California voters will decide on a cage-free egg initiative at the ballot box this coming November.
The vote will come nine years after state voters passed Proposition 2.
The measure increased the amount of space an egg-laying hen is required to have to 116 square inches.
If passed, the new ballot measure will push the required space needed up to 144 square inches.
Sponsors of the initiative needed to collect 365,880 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Instead, they collected nearly twice the necessary amount, receiving 660,000.
Those in the egg industry are divided whether or not it should be approved.
“I think it’s the wrong thing to be doing,” said Rosemary Farm CEO Scott Ramsdell. “I don’t think anyone benefits from it at all.”
The Ontario-based company has an office in Santa Maria. Ramsdell believes the initiative would lead to unhealthy conditions for chickens.
“It’s taking those girls out of that nice environment that we put them in and allowing them to move around in their own litter, in their own feces,” said Ramsdell. “These (cage-free) birds are running around in these barns and they’re running around on the ground where the chicken litter is at and they’re laying down there and they’re having a lot of difficulty in that process.”
Just outside of Lompoc is Dare 2 Dream Farms. The small, family-owned and operated business is much different than Rosemary Farm.
Dare 2 Dream utilizes what is called “outdoor-based farming.” Chickens at the farm go beyond the “free-range” definition, since they are free to move around a large area.
“They spend the majority of their waking hours outside doing things that are healthy for them,” said co-owner Megan Raff.
Raff believes the initiative is a good idea and fully supports it.
“I think it’s a win,” Raff said. “That would put California at the forefront of animal rights for keeping chickens in humane buildings.”
She thinks the current space of 116 square inches doesn’t provide enough benefit to the animals.
“They’re still not able to engage in their natural behaviors, so they can’t scratch, they can’t perch, they can’t run around and get exercise,” said Raff.
However, Ramsdell feels just the opposite, noting California already has the strictest regulations in the nation.
“I believe the rules that we have are the best rules anyone in the country and you get a good fresh egg and you can be confident that it’s a safe egg,” said Ramsdell.
Raff countered that added space would lead to healthier birds.
“The more space you give them, the less stressed they’re going to be,” said Raff. “We know that the stress response and the immune response are very closely tied, so the lower the stress the higher the immune response and the healthier the chicken is going to be.”
Both agree changing the required space would likely result in price increase for eggs.
“Most consumers like to have a low-cost, cheap source of protein that an egg gives them,” said Ramsdell. “If they’re going to have to pay a lot more money for them, maybe they’ll buy something else.”
Raff acknowledged prices would likely go up, but believes the industry would adjust.
“In the longterm, they could probably get that price down,” said Raff. “They had a huge price increase and eggs went up a lot due to the last to the last measure that passed, but eventually they were able to get those prices down.”
If the measure passes, it would go into effect in 2021.