Let our journalists help you understand the noise: subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and receive a summary of the most important news.
A decade ago, California’s farm animals were supposed to be given more breathing space. In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 2, an election measure aimed at phasing out what animal rights activists consider the worst ways of restricting livestock. The initiative envisaged that calves, sows and laying hens should be given space to spread their limbs, turn around, stand up and sit down without touching the walls of their enclosure or any other animal. It came into force in 2015 and gave manufacturers seven years to adjust their operations.
The problem was that the law was vague about minimum space requirements and lack of enforcement. A new measure for this year’s state vote, Proposition 12, would now build on Prop 2 by, among other things, specifying more precisely how much space is available for livestock. But instead of adopting this update, some animal rights groups are urging voters to shut it down.
“California stands behind food companies and other states when it comes to treating farm animals,” said Josh Balk of the Humane Society.
There is no doubt that Proposition 2 made waves across the country. After that happened, “every major food company had a policy of moving away from supply chain restriction systems – even McDonald’s, Walmart and Safeway,” said Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal welfare for the United States’ Humane Society, the Prop 12 sponsors.
But now, after a number of other measures inspired by Prop 2, detention conditions in other states are easing. “California actually lags behind food companies and other states when it comes to treating farm animals,” Balk told Mother Jones. (After Prop 2 was passed, Massachusetts introduced its own election measure to ensure that eggs sold in the state must come from chickens that have a minimum standard of 216 square inches by 2022. Thirteen states are currently suing Massachusetts on the grounds that that this law dictates how other states raise their animals.)
The vague language of California’s Proposition 2 led to lawsuits from players in the egg industry asking for clarification of the minimum space requirements. Those lawsuits went nowhere, but Prop 2’s lack of specificity led the California Department of Food and Agriculture to establish a rule that chickens should have at least 116 square inches of space. Some producers eventually introduced colony cage systems, essentially placing their chickens in larger cages, which animal rights activists opposed.
Prop 12 hopes to remedy this by providing the minimum space requirements for each animal type. Chickens would be given a minimum of 144 square inches (1 square foot), the United Egg Producers recommended cage-free requirement. The proposal also states that the Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Department of Health would enforce these guidelines. Prop 2 made it illegal to sell pork from sows kept in pregnancy crates, stalls they were sometimes confined to during pregnancy; Prop 12 would expand this rule and prevent nongovernmental vendors from selling veal and pork raised by box sows in California.
Prop 12 supporters also include the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, United Farm Workers, the Sierra Club, the Center for Food Safety, veterinary groups, and some local California animal rights groups. It would come into force in 2020 for veal and pork and in 2022 for laying hens.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge, yes, that won’t get rid of all the cruelty. However, this is a real chance for California voters to have an impact on the animals, ”said Cheryl Leahy, the advocate general for Compassion Over Killing, another group that supports Proposition 12, stepping in the right direction, particularly at the state level.
The majority of the groups opposing Proposition 12 are industry groups like the National Association of Egg Farmers (NAEF) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) for overriding consumer choice, allegedly in violation of international trade laws and increase the cost. “Farmers must be allowed to use the systems and production methods that are best for their farm and their animals – and that meet the needs of all consumers – and the lawmakers, regulators or citizens in a state should not be able to dictate to farmers in the other 49, how to raise and care for their animals or how to perform their operations, ”an NPPC spokeswoman told Mother Jones.
The NAEF is particularly concerned about the cost to farmers who have already upgraded their facilities to meet Prop 2 and consumers who may pay more for the eggs. But they also fear that cage-free chickens would suffer higher mortality rates due to the “pecking order” – if certain chickens try to establish a dominance. Having large numbers of chickens together in a room, in a cage, or outside of it can cause the lowest damage in the pecking order and make it difficult for these chickens to fight off disease.
Some opponents of Proposition 12 are animal rights groups, albeit for very different reasons. The Humane Farming Association, a non-profit organization focused on the rights of farm animals, claims that sentence 12 is misleading. “That was the original promise [hens] would be out of the cages by 2015“Said Bradley Miller, the national director of HFA, pointing out the colony cage system emerging in place of cage-free eggs. He argues that the deadline of the new cage-free egg measure”says they can stay in cages for more years. ”
Cage-free guarantees no time outdoors for laying hens, just no cages.
Miller also says sentence 2 had no effect on veal Calves or pigs * because, according to a 2009 report by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California veal industry “practically does not exist” and pregnancy crates “are not used in California”. Although Proposition 12 aims to ban the sale of cruelly caged animals in California, the Intercept reported that calves – in California and other states – can still be kept in strict custody if they are sold as beef instead of veal, which farmers allow would rock around the law.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also reject Prop 12 and write in a blog post on his website that the standards are not enough to ensure humane conditions. “Beware!” The organization said the proposal would “allow farms to keep laying hens in cages until 2022, by which time factory farms could limit uncaged chickens to massive, overcrowded pens with only 1 square foot of space per bird.” You are not too far from the stables: Cage-free guarantees no time outdoors for laying hens, just no cages.
The Humane Society’s Balk argues that Prop 12 is better than nothing. “It is currently legal to sell caged chicken eggs in the state of California, so this will be phased out,” he said. “If it’s not good enough for some and they prefer a status quo where the animals are still caged, I would say that this is not what everyday mainstream California voters are.”
* Clarification: This sentence has been revised to better reflect Miller’s stance.