture and the professional dedication of our farm families are largely not understood by America’s consumers. As an industry, we must help non-farmers understand our industry.”

The success of this measure and other such anti-animal agriculture initiatives will likely trigger increased food imports from countries that do not have food safety laws equivalent to those in the United States, AFBF believes.

“If eggs and other food products produced by California farmers are displaced by production from other nations, we believe that Proposition 2 will have serious implications for food safety,” Mr Stallman said.

Mr Stallman said passage of Proposition 2 points out the continued need for farm and ranch families to “talk to neighbors, lawmakers, business leaders – essentially anyone who will listen – to help them acquire a realistic picture of modern agriculture.”

“While caring for their animals is the clear number one priority for America’s livestock producers, it is also clear that correcting misinformation from those opposed to modern farming is a close second,” Mr Stallman said.

Reactions from Other Industry Stakeholders

Jill Benson, vice president of J.S. West and Companies, a Modesto-based company that runs three hen barns told CBS2, "We've got a lot to figure out. Do we move out of the country? Do we move out of the state or do we fight with regulators, judges and attorneys?"

California Farm Bureau administrator, Rich Matteis, explained that costly investments to expand hen houses and buy additional land might not be feasible.

"To retool an aging industry in this economy is really challenging," he said. "People don't have a lot of money to make investments."

Critics say the measure could drive egg farmers out of California - which now produce some 5 billion eggs a year - modestly boost egg prices, and eventually lead to similar housing restrictions in other poultry states.

"It will be the loss of an entire industry in California," said Donald Bell, poultry economist at the University of California, Riverside who has watched the state's industry decline over the last five decades.

Supporters say the industry's fears are unwarranted and egg producers have six years to comply with the regulations, continues CBS2.

The measure's adoption was a significant win for animal-welfare advocates, making California the first to impose restrictions on so-called battery cages currently used nationwide to house egg-laying hens.

"We saw this as putting down a marker to be heard nationwide that all animals including those raised for food deserve humane treatment," said Jennifer Fearing, chief economist at The Humane Society of the United States, which led the campaign. "We would like to see industry see the handwriting on the wall and reform itself."

Whether politicians and voters in other states will embrace that message is unclear. Industry representatives insist their practices are the most humane and safest way to house animals.

"Voters in California may not be quite like voters in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Mississippi," said Mitch Head, a spokesman at the United Egg Producers, a national cooperative based outside of Atlanta. "I think we're only talking about one state in 50 here," he said, concluding the CBS2 report.

Californians for SAFE Food, an agricultural group organized to oppose Proposition 2, told CME that the measure will "essentially close down the California egg industry since it affects 95% of the state's egg production". The layer industry says that modern cage systems already meet the highest levels of animal welfare prescribed by to ethicists and scientists.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item on this story from Farm Animal Sanctuary, an advocate of Proposition 2 by clicking here.

Further Reading

- You can view an article on the impacts of Proposition 2 on ThePoultrySite by clicking here.
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