Human Exceptionalism

HSUS: Trying to Drive the Egg Industry Out of California?

The HSUS, following up on its success in convincing voters to grant pregnant pigs the constitutional right not to be maintained in gestation crates in Florida–a state that only had a few pig herds at the time, which have been driven out of business by the law–has now used its considerable financial power to qualify a California state initiative to outlaw veal crates. There are no veal operations in California. It would also allow gestation crates. But those are being voluntarily taken out of use by the small pig industry that exists in California. Thus, as to the pork and veal aspects of the measure, once again HSUS is once again attacking virtually non existent targets.

But there is an egg industry in CA, and HSUS’s initiative, if passed, will require that laying hens be kept in space wide enough to spread their wings and turn around. That sounds reasonable to me as a non expert about the ins and outs of egg farming, its profitability, and the proper care of chickens, but the cost could be considerable. The price of eggs would unquestionably rise at a time when food prices are already inflating because we are using grain to make fuel instead of feed people and animals. From the story:

Scott Macdonald, spokesman for Californians for Sound Farm Animal Agriculture, an industry group that opposes the initiative, called it “poorly” written and predicted it would raise egg prices.

“It would be tremendously expensive and, in fact, drive the egg industry out of the state,” Macdonald said, noting the proposed law would require dramatically more space for hens.Keeping hens in cages, he said, allows farmers to better control diseases that harm them.

But Paul Shapiro, director of the Humane Society’s factory farming campaign, said the organization was “heartened” the measure qualified for the ballot. “Californians will have a choice this November as to whether they want to enact a very modest anti-cruelty measure that would improve the lives of millions of animals in California,” Shapiro said.

I generally buy eggs that are free range, and the cost is about $3.75 a dozen. I can afford this, but can people with fewer means? A dozen eggs that I assume are not free range sells for about $1.19 a dozen. Is it not presumptuous for me to vote to raise the prices of nutritious food for people who can barely make ends meet?

This may be a modest proposal–I don’t know. I do know it will be pushed with terrible videos of suffering chickens that may be cherry picked, and not reflect reality. And while this may be a modest proposal, the end game of groups like HSUS is indeed to eventually drive chicken farms and pork producers out of business by making it impossible for them to be profitable and by raising the price of meat so that it becomes a luxury item.

In some ways this is the food producers’ fault, however. For years they have kept quiet about their practices and allowed their industry to be defined by animal rights ideologues. I guess they hoped they could hide under the desk. They can’t. If the chicken producers and others engaged in animal husbandry don’t mount a rousing defense against this measure, but instead allow it to pass with little hindrance as they did in the Florida pig case–the tightening corner in which they will find themselves will have been self-created.

I opposed the Florida initiative because I believed human constitutions should be restricted to protecting human rights. But this would be an animal protection statute, rather than one granting rights. That makes me undecided on this initiative. I don’t trust HSUS to tell me the truth, and I am against forcing the price of food higher. But I support animal welfare and I need the food industry to convince me that battery cages are not unbearably cruel and that there are not other reasonable alternatives that would not unduly force prices up. In other words, opponents, I am your target audience. Convince me that I should vote no.