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Egg producers demand details on cage law
Lawsuit claims Prop 2 unconstitutionally vague
prop 2 pic
A group of Hollywood chickens serve as stand-ins for the live poultry during an open house at the colony housing enclosure at JS West Milling Company farm in Livingston. The enclosure built in 2010 was the first supposed Prop 2 compliant facility in the country. - photo by Journal file photo

The Association of California Egg Farmers, an industry association that represents 70 percent of California’s egg farmers, filed suit Friday in Fresno County Superior Court seeking a determination that Proposition 2 — a law regulating egg-laying hen enclosures — is unconstitutionally vague. 

The suit alleges the law’s lack of clarity in size and density requirements prevents egg farmers from modifying their housing facilities in time to comply with the Jan. 1, 2015, implementation date.

 “California’s egg farmers have spent the last four years attempting to gain a clear understanding of how to comply with Proposition 2 but, unfortunately, we are no closer today to knowing how to comply than we were when the law first passed in 2008,” said Arnie Riebli, president of the Association of California Egg Farmers .  “Given the ambiguity in Proposition 2 and the risk of criminal prosecution for violating it, egg farmers have no choice other than to challenge the validity of the law.”

In 2008 the Humane Society of the United States spearheaded Prop. 2, concerned that the standard industry egg-laying cages were too cramped for hens. Prop. 2 requires that California egg farms come up to new standards by 2015.

 However, Prop. 2 failed to specifically state the exact size of a cage, number of hens per caged area or specify the furnishings within the enclosure.

“While we know that Proposition 2 does not require California egg farms to be cage-free, the law is very ambiguous and provides no clarity as to what is required to comply with Proposition 2,” said Dale Stern, attorney for ACEF.  He added, “With the law taking effect in just over two years, egg farmers cannot afford to wait any longer to begin construction on new hen enclosures but their dilemma is making a multi-million dollar investment in new housing systems that could end up being considered illegal."

In June 2010, JS West Milling Company created the first colony housing system for layer hens in the United States. The new housing system located in the Livingston area provides room for 60 hens per enclosure with a nesting box surrounded by curtains, eating troughs, nipple drinkers, manure belt, an area for perching, and a scratch pad for the hens to do their normal dust bathing activities. The enriched colony housing system is compliant with the European Union standards with enclosures. Each enclosure runs 142 inches long and 49 inches wide giving room for over 151,000 birds.

Six months after building the first Proposition 2 compliant hen barn in the country, JS West filed a lawsuit seeking the specifics on what would satisfy the state law.

The HSUS and the national United Egg Producers teamed up earlier this year to sponsor federal legislation that would settle the question regarding all of the nation's 270 million laying hens. If it passes, the measure would amend the Egg Products Inspection Act to give chickens 125 square inches of space within 15 years, a period that would allow farmers to gradually upgrade housing systems.

California farmers would have to adhere to the same cage sizes but still meet the Prop 2 deadline in 2015.

“Unfortunately, consumers need to realize that the availability of safe, fresh California eggs may no longer exist in the very near future. We filed this lawsuit because without some clarity, many California egg farmers are now being forced to rethink their plans to operate in California in the years ahead,” said ACEF’s Riebli.