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“Son of Prop. #2” To Be Placed On California Ballot

06/29/2018

A ballot measure promoted by the Humane Society of the United States will be presented to the California electorate in November. Basically the proposition establishes more specific standards for confinement of livestock. Effectively by 2022, egg-laying hens in California would not be allowed in cages and more extensive housing areas have been mandated for pigs and calves. In recognition of the inevitability of cage-free production, progressive egg production companies including Central Valley Eggs, have erected complexes incorporating aviaries which allow flocks to range within a barn using the cube-volume of the house. Other producers have retrofitted houses with aviaries or floor systems although the number of hens in California declined after 2014 with recent stabilization.

In contrast to the 2008 ballot, United Egg Producers are not taking any stand on the proposition. A spokesperson for the organization stated “Changes in hen housing are complex and costly and require close collaboration with customers.” It is estimated that a new house fitted with aviaries on a green-field complex would require expenditure in excess of $40 to $50 per hen for site development, buildings, equipment, packing plant, cold storage, biosecurity installations and vehicles. Retrofitting aviaries to existing cage-housing could be achieved at proportionately lower cost.

It is estimated that the state of California would face up to $10 million in potential costs for inspection to enforce the measure.

As usual, the ballot will be decided on sentiment without consideration of costs borne by producers and passed on to consumers. Currently California eggs bear a 40 to 50 cent “Pacelle tax” as a result of the passage of Proposition#2 in 2008.

The 2018 ballot initiative is essentially moot since supermarket chains, restaurants and food service suppliers have committed to sourcing from non-caged flocks. After an initial burst of building and modification in 2017, erection of new facilities and retrofits to existing houses have slowed given that a balance has now been established between the demand for cage-free eggs and supply.

The action by the HSUS in promoting the initiative is considered an exercise in rebuilding image and welfare credentials in order to regain momentum in fund raising to support a vegan agenda. The misplaced perception of the HSUS as a defender of animal rights was eroded by allegations of sexual harassment and misuse of funds leading to widespread resignation of board members and executives.