California’s Far-Reaching Chicken Legislation

January 19, 2015

At the beginning of 2015 a new California law went into effect requiring chicken farmers to provide more living space for their hens. As of January 1, every egg sold in the state must have been laid by a bird with at least 116 square inches of room in its coop, an increase of 73 percent from the industry standard. Although the legislation is mandatory only for egg producers in California, chicken farmers across the country are quickly adapting to the new rules so that they can continue to sell eggs in the state.

While California ranks as just the fifth-largest egg producer in the U.S., it’s overwhelmingly the country’s top consumer. With so many eggs placed in this single basket, farmers simply can’t afford to ignore California’s requirements. Iowa’s Centrum Valley Farms recently announced that it had whittled down its flock to 800,000 chickens from a previous population of 1.5 million. Inspectors from California even flew out to the company’s facilities to ensure that it had become compliant.

These changes are exactly what animal rights’ activists were hoping for when they first introduced this legislation in 2008. Although the measure initially applied only to in-state producers, another state law subsequently added outside egg makers to the list. Industrial farms and food companies lobbied heavily to prevent the legislation from passing, but the measure ultimately received 64 percent of the vote. Related industries like pork and beef producers now fear that they’re next on the regulation list. Last year these businesses joined together and successfully lobbied Congress against a national version of California’s new egg laws. Nevertheless, there’s little they can do to prevent voters in sympathetic states like California from supporting greater regulation. Nationwide public opinion might not rest on the side of the farmers for long, either. With an industry-set standard of just 67 square inches of space, most chickens live in an area smaller than a sheet of paper. As facts like these become more well known, it’ll be even more difficult for farmers to make a case for their current methods.

 

Questions:

  1. Will providing humane treatment for chickens reduce egg supplies to consumers?
  1. Can we expect more states to follow California lead in humane treatment?

 

Source: Alan Berja, “California Raids the Nation’s Henhouses,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, December 23, 2014. Photo by: Katie Brady.

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