Don Curlee: Proposition 2 poultry law unclear to industry
The public intrusion on California's poultry industry, expressed by the passage of the controversial Proposition 2 in 2008, has hatched a foul-smelling legal dispute.
You'll recall that the proposition sponsored by the insidious Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) required poultrymen to provide quarters for their laying hens that allow them to stretch their wings, turn around, lie down and perform certain specified movements. As far as poultry experts knew, the hens were performing quite well before the imposed calisthenics were mandated.
Now, the language of the proposition is being challenged because it provides no specifics to guide poultry producers as they design, enlarge, rebuild or otherwise modify the facilities housing 20 million cackling hens.
Some poultry operations have already reconstructed their hen houses, but they aren't sure their investments in new accommodations will withstand future challenges from the HSUS or others determined to provide new aerobic environments or ultracomfort for their feathered friends.
So the Association of California Egg Farmers (ACEF) filed suit in the final week of November asking the Fresno County Superior Court to determine if the law contains the specifics needed to allow the association members to plan and construct adequately. The law imposed by Proposition 2 requires that the alterations be made by Jan. 1, 2015. The egg farmers need answers.
ACEF President Arnie Riebli said egg farmers have spent the last four years trying to gain a clearer understanding of how to comply with the proposition's demands, but "we are no closer today ... than we were when the law was passed in 2008."
Riebli said the farmers have no choice but to challenge the validity of the law in court because of its obvious ambiguity and the risk it imposes of criminal prosecution if it is violated.
He also pointed out that egg farmers nationwide have worked to establish a national standard for enclosures for their hens. His organization joined with the HSUS and United Egg Producers to support congressional efforts to establish national standards on hen enclosures, some of them going well beyond the Proposition 2 requirements.
But the Proposition 2 requirements are still ambiguous and still in place in California, and only 23 months remain for the hen cage upgrading to be completed. The reconstruction costs as the poultrymen understand them will amount to about $400 million.
ACEF attorney Dale Stern acknowledged that the Proposition 2 edict does not require egg farms to be cage-free. What it does require in the realm of enclosure reconstruction, expansion and other changes is just too loosely stated to be understandable
"Without some clarity," Riebli said, "many California egg farmers are now being forced to rethink their plans to operate in California in the years ahead."
What this seems to say is that the provision of workout facilities for 20 million laying hens may be just enough to cause a flock of California egg producers to fly the coop in an escalated version of the game of chicken. State legislators and policymakers, who are the other participants in the game, don't seem to get it.
And voters who were hoodwinked by the HSUS' slick campaign on behalf of the hens don't seem to understand that telling egg farmers how to maintain their flocks, or any farmers how to tend their crops, is no more sensible than telling cellphone manufacturers how to construct those complex little instruments.
Consumer input is a good thing, but requiring compliance with arbitrary and ambiguous dictates is too much of a good thing. Back off.
CONTACT Don Curlee at email@example.com