California bans gestation crates, hen cages; which state is next?

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.

Behind it

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.

Not stopping

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.”

Didn’t get it

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.

Economic effect

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.

About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

5 Comments

  1. Uncle B says:

    legal protection for animals makes sense! So does legalizing weed! but can I grow Hemp for fiber? Next, water free collection of humanure and its bio-gassing into fuel! The sludge from this radiated to safety standards to replace lost top-soil, and fertilize our poorest fields, and Bingo! We have water and fertilizer for our farming future and soil enhancement to boot!

  2. Kat says:

    Big ag are big idiots! We are supposed to believe that pigs smother their babies if left to their own! Ridiculous! They are smart, social nesting animals who need food, water, shelter and space! Just like everyone else! Its called, their habitat!

    • concerned individual says:

      Kat:
      Unfortunately, I think there is a lack of knowledge of the agriculture world. Many people think their food comes from the grocery store and many people don’t look beyond what is publicized in the media-we all know media likes a big story and unfortunately, big organizations need money to operate. Sadly, most of the animal welfare groups that are in the news are in it for the wrong reasons. There will always be someone that handles things poorly in any industry-these are the people that are targeted by animal welfare groups to get the “attention” they need. Then many people jump on the bandwagon with them and the money flows in, laws get passed, money is wasted on issues that may not be issues. If it was really about the animals people would realize and understand, people raising animals to feed the world have a very important job. Their families depend on it, their livelihood depends on it and frankly you depend on it, so why would they do something to jeopardize the health and welfare of their animals?

      To specifically respond to your comment about pigs needing more room-If you look out in the wild-where pigs have all the room they need, many of those litters are very small-why? because the sow is a very large animal that, when laying down, plops her body down and has no control over smashing one of her pigs under her. It really has to do with protecting her young and it allows the attendant that is helping with the farrowing/birthing to assist the sow if she needs help. There is really no way to have a sow stand still or hold her in any way if she is struggling with the birthing process. A farrowing crate keeps her not only from laying on her young but also helps to assist her and keeps us safe if she were to be aggressive while farrowing. The other misconception is that these sows live in these crates. They do not! Only during farrowing and while the piglets are small. There is always room for improvement, but agriculture is doing their best to improve their yields(i.e. more pigs staying alive/ litter), improve quality and supply our WORLD-not country our world- with safe, high quality food. We need to realize if we keep spending all this money on regulations and fees and …., farmers are all going to go out of business-it’s already happening! Who’s going to feed all the people-again not just in our country-in the world?? We need to wake up and look at the big picture!

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