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With Proposition 12, California Voters Face Choices On Farm Animal Confinement

Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

To understand what Proposition 12 means for farm animals, it helps to understand a ballot measure California voters approved 10 years ago.

That was Proposition 2, which banned the confinement of veal, pigs and egg-laying hens in spaces too small to allow animals to turn around, lie down, or stand up and extend their limbs.

But that measure didn't set specific space requirements. Prop. 12 would do just that.

“Farm animals should not be crammed into a cage barely larger than their own body,” said Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal protection of the Humane Society, which sponsored the measure.

Balk argues that the industry is already moving in the direction of Prop. 12. “Frankly, producers know the writing is on the wall,” he said. “Consumers, who are also known as voters during election year, do not want animals to be confined in cages.”

By the end of 2019, the proposal would ban the sale of veal meat from a calf confined to an area smaller than the standard it sets and it would ban the sale of eggs from hens kept in an area with less than one square foot of usable floor space. Similarly, by the end of 2021, Prop 12 would ban the sale of pork meat that doesn’t meet minimum space requirements.

By the end of 2021, the ballot measure would also require all producers that sell in California to keep egg-laying hens in outdoor or indoor cage-free housing systems based on the United Egg Producers’ 2017 cage-free guidelines.

Ken Klippen of the National Association of Egg Farmers, which opposes Prop. 12, argues that it will raise the cost of eggs, and that consumers will be forced to pay higher prices whether or not they want cage-free eggs.

He says industry market research has found that “there is some potential for greater market share for cage-free eggs than what currently exists, but not a majority market share.”

According to calculations provided by the NAEF, 25 million eggs have to be imported daily from other states to meet the demand of Californians.

Klippen’s arguments are echoed by Jim Monroe of the National Pork Producers Council, another industry group opposing the bill. He claims that Prop. 12 would negatively impact out-of-state pork producers who sell to the California market, because their production costs would go up in order to comply with the minimum space requirements for pigs required by Prop. 12.

Monroe sees Prop. 12 as an overreach by California. "We believe a state certainly has all the rights to regulate within its borders,” Monroe said. “But when it begins to regulate outside its borders, impacting farms and businesses, that’s a violation of the Constitution's commerce clause, and we just think it's bad policy."

Meanwhile, several activist animal welfare groups oppose the measure. “Proposition 12 is misleading and cruel. Allowing egg factories to give each hen just ONE SQUARE FOOT of cage or floor space is the very definition of factory farming,” wrote Bradley Miller, spokesperson for No on 12 and president of the Humane Farming Association.

In fact, if California voters pass Prop. 12, that one square foot standard for egg-laying hens would change in 2022, when producers would be required to keep hens in outdoor or indoor cage-free housing.

Animal welfare groups also object to the ballot measure on the grounds that it doesn’t provide minimum space requirements for housing dairy calves.

A group called Coalition For A Sustainable Egg Supply conducted a study looking at three different hen housing systems on a commercial farm in the Midwest. According to its website, researchers from Michigan State University, UC Davis, Iowa State University and the USDA Agricultural Research Service participated in the study. Funding came from a variety of sources, including United Egg Producers, Sysco Corporation and Tyson Foods.

CSES compared conventional hen housing and cage-free housing, looking at five factors — animal health, worker health, food safety, environment and food affordability. The three-year study of a single breed of hens found that, while cage-free environments allowed hens more behavioral freedom, hens were twice as likely to die in those settings than in conventional hen housing. It also found “significantly higher” amounts of ammonia and dust in the air in the cage-free housing.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a quotation about Prop. 12 being an "overreach." It was said by Jim Monroe, senior communications director for the National Pork Producers Council.

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