Flawed ballot measure is coming home to roost
By Bradley Miller
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At this moment, millions of egg-laying hens are locked in factory cages
throughout California. But wait: With scientific data pointing out health
concerns for consumers, and public outrage over cruel conditions for hens,
didn't voters overwhelmingly enact a ballot measure six years ago that outlawed
No. They just thought they did.
The measure was called Proposition 2. Its sponsors promised voters that it would
ban all egg industry cages statewide by Jan. 1. Not merely increase their size,
but ban them.
The inescapable and heartbreaking reality is that had Proposition 2 actually
contained what backers claimed, California would be cage-free at this very
Instead, the state's egg industry is investing in new cages, as well as
modifying old ones. This obscene reversal of voter intent was made possible by
the determined negligence of Proposition 2's sponsor, the Humane Society of the
The Humane Society was repeatedly warned by the Humane Farming Association and
many other animal advocates that the continued use of cages would be the legacy
of Proposition 2 unless its fatally flawed language was corrected.
At the time, there was still ample opportunity to make clear in the initiative
itself that cages would be prohibited. At the very least, Proposition 2 needed
to specify exactly how much space would be required per hen. Sadly, all those
warnings were ignored as backers marched ahead with a hopelessly vague and
utterly unenforceable measure.
Now, six years later, the chickens have come home to roost. And, unsurprisingly,
they're being put in cages.
State regulations provide only 116 square inches per hen - roughly the size of a
sheet of legal paper. This is exactly the kind of intensive confinement voters
were told Proposition 2 would outlaw. This cage space allotment does not come
from Proposition 2, but rather from separate regulations written by the
California Department of Food and Agriculture. The department has been explicit
in stating that it is not enforcing Proposition 2. The same goes for local law
enforcement, which is laughing off the measure entirely.
Worse still, in the years since Proposition 2's passage, the Humane Society
has flip-flopped on the issue of cages. It even joined with the egg industry's
leading trade association, United Egg Producers, in pushing for federal
legislation that would preempt state laws and, you guessed it, establish
modified cages as a national standard.
To distract from this stunning failure to deliver on its promises, the Humane
Society now claims that the $10 million spent on the campaign was still worth it
because Proposition 2 got rid of "veal crates."
Nothing could be further from the truth. Not one single veal calf is, or ever
was, affected by Proposition 2. In fact, there haven't been any veal crates in
California since the 1990s. Inserting a reference to veal calves in the measure
was done simply to gain votes and to achieve a symbolic, albeit empty, victory.
There are, however, still many other calves kept in crates so small that they
can't turn around. They are dairy calves known as replacement heifers. Why is
that still allowed? Because, despite the objections of many animal advocates at
the time, those calves were excluded from the ballot measure.
In other words, Proposition 2 sought to ban veal crates that didn't exist and
had not existed for years, while explicitly allowing the use of crates that did
exist, and which still do.
After years of waiting for its implementation, Proposition 2 is finally being
recognized, and discarded, for what it is - an empty vessel of false promises,
wasted resources and squandered opportunity.
California has long led the way in recognizing the need for better animal
protection laws and for enacting them through the direct democracy of our
initiative process. In the case of Proposition 2, voters were deceived and the
process was misused. A fix is long overdue.
Bradley Miller is national director of the Humane Farming Association, a San
Rafael-based group that campaigns against animal cruelty and operates the
nation's largest farm animal sanctuary.