Californians voted to let chickens roam freely on Tuesday. Proposition 12, which would require all eggs sold in the state come from cage-free hens by 2022, was approved with 59% of the vote.
Called by many the most progressive animal welfare law in the nation, Proposition 12 comes a decade after California banned battery cages with Proposition 2 in 2008.
Proposition 12 was opposed by both the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). NPPC says it will raise costs for farmers and, eventually, prices for consumers. PETA opposes Proposition 12 because it doesn’t go far enough to stop what it sees as animal cruelty.
The new law also adds provisions that would affect veal and pork production, setting new minimum requirements on the size of pens for sows and calves raised for veal, and it bans the sale in California of products from hens, calves and pigs raised in other states that do not meet California’s standards.
Proposition 12 was sponsored and financed by the Humane Society of the United States, which also backed Proposition 2, and says the upgrade will strengthen the earlier measure. A decade ago, Proposition 2 was the furthest-reaching law for farm animals in the country. Since then a dozen states have banned or restricted confinement for at least one farm animal. Massachusetts passed a comprehensive measure in 2016 that is similar to Proposition 12.
The new law requires that starting in 2020, calves confined for production have at least 43 square feet (4 square meters) of usable floor space, while breeding pigs be given at least 24 square feet (2.2 square meters) of floor space in their pens starting in 2022.
Starting in 2020, egg-laying hens must be been given 1 square foot of floor space each on the way to being cage-free by 2022. It is estimated the new law will cost the state as much as $10 million a year to enforce, and million more in lost tax revenue from closed farm businesses.