California Voters May Force Meat And Egg Producers Across The Country To Go Cage-Free

Oct 29, 2018
Originally published on October 29, 2018 7:41 pm

California voters will soon decide whether to ban the sale of meat and eggs from farm animals raised in cages. A November ballot measure, Proposition 12, would require more spacious digs for pigs, veal calves and egg-laying hens. It applies to animals in California and to those raised elsewhere for products sold in the Golden State.

If you're experiencing a bit of déjà vu right now, it makes sense.

Back in 2008, voters overwhelmingly passed a strikingly similar animal welfare law. But some farmers argued the measure's language was too vague to interpret in practical terms.

After the 2008 law took effect, state agriculture officials ruled that farmers could comply with the law without getting rid of their cages as long as they provided more space within the cages.

To end confinement altogether, the Humane Society of the United States sponsored Proposition 12 this year.

Proponents

The measure is also endorsed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Sierra Club, the California Democratic Party, the United Farm Workers, and the Center for Food Safety. The Yes on 12 campaign has raised $6.1 million as of Sept. 28, while the opponents, Stop the Rotten Egg Initiative, have raised about $566,000. The next financial reporting deadline is Oct. 25.

Dede Boies supports the measure because it aligns with her farming philosophy. She raises chickens, ducks, turkeys and pigs on Root Down Farm, a huge open field in Pescadero, about an hour south of San Francisco.

"The point for me is to raise animals in a way that they were intended to live," says Boies. "And to basically give them the best life possible."

For Boies, confining animals in cages reduces them to products.

Proposition 12 requires each farm animal to have a specific amount of floor space beginning in 2020: 43 square feet for a veal calf; 24 square feet for a breeding pig; and 1 square foot for an egg-laying hen. Cage-free conditions will be mandatory for hens by 2022.

Opponents

The Association of California Egg Farmers and the National Pork Producers Council oppose Proposition 12 primarily because the measure applies to all veal, pork and eggs sold in California, even when the animals are raised in other states. For example, a pig raised and slaughtered in Illinois could not be housed in a crate if bacon or sausage from that animal is headed to California.

Ken Maschhoff is a fifth-generation hog farmer based in Carlyle, Ill., who runs one of the largest pork operations in the U.S.

"I certainly have a bone to pick with those that try to force their agenda and those costs on to others that would just as soon not bear those," says Maschhoff.

When his pigs are pregnant, which occurs twice a year or so, they're confined for about 100 days in a gestation crate that is 7 to 8 feet long and 24 to 30 inches wide. It does not allow the pigs to turn around.

Maschhoff says confining pigs during pregnancy is both humane and cost-effective because it prevents fighting between the animals, allowing more piglets to survive in the womb.

"I don't believe fundamentally that animals have the same rights as humans," says Maschhoff. "I believe that farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, are animal welfare-ists. So there's a difference between animal rights and animal welfare."

What's this going to cost consumers?

Maschhoff says Proposition 12 will require the pork industry nationwide to spend billions on new facilities, costs that will likely trickle down to pork consumers. Economists, though, say it's tough to forecast exact pork price increases.

It's easier to predict the cost of egg because cage-free eggs are already on store shelves. They're usually priced at about 50 cents to a dollar more per dozen than conventional eggs.

"People spend $50 to $100 a year on eggs," says University of California, Davis economist Dan Sumner. "It'll go up to $100 to $150."

Another factor could also be at play in egg prices: an uncertain future.

"The concern for the people investing in these new standards is that it's not at all clear that they're going to last very long," says Sumner.

In fact, animal welfare groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are opposed to the new ballot measure. PETA says it doesn't go far enough to protect chickens, which still can be confined in barns if the proposal passes. So, even if voters approve Proposition 12 on Nov. 6, the battle over how much space farm animals need is likely not over.

Copyright 2018 KQED. To see more, visit KQED.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Farmers and animal welfare groups across the country are closely eyeing a California ballot initiative that would effectively outlaw cages for pigs, veal calves and egg-laying hens. Now, the proposal applies to animals raised in the Golden State, and it would apply to animals raised elsewhere if products from those animals are sold in California. Lesley McClurg from member station KQED in San Francisco explains.

LESLEY MCCLURG, BYLINE: The ballot measure is called Proposition 12. The Humane Society of the United States has been sponsoring ads like this one for months.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: A hen caged so tightly she can barely move for her entire life. This extreme confinement is wrong. Please join...

MCCLURG: The measure would eliminate cages for egg-laying hens by 2022. It also specifies exactly how much floor space a pig or a veal calf needs inside a pen or barn. Dede Boies supports open spaces for farm animals. She runs a small organic operation about an hour south of San Francisco called Root Down Farm. Her chickens peck and scurry around a dry pasture. Ducks, turkeys and pigs are also running around.

DEDE BOIES: The point for me is to raise animals in a way that they were intended to live and to, like, basically give them the best life possible.

MCCLURG: Boies leans down to stroke the snout of a pig. She says caging animals is unethical.

BOIES: They're not animals anymore. They're products. And that to me is, like, so far from what I'm trying to do.

MCCLURG: Lining up on the other side are some egg and pork farmers from all over the country. They're infuriated that Proposition 12 would restrict their business. For example, a pig raised and slaughtered in, say, Illinois could not be housed in a crate if bacon or sausage from that animal is headed to California.

KEN MASCHHOFF: I certainly have a bone to pick with people that try to force those costs on to others that would just as soon not bear those.

MCCLURG: That's Ken Maschhoff. He's a fifth-generation hog farmer based in Carlyle, Ill. He runs one of the largest pork operations in the nation. The majority of his pigs will spend a good chunk of their lives in a narrow cage while they're pregnant. He says confining pigs prevents fighting, which allows more piglets to survive in the womb.

MASCHHOFF: So that animal does not turn around while it's in the gestation pen, the individual pen.

MCCLURG: Maschhoff argues that the practice is both humane and cost-effective.

MASCHHOFF: I don't believe fundamentally that animals have the same rights as humans. There's a difference between animal rights and animal welfare.

MCCLURG: Maschhoff also says the California measure will cost the pork industry billions to build new facilities. Those costs will likely trickle down to pork consumers, though economists say it's tough to predict by how much. Eggs are easier because cage-free eggs are already on store shelves.

DAN SUMNER: People spend 50 to $100 a year on eggs. It'll go up to 100 or 150.

MCCLURG: Dan Sumner is an economist at the University of California, Davis. He warns those prices may not be stable.

SUMNER: The concern for the people investing in these new standards is it's not at all clear that they're going to last very long.

MCCLURG: In fact, some animal welfare groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say Proposition 12 doesn't go far enough. So even if the measure passes, California's battle and what it will mean for farmers everywhere is likely not over. For NPR News, I'm Lesley McClurg in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.