Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ethical Foods Memo: Pro & Con On California's Proposition 2; Which Would Eliminate the Use of Battery Hen Cages in the State's Egg-Farming Industry

This November 4 California voters will vote on the first measure of its kind in the United States that if passed would eliminate the use of small or battery cages for egg-laying hens, like the ones pictured above.

The ballot measure, Proposition 2 ("Standards for Confining Farm Animals"), also would eliminate tiny enclosures for veal calves and pigs. The measure doesn't include eliminating small-cages in the raising of chickens for sale and consumption as a food. It only applies to the raising of egg-laying hens.

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo has written about California's Proposition 2 and related battery cage issues in the Golden State, along with writing about the issue in general as it pertains globally. You can read those pieces here.

Proposition 2 hasn't been receiving much attention in California to date. This is because of a few reasons in our analysis and opinion.

First, it's a law of elections and politics in the U.S. that voters pay little attention to upcoming elections until after Labor Day, which has now ended.

Second, California's state lawmakers, mainstream press and voters have been focused for the last couple months extensively on the multi-month-long battle between the state legislature and Governor to work out a long-overdue state budget compromise. The various parties reached a budget agreement last week, and the budget bill was signed this week by the Governor.

Lastly, this is a big year for elections in the U.S. The Presidential race is the primary focus of both the news media and voters. Therefore, ballot initiatives such as Proposition 2 in California and other measures are getting obvious secondary attention.

However, with the Labor Day holiday ended, summer over and the kids back in school in California, statewide issues like Proposition 2 are beginning to receive more attention in the Golden State. Since the ballot measure if passed will also be the first state law of its specific kind in the U.S., Proposition 2 also is beginning to get more nationwide attention in America.

In today's addition of the newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle -- which is generally considered a liberal -to- moderate newspaper editorially in what is overall a very liberal city -- ran an editorial in which the paper's editorial board says it's against Proposition 2, the measure which would eliminate the use of battery cages for egg-laying hens and small enclosures for veal calves and pigs in 2015.

The editorial goes into detail regarding the editorial board's position that California voters should vote no on Proposition 2.

Read the editorial against Proposition 2, "Why proposition 2 is a bad idea," from today's San Francisco Chronicle editorial page here.

In the same editorial page section of today's Chronicle, the paper ran a pro-Proposition 2 opinion piece written by Bill Niman, who is well known in the natural foods industry as the founder of the all-natural meat company Niman Ranch, Inc., which is based in Oakland, California.

Bill Niman also is a cattle rancher and farmer in Bolinas, which is north of San Francisco. In addition to being supplied by cattle and hogs raised on Bill Niman's ranch, Niman Ranch, Inc. meat company buys from over 600 family-owned farms and ranches in the United States. Niman Ranch, Inc. markets a variety of fresh, natural meat products to natural foods stores and supermarkets throughout the U.S., as well as selling its products online via its website.

Read Bill Niman's vote yes on Proposition 2 Op-Ed piece, "Prop. 2 brings humane standards to poultry, pork industries," here.

Based on our reporting on Proposition 2 -- which includes talking with members of both the pro and con Proposition 2 coalitions that have been started -- we think today marks the beginning of what is going to be a vigorous debate on the ballot initiative between now and the November 4, 2008 election in the U.S.

The battery cage issue is a global one. The European Union has already passed legislation to outlaw the use of the small cages in its member countries in 2012.

In the United Kingdom (UK) and other European nations, farmers have already started to convert to the use of larger enclosures which permit the birds to stretch their wings and move around in, which are part of the conditions required under the Proposition 2 ballot measure in California.

Supermarket chains and natural foods stores throughout the world -- and particularily in Europe and parts of Asia like Australia and New Zealand, and the U.S. -- are increasingly offering more varieties of eggs raised by hens in a "cage-free" setting, along with selling more broiler chickens raised "free range" outside of the small cages. Selling veal raised in small crates is something numerous food retailers no longer will do even where there are no laws prohibiting it.

The issue is arguably hottest in the UK, where activists like the celebrity chefs Hugh Fearnly- Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver have been conducting campaigns to get Britain's largest supermarket chains such as Tesco and Sainsbury's to stop selling chickens and eggs produced in battery cages.

These chains have increased the varieties of "cage-free" eggs and "free-range" chickens they sell in their stores as a result, along with increasing the promotion of these products. For example, earlier this year Sainsbury's, along with the upscale British supermarket chain Waitrose, both reported that sales of "free-range" chickens in their respective supermarkets for the first time had reached nearly half of total chicken sales.

The battery cage issue has been far less front and center in the U.S. compared to Europe. However, we see California's Proposition 2 as potentially changing that dynamic. California is a legislative trend setter in the U.S. As some say: As California goes the nation -- at least that's often the case when it comes to the origin of new laws.

Therefore, we plan to cover the debate on Proposition 2 between today and the November 4 U.S. general election closely, as we believe the battery cage issue is it not only a California (which with nearly 40 million residents is pretty significant in and of itself) issue, but a national an overall global one as well.

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