One of the propositions on the ballot this November seeks to improve the quality of life of farm animals, but opponents fear that the beasts’ gains will spell disaster for the state’s agricultural economy.
Proposition 2 – which would require farm animals to be confined in ways that allow basic movement – is one of 12 statewide propositions in the upcoming election. While those in favor of Prop. 2 say the reforms are moderate at best, opponents argue that the forced changes will drive up costs and threaten California’s agricultural industry.
Locally, several politicians have come out in support of the initiative, including state Assemblyman Pedro Nava, Congresswoman Lois Capps and Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum.
While Blum noted that the city council has not taken a stand on the issue, she said the measure has her individual backing.
“The fact that we don’t have animal processing farms here in Santa Barbara makes it an issue outside our jurisdiction,” Blum said. “However, I have personally endorsed Prop. 2. The humane treatment of animals is a good policy. The shocking situations animals are put in should be against the law.”
Ryan Armstrong, president of family-run Armstrong Egg Farms in San Diego, on the other hand, said the issue has been misconstrued by supporters.
“Prop. 2 isn’t an animal welfare issue – it just changes how we house our animals,” Armstrong said. “Nobody will be willing to pay the price for cage free – it’s almost twice as much as regular eggs.”
Armstrong, who uses both cage and cage-free systems, also said Prop. 2 would threaten food safety.
“Another thing people don’t realize is we use caged systems because the birds are cleaner and healthier,” he said. “In a cage-free system, birds live in their own manure. Twenty percent of eggs are then laid in manure – they’re still used, but they’re at a greater risk of salmonella.”
Josh Balk, a spokesperson for “Yes on Prop 2” and a member of the Humane Society of the United States, disagreed and pointed to the Center for Food Safety’s endorsement of the proposition.
“The Center for Food Safety is the leading food safety organization in the nation, and they believe California should vote yes to improve our food safety,” Balk said. “I think we can all agree that animals should not be confined in cages and crates so small they can barely move more than a few inches their entire life.”
Opponent and press secretary for “No on Prop 2” Matt Sampson, however, said that the proposition would not change the way farm animals live.
“It’s a dangerous, risky measure,” Sampson said. “[The proposition] is actually not going to change how eggs are produced, just where they’re produced. It’s pretty ambiguously worded – it only deals with housing requirements. The other side likes to say it’s a moderate measure, but we beg to differ.”
Alongside food safety concerns, the financial impact of the proposition is a topic of wide discussion.
Those against the proposition say if it is approved, it will destroy California’s egg industry and hurt California’s already precarious economic situation.
In a study by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, researchers wrote that with Prop. 2’s demands, the costs would be too steep for the state’s egg industry.
“Non-cage production costs are simply too far above the costs of the cage systems used in other states to allow California producers to compete with imported eggs in the conventional egg market,” the study stated. “The most likely outcome, therefore, is the elimination of almost all of the California egg industry over a few years.”
Balk, however, said such an economic predication does not add up.
“According to the egg industry’s own California economist,” Balk said, “it will cost less than a penny more per egg to switch from confining hens in cruel and inhumane battery cages to a cage free environment.”