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Around the County

Animal rights proposition in California

December 12, 2008
From WAYNE SCHOPER, Brown/Nicollet Extension Educator

The recent election will bring a lot of change to the United States. Thank goodness that all of the political ads have ended and life slowly returns to normal.

However, for California livestock producers, life will begin to change with the passage of Proposition 2. For those not familiar with the California political system, Chuck Schwartau, Regional Extension Educator recently put together a news article that puts things into a clearer light. According to the article, any issue can be put forth to the voters of that state if enough people sign a petition to get it on the ballot. Those issues are called "propositions". The result can be a lot of issues on the ballot and some funny or contentious laws. Proposition 2 was one of those issues this year.

What does Proposition do? Check out the Los Angeles Times election information website and you will find the following description: "Beginning in 2015, farmers would be required to provide room for egg-laying hens, veal calves and pregnant sows to fully extend their limbs or wings, stand up, turn around and lie down. It would outlaw cages and crates that prevent those movements". The issue passed by a wide margin, 63 percent in favor to 37 percent against. That is an overwhelming margin though not surprising in California.

Article Photos

Wayne Schoper

So how will this affect livestock producers? The overall impact is uncertain. The veal calf industry in California has apparently diminished significantly in recent years, so very few farms will be affected. What will happen to the remaining few remains to be seen as some will change and other will go out of business. California's swine industry isn't that large, and according to Schwartau, the largest swine producer in the state has been feeling pressure in recent years and has already begun the phase-out of small crates.

The big question mark is about the 20 million hens producing 5 billion eggs per year. While many egg producers have already reduced the number of hens per cage, few if any can meet the new requirements without major capital investment and building renovation. Many of the mainline egg producers expect that they will be driven out of business because they will be at a major cost of production disadvantage to the rest of the country. Some estimates that their cost of production will increase by 20 percent with the change. The egg consumer in California will probably see little or no price change, but their eggs will not be local eggs. Proponents of the law think that retailers will demand eggs from hens grown under the new system so the growers will not be disadvantaged. The reality is that most consumers shop for the lowest price and will not be willing to pay more for eggs or any other product that is similar in quality but commands a higher price for any reason.

The issue can be a dividing one. For example, veterinarians in California were divided over the issue which probably confused the voting public even more. An interesting note is that the veterinarians that worked with production agriculture were in opposition to the issue while those veterinarians that worked with companion animals were in favor.

The bottom line here is that livestock producers all over the country need to pay attention to the issue of animal welfare on all fronts. The vast majority of livestock producers are genuinely concerned about the welfare of livestock under their care. They want them to healthy and productive.

The livestock industry needs to get itself together and take proactive steps to show the public how well it cares for its animals and why they do so. The Humane Society and others are all out there getting into schools and other public venues. Livestock producers need to do the same. For example, talk to your local schools about animal rights issues and how you care for your livestock and the economic impact that the animal industry has on the local economy. Most people have no idea how modern livestock production works and the excellent care that our production animals receive.



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