Posts Tagged: Proposition 2
New laws were proposed this spring in Iowa, Minnesota and Florida that would make it a crime to take undercover videos or photos at industrial farms, a tactic often used to show mistreatment of animals and unsanitary conditions, the New York Times reported.
In response to this development, the Times invited nine experts to debate issues related to farm animal welfare. The director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, Dan Sumner, took part in the discussion, noting that in addition to legal and moral questions, there are economic issues worth considering.
In his essay, titled Economics in the Hen House, Sumner outlined Proposition 2, a law voters approved in 2008 that ends the use of conventional cages in California egg production by 2015. Sumner said the new law will ban eggs that 95 percent of buyers now choose - less expensive, conventionally produced eggs - and allow only more expensive "free range chicken" eggs, which are already available, but rejected by the vast majority of shoppers.
He believes the use of graphic images in the campaign detracted from an informed policy debate about the potential impacts of Proposition 2. Emotional appeals with ugly images can sway a public debate, he said, while noting that farmers also use their own favored images to garner support for farm policy.
"A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes a few numbers and some evidence may be worth even more," Sumner concluded.
Hen house living conditions are part of the animal welfare debate.
The University of California issued a news release about a new Animal Welfare Council on May 19. Jim Downing of the Sacramento Bee picked it up, writing in a story published today that "The University of California, hoping to insert itself as a peacemaker, formed a new animal welfare council last month."
Downing's article focused on voters' overwhelming support of Proposition 2 last November, which, among other things, requires farmers to give egg-laying chickens room to spread their wings. However, the story says the battle over hen housing has "only just begun."
The story mentions that:
- The university is being sued by the Humane Society over what the group says was an industry-biased analysis of Proposition 2 during the campaign.
- The Human Society is backing Assembly Bill 1437, which would require all eggs sold in the state - not just those produced in the state - be laid by cage-free hens.
- Farmers are looking at various options for complying with Prop 2, such as a 60-hen "colony" cages used on some farms in Europe.
Kind-hearted Californians resoundingly supported Proposition 2 last November, which, among other things, requires farmers to provide the state's egg-laying hens with room to spread their wings. One of the concerns discussed before its passage - that unaffected producers from other states and Mexico will flood the California market with their cheaper eggs - would be mitigated by passage of Assembly Bill 1437, according to a Sacramento Bee story, which also appeared in the Merced Sun-Star.
The proposed law, which passed in the Assembly by a 65-12 vote, was written by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. It is likely to be heard next in the Senate Food and Agriculture Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, one of Huffman's co-authors on the bill, the story said.
The new law would require that all eggs sold in California be from cage-free hens. Reporter Jim Downing contacted the director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, Dan Sumner, for perspective on the prospective regulation.
Cage-free systems add a penny or two to the cost of producing an egg, according to a UC study last year titled Economic Effects of Proposed Restrictions on Egg-Laying Hen Housing in California. However, the retail cost of a dozen cage-free eggs is currently about $1 more than conventionally produced eggs. "If cage-free eggs were the only type available in California, that spread would likely narrow to roughly the difference in production costs," Downing paraphrased Sumner.
With just two weeks until the election, California's Proposition 2 is getting attention from the Hollywood elite, out-of-state agricultural interests and many media outlets. Here are a few tidbits from recent days involving UC experts:
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Veterinarian Nancy Reimers, who speaks for the opposition, said caged hens already have space for turning and flapping their wings, and seem content. "If I'm going into a house of otherwise healthy hens -- in cages or not -- they sing," Reimers was quoted in the Los Angeles Times. . . . . "There is not, to my knowledge, a behavior called singing on the part of chickens that is an indication of good welfare," responded UC Davis veterinarian Kate Hurley, who wrote the Proposition 2 argument in the official state voter guide.
UC Riverside poultry specialist emeritus Don Bell, an opponent of Prop 2, was quoted in the same LA Times story. He wrote a memo to members of the United Egg Producers denouncing the measure's supporters' use of his "penny an egg" figures as "a way of trivializing the costs of conversion. . . . California's share would be $52 million per year -- not a small added cost."
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Hurley was interviewed by Sacramento's Capital Public Radio: "You know, if you can imagine joining 8 strangers in an elevator and spending the rest of your life there, that’s what life is like for these birds.”
Director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center Dan Sumner was also interviewed for the program. He said the measure has the agriculture industry on edge. “They don’t know whether they’re next or not. Whether it’s dairy farming or growing tomatoes or you name it. Any business has something about it that someone may not like. And if we put those on the ballot and essentially vote to put industries out of business, that has to have a dampening effect on people deciding whether to invest in CA or somewhere else.”
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The Orange County Register cited Sumner's research study about probable economic effects of the proposition's passage. The study says implemention of Proposition 2 would result in "the almost complete elimination of egg production in California," and that California grocery stores and food manufacturers will source their eggs from other states and Mexico. Proponents challenge the assertion by asking why there are so many out-of-state farmers against Prop 2, the story said.
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Director of the UC Davis Center for Animal Welfare, Joy Mench, spoke to the Sonoma Index-Tribune about alternatives to battery cages. "The non-cage system may seem more humane but in reality that's not necessarily the case," she was quoted. "Both systems have their good sides and their bad sides."
An article in the San Diego Union Tribune over the weekend presented both sides of the debate over Proposition 2, the initiative on the November ballot that, if passed, will set new standards for farm animal confinement.
The story implied that UC Riverside poultry specialist emeritus Don Bell is an "opponent of the measure" when it followed a statement about concerns that Prop 2 will increase food prices with his quote.
According to the story, Bell said:
“Pennies, nickels, dimes and dollars add up as today's prices for everything (increase) – not just eggs and not just food. Unjustifiable cost increases are a luxury we simply can't impose upon the public in today's troubled economy.”
The story included a wide variety of viewpoints on the measure:
“It will put us out of business.” - Ryan Armstrong, Valley Center farmer
"It would be a bad idea.” - Nancy Reimers, Gustine veterinarian
“These animals are sacrificed for the benefit of people. The least we owe them is to treat them humanely.” - Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States
“If anybody who buys eggs went to one of those factories, you would have a hard time convincing them to keep buying those eggs.” - Nigel Walker, Dixon farmer
"'Battery' cages are certainly promoting suffering." - Ixchel Mosley, Eastlake veterinarian
“This is not a trivial effect for the individual farmer, to the allied businesses associated with egg production and to the egg-consuming public." - Don Bell
“The most likely outcome . . . is the elimination of almost all of the California egg industry over a very few years.” - Dan Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center