Of all the victories for animal protection in recent decades, California’s 2008 Proposition 2 ballot measure stands out as one of the biggest and most far-reaching. It was one the most comprehensive farm animal protection measures ever attempted, launched in the largest state in the union and also the nation’s largest agricultural state. For all of those reasons, agribusiness groups mounted a massive campaign to defeat it, resulting in an honest test of where consumers stand on the issue of extreme confinement of animals raised for food.
With voters delivering a landslide victory for Prop 2, the Golden State became the first state to ban battery cages for egg-laying hens, and it reminded the entire agricultural sector that at least some of its routine and customary practices were way out of step with public sentiment.
After our major victory on Election Day 2008, the opponents of Prop 2 tried to interpret the measure very narrowly, or to overturn it entirely. They took their campaign to the courts, in the hopes that they could wipe away the votes of 8 million people who favored it.
I’m happy to report that yesterday, a federal judge in California brought Prop 2 one step further to implementation. An egg producer in California filed suit earlier this year contending that Prop 2’s language was too “vague” for the producer to understand. In a written ruling, the judge vehemently disagreed, finding that the amount of space required by Prop 2 “is certainly not a mystery and is capable of easy determination by egg farmers, who have been in this business for decades.” Acting on motions filed by The HSUS and the California Attorney General, the judge rejected each of the egg producer’s arguments and concluded that “Proposition 2 establishes a clear test that any law enforcement officer can apply, and that test does not require the investigative acumen of Columbo to determine if an egg farmer is in violation of the statute.”
This judge saw the opponents’ flimsy legal arguments for what they really were: an attempt to thwart animal welfare improvements in California. As the judge put it, “the mere fact that Plaintiff dislikes or disagrees with the policy or language of Proposition 2 is not sufficient to sustain a Constitutional challenge.”
For more than a year, after a sit-down with the leaders of the egg industry and a successful and difficult negotiation between the parties, The HSUS and the United Egg Producers have been working on federal legislation that would extend important animal welfare improvements beyond California and to the entire U.S. egg industry. With this ruling, it’s now clearer than ever that laying hens across the nation would benefit from a national ban on barren battery cages and that the egg industry would benefit by having a national standard that all producers would be obligated to follow. Protecting California’s 20 million laying hens is good, but it’s still better to set a minimum standard for all 285 million hens in the nation and phase out the use of the most extreme confinement cages. That’s exactly what H.R. 3798 and S. 3239 would do.