This November I hope will join me in voting “YES” on Prop 2.
To me, Prop 2 boils down to this: What is the minimum we owe to animals in our care? In the instance of Prop 2, we are determining whether laying chickens should be confined to a wire cage with 5 or 6 other hens (where each gets the amount of space equal to 2/3 of a sheet of paper) for its entire adult life (a little over a year). The chickens cannot roost, dust bathe, scratch, or even move more than a few inches. I believe that these animals have a right to a more reasonable amount of movement. I believe that society is moving away from allowing strict confinement of animals, and that Prop 2 is needed to achieve this.
Opponents of Prop 2 do not argue that confining hens this way is better for the hens. Instead they argue that chickens confined this way are productive as well as cheaper and easier to manage. However the fact that we CAN house chickens this way does not mean that we SHOULD house chickens this way—that is the difference between Science and Ethics. Animal cruelty laws are based on the concept of right and wrong, not on scientific data. Most folks agree that animals should be able to move at least to the degree where they can stand up, turn around, and extend their limbs, and that is exactly what Prop 2 requires.
Opponents of Prop 2 also like to argue that they will all go out of business if this proposition becomes effective in 2015. It reminds me of the reaction to banning smoking in bars, or the reaction to putting airbags in cars, or the reaction to raising the minimum wage—all of these laws were heralded as the end to particular businesses, but in the end, the businesses adapted and moved on. Animal agriculture is about adaptation and change, and the egg industry is no exception. In fact, California farmers already raise over 250 million chickens in cage-free systems (broilers), and they already produce cage-free and free-range eggs. In Europe, this change was made, and agriculture and consumers adapted quickly. So be careful about believing that the “sky is falling.”
Opponents of Prop 2 would also like folks to believe that cage-free and free-range eggs are unsafe, yet California farmers already produce eggs without battery cages that are just as safe as those produced with battery cages. Further, UC Davis (Dr. Joy Mench) has produced a study showing that in well-managed farms of both designs, the rate of injury and illnesses among the birds is about the same. I wonder why if the cage-free and free-range eggs produced now are safe, then how would they suddenly become unsafe when all eggs are produced that way?
Opponents of Prop 2 also argue that consumers do not understand modern agriculture and therefore they should leave decisions like Prop 2 to people who do. Not only does this smack of the “fox guarding the hen house,” but it discounts the notion that consumers want the animals that they benefit from to be treated humanely. All veterinarians need to step forward and help consumers understand this debate and to keep the discussion focused on animal welfare. Modern agriculture has made tremendous advances, but we certainly have the room and the ability to improve even further.
Among the groups supporting this Proposition is the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) (which represents about 5,000 of the state’s veterinarians), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Consumer Federation of America, and the Center for Food Safety. There is a long list of other supporters and a wealth of information on the “Yes on 2” website at YESonProp2.com.
I believe this Proposition is reasonable, modest, humane, safe, ethical, and practical. Both sides of this discussion have been guilty of “negative campaigning” and “over dramatization,” but the bottom line is that most of society is against confining animals in very small cages. I believe that Californians are ready and able to make this decision for themselves. I hope you will take the time to vote “YES” on Proposition 2 this November.