By April Short
Across the Golden State, the fate of chickens, sows, calves and factory farms rests in the hands of Tuesday’s voters.
California’s Proposition 2, if passed, would require the confined animals in veal crates, battery cages and sow-gestation crates to allow room for the animals to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. As the clock ticks closer to voting day, conflict over the proposition heats up.
Supporters of the proposition say it will prevent cruel practices toward certain caged animals, increase health and food safety, support family farmers and protect the state’s air and water.
Opponents say Proposition 2 will decrease food safety, raise the price of animal food products and cause the death of many California factory farms.
Leaflets in support of the proposition dotted the Quarry Plaza last Wednesday as the newest campus animal rights group, Banana Slugs for Animals (BSA), handed them to passersby’s.
“I am very supportive of Prop. 2,” Eric Deardorff, president and co-founder of BSA said. “It’s a modest measure that’s just going to stop some of the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals.”
Proposition 2 is endorsed by more than 100 animal protection charities. The Humane Society, California Veterinary Medical Association and the Center for Food Safety are just a few of the proposition’s most prominent advocates.
The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production is an independent research center chaired by former Kansas Gov. John Carlin. The Pew Commission said that food animals that are treated well — and provided with minimum accommodations of their natural behaviors and physical needs — are safer and healthier for human consumption.
Josh Balk is the outreach coordinator for the Factory Farming Campaign of the Humane Society of the United States.
“The Center for Food Safety is not an animal organization — they are concerned with food safety,” Balk said. “Something for people to think about is who’s pushing for what’s safer. The Center for Food Safety is unbiased and they are pushing for Prop. 2. The folks who are the lead donors opposing Prop. 2 have a long and notorious history of animal cruelty, environmental problems, and misleading the public on animal welfare.”
Many opponents say that Proposition 2 will decrease health in food consumption and jeopardize the egg industry in California.
“We are trying to feed the world with our eggs, and we are also trying to take care of the birds, as well as the people who buy them,” Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation (CPF) said. “These birds are very well cared for, they have air conditioning, feed. Twenty-four hours they’re in cages, yes, but they can stand up, sit down and move around.”
Mattos said that if passed, the bill would do more harm than good.
“California has the highest standard of animal welfare anywhere in the nation,” Mattos said. “So what [Proposition 2 will do] is put those farmers who have the highest standards out of business and let the other 49 states stay in business.”
As president of the CPF, Mattos represents the state’s turkey and chicken producers and markets.
“In the last 10 years, we haven’t had one case of salmonella in our eggs — not one,” Mattos said. “And there’s been hundreds of thousands of cases in the United States in the last 10 years and in Mexico. I don’t think people in California want to buy their eggs from Mexico, but they’ll have no choice but to buy them from out-of-state eventually if this proposition passes, because they can’t afford to buy free-range eggs. They’ll have to buy eggs that are raised like ours or even in worse conditions than you’re seeing here.”
Halley Fobes is an animal science major with an emphasis in livestock and dairy at UC Davis.
“I think the intent [of Proposition 2] is good, but I think that a lot of people don’t realize that agriculture is a business, the animals are a product — it’s a food product,” Fobes said. “No producer wants sick or unhealthy animals. What I suspect will happen is egg production will go out of business, and we are going to have to ship our eggs in.”
A UC Davis report entitled “Economic Effects of Proposed Restrictions on Egg-Laying Hen Housing in California” discusses the economic impacts of Proposition 2.
According to the report, the share of non-caged egg production in California is currently about 5 percent. Non-caged production costs are about 20 percent higher than caged production. The report says that the “elimination of caged systems in California would not affect how eggs consumed in California would be produced. Those eggs would continue to be produced using cage housing systems outside of California.”
Francine Bradley is a professor and poultry scientist at UC Davis. She said Proposition 2 would increase the price of eggs as the cost of production increases.
“We are moving into a time, economically, when people are really concerned with how they spend their food dollars,” Bradley said. “I hate to see eggs removed as a shopping opportunity for California seniors and low-income families.”
In response to economic concerns, Balk said that if passed, the bill would increase the cost of eggs by less than a penny.
Bradley said the initiative process is not the best way to legislate the issues addressed in Proposition 2.
“I don’t think the initiative process is the best way to make laws, because then if it doesn’t work out, the only recourse is to pass another initiative,” Bradley said. “You can’t take it through a committee process or anything.”
Because of the nature of the initiative process, voters must decide on the proposition as a whole despite issues they may have with certain aspects it.
“There are some really good things in that law and there are some really dangerous things,” Fobes said. “I’d like to vote separately on the issues, not altogether in one proposition. I think it’s wonderful that people care about their livestock and food products. At the same time, we need to realize most people who produce animals sincerely care about them.”
Balk said the practices of many California factory farms are inhumane.
“Calves confined in veal crates, pigs confined in gestation crates, hens confined in battery cages are constricted from even moving a few inches their entire lives,” Balk said. “These factory farming practices are cruel, inhumane, and by voting yes on Proposition 2, we can make sure these inhumane practices no longer continue in California.”