Animal rights activists of the Humane Society of the United States have submitted an initiative to the state attorney general requesting that all egg-laying hens in California be kept cage-free. This proposal is intended to rectify unaddressed elements of 2008’s Proposition 2, prior legislation which required that hens and other farm animals have larger living environments. The HSUS's position is that that farm animals (pigs and calves in addition to hens) are being treated unfairly under the current legislation, especially when it comes to their habitat size. The group hopes its initiative, the proposed “Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act,” will prevent the animals from being kept in confined locations.
The proposed document claims that egg producers may be avoiding the terms laid out in Proposition 2—that animals must have enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs—on a technicality. The California Department of Food and Agriculture adopted a rule determining that it was legal to keep hens confined in cages as long as the cages weren’t densely populated.
“Californians know that locking farm animals in tight cages for the duration of their lives is cruel and compromises food safety,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, in a press release regarding the ballot initiative. “All animals deserve humane treatment, especially those raised for food.”
HSUS's goal is to ensure that by December 31, 2021, all eggs produced and sold in California come from cage-free birds, subsequently requiring that all birds live in cage-free systems by that date. The group is also seeking the requirement that pork sold in California comes from farms that don’t lock pigs in gestation crates or calves in veal crates.
While the proposal calls for strict and timely changes that will ultimately improve the lives of animals—and, according to some studies, also make for better-tasting eggs—some egg producers don’t support the proposition. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Association of California Egg Farmers opposes the initiative as currently written due to the swift timeline: “With this new initiative now calling for full compliance by the end of 2021 … this expedited timeline may result in supply disruptions, price spikes and a shortage of eggs for sale.”
On the other hand, major fast food companies like McDonalds, Subway, and Dunkin’ Donuts have committed to switching to cage-free eggs in the next 10 years. Josh Balk, senior food policy director of the HSUS (which partnered directly with Dunkin’ Donuts to announce their commitment) said that these policies are “further testament that consumers and companies are aligned in shifting the egg and pork industries away from confining animals in cages.”
To get the Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act on 2018 ballots, the title and summary must first be approved by the state attorney general’s office, then get 365,880 valid voter signatures.