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California egg farmers take issue with hen caging requirements

June 11, 2009 |  8:53 pm

Half a year after being pummeled at the polls, California egg farmers are squawking anew over what they call confusing directives in a measure passed in November that animal protection advocates say requires that chickens live cage-free.

The Assn. of California Egg Farmers contends that Proposition 2 embraced the “broad principle” of giving egg-laying hens more space but failed to spell out how much.

Debra J. Murdock, the group’s executive director, said in a letter sent Thursday to Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) that they would oppose his egg-production bill unless it is modified to include specifics on hen housing.

Murdock said her group supports the spirit of Huffman’s bill, which would require that all eggs imported to California be produced in humane conditions. But first, she said, California farmers need to know how much space to provide to comply with Proposition 2.

The initiative, championed by the Humane Society of the United States, gave farmers until 2015 to provide hens with enough space to stand up, fully extend their wings and turn around.

Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society president and CEO, said that backers and foes alike agreed before the vote that Proposition 2 essentially called for cage-free housing for hens. In a ballot guide, opponents called Proposition 2 “so extreme” that it would force hens outdoors for most of the day.

Pacelle said attempts to set new caging requirements would amount to the Legislature attempting to rewrite a citizen initiative, which is prohibited by law. The Humane Society has long argued that a switch to cage-free production would result in a cost increase for farmers of a penny per egg.

-- Eric Bailey