Voters in California have given the thumbs up to plans to make cage-free hens a state law by 2022.
They overwhelmingly approved a measure last week requiring all eggs sold in California to come from only cage-free systems.
The measure, which has become known as the Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act (Proposition 12) strengthens an earlier measure agreed in 2008 and enshrined in 2015, which stopped farmers keeping hens in cages that were so small they were unable to turn around, stand up or lie down.
Beginning in 2020, egg-laying hens must be given 1 square foot of floor space each on the way to being cage free by 2022.
The Proposition also bans the sale of pork and veal in California from farm animals raised in cages that don’t meet minimum size requirements.
The Humane Society of the United States welcomed the vote, saying the measure had faced opposition from the National Association of Egg Farmers, Association of California Egg Farmers and California Farm Bureau.
Josh Balk, Humane Society vice president, told the Associated Press that change was coming: This vote is a massive blow against industrial animal agriculture’s abusive confinement systems.”
Others however said the move would lead to a rise in prices. The State’s Legislative Office said it expected to see a raise in prices for eggs, pork and veal, due to farmers having to rebuild new housing for birds and livestock. Others may choose to leave the sectors, it added.
It also said the State would have to bear the cost of enforcing the legislation, which could be as high as $10m a year.
Charlie Arnot, who oversees the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, said farmers would have to “juggle animal conditions, food costs and environmental impacts.”
To complicate issues further, if provisions from the Farm Bill become law, Proposition 12 could be overturned. Iowa Republican member of the House of Representatives Steve King, whose district produces more eggs than any other in the nation, has produced an amendment stipulating that states can’t impose animal welfare standards onto products imported from other states.
He has said the law would mitigate “the serious economic harm the California law is currently causing to egg producers and consumers in Iowa and elsewhere.” However, more than 30 senators have written a letter opposing the amendment.