Sonoma Index Tribune
Prop. 2 bans chicken cages
By Emily Charrier-Botts INDEX-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Supporters of Proposition 2, known as the Standards for Confining Farm Animals Act, say the measure is a modest proposal that would give farm animals the basic right to move around without inhumane confinement. Opponents say although the measure is well-meaning, passing the bill would mean the death of the egg industry in California.
Some animal activists have even said the proposition would actually cause more harm than good to farm animals. Proposition 2 would require that agriculture animals have enough room to stand up, lie down and stretch their limbs, which in turn would outlaw veal crates, pig gestation crates and the battery cages used with egg-laying hens. Since California has virtually no veal and gestation crates, the measure is primarily focused on California's egg industry, which houses 20 million hens, 90 percent of which are kept in battery cages.
Battery cages typically house five to 10 birds a cage, with cages stacked up to six levels high.
Proposition 2 was created by the Humane Society of America and has received broad voter support. The grassroots campaign effort collected more than 800,000 signatures when only 450,000 were needed to get the measure on the November ballot, according to Jennifer Fearing, campaign manager for Yes on 2. "California voters overwhelmingly support Proposition 2," Fearing said, quoting a recent poll revealing 63 percent of voters favor the measure. Opponents say much of the support comes from voters who think passing Proposition 2 will ensure California hens are raised free range, with the ability to run around outside.
While the measure would create a de facto ban on cages, egg producers would not be required to raise free-range chickens.
Instead the poultry would be housed in indoor cage-free confinement systems where tens of thousands of birds are kept together within divided areas inside immense barns.
Some animal welfare groups have said cage-free environments are actually more dangerous to the health of birds than battery cages, which are intended to make egg collection more efficient and prevent the birds from cannibalizing each other. In a cage-free system, the birds must sleep, walk and, to some extent, lay eggs in their own fecal matter, which can breed disease.
Furthermore, cage-free systems are difficult to ventilate properly, resulting in a higher incidence of respiratory illness.
"The non-cage system may seem more humane but in reality that's not necessarily the case," said Joy Mench, director of the Center for Animal Welfare at UC Davis, who co-authored a report on Proposition 2. "Both systems have their good sides and their bad sides."
What is clear but poorly understood by the public is that free-range birds, allowed to roam about outside, will never be a significant part of the poultry equation because they are too expensive to raise on the scale of caged, or even cage-free, birds.
While Proposition 2 has received support from environmental and animal-rights groups like the Sierra Club, the California Veterinary Medicine Association and the National Federation of Humane Societies, other animal rights groups are warning against it.
"The best housing environments take into consideration all relevant factors, including: freedom of movement; expression of normal behaviors; protection from disease, injury, and predators; adequate food and water; and proper handling.
Proposition 2 would clearly provide greater freedom of movement, but would likely compromise several of the other factors necessary to ensure the overall welfare of the animals, especially with regard to protection from disease and injury," the American Veterinary Medicine Association stated in a press release.
"We are concerned that legislating isolated, arbitrary and emotion-based criteria to implement farm-animal housing systems may actually do more harm than good for the well-being of animals ..."
For egg producers like Valley resident Arnold Riebli, the thought of Proposition 2 passing is scary. Riebli runs Sunrise Farms, which owns 1 million egg-laying hens located at a number of different facilities around the county. He estimates it would cost him $40 million to upgrade his operation to meet the requirements of Proposition 2, a cost he is not willing to pay.
"If the measure passes, I have no interest in staying (in business in California)," Riebli said.
Riebli is not alone. Agricultural economists agree that should Proposition 2 pass, it would drive the egg industry out of California. Egg producers say they cannot afford to meet the requirements of the measure, meaning future eggs sold in California would likely be trucked in from other states.
"If this initiative passes, we will not have an egg industry in California," said Daniel Sumner, director of the Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis. "We're just going to import all of our eggs from other places."
Proposition 2 needs a majority vote to pass, and is being supported by U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, state Sen. Carole Migden and the city councils of San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, among others. Opponents to the measure include the Association of California Veterinarians, the National Animal Interest Alliance and the Agricultural Counsel of California.