Uncaged egg industry in the United States: sooner rather than later
The implementation of new animal welfare laws for laying hens in the US state of California will affect egg production across the country. Here are the details of the regulations, the implementation schedule – and the lawsuits.
Proposal 12 requires that laying hens, suckler sows and veal calves âbe housed in containment systems that meet specific standards of freedom of movement, cage-free design and minimum floor spaceâ. Photo: Marcel van den Bergh
It was at the end of 2018 that California voters approved Proposition 12, also known as Farm Animal Containment Initiative. Full implementation of this law will begin at the end of 2021. As explained in a press release from the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA), Proposition 12 requires that laying hens, suckler sows and calves “be housed in containment systems that meet specific standards for freedom of movement, cage-free design and minimum floor space â. Under this law, by 2020, laying hens were to receive 1 square foot (0.093 m2) floor space if caged, and by the end of 2021 all laying hens must be housed in cage-free poultry houses.
New law has implications outside of California
However, the law also has scope outside of California to the extent that Proposition 12 prohibits any business from knowingly engaging in the sale in the state of shell eggs, liquid eggs, pork. whole or whole veal from animals housed in a “cruel” way contrary to the standards described. This means that farmers in states other than California must also comply with the same rules that apply to their California counterparts, as do processors who market food products containing liquid eggs. The state of California has the largest population (nearly 40 million people) of any state in the United States. Much of the eggs consumed by Californians are produced in the state.
It is therefore not surprising that there have been prosecutions related to Proposition 12. North American Meat Institute challenged it on the grounds that more than half of U.S. state governments (more than 25 of the 50 in total) do not want one state to apply its laws to other states. The Institute also noted that Proposition 12 threatens âthe free flow of interstate commerceâ. However, at the end of June, the United States Supreme Court refused to review the legislation. The Federation of American Agricultural Offices with the National Council of Pork Producers also launched a separate lawsuit against the state of California over Proposition 12, which is currently under review by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Farmers in states other than California must follow the same rules that apply to their California counterparts if their eggs are sold in California. Photo: Ronald Hissink
Lack of detail
At the beginning of July, the United Egg Association‘s (UEA) Further Processors Division, which represents companies that turn eggs into food products, sent a letter to California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) asking for clarification on proposal 12. “Our members undertake to comply with the regulations when they become final,” the UEA states in the letter. “Unfortunately, there are still a number of ambiguities.”
For example, does Proposition 12 apply to food products which contain liquid eggs but which are recognized by the US Department of Agriculture as meat products because they contain 2% or more cooked meat? The letter provides examples of such products, such as “cooked scrambled egg mixes, quiches, egg bites or egg frittatas with 2% or more cooked meat.”
Understanding the dynamics of cage-free housing
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Other areas of confusion abound. UEA members want certainty as to where a business could take possession of liquid eggs for sale in California in any form, if the exemption for charitable egg product donations applies federal procurement programs and whether Proposition 12 completely supersedes Proposition 2, passed in 2008.
The United Egg Association wants maximum clarity on which products fall under Proposal 12. Photo: Ronald Hissink
Opposition to chronology
The California Egg Producers Association strongly opposes the timeline of Proposition 12 which requires all poultry houses to be cage-free by the end of 2021. The state government was expected to finalize implementing regulations by September 2019. CDFA n ‘published the proposed regulations only in May 2021 and had a public comment period that ended in mid-July. In terms of numbers, the association states that California’s 40 million people each consume about 300 eggs per year, and typically 1 hen produces that number of eggs during that time. Thus, 40 million hens are needed to meet California’s demand for eggs. Many of these hens are housed in the state.
The association explains on its website that collectively California egg farmers are moving a percentage of chickens to cage-free housing each year and are on track to become 100% cage-free by 2025. That was. the date that had been agreed upon. on by the Humane Society of the United States and the US food industry to provide 100% cage-free eggs exclusively to consumers in California and beyond.
Difficulty of delay
Extending the deadline to the end of 2021 could lead to supply disruptions, price spikes and a shortage of eggs, according to the Association of California Egg Farmers. He estimates that only 65% ââof California eggs will be produced by hens in cage-free housing by the end of the year. âCalifornia egg farmers that remain in business,â says the Association of California Egg Farmers, âwill be required to accelerate their business plans, apply for construction loans, obtain permits and spend hundreds of millions of dollars moreâ¦ to avoid harsh criminal penalties â.
Egg farmers were eyeing 2025 as a cage-free date, postponing the date to 2022 could lead to an egg shortage. Photo: Ronald Hissink
Another industry perspective
United egg farmers (UEP, the leading association of egg producers in the United States) represents both producers who ship to California and those located in California. The organization has taken a âneutral stanceâ on Proposition 12. âEggs sold in California have had to meet unique requirements in California for some time now, with the earlier adoption of Proposition 2 for producers of shell eggs, âsays UEP. âAlthough Proposition 12 changes the housing requirements, in general the regulatory responsibilities are largely the same for egg producers. We have not calculated the costs for implementing the requirements of Proposition 12, although adding egg products will certainly increase costs for other processors.
One of the many processors affected by Proposition 12 (Sunnyvalley) is located in the city of Manteca, California. As reported recently, he has joined a âgrowing chorus of callsâ for the state to postpone the implementation of proposal 12. The city’s mayor said in a recent letter to CDFA: âwe believe that without the appropriate time for out-of-state producers to comply, California’s small family businesses will be irreparably hurt. The Food Equity Alliance has also called for a postponement of the implementation of Proposition 12, focusing on the expected increase in pork prices and the decrease in the availability of pork in the state. In addition, the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce said businesses and consumers will be negatively affected when Proposition 12 goes into effect.
Kitty Block, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, speaks at the Humane Society gala in 2018. Photo: ANP / John Salangsang
Context and timetable for proposals 2 and 12
â¢ In 2008, the Humane Society developed a voting initiative, titled Proposition 2, to ban the confinement of pregnant pigs, calves raised for calves and laying hens in a way that does not allow them to turn freely, to fully extend their limbs, stand up and lie down.
â¢ It did not provide a specific area.
â¢ Voters approved Proposition 2 and the law entered into force in 2015.
â¢ The California legislature also passed a law banning the sale of shelled eggs from hens confined to areas that did not meet the standards of Proposition 2.
â¢ Proposal 12, adopted in 2018, pitted the Humane Society’s support for the initiative against opposition to the law of Cruelty-Free Agriculture Association, People for the ethical treatment of animals (PETA) and the Animal friends. These groups feel that this does not go far enough in terms of animal welfare.