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September 15, 2009

Calif. Egg Producer Falsely Claims That Inhumane Confinement System Will Comply With Prop 2

Post-Election Radical Re-Interpretation of Popular Ballot Measure Won't Fly

The Humane Society of the United States

The Humane Society of the United States reacted with astonishment today to news that Modesto-based J.S. West & Co. is planning a $3.2-million expenditure to build a chicken confinement facility that will not meet the standards established by the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. The act, more commonly known as Proposition 2 on last November's statewide ballot, stands as the most popular ballot measure in California history, approved by more than 8.2 million voters, and in 47 of California's 58 counties.

The act requires that breeding pigs, calves raised for veal and egg-laying hens each be given enough room to fully extend all limbs without touching the side of an enclosure or, in the case of laying hens, another bird by January 2015.

According to a scientific report issued by two advisors of the egg industry's trade association, the United Egg Producers, the 116 square inches per bird proposed for J.S. West's new caging equipment would only afford hens the ability to stand up, but not to fully extend their wings without touching other birds.

"A legal sheet of paper's worth of space for each bird is not even close to compliant with California law, and it's unwise of producers to spend millions of dollars to build a facility that will be obviously illegal in 2015," said Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for The HSUS. "Proponents and opponents of Prop 2 did not agree on much during the campaign, but both sides agreed very explicitly that these so-called 'furnished' or 'enriched' cages would be prohibited if the measure passed."

J.S. West & Co. executive Gary West served as chairman of the board of directors for the UEP, and that group's animal welfare guidelines clearly state: "A minimum of 1.5 sq. ft. per hen must be allocated to allow normal behavior." (1.5 square feet = 216 square inches.) Indeed, the UEP wrote in its newsletter published the day after the election, "Cages for laying hens and sow gestation crates will certainly be outlawed."

Opponents of Prop 2 repeatedly asserted in the lead-up to last November's election that the measure would ban cages for laying hens. In fact, opponents went so far as to assert as a mantra that Prop 2 "effectively bans all modern egg production in the state, including cage-free" (See Aug. 8, 2008 Californians for Safe Food press release).

Indeed, even poultry scientist Joy Mench, of the UC Davis Animal Science department, wrote during the campaign that Proposition 2 "will ban the use of conventional cages for housing hens in California, and will also prevent California producers from adopting enriched cages."

Humane advocates regularly fended off claims by Prop 2 opponents that the measure was "so EXTREME that it also effectively bans 'cage-free' eggs, forcing hens outdoors for most of the day." This quote comes from the arguments written by Prop 2 opponents and printed in the official information guide mailed by the Secretary of State to all California voters.

"A slightly modified cage system does not comply," continued Fearing. "California egg producers should begin their efforts to move to cage-free systems to comply with Proposition 2 and to meet the wishes of voters."

Facts:

  • J.S. West & Co. was the fifth-largest funder for the opposition to Proposition 2, contributing nearly $350,000 to fighting Proposition 2.
  • Prop 2's proponents have always been crystal clear that the measure requires cage-free hen housing.
  • U.S. factory farms confine about 280 million hens in barren battery cages so cramped, they can't even spread their wings. Each bird has less space than a sheet of paper her entire life. Scientific research confirms the welfare problems with battery cages and the clear welfare benefits of cage-free housing.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — on the web at humanesociety.org.

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