Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


The fallout from California's 'Prop 2'

Posted: March 12, 2015

By: Brad Brinkworth, Meristem Media

Getting ahead of the curve. While U.S. legislation is creating turmoil, Canada's egg industry by comparison has done reasonably well in managing the transition to enhanced housing systems (such as this example from an Alberta operation).

Now what?

That's the question facing many both in and around livestock industry circles as the infamous animal welfare legislation California Proposition 2 has finally been implemented. The legislation, first developed in 2008 and hotly debated since, targets veal crates, poultry cages and sow gestation stalls.

Scanning the headlines and commentary around this development, there's definitely a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. At the same time, many initial industry fears, ranging from the specific changes required at the production to myriad ripple effects on logistics, branding and verification for the food system, have subdued over time. This is due in part to the long lead up period that has allowed time to prepare for change, as well as many interim developments that have helped to sort out a number of the most pressing challenges.

Race is on

One area where 'Prop 2' is creating the greatest initial stir is the egg sector, where new space requirements for laying birds are nearly twice the previous standard. Most producers have made the switch but some are lagging and that is creating supply issues, with grocers rallying to secure adequate stock of the legal eggs.

The shift has been described as "a shock" that is "scrambling" the egg industry. Prices have risen sharply but early indications are that consumers are willing to pay for the "welfare enhanced" product.

Navigating early rough waters

The egg industry like all major food production sectors crosses state lines and it is difficult to implement a patchwork of state-by-state requirements. In the wake of Prop 2 and other similar state initiatives, efforts in recent years by United Egg Producers (UEP) to work with adversaries such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) toward workable uniform national approaches. This has been lauded by some as forward thinking, while lambasted as a sellout by others.

Will the efforts of UEP and in-state organizations be enough to help California producers make the transition toward a new, sustainable future? One thing certain is many advocates and critics on all sides of the debate will be watching closely in the months ahead.

In the meantime, early indications point toward rough waters in the fallout of the legislation. As this edition of NewStream went to press, it was announced that several states have banded together to file an appeal of Prop 2, due to the obstacles facing out-of-state producers to meet the requirements of the California market. (Watch for updates in future editions.)

Perspectives on the key developments

More background information on Prop 2 is available here.

Also, this NewStream feature provides background on the UEP / HSUS relationship and joint efforts of recent years.

For its part, Canada has been among the leaders in transitioning egg production to enhanced welfare housing. An example is featured in this NewStream story, "One producers journey to next generation poultry housing."

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.




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