In a move that will dramatically transform the industry in the fifth largest egg-producing state, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 2 on Election Day to become the first state in the nation to outlaw cages for egg-laying hens and other livestock. With 91% of precincts reporting early on Nov. 5, passage was leading by a 63.1% to 36.8% margin. Voters in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area voted for the measure by a large margin, while most of the Central Valley, the state’s leading agricultural region, and north state opposing it.
With few veal producers in the state and the largest pork producer voluntarily planning to eliminate small crates, the law that goes into effect in 2015 will mostly affect the state's 20 million egg-laying hens, the Los Angeles Times says. The measure was championed by the Humane Society of the United States and the California Veterinary Medical Assn. Opponents included egg farmers in the state and across the country, and the American College of Poultry Veterinarians, who said the measure would be economically disastrous for California egg producers.
Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers, called the results disappointing. “From the very beginning, we knew we were fighting an uphill battle. Animal rights groups succeeded in convincing voters in California into thinking Prop. 2 was about animal cruelty by using images of pets in their ads, when in fact, Prop. 2 simply was a means to try to end animal farming in that state.”
Gregory says that because the wording of Propostion 2 is so vague, the state will have to determine how this new law actually will be implemented and enforced. Under the wording of the ballot measure, laying hens will need to be able to stand up, stretch their wings, dust bathe and do other things that free-range chickens can do.
“Will other states be targeted for initiatives similar to Proposition 2? Probably,” Gregory says. "But just because voters in one state like California pass Prop. 2 doesn’t mean that the other 49 states should follow suit.” He notes that the egg industry received support in urging voters to vote no from numerous organizations, and the endorsement of more than 30 of the largest and most influential newspapers in the state, including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Sacramento Bee.
Various economic analyses suggest that the industry will by deeply transformed under Proposition 2, with producers choosing to remain in California switching to all free-range eggs, for which there is a national demand. Many producers have said they will consider moving their operations to other states, or even Mexico. Proposition 2 does not ban the sale of conventional eggs in California, which would be illegal under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution; it only bans growers from conventional egg production within the state. California already gets about a third of its eggs from other states.
Each side of the issue raised about $8.5 million for its campaign, the Los Angeles Times says.