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Legalizing California Battery Cages: HSUS & Egg Industry Redefine Prop 2 in Toxic Ballot Measure

It all comes down to one square foot.

After wasting ten years, squandering over $10 million dollars, and subjecting millions of animals to years of preventable cage confinement, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) can no longer deny the obvious:

Literally millions of egg-laying hens are still locked in battery cages throughout California, even though voters were told they had outlawed those cages years ago by passing what was known as Proposition 2.

The reason for this failure could not be clearer. It is due to the stunningly negligent drafting errors made by HSUS and its inexplicable refusal to correct those errors prior to putting the measure on the ballot.

These include:

  • Never bothering to specify in the actual text of the measure that egg factory cages would be prohibited. (Prop 2 was promoted to activists, the media, and voters as a ban on cages.)
  • Neglecting to specify anywhere in Prop 2 how much space would be minimally required to comply with the law. (HSUS was adamant, however, that the law required nothing less than 216 square inches of floor space per hen.)
  • Refusing to heed the vigorous and repeated warnings of the Humane Farming Association and many others that, if left uncorrected, Prop 2 would fail exactly as it has.

Proposition 2 – Take Two:
Less Space for Hens — More Years of Cages

wayne pacelle drinks champagne
With millions of hens still in cages, Wayne Pacelle during 2015 “victory tour” makes self-congratulatory toast to “Cage-Free California.”

HSUS president Wayne Pacelle’s response to the Prop 2 debacle, and to the years of animal suffering caused by his refusal to fix Prop 2’s fatal flaws the first time around, is not to go back and do it correctly.

Instead, Pacelle has rekindled his unholy alliance with United Egg Producers (UEP) and invited it to write a replacement measure consistent with the industry’s vision for the future. That vision: Tightly packed confinement buildings providing only one square foot per hen.

The United Egg Producers is the egg industry’s trade association. It has been remarkably candid about its intentions, even going so far as to openly acknowledge its goal of controlling and diluting the meaning of “cage-free.”

“It’s time for egg farmers to get involved in setting the agenda, especially defining what a cage-free system looks like.” – United Egg Producers

UEP’s partner in this venture, HSUS, has been less candid. It is going to great lengths to obscure the fact that the egg industry inserted its very own pre-existing standards, literally verbatim, into this 2018 redo of Prop 2.

This is what it would mean if that measure is approved in California next November:

chickens crammed into multi-level cages
  • The egg industry would not only be allowed, but it would also be incentivized, to construct multi-level egg factories that provide hens with a mere one square foot of floor space.
  • The measure would allow the industry to pack 33% more hens into egg factories than what HSUS promised throughout its entire Prop 2 campaign, as well as throughout the decade that followed.
  • Although voters thought they had outlawed cages back in 2008, this measure would explicitly legalize battery cages until the year 2022. And when that year finally arrives, we can count on the industry seeking to push the date back even further. That is exactly what we all witnessed with Prop 2’s supposed 2015 “deadline” -- which HSUS famously assured everyone was ironclad.

And, as it turns out, we don’t have to wait until 2022 to see how tentative and fluid that date is. Just weeks ago, the Association of California Egg Farmers introduced a second measure that would push the date back to 2024.

Regardless of these ever-changing, never-arriving, deadlines – what each version of these measures shares is this primary function: They would each immediately legalize battery cages throughout the state. And they would each allow the confinement of laying hens with as little as one square foot of floor space per bird.

Multi-level “cage-free” egg factory.

If either of these two rotten egg initiatives is enacted, hens would suffer a major reduction in floor space from what HSUS itself had always said Prop 2 required. And, after openly ignoring Prop 2 voter intent for all these years -- the egg industry would be rewarded with an ever-increasing number of years to keep tens of millions of California laying hens in battery cages.

Pie In The Sky:
The Interstate Commerce Smokescreen

The obvious challenge for HSUS is how to sell this toxic mess. Its strategy is to change the subject entirely.

For misdirection, HSUS is relying on some language it inserted purporting to regulate out-of-state producers of pork, veal, and eggs. It is very instructive to note that the Association of California Egg Farmers is playing the exact same game in its own competing ballot measure. That’s right. California egg producers are also claiming that they will regulate Iowa pork producers. Just as long as we all agree to legalize battery cages!

No one should fall for these tactics. Even in the highly unlikely event that these constitutionally questionable provisions survive the inevitable years of legal challenges, the U.S. Congress is already in the midst of advancing preemptive legislation (HR 2887) that would render all such interstate commerce regulation null and void.

In fact, drafts of the rapidly approaching 2018 Farm Bill are virtually certain to include amendments that would nullify any such provisions. In other words, the interstate commerce sections of the HSUS/UEP ballot measure may very well be nullified even before it is voted on next November.

The bottom line is this: In 2008, California voters were told that Proposition 2 would make battery cages illegal. Based on that belief, voters approved the measure by a landslide. There is every bit as much, if not more, public support for farm animal protection laws today than there was ten years ago. A ballot measure clarifying that battery cages are illegal in California right now would win. As would a measure clarifying that hens must be given more than just one square foot. This was proven ten years ago. There is absolutely no valid reason to capitulate on these issues now.

No amount of wishful thinking about controlling the behavior of out-of-state pork producers by regulating interstate commerce can compensate for the very tangible harm done if either one of the egg industry’s ballot measures is enacted.

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