The Chicken And The Egg

On Nov. 4 voters approved Proposition 2 by a 63.2 to 36.8 percent margin. The proposition states that "calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely." By 2015 California farmers shall have to eliminate chicken battery cages, pig gestation crates, and veal crates from their practices. Not everyone celebrated; in addition to the egg farmers, some animal rights activists see the weaknesses of Proposition 2.

Ciddy Fonteboa, a liaison of Animal Acres, a non-profit farm animal rescue facility, demonstrates hen battery cages and veal crates to her group every Sunday tour she conducts. Egg-laying hens in groups of five or six are kept in small wire cages accessible only through a small opening at the top, until the day they die. Battery cages are often stacked in many rows in warehouses, which could contain as many as 100,000 chickens. "[This is] like putting us in a closet and saying 'this is your existence,'" Fonteboa said. The lighting and feeding schedules in the egg production facilities are strictly regulated to keep hens constantly laying eggs. Hens usually live no more than two years in such conditions, much below their natural life span.

Veal calves are confined to wooden crates that also do not allow them to move around. They are chained and kept in the dark, to keep them less active, for six weeks, until they are slaughtered.

Fonteboa agrees that Proposition 2 is "such a small step," but it is also "helping to spread the word about farm animals." The measure is indeed a tiny step that does not even begin to address the horrors that is the factory farm industry. Still, the wide margin in the vote shows the public's increasing awareness and support for animal rights. Hopefully the public will continue its support by choosing eggs produced at cage-free facilities, and thus proving wrong the opponents of Proposition 2, who claim that California eggs will lose their market to those from unregulated states.

For all the uplifting sentiment that the passing of Proposition 2 has brought, is there a real benefit for the suffering animals? Frank Allen, Animal Acres rescue coordinator and farm manager, long-time cruelty investigator and animal rights activist says no. There are already general anti-cruelty laws that cover all animals (except for vivisection), "two good laws that no one is enforcing," Allen said. California Jhosef Hern Corsair Alicia Milburn Corsair penal code 597 deals directly with animal cruelty. The Subsection b) states that "every person who overdrives, overloads, drives when overloaded, overworks, tortures, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, drink, or shelter, cruelly beats, mutilates, or cruelly kills any animal, or causes or procures any animal to be so... is for every such offence, guilty of a crime punishable as a misdemeanor or as a felony..."

Section T of the law deals directly with animal confinement, stating that "every person who keeps an animal confined in an enclosed area shall provide it with an adequate exercise area." Therefore the provisions stated in Proposition 2 are already required by the California law. According the Allen, the proposition will "weaken the existing laws." Allen's words make sense: because Proposition 2 allows farms until 2015 to update their facilities, it would make it virtually impossible to prosecute under Section 597t until that time. The fines imposed for non-compliance with Prop 2 are also drastically more lenient than those under the state criminal law.

Then why bother with Proposition 2? According to Allen, it is because most people are not even aware of the existence of the law. He said that when he took a humane officer class, they were taught "[only] four hours on farm animal law, and two [of those four] hours were wrong."

Allen believes that the state is better off "putting money into enforcement." Humane officers should be able to implement much harsher fines, and shut down non-compliant facilities. "We need more training for farm animal law," he said. Finally, there needs to be a more sympathetic state administration and justice system. Allen said that most District Attorneys, who are part of the "good old boy network," are unwilling to take farm animal cruelty cases. Perhaps it is why no one had yet been found guilty under the Penal Code section 597t.

Whether Proposition 2 will have the desired or the opposite effect remains to be seen. For now, the best we can do is to make informed and compassionate choices, as consumers not only in the economic, but in the natural system.