U.S. Election 2000 Special Report
California voters have approved ballot initiative Proposition 2, which will set certain living standards for egg-laying hens, by a whopping 63% (for the measure) to 37% (against) in yesterday's election, according to the final results tabulated today.
Under Proposition 2, called the "Standards for Confining Farm Animals" act, California's egg-producers, along with farmers who raise veal calves and sows, will be required to provide larger cages (hens) and eliminate small breeding crates (veal calves and baby hogs) for the animals beginning in 2015.
The new law applies primarily to the state's egg-laying hens because few if any California farmers raise veal calves, and most farmers have already phased-out raising sows in small-breeding crates, although those who haven't will be required to do so starting in 2015.
The measure will outlaw small or battery-type hen cages in California. Currently the majority of egg-laying hens raised by farmers in the state are done so in the battery cages.
Beginning in 2015, farmers will be required to house the egg-laying hens in a way that allows the birds to lie down, stand up, extend their limbs and turn around. The current small cages don't allow for any of this behavior. The cages are such that the hens' movement is completely restricted.
Proposition 2 was sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States. Other supporters included the Farm Sanctuary animal rights group based in New York, the United Farm Workers union, the California Veterinary Association and a few other groups and associations.
The ballot measure also received some high-powered support from comedian and television talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who lives in Southern California, as well as from a unique source, the nationally syndicated comic strip Mutts, which ran a series of pro-Proposition 2 comics in October in the strip.
Opponents of Proposition 2 were lead by industry trade associations, including the United Egg Producers and the California Poultry Association.
The California Grocers Association, the trade group for California's food and grocery retailing chains and independents, also opposed the ballot measure.
However, none of the state's supermarket chains or major independents publicly opposed the measure on a corporate level.
It appears they were smart not to since Proposition 2 won by a more than 60% -to 40% ratio, meaning far more California consumers/voters supported the larger cages for hens than opposed it. For retailers, coming out publicly on a corporate basis in opposition to the ballot measure could have angered numerous consumers (who shop in their stores), perhaps resulting in their boycotting any chain that publicly showed opposition to the measure. If you didn't know before, now you know one of the reasons industry trade groups exist.
Both sides, Proposition 2 supporters and those against the measure, raised and spent between $6 -to- $10 million dollars to argue their respective positions in California's news media and on the ground in grass roots campaigns. That amount of money could buy a lot of eggs.
Most of the state's major newspaper editorial boards, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, the Orange County Register, the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, Modesto Bee and others, wrote editorials in opposition to Proposition 2's passing before the election. However it appears this did little to influence California voters who passed the measure by a wider margin than polls and pundits had indicated would be the case.
California's egg-laying industry and its trade associations say eliminating the battery cages will essentially put them out of business.
There main argument is that the costs to them of having to house the hens in larger areas will put them at an economic disadvantage against out of state farmers who still can use the small cage method. They say these out of state egg producers will undercut their prices, shipping the battery cage-produced eggs into the state at lower costs to retailers and food service operators.
The state's egg-producing industry also argues, and offered some research from the University of California at Davis to back up their argument during the campaign, that keeping the hens in the small cages helps prevent viruses such as avian or bird flu. Other research though says any evidence in this regard is inconclusive.
Supporters of the measure say the state's egg industry is overestimating the additional economic and overhead costs of housing the hens in larger enclosures. They say doing so will add no more than a penny or two an egg to the cost of operations and thus to the price of a dozen eggs in the supermarket.
Supporters also argue the battery cages restrict the hens from their natural behavior which includes grooming, turning around and in general being able to have at least a minimal amount of physical movement.
Proposition 2 supporters also are saying today the California egg industry should look at the 60-plus% voter support in a positive way, suggesting to them it means the majority of California consumers want and are willing to pay more for eggs produced by hens able to move around in their living spaces.
Eggs produced by hens houses this way can legally be labeled as "cage free" in California. Such eggs command a premium price in grocery stores.
Of course, beginning in 2015 when the new law goes into affect, if not challenged in court by the state's egg industry, which could happen, all California-produced eggs will be "cage-free." Therefore there won't be a cheaper alternative like there is now -- battery-raised and "cage-free."
