Opponents ramp up campaign to defeat Prop. 2
With less than three weeks before the Nov. 4 election, those who oppose a ballot initiative that would ban modern housing systems for egg-laying hens are ramping up their efforts to defeat Proposition 2.
California egg farmers have been "extremely busy" getting their message out about how the measure would negatively affect consumers, producers and food safety, said Debbie Murdock, associate director of the Pacific Egg and Poultry Association.
They've been doing interviews on television and radio, speaking to their local boards of supervisors, chambers of commerce and groups such as the Rotary Club, as well as debating the issue in forums with proponents of the measure.
Although egg farmers do not typically give public tours of their operations due to biosecurity concerns, they've been offering media outlets "ample opportunity to visit their facilities and have done so constantly for the last two months," Murdock said.
"When we're out there talking and we're able to get people to listen to what we're talking about, it really makes a difference," she said. "We need to educate consumers about where their food comes from and we need not be afraid to open our facilities, and that's what we're doing."
Starting this week, television viewers will see statewide advertisements urging them to vote no on Proposition 2. Some ads have already been appearing on the radio.
Opponents say if passed, Proposition 2 would outlaw nearly all current housing systems for egg-laying hens on California's poultry farms by 2015, potentially wiping out the state's $323 million egg sector.
"Our analysis indicates that the expected impact would be the almost complete elimination of egg production in California within the six-year adjustment period," concludes a report from the University of California Agricultural Issues Center.
Rich Matteis, administrator of the California Farm Bureau Federation, said existing laws already require humane treatment of animals. He said California farmers operate under the toughest food-safety guidelines in the United States. Known as the California Egg Quality Assurance Plan, the guidelines require the state's egg farms to use the most modern, safe and practical techniques and standards.
"This is a time when many people want locally produced food," said Matteis. "But Proposition 2 would make locally produced eggs almost impossible to find in California."
California farmers would have to build eight to 16 times more henhouses to comply with the new law's requirements, at a cost at least 76 percent higher than current housing, according to an economic impact study released by United Egg Producers and the Pacific Egg and Poultry Association.
Opponents also say the measure jeopardizes animal welfare and food safety by increasing risks for diseases such as salmonella and avian influenza; harms consumers by driving up egg prices and reducing access to locally grown, fresh eggs; creates a dependency on eggs shipped from other states and Mexico; and causes the loss of thousands of jobs and more than $615 million to the state's economy.
"These arguments have been resonating very well," said Dennis Albiani, who represents opponents of Proposition 2, which include a broad coalition of public health and food safety experts, labor unions, consumers, family farmers and veterinarians called Californians for SAFE Food. SAFE is an acronym for safe, affordable, fresh eggs.
He pointed to the wide diversity of groups that is part of the coalition and not associated with agriculture, including the California State Conference of the NAACP, California Chamber of Commerce, Congress of California Seniors, California State Firefighters' Association, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, National Latino Congreso and others.
Albiani said the coalition has been telling its story to editorial boards of virtually every major newspaper in the state, winning the support of publications including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, Modesto Bee, Orange County Register, Napa Valley Register, Bakersfield Californian, Redding Record Searchlight, Antelope Valley Press, Long Beach Press-Telegram and Colusa County Sun-Herald, all of which have printed editorials recommending readers vote no on Proposition 2.
"The case against battery cages is neither as simple nor as overwhelming as supporters would want you to believe," the San Francisco Chronicle said in its editorial. "The ballot box is not the place to regulate this aspect of California agriculture."
Albiani urges California farmers and ranchers to talk to friends, neighbors and other voters about why they should oppose Proposition 2.
(Ching Lee is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.