During the Proposition 2 battle in California last year, the dueling campaigns didn’t agree on much. But there was at least one area where we held a common view: Prop 2, if enacted, would amount to a de facto ban on cage confinement of laying hens. Virtually all of the newspaper editorials, both for and against Prop 2, and news stories about the campaign were also explicit that the proposal would amount to a cage ban. As a result, the public debate over Prop 2 was grounded on our claim that battery cage systems are inherently inhumane, while opponents argued that the requirement to move to entirely cage-free systems would drive up costs for consumers and drive egg producers out of business.
© Compassion Over Killing
But now, seven months after voters approved the initiative and as the Senate takes up a bill, A.B. 1437 by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (already approved by the Assembly 65-12), to apply Prop 2 standards to the sale of whole eggs, leaders of the egg industry have changed their tune. The leaders of the “No on 2” campaign are trying to amend A.B. 1437 by adding language to the bill that would “clarify” the language in Prop 2 to allow the use of cages to confine laying hens. Not only is the language in Prop 2 clear in banning commercially viable cage confinement systems, but the California legislature is constitutionally prohibited from modifying (or “clarifying,” as Prop 2 opponents are calling it) the language of this citizen’s initiative.
What’s even stranger about this post-election maneuver is that it contradicts just about everything the egg industry leaders said during the campaign. Debbie Murdock, a spokesperson for the “No on 2” campaign, wrote in a June 16 op-ed, “there is a common misperception that the initiative bans the use of cages to house egg-laying hens. It does not.”
That’s a head-snapping turn-around since the opponents of Prop 2 argued in the state’s official voting guide—which is the last word in determining the measure’s intent—that the ballot measure was “so extreme” that it would have the effect of “forcing hens outdoors for most of the day.” In short, the opponents didn’t just say Prop 2 would mandate cage-free systems, but also free-range systems (the latter being a point we contested).
An election season economic analysis—repeatedly touted by Prop 2 opponents—produced by the University of California asserted, “…if passed, the resulting regulations would eliminate the use of cage systems for laying hens in California.”
And a week after the election, on Nov. 11, 2008, the United Egg Producers, the Georgia-based egg trade association group that ran the campaign against Prop 2, wrote authoritatively: "Cages for laying hens and sow gestation crates will certainly be outlawed.”
We’ve agreed all along that one effect of Prop 2 is to halt the use of cage systems that are commercially viable. And we continue to hold that view.
In fact, in our first-ever press release about the campaign, issued on Oct. 1, 2007, we wrote that the law “will prevent the use of inhumane factory farming practices such as…battery cages for egg-laying hens.” We repeated that message over and over again throughout our campaign, and we even made it the headline of our web feature announcing the victory: “Californians Make History by Banning Veal Crates, Battery Cages, and Gestation Crates.”
The reason all sides of the campaign agreed the law would phase out cage confinement is because, quite simply, there’s no cage system used by the egg industry that allows birds to engage in the basic behaviors required by Prop 2. Cages are used because it’s cheap to cram birds into them, but if you must give the birds sufficient space to express the range of actions mandated by Prop 2, it makes economic sense simply to switch to a cage-free system. In fact, the United Egg Producers has already promulgated science-based cage-free standards that are fully compliant with Prop 2.
Further, our campaign’s “less than a penny per egg” mantra referring to the modest cost associated with producers’ compliance with Prop 2 was based on the egg industry’s own economic analysis of the cost differential between eggs produced by hens in cages and those from hens in cage-free systems.
Now that Prop 2 is law, the egg industry is trying to punch a hole in it, undo the will of the voters, and embrace its newfangled, post-election interpretation of Prop 2.
We’ve had a number of meetings with egg industry leaders, and have conveyed these views. We told them that we want to help them succeed in their transition to cage-free systems, now that voters spoke on the subject so clearly. That offer still stands, but we won’t allow this radical reinterpretation of Prop 2 to go unchallenged, and we won’t hesitate to remind them of their own repeated comments that subvert their current line of argument.