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California Adopts Proposition #12


On Tuesday November 6th voters approved California Proposition #12 by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent, effectively repealing Proposition #2 of 2008.  Effective 2020 Proposition #12 will ban confinement of egg- laying hens in cages and mandates at least 1 square foot of usable floor space per hen.  The Proposition incorporated the United Egg Producers’ 2017 Cage-Free Guidelines which define cage-free housing “as areas that provide 1.0 to 1.5 square foot of usable floor space per hen and allowing hens to move around inside the area”.


Proposition #12 was promoted by the Humane Society of the United States and an in-state organization, Prevent Cruelty California.  Proponents raised $13.1 million with a $4 million contribution from the Open Philanthropy Action Fund.


The proposal was opposed by the Humane Farming Association, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Friends of Animals who collectively regarded the proposal as not being sufficiently “animal-friendly” allowing barn and aviary systems.  Industry groups opposing the proposition included the Association of California Egg Farmers and the National Pork Producers’ Council.


California Proposition #2 in 2008 banned confinement of pregnant sows, calves raised for veal and hens under conditions that did not allow them “to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs”.  Considerable confusion as to the interpretation of the wording of Proposition #2 resulted in lawsuits with the Proposition sustained.  Effective 2014 any eggs marketed in California should have been derived from flocks housed in accordance with Proposition #2.


The official ballot summary for Proposition #12 included:


  • Establishes new minimum space requirements for confining veal calves, breeding pig and egg-laying hens
  • Requires egg-laying hens to be raised in cage-free environment after December
    31st, 2021
  • Prohibits certain commercial sales of specified meat and egg products derived from animals confined in non-complying facilities
  • Defines sales violations as unfair competition
  • Creates good-faith defense for sellers relying on written certification by suppliers that meat and egg products comply with new confinement standards.
  • Requires the state of California to issue implementing regulations. California Proposition #12 is termed the Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act.

The proposition as adopted would effectively ban enriched colony modules which were introduced as an alternative to conventional cages following passage of proposition #2 in 2008.  After adoption of Proposition #2 California producers reduced floor stocking density in conventional cages by removing partitions from conventional cages. This expedient will obviously not be permitted under Proposition #12.
The economic impact of Proposition #12 ranges from the HSUS estimate of “a penny per egg” to as much as $1 per dozen based on studies conducted by agricultural economists at the University of California-Davis.
Erecting aviary facilities to house hens costs in the region of $30 to $35 depending on selection of equipment and housing representing a considerable capital investment.  Currently California houses 14 million laying hens out of a U.S. total of approximately 320 million on commercial farms with over 30,000 birds.  California is not self-sufficient in eggs and relies on shipments from the Midwest states and more recently aviary units erected in Arizona.
At the present time there are 57.2 million non-caged laying hens representing 17 percent of a nominal 320 million U.S. flock in production but 25.4 percent of a presumed flock of 225 million housed for the shell-egg market.
Since the wording of Proposition #12 refers to products, it is presumed that hens producing eggs which are converted into pasteurized liquids will also have to conform to the statutory housing requirements.
The State of California has estimated an annual cost of $10 million to administer the Animal Welfare law but consumers will ultimately bear the cost of enhanced housing.  At the beginning of November, Midwest prices for generic Large delivered to stores range from $1.13 to 1.15 per dozen.  The price in Southern California for the same product was $1.51 to 1.58 per dozen.  Midwest cage-free eggs into a packing plant during October averaged $1.59 per dozen confirming the differential based on regional cost factors and housing. Evidently the “Pacelle Tax” has now been entrenched for all consumers of eggs and egg-products in California.