January 2, 2015


Animal rights advocates hail new California law, but US farmers aren't happy



Animal welfare advocates have scored a gain as the state of California, US, started implementing a law that requires poultry farmers to house hens in larger cages that give them space to move around and stretch their wings.


Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, hailed the new law and said, "This is the last bastion of cage confinement in industrial age". Pacelle's organization had pushed for the reforms. He disclosed that Starbucks would eliminate the sale of eggs from caged hens, after Burger King and Whole Foods had done so.


The rules give chickens 70% more room, which Pacelle said is better but not enough.


But farmers in other states like Iowa and Ohio who sell eggs in California are not happy because they also have to comply with the requirements under the law.


The farmers complained that the new requirements entailed added costs and would result in higher-priced eggs.


Jim Dean, president and CEO of Centrum Valley Farms in Iowa and Ohio, said farmers in cold-climate states would have to install heaters to replace the warmth generated by chickens living close together.  


Dean said one of his buildings now holds about half of the 1.5 million hens it used to and that another building may have to be overhauled.


"You're talking about millions upon millions of dollars. It's not anything that's cheap or that can be modified easily, not in the Midwest", he told the Associated Press.


Already, egg prices have risen, according to Dave Heylen of the California Grocers Association. But he also cited other factors like the holiday season, cold weather across the country and increased exports to Mexico and Canada as contributing to the yearend price spike.


The Iowa State University Egg Industry Center stated in a report released this week that because of California's cage law, a dozen of eggs could rise by 15%, or 27 cents, and a four-member family could pay additional $15.93 a year.


For Pacelle, the costs to consumers would be minimal and worth it for the welfare of chickens, adding that for decades farmers have crammed six to eight chickens in small cages without space to move.