Breaking news: First-ever criminal charges brought against egg producer for violating California Prop 2

By on February 7, 2017 with 8 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Eight years after voters approved the landmark ballot initiative, and two years after the law took effect, a law enforcement agency today brought criminal charges against a California egg producer, Hohberg Poultry Ranch, in southern California, with 39 counts of violating Prop 2 and 16 other counts of violating the state anti-cruelty code. Specifically, the case was brought by the San Bernardino District Attorney Michael Ramos, who has a unit devoted exclusively to animal cruelty crimes.

Ramos has a proud record of pathbreaking enforcement of animal cruelty laws. In fact, he may be responsible for the most famous prosecution of animal cruelty ever. In 2008, Ramos brought charges against slaughterhouse employees after HSUS investigators documented cattle being dragged by chains and pushed by bulldozers into the kill area. Their prosecution of key parties, along with the HSUS investigation, led to the largest meat recall in American history – more than 143 million pounds. It also led to President Obama barring downer cows in the American food supply.

Now, more than eight years after that case, the San Bernardino district attorney has conducted the first enforcement action under the terms of Prop 2 – which voters approved just months after our Hallmark/Westland investigation cast doubt on the credibility of humane assurances offered up by the meat industry. Prop 2 was the landmark measure that banned extreme confinement of veal calves, breeding sows, and laying hens. Its passage led to a re-examination of the way hens are raised in the United States, triggering a national movement that has resulted in more than 200 of the nation’s biggest food sellers – from McDonald’s to Walmart to IHOP – pledging over time to sell only eggs from hens free of cages. In Massachusetts, voters in November approved a ballot measure, with a 78 percent “yes” vote, to ban cage confinement production in the state and to forbid by 2022 the sale of eggs that come from farms that confine animals in cages.

It all started in California with Prop 2, and that electoral outcome reverberated throughout the agribusiness industry, legislatures, and the corporate food sector. But on the ground, it’s been frustrating to see egg producers flout the standards. As I wrote in 2009, both sides were clear during the Prop 2 debate that the outcome of the measure’s passage would be a cage-free egg industry. But some egg producers changed their tune after the election, claiming they could still keep their birds in cramped cages. Their litigation efforts failed time and again, but they eventually got the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to promulgate regulations unrelated to Prop 2 that attempted to allow cage confinement, albeit with larger space requirements. The problem for them is that the egg producers must comply both with the CDFA rules and the higher standard of Prop 2. In this case, the evidence is clear that the defendant was confining hens in a manner that is nowhere near compliant with Prop 2. Other egg producers are keeping birds in larger cages, but The HSUS and other proponents of Prop 2 were quite clear that these cages also violate Prop 2. In fact, the agriculture industry long argued that Prop 2 was a de facto cage-free requirement, and new outlets covering Prop 2 did the same.

Ramos’s announcement of charges today should reverberate throughout the California egg industry. And it’s my hope it causes all farmers in the state to get all of the birds out of cages, which would both meet Prop 2’s standards as well as meet market demands.

Indeed, that’s the way things are moving, especially so because so many major food retailers have publicly pledged to move toward cage-free. There’s also been something of a building boom for cage-free in the state, and that includes one major Arizona producer who has committed to building cage-free facilities for as many as 10 million birds in the Central Valley of California.

With the marketplace moving so decisively toward cage-free, there’s really no debate about the future of egg production in California or any other state. Today’s action reminds egg companies that the law must speak, and with a unit of the San Bernardino District Attorney’s office devoted exclusively to animal cruelty crimes, that’s exactly what happened today.

Farm Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Robert Goldman says:

    Wayne and HSUS,
    The compassionate hearts of the American people must come at these corporate animal abusers like a tsunami of steel fists. A tsunami of litigation that breaks them down and forces them to change or forces them out of business.

  2. Bonnie says:

    in this day and age,,,,, why do these things continue? dis graceful.

  3. Kaitlin says:

    With the internet and all of the resources in the world…. I was shocked that some of the locals up here in northern ca, have no idea about any of this. When I described the horror of factory farms…. one person replied that the usda would never allow any cruelty happen.
    I need help teaching and getting adults to consider the truth. Any suggestions?

  4. Michael Williams says:

    Cage free or not this will not affect the way an egg will taste 🍳 No one is for cruelty towards animals but there is nothing pretty about slaughtering animals for the food chain . Someone such as this attorney who is not a professional in this field but have legal power over those who had knowledge in this industry is a high problem 🐷🐤🐥🐣

  5. Dave says:

    Welcome to $12 a dozen eggs.

  6. Foxy says:

    a steak cost $12 and it feeds 1-2 people for one meal. Cage-free eggs/ Organic/Humane whatever cost about $5-7 and you can make many meals so I don’t see the agony of paying such a price because it’s a source of protein.

  7. mary marcus says:

    How do you know if you are purchasing eggs from this farm? Does it say on the packaging?

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