SALEM, Ohio — What happens in California doesn’t necessarily stay in California — and that should have farmers nationwide waiting with their eyes wide open.
In this week’s election, Golden State voters passed an initiative that bans several tried-and-true ag production tools, including gestation crates, laying hen cages and veal crates.
Ag groups on the lookout warn California may be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and if the measure passed there, it’s only a matter of time until voters nationwide see similar laws on their own ballots.
Californians voted nearly 2-to-1 in favor of Proposition 2, which will require that pregnant pigs, laying hens and calves raised for veal be kept in enclosures large enough that they can turn around and fully extend their limbs.
Producers will have until Jan. 1, 2015, to change their housing systems.
The ballot initiative was backed mainly by the Humane Society of the United States, which helped pass similar ballot initiatives in Arizona in 2006 and in Florida in 2002.
“California voters have taken a stand for decency and compassion and said that the systemic mistreatment of animals on factory farms cannot continue. All animals deserve humane treatment, including animals raised for food,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.
HSUS said Prop 2 attracted support from a broad coalition of organizations, including the California Veterinary Medical Association, United Farm Workers, State Humane Association of California, the Center for Food Safety, and the Consumer Federation of America, to name a few.
The proposition also had widespread media attention, with spokespeople appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Some groups are concerned the ban’s passage may spill over into other states in the U.S.
“We are disappointed that the voters of California adopted a proposition outlawing a husbandry practice deemed appropriate by decades of farmer experience, as well as by university researchers and the nation’s leading veterinarian association,” said National Pork Producers Council President Bryan Black, a pork producer from Canal Winchester, Ohio.
The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians recognize gestation stalls and group housing systems as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy.
“California often is a bellwether, so it’s likely this ban will be pushed in other states,” Black said. “We certainly don’t expect the Humane Society to stop with California.”
Another group, the Animal Agriculture Alliance, also expressed concern over the passage.
Kay Johnson Smith, executive vice president of that group, said it’s believed the new methods will result in worse animal welfare, shutting of farms, and less safe, more expensive food for Californians.
Smith also said the alliance was “despondent” that voters “didn’t hear animal welfare experts’ messages warning of higher rates of death in non-cage systems, increased rates of smothering, increased incidences of aggression and much more.”
“Our organization believes that quality animal welfare creates wins for animals, farmers and consumers. It is disappointing to learn that, in the tumult caused by all the various initiatives, consumers didn’t hear that message.”
Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association, expressed similar sentiments.
“We’re obviously disappointed with the decision they made in California, but in Ohio and across the rest of the industry, we will continue to produce safe, wholesome and affordable food,” he said.
“What we are doing is scientifically-based and upholds animal and environmental care, and we will continue to do it this way,” he said.
Other proposition opponents have said they don’t believe the new law will change how food animals are raised so much as where they are raised, with the belief that production of eggs, veal and pork will simply move out of California.