RELEASE: California ballot initiative seeks to prevent animal cruelty, protect food safety in the Golden State

August 29, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif.-The Humane Society of the United States and a coalition of animal protection, veterinary and food safety groups today filed ballot language that seeks to upgrade California's laws aimed at preventing cruelty to farm animals and protecting California consumers from inhumanely produced and unsafe animal products. The HSUS and the other organizations filed the measure with the California Attorney General today as a step toward a statewide signature gathering campaign to launch this fall. Once the Secretary of State issues a ballot title and summary, the coalition will set its sights on gathering the 365,880 signatures required-within 180 days-for placement on the statewide ballot in November 2018. "Californians know that locking farm animals in tight cages for the duration of their lives is cruel and compromises food safety," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "All animals deserve humane treatment, especially those raised for food." Prop 2, which passed in a landslide 63.5 to 36.5 percent vote in 2008, established that hens, pigs and calves statewide must be able to stand up, lie down, turn around freely and fully extend their limbs, and went into effect in 2015. Two years later, in 2010, the California legislature enacted AB 1437 to apply Prop 2's standards to eggs sold statewide, regardless of where the laying hens produced the eggs. While the two laws faced legal attacks from farm trade groups and politicians acting on behalf of agribusiness interests in Midwest states, California prevailed in a series of state and federal challenges, with the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the latest appeal in an AB 1437 case earlier this year.

"Despite some progress on animal welfare in California, we have more to do and there is a clear need to upgrade the law to protect farm animals and consumers," said Pacelle.

Much of the pork sold statewide still comes from factory farms that confine sows in cruel gestation crates where the animals are unable even to turn around. Veal from crated calves is still sold in the state, too. The new initiative will prohibit sales of products derived from such intensive confinement.

Although Prop 2's opponents agreed during the 2008 campaign that the law would mean a shift to cage-free egg production, many California egg producers have simply kept their cage systems-merely rigging them a bit by reducing stocking densities to give birds slightly more space. They got a major assist from the California Department of Food and Agriculture in their subversion of Prop 2's standards when the agency adopted a rule that seemed to suggest the hens could be legally confined in cages with the slightly lower stocking densities.

In California, only voters can strengthen a law enacted by ballot initiative. Such an upgrade will produce dramatically better outcomes for millions of animals, establishing a bright-line legal standard that cage confinement is forbidden.

To do that, this measure will:

1) Establish that eggs produced and sold in California must come from cage-free birds, requiring that within one year of enactment, eggs sold statewide would have to come from birds given one square foot of space each - often regarded as a cage-free standard. It would subsequently explicitly require that by Dec. 31, 2021, all birds must live in cage-free systems.
2) Require that pork sold in California come from farms that don't lock pigs in gestation crates by Dec. 31, 2021.
3) Require that veal sold in California come from farms that don't lock calves in veal crates by Dec. 31, 2019.

Economic analyses from the egg industry itself show that it would cost only about a penny or two more per egg to go cage-free, something the largest retailers are already doing. In fact, McDonald's is going 100 percent cage-free and says it won't raise its prices even a penny. Costco, Walmart, Safeway and more than 250 other major retailers have made similar cage-free pledges, with different dates of implementation. The ballot measure will help assure consumers that the food retailers will abide by the promised standards. Other leading members of the coalition include the Center for Food Safety, San Francisco SPCA, San Diego Humane Society, Marin Humane Society, ASPCA, Mercy For Animals, The Humane League, Compassion in World Farming, Animal Equality, The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, Compassion Over Killing, and the Animal Protection and Rescue League.

For more information on the ballot initiative, go to