ShapeShapeauthorShapechevroncrossShapeShapeShapeGrouphamburgerhomeGroupmagnifyShapeShapeShaperssShape

Proposition 2 Puts Egg Producers in Quandry

by 5m Editor
29 September 2008, at 9:13am

CALIFORNIA - Many egg producers in the US are at unsure about the future of their businesses because of a proposed change in animal welfare legislation.

Ryan Armstrong is a third-generation egg farmer in Valley Center but fears he could be the last in his family.

“It will put us out of business,” said Mr Armstrong, a leading voice in the campaign against a November 4 ballot measure that would force farmers to invest heavily to provide more space for caged, egg-laying hens as well as veal calves and pregnant pigs.

But Sacramento-area farmer Nigel Walker said passage of Proposition 2 would send a message to the egg industry and retailers that consumers are willing to pay a small premium on a dozen eggs in return for treating hens more humanely.

“Nobody is trying to destroy the egg industry. We're trying to take it into the 21st century,” Mr Walker said.

He allows hens for his Eatwell Farms specialty business in Dixon to roam pastures. Eatwell delivers weekly packages of eggs and produce to households.

Farmers are not the only ones divided. California veterinarians are split, with those who mostly specialize in farm-animal care opposing the initiative.

Under Proposition 2, farmers by 2015 would have to provide hens with enough room to turn around freely and extend their wings. According to SignOnSanDiego.com, so-called battery cages that squeeze hens into a space less than the size of a letter-sized sheet of paper would be prohibited. Alternatives could include larger confinement areas, cage-free housing in the barn or free-range.

Proposition 2 also would require more space for veal calves and pregnant pigs, but those industries have a limited presence in California, and several major pork and veal producers nationally already are moving away from confining pens. The battle over Proposition 2 is mostly over more space for egg-laying hens.

The report continues that opponents are attempting to capitalize on today's concerns over escalating food prices to sway voters. They also point out that eggs produced by confined birds elsewhere could still be sold in California.

California produces about 6 percent of the nation's eggs and consumes twice that, said Dan Sumner, a University of California Davis agricultural economist. Egg production reached $330 million in 2007, generated by about 5 billion eggs from 20 million hens. Of those, less than 5 percent were laid by hens not kept in cages, Dr Sumner said.

Dr Sumner, in his study, warned of high costs to the farmer. Those who shift to less confined housing could experience a 20 percent increase in production costs, mostly attributed to higher feed, housing and labor expenses. As a result, he said, California farmers could not compete with imports from other states.

Fearing a national trend, dozens of egg producers across the country are writing checks to help finance the opposition in California. Rose Acre Farms in Indiana contributed $517,000; Midwest Poultry Services, also based in Indiana, sent $250,000; and Herbruck's Poultry Ranch in Michigan delivered $117,000. Moark, a western Riverside County egg operation in Norco, was one of the big California donors, contributing $215,000.

Both campaigns are using veterinarians to promote their positions, and not without some controversy. The American Veterinary Medicine Association is neutral but has released statements warning of Proposition 2's broad effects. The California Veterinary Medicine Association has endorsed the initiative, prompting about 150 farm-animal veterinarians to form a breakaway group in protest.

Reimers, the poultry specialist, said widespread cage-free practices could lead to more salmonella poisoning in humans from contaminated eggs. Chickens could experience jumps in parasitic infections and disease, such as avian flu.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.