About the Issue
In 2008, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 2, a ballot measure that — among other things — requires that by January 1, 2015, egg-laying hens raised in California be able to stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs. In 2010, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 1437, legislation requiring all shell (whole) eggs sold in California to be produced under the same minimum standards as Prop 2, regardless of where they were produced. Since salmonella is more prevalent in battery cage facilities, there was a public health and safety rationale for the restriction on sale of eggs from producers not compliant with Prop 2.
Six years after Prop 2’s enactment, some California egg producers have not yet converted their operations to come into compliance with the basic requirements of the law. Some of them have filed lawsuits to try to undo the measure and many of these same folks claim that they don’t know what Prop 2 means, even though it’s plain that any form of cage-free production is consistent with the terms of the ballot measure. All three of their lawsuits have been unsuccessful (with two still on appeal), with one federal court stating that it “does not require the investigative acumen of Columbo” for law enforcement officers to determine whether an egg producer is in compliance with Proposition 2.
Some egg producers are poised to sell compliant eggs in California by expanding their cage-free operations. For example, Hidden Villa Ranch is adding 600,000 cage-free birds to its flock, while Opal Foods is adding 800,000 cage-free birds. As well, San Diego egg producer Frank Hilliker is converting to all cage-free operations, and Hickman Egg Ranch is expanding its cage-free operations to satisfy the California demand.
Despite The HSUS’s differences with the California egg industry over Prop 2, The HSUS and the egg industry advocated together for a federal law that would establish national standards for the housing of laying hens. That legislation would have preempted California law, but it would substitute a national standard — improving standards not just for 20 million laying hens in California, but for 250 million hens now in extreme confinement throughout the nation. Unfortunately, that legislation has been blocked, for the time being, by other opponents of Prop 2, including the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation. They oppose all state and federal standards to improve animal welfare on farms and slaughterhouses. In the absence of any federal legislation preempting Proposition 2, California egg producers must comply with the terms of Prop 2 on the timeline set by voters, and out-of-state egg producers who sell eggs to California must comply with those standards as well, for the eggs they send to California, as prescribed by A.B. 1437.