Wayne Pacelle of H$U$ couln't raise worms in rich soil under a manure pile. Yet , he is dictating legislation on how to raise hens which will cost producers & consumers tens of millions of dollars.
Wall Street Journal
Cracking California's Egg Rules
By JEAN GUERRERO
AUGUST 19, 2010http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424...=humane+society
MODESTO, Calif.—About 150,000 hens at egg producer J.S. West Inc.
appear to have scored an upgrade.
They cluck and cackle in an air-conditioned henhouse that got a $3.2
million renovation this year. Some lay eggs in nesting areas, where
lights are dimmed. Others poise on perches with room to flap their
wings. They even have hen-style nail files in their cages.
California's egg farmers are struggling to comply with Proposition 2,
the state's new guidelines on how egg-laying chickens can be kept.
Two years after California voters approved a law designed to create
humane standards for farm animals, it isn't clear if these hens are
leading lives of luxury—or being treated cruelly.
The law, known as Proposition 2, doesn't take effect until 2015, but
it is already generating confusion among egg producers who aren't sure
if they need to get bigger cages like those at J.S. West or let the
hens roam free. As a result, few have made any changes at all.
The law mandates that egg-laying hens must be able to fully extend
their limbs, lie down and turn in a circle within their enclosures.
Michigan approved similar regulations last year, and gave egg
producers 10 years to make changes. Other states—including Ohio,
Arizona and Florida—have adopted less restrictive regulations.
The California requirements have proven resistant to uniform
interpretation. "Who knows what the law states," said Debbie Murdock,
executive director of the Association of California Egg Farmers, which
has called for clearer guidelines.
There is also ambiguity over how the law is going to be enforced, or by whom.
According to California state legislators, no decision has been made
on who will have the final say; possibilities include the Department
of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Public Health.
Now the confusion is set to be exported to neighboring states.
Responding to worries that Proposition 2 would drive egg production
away from California and result in massive out-of-state egg imports,
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation last month extending the
caging requirements to all eggs sold in California, no matter where
they were laid.
"Many propositions have the best of intentions, but they suffer from
the lack of thorough vetting and deliberative process necessary to
answer tough questions about how they're going to actually be
implemented and enforced," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who wrote
the bill extending the regulations to all eggs sold in the state in
order to level the playing field.
J.S. West spent $3.2 million to install bigger cages, known as
enriched colony systems, in one of its henhouses in Modesto, Calif.
California ranks fifth among states in egg production, with an average
of 4.9 billion eggs a year valued at $300 million. That's roughly 5%
of the nation's egg output. About a third of the eggs consumed by
Californians are from out of state, but most of those are eggs that
have been processed for other foods, such as pasta. The laws apply
only to intact eggs.
J.S. West responded to the requirements by upgrading one of its
buildings with the more spacious, furnished cages, known as enriched
The Humane Society of the U.S., a main sponsor of Proposition 2, says
the company made a big mistake.
"It's just a common-sense sort of view that a slightly bigger cage is
going to continue to frustrate the natural behavior of laying hens,"
said the group's president, Wayne Pacelle.
Mr. Pacelle says the only way to comply with the new laws is to go
cage-free, because, he asserts, no commercially viable cages in
existence—including the enriched colony system—give hens the room to
perform the behaviors described in the law.
According to research cited by his organization, hens need 138 square
inches each to fully stretch their wings. Enriched colony systems
provide each hen with 116 square inches per hen. The United Egg
Producers, a trade association representing most of the nation's egg
producers, recommends 67 square inches.
Egg Recall Tied to Salmonella Grows
J.S. West President Eric Benson says his company has done enough:
"These cages go way beyond the Prop. 2 requirements."
The new cages are four feet wide and 12 feet long for 60 hens each,
providing about twice as much space as traditional "battery" systems,
in which up to 10 hens are kept in an area the size of a large drawer.
J.S. West keeps only six hens in the traditional cages of its
unrenovated barns, but they still trample and slap each other when
Adding to the uncertainty, the American Humane Association has
certified enriched colony housing as a humane alternative. The
American Humane Association is a nonprofit independent group founded
in 1877 with the oldest U.S. certification program for the humane
treatment of farm animals. The new cages are set to become the minimum
requirement in Europe in 2012.
J.S. West points to this as proof that its cages are big enough. Mr.
Benson says the cages are actually too big—that there is wasted space.
Despite their more spacious digs, the hens just cluster together most
of the time, Mr. Benson said.
The company is reluctant to renovate all 15 of the barns it maintains
around the state, housing a total of 1.8 million hens, until it knows
for sure the new system is going to be deemed compliant.
Mr. Pacelle's organization regularly exposes animal cruelty through
informants and photographic evidence from puppy mills, dog-fighting
facilities, and more. He says he's prepared to do the same when it
comes to California egg producers who continue to house their hens in
illegal cages come 2015. Violators of the new law can be prosecuted
with a $1,000 fine or a 180-day jail sentence.
John Lewis Jr., president of Farmer John Eggs in Bakersfield, says he
doesn't know what to do with his small, family-run company's 600,000
hens. He doesn't want to put them in a cage-free environment because,
he says, they would be running around in their own feces and he would
have to feed them antibiotics.
Plus, when they are on the ground, he said, "If something scares them,
they all run into a corner and pile on top of each other and suffocate
There's also a pecking order to account for, he says. In cages, he can
group little hens with little hens to keep big hens from killing them.
Not so in a cage-free environment, he says.
But he doesn't want to put them in enriched colony systems, either.
His family can't afford investing in a system that may end up being
Ultimately, J.S. West's Mr. Benson says, hens are simple creatures and
don't need much to be happy. "It's very difficult to underestimate the intelligence of a chicken,"
Using Pacelle as a measuring stick, hens are smarter then he and his emotional coleagues.