"Free-range" eggs are different. In order to label eggs as "free-range" in California the hens must literally be allowed to wonder outside -- to be "free-ranged."
Eggs can be labeled "cage-free" even if the hens are enclosed inside. The birds just have to be housed so they can move around like the language of Proposition 2 describes.
"Free-range" eggs, which also most often are organic, command an even higher premium than "cage-free" eggs do in supermarkets and natural foods stores.
California is far from the number one egg-producing state in the U.S. That ranking goes to Iowa, followed by Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. California ranks as the fifth-largest egg-producing state. Texas is sixth, followed by Florida, Nebraska, Minnesota and Georgia, rounding out the top ten U.S. egg-producing states.
Another argument supporters of Proposition 2 make is that since these other top nine egg-producing states are all many hundreds and thousands of miles away from California, it isn't likely many of them will attempt to ship eggs into the state because with the high cost of fuel and the perishable nature (refrigerated truck meaning more costs) of the product, the costs of doing so will eat up any savings from raising the hens in the old-style battery cages these out of state producers may enjoy.
The California egg industry counters, saying they disagree. They also suggest what will happen is many of these out of state egg-producers, as well as many currently operating in California, will set up operations in states close to California such as in Nevada where no such law exists, then ship the small-cage-raised eggs into the state. In many cases shipping product of any kind from parts of Nevada into California is as close or closer, depending on the shipping point in the state, than shipping from various parts of California (say north to south) to other parts of the massive state.
The primary reason the Humane Society of the U.S. and its allied groups targeted California for what is now the most stringent anti-battery cage-use law in the nation, is because the state's ballot initiative system allows for groups to put such measures on the ballot and go directly to the voters rather than try to get a similar law passed by the state's lawmakers in Sacramento. The groups tried that route for years but were unable to achieve legislation.
The movement to eliminate battery cages is a global phenomenon. For example, the European Union's member states have all already outlawed the practice beginning in 2012. Those countries include the United Kingdom, France, Germany and numerous others.
It's expected the Humane Society of the U.S. and its allies will use the just passed Proposition 2 as their model to get similar laws passed in other egg-producing states. If you are looking for a target list, just use the top ten egg production states we listed above. They account for the majority of all eggs produced in the U.S.
In most cases the groups will have to attempt to get the state legislatures in the other states to pass laws to eliminate the battery cages for egg-laying hens. That's because few other states have a direct-to-the-voter ballot initiative system like California's.
The groups however are betting they can use the strong success of the measure in California to leverage various state legislatures into writing similar bills and passing them now that California, which not only is the state with the largest population and is the nation's number one agriculture-producing state, is also know as a pioneering state when it comes to passing new legislation of all kinds, and particularly in the areas of food, agricultural and animal rights policy.
Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is headquartered in Southern California, as is distribution center. About half of the grocery chain's current 97 stores also are located in the Southern California region, with the remaining stores located in Nevada and Arizona.
Fresh & Easy procures California-produced eggs for sale in its stores, packaging and selling them under its fresh & easy store brand. The stores sell eggs raised in battery cages, along with selling "cage-free" and "free-range" eggs, including organic.
Most eggs sold in California supermarkets, natural foods stores and other retail formats like drug chain stores that sell the products, come from California. These include eggs produced by battery cage-raised hens, along with "cage-free" and "free-range" varieties.
The majority of eggs produced in state are from the Central Valley, specifically Merced, Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Fresno counties.
Northern California's Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties, as well as a few others also produced eggs, particularly "cage-free," "free-range" and organic.
In fact, it was a number of small egg-producers in these areas who were among the first in the United States to reintroduce eggs from hens not confined in small cages many years ago.
California's natural foods stores were at one time the only retail outlets where consumers could buy these types of eggs. However, beginning in the mid -to- late 1980's (with just a few key independents and chains), and increasing dramatically over just the last few years, most supermarkets in the state now offer at least one variety of "cage-free," free-range" and organic egg brands, including under their own store labels, for sale.
[Note: Each of the Proposition 2 camps, those for the measure and those against, have Web sites where they have posted comments about the ballot measure's passage.
The pro-Proposition 2 camp's, and winners, Web site is at: www.yesonprop2.com.The opponents, and now losing camp's, Web site is at: www.safecaliforniafood.org.]