Proposition 2 on the California ballot would add a chapter to Division 20 of California's Health and Safety Code to prohibit the confinement of certain farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The measure would deal with three types of confinement: veal crates, battery cages for chickens, and sow gestation crates. Wikipedia has a good summary of it and the arguments for and against it, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proposition_2.
Egg producing chickens spend their entire lives in cages like this one photographed by the Humane Society of the U.S. I don't agree with the HSUS on every issue, but this one is clear to me. This is not humane.
Industry representatives argue that keeping chickens in small flocks is inhumane, that they are dirty and sick. I can understand the industry arguing that they make more money from chickens so crowded in their cages they cannot even extend their wings, but to argue that chickens living in more natural conditions are not safe and healthy is crazy.
"This outdoor access enhances the likelihood that such poultry will have direct contact with migratory and wild birds as well as other animals, substantially increasing the risk of Avian Influenza, Exotic Newcastle Disease and other diseases," according to the United States Animal Health Organization, quoted at Californiasn for Safe Food, http://safecaliforniafood.org/. This kind of industry organization masquerading as a grass roots or public interest organization is called astro-turf, because it is misleading as to who its constituents are.
Farm Sanctuary, http://www.farmsanctuary.org/get_involved/yesonprop2.html, says "Prop 2 is a modest proposal, simply asking that these animals receive the most basic considerations, yet it prompts a dramatic shift in the public’s recognition that these animals are sentient, deserving of protection and should not be treated as mere commodities. "
The American Egg Board, http://www.aeb.org/egg_industry.html, notes that flocks of 100,000 laying hens are not unusual in the major egg producing states and some flocks number more than 1 million. Each of the 235 million laying birds in the U.S. produces between 250 to 300 eggs a year.
The United Egg Producers http://www.uepcertified.com, recommends 67 to 86 inches per bird, less than the area of a single sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper. Since that exceeds by so much what the egg industry offers their hens, they recommend phasing in such extreme changes over five years. To ask for more faster would inconvenience their members.
Surely those birds deserve a better quality of life. Prop 2 has given us a chance to hear these absurd arguments and understand the egg industry better.
The more people keep their own chickens and have fresh eggs from their own flocks, the fewer chickens will be needed in the industrial system. That's a good thing. Continuing to allow producers to increase profits by abusing the animals who produce our food is inexcusable.