California Voters May Force Meat And Egg Producers Across The Country To Go Cage-Free California voters will soon decide whether to ban the sale of all veal, pork and eggs from farm animals raised in cages, even when raised in other states.

California Voters May Force Meat And Egg Producers Across The Country To Go Cage-Free

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Farmers and animal welfare groups across the country are closely eyeing a California ballot initiative that would effectively outlaw cages for pigs, veal calves and egg-laying hens. Now, the proposal applies to animals raised in the Golden State, and it would apply to animals raised elsewhere if products from those animals are sold in California. Lesley McClurg from member station KQED in San Francisco explains.

LESLEY MCCLURG, BYLINE: The ballot measure is called Proposition 12. The Humane Society of the United States has been sponsoring ads like this one for months.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: A hen caged so tightly she can barely move for her entire life. This extreme confinement is wrong. Please join...

MCCLURG: The measure would eliminate cages for egg-laying hens by 2022. It also specifies exactly how much floor space a pig or a veal calf needs inside a pen or barn. Dede Boies supports open spaces for farm animals. She runs a small organic operation about an hour south of San Francisco called Root Down Farm. Her chickens peck and scurry around a dry pasture. Ducks, turkeys and pigs are also running around.

DEDE BOIES: The point for me is to raise animals in a way that they were intended to live and to, like, basically give them the best life possible.

MCCLURG: Boies leans down to stroke the snout of a pig. She says caging animals is unethical.

BOIES: They're not animals anymore. They're products. And that to me is, like, so far from what I'm trying to do.

MCCLURG: Lining up on the other side are some egg and pork farmers from all over the country. They're infuriated that Proposition 12 would restrict their business. For example, a pig raised and slaughtered in, say, Illinois could not be housed in a crate if bacon or sausage from that animal is headed to California.

KEN MASCHHOFF: I certainly have a bone to pick with people that try to force those costs on to others that would just as soon not bear those.

MCCLURG: That's Ken Maschhoff. He's a fifth-generation hog farmer based in Carlyle, Ill. He runs one of the largest pork operations in the nation. The majority of his pigs will spend a good chunk of their lives in a narrow cage while they're pregnant. He says confining pigs prevents fighting, which allows more piglets to survive in the womb.

MASCHHOFF: So that animal does not turn around while it's in the gestation pen, the individual pen.

MCCLURG: Maschhoff argues that the practice is both humane and cost-effective.

MASCHHOFF: I don't believe fundamentally that animals have the same rights as humans. There's a difference between animal rights and animal welfare.

MCCLURG: Maschhoff also says the California measure will cost the pork industry billions to build new facilities. Those costs will likely trickle down to pork consumers, though economists say it's tough to predict by how much. Eggs are easier because cage-free eggs are already on store shelves.

DAN SUMNER: People spend 50 to $100 a year on eggs. It'll go up to 100 or 150.

MCCLURG: Dan Sumner is an economist at the University of California, Davis. He warns those prices may not be stable.

SUMNER: The concern for the people investing in these new standards is it's not at all clear that they're going to last very long.

MCCLURG: In fact, some animal welfare groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say Proposition 12 doesn't go far enough. So even if the measure passes, California's battle and what it will mean for farmers everywhere is likely not over. For NPR News, I'm Lesley McClurg in San Francisco.

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