Proposition 2 aims to give California livestock a bit more legroom.
The proposition, if passed, would require farmers to keep egg-laying hens, cows raised for veal and pregnant pigs in areas where they are able to stand up, lie down and fully extend their legs.
Exceptions to the proposed law would be allowed for transportation, certain livestock events, lawful slaughter and for the purposes of research and veterinary medicine.
Violators would be subject to a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to 180 days.
According to research by Joy Mench, a professor of animal science at UC Davis, current caging practices do not provide chickens enough space for proper nesting and normal movement. Mench has suggested that the most optimal environment for poultry may be “furnished” cage systems, which provide separate areas for activities like nesting and perching.
Supporters of the measure have drawn from these findings to argue in favor of Prop 2.
“An animal that you are raising for food should be able to stand up and turn around. [Prop 2 opponents] can’t win that argument,” said Paul Mason, deputy director of Sierra Club California.
Supporters of Prop 2 are concerned about the environmental impact of caging animals in more confined spaces.
Big farming operations that concentrate large amounts of animals into a small space cause significant air and water pollution, Mason said. The waste from these farms is redistributed back into the environment.
“Smaller, more family oriented operations don’t operate at the same scale,” he said.
These smaller farms would benefit from Prop 2 since they are inclined to have more humane conditions, Mason said.
“[Prop 2] reduces the unfair advantage that factory farms get from treating animals in a less humane fashion,” he said.
Opponents to the proposition cite economic concerns.
“[Prop 2] would run the livestock industry out of California and therefore be a job killer,” said Nativo Lopez, national president of the Mexican-American Political Association. “They would resettle or reorganize in other states.“
California is among the first states to propose a law of this kind. Passing Prop 2 would deter farmers from coming to California in favor of states with more lenient laws, Lopez said.
The measure could cost the state “potentially in the range of several million dollars annually” in lost tax revenues, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
“The common person can’t afford cage-free eggs,” said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation.
Costs are increased because of the need for a larger environment for the chickens and the need to more fully clean the eggs because of the increased waste they encounter in cage-free farms, Mattos said.
“When you’re in a caged environment, the eggs are safe from manure,” he said.
Opponents to Prop 2 worry that this could mean a threat to food safety, saying that current standards have proved successful.
“We have not had any salmonella in our eggs in 10 years, and that must tell you something,” Mattos said.
Mattos said Proposition 2 supporters‘ concerns about the current inhumane treatment of livestock are unfounded.
“It’s a misleading proposition,” he said. “Chickens are not squeezed in these cages.“
Treating livestock humanely is good for business, Mattos said.
“If they were abused, they wouldn’t lay eggs,” he said. “[Prop 2] just doesn’t make any sense. There frankly isn’t really a great argument.“
If passed, the law would not go into effect until 2015, giving farmers time to transition to new confinement methods.
JON GJERDE can be reached at email@example.com.