Proposition 2 lays an egg on ag industries
California voters will be asked Nov. 4 to vote on an emotionally charged initiative that promises to relieve suffering in the state’s factory farms by mandating that veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens be confined in cages that are large enough so that they can stretch their paws and move around a bit. It’s hard not to sympathize with the intent here, given most people’s concern about animal cruelty, but Proposition 2 would have a number of unforeseen consequences. There is a better approach to promoting better conditions for farm animals.
Supporters claim that such animals are harshly treated, which is a point of contention. Those in the farm industry claim that their animals are well-treated. Not only does the state and federal government have many laws designed to combat animal cruelty and to regulate animal production in farm settings, but it’s, quite frankly, good business to assure that animals are well treated, well fed and not unduly stressed.
The big problem is that the new standards sound minimal, but they will require massive cost increases. Another round of regulations is likely to result in higher food costs and the migration of farms to lower-cost states and to Mexico. The standards for animal care in foreign countries are already less favorable than they are here.
Other critics of the proposal argue that Prop. 2 will increase dangers to human health by reducing the use of modern housing methods for poultry, making it more likely that chickens come in contact with bird flu and other diseases borne by wild birds. Supporters of Prop. 2 discount these points, but this issue brings up one of those pesky and potentially unforeseen consequences. Modern livestock production and egg-laying produces remarkably safe and healthy food supplies. Any potential threat to those standards must be thoroughly considered.
We don’t like the idea of imposing yet another set of regulations and creating yet another pretext for government agents to monitor and fine private companies. But we do believe that animal cruelty is a reasonable issue about which to be concerned.
For once, we’d like to see animal-rights organizations take a thoroughly private approach. Why not come up with a set of voluntary standards for animal care and then ask companies to abide by them? Companies that follow the standards could get the “happy chicken” seal of approval, and those that don’t can be criticized by the groups promoting better animal conditions.
Consumers would have choice, and most companies would gladly make accommodations to those who were more concerned about animal living conditions than about politics. In the meantime, vote “no” on Prop. 2.