A flock of free range chickens. Photo via Creative Commons.
A flock of free range chickens. Photo via Creative Commons.

In summary

Proposition 12: Pro-Proposition 12 would strengthen California law and ensure that meat and eggs produced and sold here come from cage-free conditions. Con-Proposition 12 is a poorly written initiative that will result in supply disruptions, price spikes and a shortage of eggs, and turn food inspectors into meat police.

By Dr. Brenda Forsythe

Brenda Forsythe is a veterinarian in Santa Maria, BrendaFS@aol.com. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

In industrialized meat and egg factory farms across the country, mother pigs, egg-laying hens and newborn calves raised for veal are often locked in cages barely larger than their own bodies.

These animals are unable to walk or do virtually anything that comes naturally to them. Despite obvious physical differences between farm animals and pets, there’s no real difference in their ability to suffer.

Like dogs and cats, chickens, pigs, and cows can experience fear and stress. Scientists specializing in animal behavior attest that farm animals suffer profoundly, both physically and mentally, when locked in tiny cages. It’s time we end the extreme confinement of farm animals once and for all by passing Proposition 12 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

In 2008, California passed Proposition 2, a landmark ballot measure giving farm animals within our borders enough space to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs. This successful law reduced animal suffering significantly, but a decade has passed and it’s time for an update.

That’s where Proposition 12 would come in.

Many of the eggs and much of the pork and veal sold in California come from facilities that still confine animals in cages. Proposition 12 would strengthen California law and ensure that meat and eggs produced and sold here come from cage-free conditions.

Cage-free facilities aren’t perfect, but decades of research shows that cage-free animals are significantly better off than their caged counterparts

Caging animals is also disastrous for public health. Eggs are consistently one of the biggest culprits in Salmonella outbreaks nationwide. An important reason is that the majority, albeit a shrinking majority, of eggs in the nation, still come from caged hens.

It’s not hard to understand why this is a problem: a bird can barely move when crammed into a tiny cage with up to 10 other cage mates. Her immune system breaks down, leading to illness and disease.

Then consider that she’s packed into a filth-encrusted cage in a shed with thousands of more potentially sick birds, and you get the ideal conditions for dangerous bacteria like Salmonella to proliferate. The bacteria often end up in the eggs themselves, and eventually in our kitchens.

Environmental groups like Sierra Club California, Earthjustice and the Center for Biological Diversity are supporting Proposition 12 because factory farms that cage animals are horrible for the environment.

With thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of animals in a single facility, these facilities produce enormous amounts of concentrated fecal waste. There’s frequently too much to spread on farmland, and it’s often contaminated with antibiotic residue and other toxins.

This concentrated slurry of fecal matter and chemicals can end up polluting our water and airways. Fortunately, family farmers that provide cage-free housing for their animals are typically much more sustainable.

Politics in our country these days are fractured and divisive. But the remarkably large and diverse coalition in support of Proposition 12 shows that we can come together to make important advances.

Please join me, more than 600 other California veterinarians and vet clinics, the Center For Food Safety, and the Humane Society of the United States in voting yes on Proposition 12. By doing so, we’ll prevent cruelty, reduce foodborne illness, support responsible farmers, and protect California’s environment.By Debbie Murdock

Debbie Murdock is executive director of the Association of California Egg Farmers, Dmurdock@agamsi.com. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

If you support California Grown, locally sourced food that people can afford, you should vote no on Proposition 12.

California’s egg farmers support cage-free production. But Proposition 12 will result in fewer eggs produced in California and fewer egg farmers, and that will lead to higher prices, just as happened the last time voters approved a poorly written initiative drafted by the Humane Society of the United States.

In 2008, the Humane Society came from Washington, D.C., and convinced California’s voters to support a poorly worded initiative known as Proposition 2.

We all support humane animal standards. But that 2008 initiative prompted California farmers to move 40 percent of their egg production to other states.

As a result, egg prices shot up by 30 percent and farmers who remained in business were forced to spend more than $250 million with no assurances they were in compliance.

Fast forward to 2018 and the Humane Society is back with Proposition 12, yet another initiative demanding even more restrictions on egg, pork, and veal farmers.

More than 72 percent of the nation’s food, retail, hospitality, food service, and food manufacturing businesses have committed to serve and sell cage-free eggs by 2025, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But despite our commitments to go cage-free, the Humane Society of the United States is demanding full compliance by the end of 2021, an unrealistic deadline. In doing so, the Humane Society is reneging on its own agreement with food retail, hospitality, food service, and food manufacturing businesses.

If Proposition 12 becomes law, California egg farmers who remain in business will be required to accelerate their business plans, seek construction loans, obtain permits and spend hundreds of millions of additional dollars in just 36 months to avoid severe criminal penalties.

Once again, a poorly written initiative will result in supply disruptions, price spikes and a shortage of eggs.  Doesn’t this sound familiar?

In addition, pork farmers from across the nation will be mandated to produce a “California only” pork, making popular products such as bacon, sausage, and ham much more expensive.

Enforcement will be a nightmare. Inspectors will have to determine how and where every slab of bacon, sausage link, and pork chop was farmed, processed and handled. Regulators will be required to adjust their focus from food safety to become the meat police to ensure the pigs’ mother was raised according to Proposition 12’s unworkable plan.

The nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst estimates it will cost taxpayers more than $10 million per year to enforce the meat provisions of this poorly worded proposition.

If Proposition 12 passes, popular, high-quality sources of protein will become too expensive for many Californians who already struggle to make ends meet.

Proposition 12 is unreasonable and unnecessary and deserves a no-vote.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions: commentary@calmatters.org