I have already heard from the Humane Society of the United States concerning my earlier postings (here and here) about the coming initiative in CA to ban what are called battery cages. (Boy, HSUS is quick and doesn’t miss a bet!) The representative, Paul Shapiro, senior director of the HSUS Factory Farm Initiative, was very courteous and professional, telling me the initiative is very “modest.” My thought was if it is so modest, why so much effort and investment of resources?
Be that as it may, I asked whether it would ban all chicken cages, and here is Mr. Shapiro’s response, published here with his kind permission:
The California initiative is very modest, but unfortunately the confinement typical on today’s veal, egg, and breeding pork facilities has become so extreme that just giving these animals sufficient space to engage in basic movement is a very meaningful improvement. In other words, this initiative will significantly improve the welfare of millions of animals in California. To put it in perspective, each egg-laying hen confined in a battery cage has less space on which to live than a letter-sized sheet of paper for more than a year before she’s slaughtered. It’s hard to imagine a worse fate. You can read about the science demonstrating that this extreme confinement is detrimental to the animals’ welfare at http://www.humanecalifornia.org/science/index.php . Also, you can see photos of this confinement at http://www.humanecalifornia.org/gallery/index.php
This initiative doesn’t explicitly prohibit cages, but it’s likely that would be the effect, since the primary reason cages are used to confine laying hens is because it’s cheap to do so. When producers have to give their animals more space, cages become less economically attractive, leading producers to switch to cage-free production systems which allow the animals to engage in more of their basic behaviors. But again, all this initiative asks is that the animals be able to stand up, lie down, turn around, and extend their limbs.
Florida was important because it set a precedent that confining breeding pigs in crates barely larger than their bodies for months on end is so cruel and inhumane that it simply ought to be banned. That said, even if we agree to disagree about Florida, I hope we can agree on California!
Cage free chickens would seem to increase the price of eggs quite a bit. And the cages mentioned in the egg industry press release, discussed here at SHS, would seem to fill be permitted under the initiative. If so, the economic impact would be less. But I am open to and need more information. As I learn more, I will post it here.