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Nov 5, 2008 10:27 AM

ballots are in: California passes Proposition 2, standards of welfare for confined farm animals to improve

okay, this might not be the big headline from yesterday's election, but i followed this, and have some questions: does the passing of proposition 2 in california indicate a small but significant social shift in the state, home to some of the country's largest agribusiness giants? a sign that average voters have become aware of great systematic cruelty and/or potential for the spread of dangerous diseases in industrial agriculture? triumph of pollan-quoting locovore urban intellectuals? is this a real change that will lead to other models in the american industrial food machine? and why is this change coming now? anybody want to discuss?

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  1. For the first time in life I wished I lived in CA so I could vote on this. Cruelty to animals has led to disease for us. If there was any doubt on how the karma works on this I think it's been established.

    1. in reality, they'll probably just be moved to Arizona.

      2 Replies
      1. re: FED

        You're exactly right. Just what we need right now, more businesses leaving the state. Sometimes the repercussions have to be looked at before voting. It is ironic though that it appears Californians care more about the rights of chickens then they do of Gays.

        1. re: chipman

          I'm not sure how it's ironic so much so as it's sad and more than a little bit absurd.

          I couldn't agree with your sentiments more, though. Repercussions don't seem to be high on the list on this one. It doesn't seem that the measure, as constructed, is going to do much to improve the conditions for animals that we use for our food. (I don't have any problem with using animals for our food. I also am all in favor of improving the conditions under which they live.)

      2. Since California is the biggest state and has a huge egg industry, this measure will have reverberations around the country. I don't know how long it will take, but other states will follow suit. I think it's great. I think it's going to eventually mean a better life for chickens everywhere.

        1. The prop has a ramp up time of 2015, so it's not over night. I think there's going to be some positioning and adjustments, perhaps some temp. exemptions.

          1. I voted Yes to approve Prop 2, b/c I'm a sap and felt sorry for the chickens (and imagined "what if my dogs are born as chickens in their next life" scenario). I'm glad the commercials for No on Prop 2 are over, which touted the astronomical increase of salmonella cases because eggs will come from Mexico.

            8 Replies
            1. re: OCAnn

              I wish I'd been in California so I could have voted "no" on prop 2 (been a CA voter all my life but just moved to Madison, WI this summer). I'm all for humane treatment of animals (I'm actually in school right now studying agricultural economics for the precise reason of promoting sustainable agriculture), but I think people are underestimating both the (human) health issues related to this measure as well as the economic ones. I'm glad there's a longish time-table on the measure, so farmers have time to figure out how they are going to remain competitive while complying with the measure, but let's face facts: in tough economic times, if it is no longer competitive to raise chickens in CA in compliance with the measure, poultry production will just move out of CA and to places where costs are lower and regulations less burdensome. And what good will that do either the chickens or California's economy?

              Frankly, I think the CA proposition process usually results in bad laws, but on this issue in particular, I believe that it should have been handled via public policy avenues accompanied by legislative action, where there could have been input from the farmers involved, rather than by public referrendum, where 9/10ths of the people voting on the bill have absolutely NO idea what it involves to raise a chicken for commercial egg production. It's pretty closed-minded to insinuate that the poultry farmers involved are not concerned with the health and welfare of their birds -- after all, their livelihood depends upon it. The facts are that chickens raised in commercial production have longer lives, fewer illnesses, and produce more eggs than those that are free range, because their living conditions are more sanitary and their interactions with other chickens limited to the small groups they are confined with. While emotionally, I too, prefer the notion of my chickens running free, it's never as clear cut as people would like it to be. Free-range chickens, because they are not separated from their feces and have more interaction with other birds, have more injuries, illnesses, are less productive in their egg production, and also, there are more potential health risks associated with the eggs themselves (because they often lay them in areas that are contaminated by feces). These are only some of the reasons that free range egg production is more expensive for the farmer, and thus, cost more in the marketplace.

              If all the public was willing to pay for the extra cost associated with free-range poultry and eggs, then we wouldn't be in the position we are in. The fact is, the public is NOT ready, willing or able to pay for the higher prices associated with this measure and the market will respond accordingly, i.e., supermarkets will just stock eggs from places that still employ the practices this measure outlawed, and CA farmers will suffer, thus the CA economy will suffer. Plus, those in favor of buying locally will suffer, because they will no longer have the choice of buying eggs that are commercially produced in CA under the banned conditions. The health issues, too, are real, as there is a greater probability that those commercially-produced eggs will come from Mexico or other places where the safety requirements are not as stringent as they are in CA.

              1. re: DanaB

                Hey, don't forget about Florida. In 2002, we passed the "Pregnant Pig Amendment, which "prohibits tying up or confining gestating sows in enclosures too small for them to turn around in".

                Florida's only two hog operations that would have been affected went out of business.

                1. re: bkhuna

                  I would think that if Florida had only two hog operations, this Florida proposition was probably the last straw that broke the camel's back, rather than the single cause of their demise. It may be more of an issue of competition. Considering states like Arkansas have hog farms the size of large towns, I would think that scale along with extremely lax environmental standards there would make this particular part of the livestock industry extremely competitive, particularly in the South. Florida has a huge issue concerning integrity of its water table and watershed. Hog farms are high on the list of causing water pollution, so my guess would be that livestock farming in Florida is highly regulated to begin with. I don't know what Arkansas's water table/watershed status is, but I do know that the hog farmers have a huge influence on the state's legislative direction, but are also now having to confront hog effluent problems as well.

