Battle lines are being drawn up for what is likely to be a fierce debate over the next few months in the US state of California over new farm animal confinement laws.
California voters will decide on a move that would eliminate the use of cages for laying hens that are either produced or sold in the state.
It follows an announcement by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla that enough petitioners had signed up to a ballot, which will be held on November 6.
State rules decreed that the initiative needed 365,880 valid petition signatures – equal to 5% of the total votes cast for governor in the November 2014 general election. Sources said at least 470,000 signatures had been garnered.
The petition calls for the establishment of “new minimum space requirements for confining veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens; requires egg-laying hens to be raised in cage-free environment after December 31, 2021. Prohibits certain commercial sales of specified meat and egg products from animals confined in non-complying manner…”
The petition for the ballot has been brought by welfare group Prevent Cruelty California with support from the Humane Society and sources suggest that the campaign has already raised around $3m.
Josh Balk, vice-president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society, said those who opposed the initiative believed consumers would ignore the plight of animals being abused in factory farms. “It is an issue that crosses all demographics. We expect to win in landslide fashion in the fall.”
But the Association of California Egg Farmers and other agricultural organisations have come out in opposition to the ballot, arguing that the required changes would increase food prices and create egg and meat shortages.
The Association said in a statement: “With this new initiative now calling for full compliance by the end of 2021, HSUS is reneging on the original agreement and this expedited timeline may result in supply disruptions, price spikes and a shortage of eggs for sale.”
10 years ago, votes approved a similar proposition brought by the Humane Society of the United States, which prohibited the confinement of egg laying hens in a manner that does not “allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs.” That proposition came into force on January 1, 2015.