California’s Proposition 12: The Farm Animal Confinement Initiative

California’s Proposition 12: The Farm Animal Confinement Initiative

Earlier this month, California passed the ballot measure Proposition 12 which mandates more space for particular farm animals and bans the confinement of egg-laying hens in cages. Also called the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, Proposition 12 aims to eventually ban the sale of any agricultural products in California that do not meet the state’s new requirements.

Proposition 12 has two sets of conditions, one that takes effect in 2020 and another in 2022.  For the 2020 requirement, agricultural operations in California must provide egg-laying hens with at least 1 square foot of space per hen.  Furthermore, operations must provide at least 43 square feet of space for each calf raised for veal.  As for the 2022 requirement, farms in California must provide female pigs used for breeding with at least 24 square feet of space per pig and hens must be kept in cage-free housing providing at least 1 square foot of space per hen. Also within this 2022 requirement, all agricultural products sold in California have to meet the state’s livestock space requirements, even the products sold from out-of-state.

If Proposition 12 sounds familiar, that is because a Proposition 2 was passed in California back in 2008 aiming to accomplish what Proposition 12 has set forth to do now.  If a similar mandate was passed ten years ago then what is the need for Proposition 12, one may ask?  The issue with Proposition 2 had everything to do with the wording of the law.  This mandate did not give the specific square footage requirements and instead used broad language saying animals must have room to freely move around.

Although Proposition 2 was intended for banishing cages for egg-laying hens, veal calves, and breeding pigs, farmers were able to keep using cages as long as they were large enough for the animals to be able to “move around.”  The Humane Society says the upgrade of Proposition 12 will strengthen the earlier measure and help restore California as a leader in the ethical treatment of farm animals.  Despite Proposition 2 not achieving quite what was intended by the mandate, its passing back in 2008 started a small wave for anti-confinement laws in a dozen other states where banning or restricting of confinement for at least one farm occurred.  Massachusetts actually passed a comprehensive measure in 2016 which is very similar to California’s Proposition 12.

In support of Proposition 12 were animal protection groups including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) as well as the Sierra Club and the Center for Food Safety.  The HSUS, who helped sponsor and finance this proposal, believes the measure will create immediate relief for millions of animals and bring more pressure on the pork and egg industries to accelerate their transitions to cage-free and crate-free housing systems.

Those not in favor of this initiative are a dynamic variety of organizations.  Several agricultural industry groups, including the National Pork Producers Council and the Association of California Egg Farmers, say this proposition will raise costs for farmers and result in higher prices for consumers.  They also raise the point that the enforcement of these new laws could cost the state as much as $10 million a year while also potentially losing millions of dollars in tax revenues from farm businesses that either stop or reduce their production.

Although it may be surprising, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is not in favor of Proposition 12. PETA believes this law does not improve the lives of animals enough and could end up locking in insufficient standards thus misleading consumers.  Bradley Miller, a spokesman for Californians Against Cruelty, Cages, and Fraud, led a “No On Proposition 12” campaign.  He claims this measure has misleading claims and his group is strongly opposed to the 1 square foot of space per hen.

As mentioned previously, in the 2022 portion of the proposition, there will eventually be a ban on the sale of agricultural products in California that do not meet the state’s new requirements, including products sold in California from a different state.  Those in support of Proposition 12 believe this portion of the law could influence how farmers across the country end up raising their animals.  While those claims may not be wrong, there are legal actions in the works to try and prevent states from imposing their own initiatives on other states.

Representative Steve King of Iowa added an amendment to the most recent federal farm bill draft called the Protect Interstate Commerce Act.  Also being called the King Amendment, this would prohibit states from passing laws affecting the sale of out-of-state agricultural products as long as the out-of-state products comply with federal law or the laws of their own state.  Those not in support of the King Amendment worry the vague wording could cause other laws related to animal welfare, food safety, invasive species, and public health to become invalidated.

It is clear Proposition 12 is a controversial law with a vast array of opinions for and against it.  After exploring the many sides to this new legislation passed in California, there is a resounding uncertainty of what is to come from it.  But regardless of that uncertainty, this law was passed because enough people in California want to see action taken towards a more humane life experience for these farm-raised animals.  Even though some critics believe these laws are not enough, this initiative is still a step in the direction of compassion for the animals.

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