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November 04, 2009

From California to Ohio: A Year After Prop 2's Passage

A year ago today, voters in California sent shockwaves through the world of agribusiness by approving Proposition 2 and agreeing to phase out the confinement of veal calves, pregnant pigs, and laying hens in cages or crates barely larger than their bodies.

Egg-laying hens in battery cage at Ohio factory farm
Mercy for Animals

Spending by both sides was comparable, and voters in California approved the measure by a wide margin, giving it majorities in 47 of 58 counties. It was the third in a series of successful ballot initiatives to phase out certain confinement practices on factory farms, with Arizona and Florida charting the course.

Prop 2 will ultimately provide relief to 20 million animals in California kept in veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages. We’ve spent the last year advocating for legislation aimed at extending Prop 2’s provisions to cover all shell eggs sold in California and working with dozens of California restaurants, grocers, farmers markets and food service providers to make the switch to cage-free egg purchases. The California egg industry, on the other hand, has largely squandered the year with misguided efforts to thwart change and circumvent the basic animal welfare improvements that have been mandated by law. Our anniversary message to them: It’s not about bigger cages. You said so yourself. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

California’s Prop 2 was also an opportunity to build momentum for our broader efforts to crack down on the worst abuses of animals in industrial agribusiness. And in the last year, the Prop 2 vote has reverberated, just as we hoped it would.

In California, lawmakers passed legislation to ban tail-docking of dairy cows—the first state to ban this, or any, mutilation commonly endured by farm animals. The enactment of the law, with the support of the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Veterinary Medical Association, and the California Cattlemen’s Association, was particularly significant since California is the nation’s top dairy state.

Maine lawmakers passed legislation to ban veal crates and gestation crates. And last month, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a bill into law very similar to Prop 2, after The HSUS and agriculture leaders there forged an agreement.

We tried for a sit-down with agriculture leaders in Ohio to effect a similar reform, but the Ohio Farm Bureau stonewalled us. Instead, they instructed their allies in the Ohio General Assembly to craft a constitutional amendment to create a livestock board to dictate agriculture policy in the state. The measure was labeled Issue 2, and it was on the ballot yesterday.

By packaging Issue 2 as pro-animal welfare and pro-food safety, the architects of the ballot measure went a long way to assure its passage. Last night, it was approved 63.5 percent to 36.5 percent.

We did not view Issue 2 as a poisonous package, but rather an empty one. The Ohio Farm Bureau and other agribusiness lobby groups cooked it up in an effort to block real reform.

Now that the Issue 2 campaign is over, we can get on with such real reform—a measure to phase out the extreme confinement of animals in veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages, where they cannot even turn around and stretch their limbs. Both sound science and common sense show that these confinement systems are inhumane and should be phased out.

Sow in gestation crate at Ohio factory farm
Humane Farming Association

We decided to spend nearly no money against Issue 2 and to reserve our energy and resources for an effort to promote the humane treatment of animals and protect food safety and the environment. The Ohio Farm Bureau, the National Pork Producers Council, the United Egg Producers, and other agribusiness concerns raised $4 million in a major campaign to push the passage of Issue 2.

Maybe the new Livestock Board will do some good, and ban archaic practices like tail docking. But we won’t hold our breath. And we know that the appointees will be even less likely to meaningfully address tougher issues like gestation crates and battery cages in a serious manner. And that’s why we need to launch a ballot initiative to give Ohio voters the chance to weigh in.

For Ohio residents, we’ll need your labor to help gather the 400,000 valid signatures needed to qualify the measure. We’ll look to make some announcements soon about our formal plans. But with national agribusiness concerns expected to provide a large share of the funding against our ballot measure, we’ll need a major effort to reach voters in Ohio with our message of sound science and basic values.

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