As we head into election day tomorrow, I thought I should write about Proposition 2, a bill designed to stop cruel and inhumane treatment of animals, specifically regulating the conditions under and spaces in which farm animals are raised in California. One of the significant things to keep in mind with this California bill is that California comparatively produces less pork and beef than it does chickens, so much of the debate for this bill is around the treatment of chickens. When I first heard about this proposition, I immediately jumped to the opinion that I was going to vote yes on Prop 2, but read a few opinions that have made me think a little more about this decision.
In the most recent Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) news bulletin, the feature article addresses Prop 2, specifically asking the Saturday farmer's market's egg producers their thoughts on the proposition, and the farmer's were surprisingly divided. Steve Mahrt of Pataluma Farms is against Prop 2 as he believes it is a well-intentioned bill but bad for business. Pataluma Farms produces both cage-free and caged chickens and is a small farming operation in the North Bay. What made me think twice about Mahrt's comment about this proposition being bad for business is that he is not part of a large, industrial farm, but rather a small, family operated one that serves the local community. Mahrt continued that Prop 2 would likely raise the cost of producing eggs by more than the 1 or 2 cents Yes! on Prop 2 suggests, and feels that long term this would mean that eggs would be shipped into California from other US states as well as Mexico. For me, this idea is a problem as shipping eggs that could be produced locally over long distances is not sustainable and would also negate the good of this bill if eggs were just produced elsewhere where the laws are different.
CUESA's feature article also presented the opinion of another farmer who is in favor of Prop 2 and who brought up a lot of good points to Mahrt's opinions. Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farms is an outspoken advocate of Prop2, believing it is a "modest measure" that will require caged chickens to go from having a space of 2/3 a sheet of letter sized paper to two sheets of letter sized paper. When listening Walker's opinion, it is important to realize that his farm will not be directly affected as Eatwell Farms raises 3,000 free range laying hens that roost in mobile coops that are moved every 2-3 weeks. In this manner, his chickens have space indoors as well as the freedom to go outside their coops to forage for food. Walker, however, does mention some creative solutions to Mahrt's concerns, saying that European egg producers, after a similar bill was passed in Europe, switched to an aviary system, where multiple levels of habitat are available, but the overall density of the house is the same. In this manner, chickens would have more room, but the farmer would still be able to produce the same amount of eggs per square foot of land.
In addition, it is important to realize that California is often considered to establish the beginnings of many, more progressive, national movements. It is thus conceivable that with a Prop 2 California victory, this law will ripple through the rest of the country. This would thus mean that it would likely not be cheaper to produce California's eggs out of state, but likely to continue producing them in state, in more humane conditions long term. In this manner, Mahrt's concerns about Prop 2 are both, for the most part, solved.
If you were wondering, I am voting yes on Prop 2, and I do strongly encourage you to do the same. With this blog posting, I simply wanted to present both sides of this bill. While Steve Mahrt's concerns with Prop 2 are valid and important to consider, I believe the long term goal as well as affects of the bill are significant and incredibly beneficial to our food system. Proposition 2 is a step in the right direction to reform the policy around the production of our food.