STATE NEWS: California Ballot Initiative Seeks Stricter Farm Animal Welfare Laws

September 12, 2017
Kerry Lengyel

The already strict animal welfare laws in California may be becoming even more strict. Potential legislation would require pork, veal, and eggs produced and sold in the state to be produced without restrictive crates or cages.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recently introduced a ballot initiative called the Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act. The legislation aims to increase California farm animal welfare standards.

If passed, the bill would require all pork and veal sold in California to be produced without restrictive crates, and all eggs to be produced and sold in the state cage-free. The only other state with a similarly restrictive law is Massachusetts.

According to the HSUS, this bill would help strengthen the existing regulations in the state, such as Proposition 2—which requires hens, pigs, and calves to be able to stand up, lie down, and fully extend their limbs—and bill AB1437—which requires the same laws to be applied for any eggs sold in the state.

“In the decade that has transpired since [Prop 2 passed], not only have other states like Massachusetts implemented stronger laws, but the marketplace has largely moved beyond the Prop 2 standard,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president of policy engagement at the HSUS.


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Prop 2 only required egg producers to allow more space for each bird, which means they can still use cages. The newly proposed law has more enforceable language, according to Shapiro, and would improve the welfare of egg-laying chickens.

But cage-free systems for hens still come with flaws, according to Richard Blatchford, an assistant cooperative-extension specialist at University of California, Davis, Department of Animal Science. “Aggression [among hens] tends to be really high,” he said. “You tend to have higher mortality overall.”

But animal welfare advocates say housing farm animals in crates is cruel because it restricts their ability to move and lie down.

“Changes in hen housing are complex and costly, and they require close collaboration with customers,” said Chad Gregory, United Egg Producers CEO and president. “Our focus remains on proper management of hen health and well-being, and meeting or exceeding all food safety requirements.”

California has some of the strictest animal welfare laws today, and if this ballot goes though, their farm animal welfare laws will follow suit.

“California is a bellwether state that sends a very strong signal to the rest of the nation,” said Shapiro.