Trying To Reason With LA Times Editor
Dear Ms. Carla Hall of the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board
In the October 7th issue of the Huffington Post in the article entitled “Latest Attack on California’s Humane Livestock Standards Struck Down by Judge” you were quoted saying "farmers in Missouri -- and the other states that joined the suit -- will finally get the message that it's time to stop fighting the law and ." If it were as simple as that, there would be less angst among the livestock community. But those of us who know the behavior of chickens flocking together understand the law in California will not lead to increased welfare, but just the opposite. And the poorer people, those on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [food stamps], will pay the price.
No one begrudges California’s right to enact laws governing the production of eggs in their state, but specifying production standards in the other states is taking on the role of determining the commerce of eggs which we feel is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3. California is claiming “food safety” for its added regulations. California Title 3 Section 1350 requires out-of-state egg farmers selling eggs in California to implement that state’s food safety regulations that go beyond the federal regulations under FDA’s food safety standards for eggs [21 CFR Part 118], “Production, Storage, and Transportation of Shell Eggs”. FDA’s food safety standards for eggs says states may not require "standards of quality [or] condition" that are "different from or in addition to" federal requirements. . The key is the "in addition to" requirement meaning that states can't come up with new quality standards that the federal government hasn't spoken to." So what is the real reason? Food Safety News reported that in 2012, the University of California at Davis estimated that changing the hen housing infrastructure to comply with Proposition 2 was going to cost egg farmers $385 million. The California Assembly Bill 1437 added three additional sections to the 2008 law. Under AB 1437, as of January 1, shell eggs for human consumption cannot be legally sold in California unless the involved laying hen was kept in facilities that meet California’s animal care standards. It’s a requirement to merely “level the playing field so that in-state producers are not disadvantaged.” That quote was from a California Assembly committee report for AB 1437. In other words, the states argued that California was not acting to make food safer nor animals healthier, but to advance its own purely commercial interests.
California’s new space requirements for chickens may appear to improve welfare, but it doesn’t.
The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, a group of animal behavior scientists including a representative from California, noted an increased incidence of wing and leg breakages in the larger enclosures. Startled chickens will injure themselves more frequently in larger enclosures when they rush away to avoid what has startled them. They pile up in corners, suffer bone breakages and suffocate the ones on the bottom. Certainly this is a welfare consideration. Consider also the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in 2010 released a report on the welfare implications of various kinds of housing. The report concluded consumers need to balance the hen’s freedom against exposure to potential hazards such as disease vectors and the cannibalism caused by pecking. Certainly cannibalism and pecking are welfare issues, and in conventional cages of 67 square inches where the number of chickens is minimized, these concerns are also reduced compared to other systems. Research at NC State University demonstrated chickens reared in conventional cages had significantly greater numbers of Grade A eggs, significantly greater numbers of total eggs produced, and significantly better feed conversion rates (meaning a lower carbon footprint), and a better immune response (meaning better able to resist disease). Certainly these are indicators of a healthier chicken and thus better welfare. Research released in June 2014 at Michigan State University examined the impact of stocking density on enriched colony cages. This study shows minimal impact on welfare in a comparison between 72 sq. in. per bird and 144 sq. in. per bird. So why did California pick 116 square inches? There is no science supporting this space requirement.
Now it appears that A.B. 1437 will be enforced January 1. California will see a shortage of eggs like never experienced before. With 39 million consumers in the state and only 19 million laying chickens, the eggs from 20 million chickens that currently are being imported into the state will stop. Some farmers outside of California are rushing to develop comparable standards, but to assume there won’t be a major disruption in the marketing of eggs in California is naïve.
The economic impact of other states shipping eggs into California is significant exceeding $150 million annually. This can be extracted by the data provided by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Between January 2012-January 2014 Iowa sent 4.9 million cases of eggs. Assuming the average per year would be 2.45 million cases of eggs or 3,266 truckloads at an average sales price of $25,000 per truckload, that's $81.6 million. Minnesota sold 45% of that total from Iowa while Missouri sold 35% of Iowa's total. Illinois sold 10% of Iowa's total. That's the equivalent of $150 million worth of eggs. That means an estimated increase of $3.6 million per year just for California consumers. The Wall Street Journal reported food costs increased 2.2% from a year earlier in August. That was the strongest annual gain in food prices since June 2012. On a monthly, seasonally adjusted basis, food prices have increased in six of the past seven months. One category driving the gains: meat. California will add “eggs” to that price increase impacting the poorer people in communities throughout the state.
We know this outreach to you will have little difference in the enforcement of the California law, but our efforts to inform the media is an important step toward informing the consumers in California that starting January 1 will be the start of more changes in our food supplies and prices without the benefits touted by some in the press.