With the six-year phase-in period coming to a close since California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2 to prevent extreme confinement of farm animals, the Humane Society of the United States is urging California’s leading supermarkets to stock eggs exclusively from hens in cage-free environments starting in January. The HSUS sent a letter to major California retailers today asking them to adopt that policy and is also promoting its web site, CageFreeCA.com, as an information source.

As a result of California’s AB 1437, starting in the New Year, all shell (whole) eggs sold in California must be produced in compliance with the standards for farm animal welfare set forth in Proposition 2. That voter initiative requires that egg-laying hens have enough space to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. All eggs sold in California must also be consistent with the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s egg safety rules, which have been in effect for decades, but were most recently amended in 2012. These two legal requirements are separate, and retailers must ensure their operations are compliant with both the egg safety regulations and the humane requirements of AB 1437.

“Californians voted for cage-free production in passing Prop 2, and now it’s time for food sellers to comply with the wishes of the people of the state,” said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO.

“Our best advice, and our strong recommendation for complying with these two new legal requirements, is that you only sell eggs from hens not confined in cages,” Pacelle wrote in a letter sent today to the largest grocery chains operating in California. “Cage-free eggs are already widely available in the marketplace, and there is a strong, growing supply. By selling cage-free eggs, as many retailers already do, you can feel assured that you are complying with the law.”

California voters and legislators have made it clear that extreme confinement of laying hens is inhumane and unacceptable. In 2008, voters passed Proposition 2 with an overwhelming 64 percent of the statewide vote, with winning margins in 47 of California’s 58 counties, including urban, suburban and rural areas. The complement to that law, AB 1437, passed the state Senate by a vote of 65 to 9 and the Assembly by 23 to 7, and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. With the AB 1437 deadline approaching, selling cage-free eggs will put retailers on solid terrain in complying with both the law and consumer demand.

Some opponents of Proposition 2 and AB 1437 have filed lawsuits to block these humane laws, and the courts have rejected all of these attempts to undo these laws. Cage-free eggs are available and affordable. The egg industry’s own economic analysis (PDF) shows that converting to cage-free egg production systems is feasible. Several companies, including Aramark, Sodexo, and Compass Group, have already converted to 100 percent cage-free shell eggs in their California operations in order to comply with the upcoming rules. And many more companies are going cage-free for all their locations and products across the nation, including Unilever (Best Foods), Nestle, Marriott, and Burger King.

California-based Bon Appetit Management Co., a food service company serving more than 500 locations, writes, “In the run-up to the January 2015 California deadline, every company, lobbyist, and lawmaker should get on board with cage-free compliance. Let’s give consumers what they’re asking for—and move toward a more sustainable future for all of us in the process.”

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