Under current California law, farm animals such as egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and calves raised for veal can be confined in crates and cages hardly bigger than their bodies. Most of these animals cannot lie down, turn around or even stretch their limbs, and they are forced to live in these conditions their whole lives. Now a new ballot initiative called Proposition 2, passed by Californians on Election Day, will end this practice. VOA correspondent Julie Taboh has more.
Many Americans have an idealized vision of the lives of farm animals. They picture them in grassy pastures, living peacefully in their natural habitats.
But in California, life for 20 million farm animals is far from ideal.
The Humane Society of the United States was a major sponsor of Proposition 2. The measure requires farmers to improve conditions for cows, pigs and egg-laying hens.
Paul Shapiro is a senior director of the society's Factory Farming Campaign.
"Most farm animals are confined in factory farms. Hundreds of millions of them are kept in tiny cages, where they can hardly move their whole lives," Shapiro says. "Some of these cages are barely bigger than their own bodies, and these aren't temporary holding cages. These are permanent. This is where these animals endure their entire miserable lives."
On Election Day, November 4, Californians voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition 2.
Under terms of the ballot initiative, calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pigs used for breeding cannot be confined in tiny cages but should have enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs.
While Prop 2 sounds simple, it has drawn powerful opponents.
Kay Johnson Smith is executive vice president of the Animal Agriculture Alliance. The group promotes what it calls responsible solutions to animal welfare.
Smith says the new requirements will cause egg prices to spike and drive egg farmers out of business.
"It really is targeted at the egg industry; so producers, most that we talked to, say they can't afford to retrofit the buildings. They can't afford to buy the extra land that would be required to raise the birds in a more open system, and therefore, they would go out of business," Smith says.
But Shapiro says the egg industry's own analysis shows the additional cost will be negligible, less than a penny per egg.
Californians will still be able to buy eggs imported from farms in states without such regulations. Smith says Californians will opt for the less expensive eggs.
"People will vote with their pocketbooks, and I dare to say they're still going to buy the lesser-priced egg," she says.
Shapiro disagrees. He says Americans want all animals to be treated with decency.
"Americans don't want farm animals to be confined in cages that are so restrictive that they're not even able to turn around and extend their limbs," he says. "This is just wrong. It's just plain wrong."
Right or wrong, both sides agree more legislation to protect animals is coming now that Proposition 2 has passed. Farmers have until the year 2015 to implement the changes.