Yesterday, California voters passed Proposition 12. The ballot proposal, a revised version of one approved 10 years ago, would place new limits on the types of animal agricultural products, including eggs, that can be sold in the state. For those not spending their evenings reading up on Prop 12, it essentially says that hens that produce eggs sold in California must not be caged and must have one square foot of floor space per hen (it also has regulations for cows and pigs, but we will leave that for other farmers…).
While we are excited that California is leading the way with a step in the right direction for animal welfare, we will continue to advocate that the pasture-raised model is the gold standard for hen welfare.
Since we sell eggs in California, and since decisions in California tend to have an outsized effect on the country, we’ve received several questions about the proposal:
Our Answer: This measure does not impact any of our current production standards.
It is always better to do things the right way from the start. Our hens have always had more than one square foot of space. In fact, our certified pasture-raised eggs have more than 108 square feet PER HEN of outdoors space alone, and a minimum of 1.2 feet of indoor space (often more).
But it does raise some important questions, and it has really ruffled the feathers of the egg lobby.
Our answer: a little
The egg lobby and factory farmers are up in arms about Proposition 12. They claim that the regulations will be very expensive to implement, and the cost will be passed on to consumers. There is some merit here. By treating animals like widgets, factory farmers have managed to drive down the price for eggs by packing as many hens in a barn as they can. They make very, very cheap eggs. But they have done so at the expense of animal welfare, environmental sustainability and product quality.
We have sympathy for any family on a tight budget. However, we do not believe that the marginal additional cost to be anywhere near the value of moving our food system towards more sustainable, humane production methods. Higher product-quality from pasture raising on organic land is only crazy to people who have to retrofit factory farms, and we believe consumers will adjust to the small increases.
Our answer: We don’t think it goes nearly far enough. The pasture-raised egg model is the gold standard for animal welfare.
The egg lobby and factory farmers also argue that the new regulations would be bad for hens. They argue it will lead to competitive environments and allow hens to be nearer to their own feces.
Again, there is some merit to this argument. Many cage-free barns are still packed wall-to-wall with hens. By nature, hens are competitive (the “pecking order” is no joke). Leaving 300,000 hens to sort things out by themselves can be dangerous for weaker hens. As a result, barn owners must do things like trim the beaks of the hens to prevent real damage.
While cage-free systems have their problems, the solution is to offer hens more space – not less. Handsome Brook Farm’s pasture-raised system gives hens 108 square feet per hen to roam, flock and forage. This means they are much less likely to be in competitive environments. It means they get a varied diet, fresh air and sunshine – all good for happy hens.
— Handsome Brook Farm has gone above and beyond the requirements for Proposition 12, so it won’t have an effect on our methods.
— Organic, pasture raised is the gold standard and will be for the foreseeable future.
— While this is a step in the right direction, Handsome Brook Farm believes that the cage-free model still doesn’t offer enough space for hens to practice natural behaviors.
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