                2. re: DanaB

                  I'm waiting to see how this measure plays out - as already mentioned, the time window is more than enough for the livestock industry to adjust or leave. What I don't understand is why egg prices vary so much from say, Trader Joe's with a whole range of egg choices where even free range organic diet Jumbo eggs are cheaper than the majority of say, Von's eggs choices. Even Costco sells the special omega-3 enhanced eggs for $4.59/18 eggs, or the conventional extra large eggs at the same price for 36 eggs. Again, this is far cheaper per dozen than what conventional chains charge for their eggs. I don't know the ins and outs of the egg industry, but I have a feeling that there may be an issue of markup between the producers and the retailers. Unlike Trader Joe's who tends to keep a low margin on most their products, conventional market chains have typically made their money on categories/items on which the demand is relatively inelastic - dairy (milk, eggs, butter, etc.), liquor, spices. The markups can be substantial relative to other items, as these businesses know that consumers consider these products to be either essential, habitual, or have inferior or no substitutes.

                  Rather than blame Prop 2 for causing the California egg industry to ultimately fail, this may further urge the conventional supermarkets to change their archaic business models. This industry has already seen a huge erosion in their market share because of the above mentioned competitors, along with specialty markets and farmers markets. The consumers' desires need to be addressed or businesses will fail. Whether propositions are the soul cause of failure is questionable.

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    Both Costco and Trader Joes have different business models than your conventional store. The conventional grocer provides ALL goods that a consumer might want from a grocer, in a standard format and in a quantity that is always available, be it a popular item or a hard-to-tind one. Trader Joe's and Costco do NOT do that. They provide what goods they can purchase at an inexpensive cost to them, period. They are not a one-stop grocer. As a result of TJs and Costco's business model, they have a potential to undercut the regular grocer on many costs, as the edge the regular grocer has is variety, and choice of volume (i.e. you can go to your market and buy a 4 pack of toilet paper vs. a gagillion-sized package of t.p.) As a trade-off, and for the convenience of getting everything you want in the same place for a reasonable price, the regular grocer will mark up items (like eggs) that a volume sale place like TJs or Costco can sell for cheaper. Both have their place in the marketplace, but you should understand the difference in the pricing and the reasons therefore. If you want to bake a cake from scratch, you probably can't go to TJs or Costco and get all your ingredients. You *can* from a grocery store. The grocery store can only afford to provide shelf space to cream of tartar and a wide variety of flours and sugars, as a result of the prices they charge you for eggs and milk. TJs and Costco don't purport to be full-stop shopping, and thus can provide you with deals on those same items, but not the convenience of getting everything you want in once place, and in the volume you want it.

                    1. re: DanaB

                      Or, maybe you are okay with the way things are going, and with the perhaps- inevitable decline of the supermarket. In which case, you will have to take what you can get from TJs and Costco, and fend for yourself for the rest -- like having to order specialty items from the internet. That could be the wave of the future, but I'd be sad if it was. I personally still appreciate the convenience of the supermarket, and while I know I might be able to save a few dollars here and there if I made three stops, like the idea that I can get everything I want in one place, when I need to.

                      1. re: DanaB

                        My point exactly... Which would I as an investor be prone to putting my capital in for the long term? Definitely not the classic supermarkets. Again, their business model, like the dying department store industry and the US auto industry, needs some serious revamping. Just for the fact that the number of competitors has vastly decreased due to buyouts, mergers, and failures tells one that this industry is beyond maturity.

                        I can buy a gagillion-roll pack of tp from Costco because it isn't perishable. Even with a coupon, the per-unit cost for the same product at Von's is higher. The only place that is as competitive is a big-box mass retailer like Target.
                        Because of places like Trader Joe's, Costco, specialty stores, and farmers markets, I now go into Von's or Albertson's and the like once or twice a month if I'm lucky, and almost always go through the express lane because I am buying only a few items that - as you mention - TJ's or Costco may not carry. I know not every consumer shops like me, but the market shift is significant and undeniable. Like the Pottery Barns, Sur La Tables, Gaps and Men's Wearhouses are syphoning away business from the department store industry, and Toyota, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen are outcompeting the US auto manufacturers, the same is true here. And this in part is why I am waiting as to whether there will truly be an egg industry exodus from California.

                        I think something that has yet to be addressed is the notion that maybe the way we perceive food, the value which we place on it, and what we expect to pay for it may all need to be reassessed. Maybe agribusiness is too big. It is obvious that they way many do business is highly destructive in the long run - unsustainable. Maybe the consumer needs to long at the true long term cost of what their eating habits and price expectations are doing to the health of themselves as well as the world as a whole. The perpetuating cycle between consumer and industry is obviously a vicious one. But if voters demand businesses that handle livestock to do their business in a way that requires them to scale down their operations (or hopefully somehow become more innovative), thereby causing an increase in the true price of commodities, maybe consumers will view food as more precious, like consumers do in most of the world. And maybe they will eat less, hopefully resulting in better health. If long term shifts like these can occur in the consumer-provider food chain, we will all be better off.

                        With Prop 2 passing, this tells the various industries what at least the majority of voting consumers want. And the consumer is king. Yes, there will always be a shift in their buying habits based on price vs. quality, but at least for now, the passage of 2 is a strong sign of what Joe Consumer wants.

                    2. re: DanaB

                      Interesting. Had Prop 2 been more informative without using--what I took to be--scare tactics, perhaps, PERHAPS, I would have voted "no"....