September 29, 2017

HSUS files animal protection proposal for California ballot

By Dr. Penny Riggs, ASAS Public Policy Committee Chair

A coalition of animal protection groups, led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), filed ballot language as a first step toward additional restrictions on livestock production in California, according to a press release.

This measure would have a significant impact on production of eggs, pork, and veal sold throughout the state of California. Veal crates would be outlawed by December 31, 2019.  Likewise, swine gestation crates and cage systems for poultry would be banned at the end of 2021. Because the proposed legislation applies to all eggs, veal, and pork sold in California, out-of-state producers would also be affected if these changes are enacted.

This proposed measure is an attempt by HSUS to strengthen a 2008 ballot initiative, “Proposition 2,” that set space requirements for confined egg-laying hens, sows, and veal calves, and took effect in 2015, despite a number of legal challenges. These measures are counter to animal welfare strategies developed by producers who, for example, utilize crates in an effort to protect piglets and prevent mortality.

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle announcing the new initiative included input from producer organizations, noting that Jim Monroe of the National Pork Producers Council explained industry support for gestation crates. The article continued by quoting Monroe’s sentiment that “Any change in production practices should be based on signals from the marketplace,” and “Pork producers, not activists, know far better what’s good for their animals.” However, the article countered the intent of Monroe’s statement by noting that “large food-service companies like McDonald’s, Subway, Denny’s and many others have pledged to stop serving pork raised in confinement systems in the next five to 10 years.”

California consumers and producers should pay attention to this potential ballot item. In addition, the proposition discussion provides important food-for-thought for both animal scientists and producers to consider regarding “market driven” practices for the future. Will animal production methods be dictated primarily by practices validated by sound scientific evidence, or by marketing decisions? How do these choices shape options for consumer demands for “sustainable” food production, or increased quantity of animal-source foods?