Beware! The new farmed-animal ballot initiative in California is being painted in rosy terms, but don’t be fooled. At its best—meaning if it were to pass without any amendments or delays and without facing the lack of enforcement that made Proposition 2 a total failure—what it would actually do is allow farms to keep egg-laying hens in cages until 2022, at which time factory farms would still be able to confine uncaged hens to massive, crowded sheds with only 1 square foot of space per bird.
PETA is an abolitionist organization, but we understand the necessity of taking small steps along the way and have long supported animal-welfare legislation that reduces suffering. However, this initiative is a step backward. It would ingrain the farming practice of giving hens a minuscule amount of space for years to come—at a time when companies are already requiring that hens be “cage-free” as a result of massive consumer demand, in large part because of PETA’s decades-long vegan campaign. It also sends the wrong message to consumers.
We can’t and don’t consider it remotely humane to confine birds to a miserly 1 square foot of space—and this wouldn’t even be required until years in the future.
If the initiative is passed, the paltry improvements outlined in it would send the wrong message to consumers, a false message that we’ve had to campaign hard against in recent years: that you’ve done something kind when you buy “cage-free” eggs and that somehow it’s humane or “good enough.” Labels and assurances suggesting that groups that endorse allowing 1 square foot of space per hen are “humane” not only sell hens short but also promote eating eggs. They make consumers feel as though they’re doing the right thing when they buy eggs—when instead, they’re actually perpetuating long-term cruelty to animals.
No one who has seen, either in person or on video, the inside of “cage-free” factory farms could describe them as anything other than severely crowded hellholes. And the end for the hens in such places still comes when the petrified birds are roughly rounded up—frequently resulting in broken legs or wings—transported in all weather extremes, and subjected to the horrors of the slaughterhouse. So much for “humane eggs.”
We cannot pretend that such meager improvements are acceptable. They’re not.
We’re at a pivotal moment in the push for animal protection, for animal rights, and for an end to factory farming. Vegan food and cruelty-free products are everywhere—replacing eggs is a snap. Therefore, it makes no sense to allow backsliding from an all-vegan movement to a “1 square foot per bird” movement. There is no excuse for supporting weak bills that consider improvements for animals in millimeters when they should be measured in miles. Most Californians would certainly support much more than this insufficient initiative—one so poor that it requires only the space allotment already recommended and endorsed by the egg industry itself. What does it tell you when the United Egg Producers organization isn’t opposing this initiative? Perhaps 10 years ago, when Proposition 2 passed, people wouldn’t have been as supportive of a bill that ensured stronger protections or that took an abolitionist position like ours, but they absolutely are now.
And this is a step backward even for chicken prisons. In 2015, Massachusetts—which doesn’t have California’s reputation as a progressive state for animals—approved an initiative that required 1.5 square feet per bird, 50 percent more space than what is allotted in this bill. It seems that the hens’ lives have been negotiated away by those who seek to profit from them, and we will not be part of that.
PETA vigorously and unwaveringly promotes vegan eating as the best way to help all animals used for food, and it’s working. As the vegan market explodes, consumers are trying vegan foods and loving them. “Thirty-six percent of consumers buy plant-based meats; 26% of consumers say they have reduced their consumption of meat in the past 12 months; and 58% of adults drink non-dairy milk”—plus, “sales of plant-based foods intended to replace meat, eggs and dairy … reach[ed] $3.1 billion with 8.1% growth.” And vegan eating will continue to grow. But when “humane” groups support egg production just as they support “humane meat,” consumers interested in making compassionate choices start thinking, “Great! I can eat animals and eggs without harming anyone.”
No animal-protection—and certainly no animal rights—groups should be promoting a nonvegan diet. We should all be taking action for change, not advocating chicken prisons in which the scared animals are still crammed into massive sheds with almost no room to move. We shouldn’t be cheering the passage of a bill mandating only that hens receive an amount of space barely bigger than their bodies and saying that such an initiative might help pigs and calves raised for veal (who aren’t even kept in crates in California) in the future. We’re at a point in history when we can do far better for these animals. Those in the industry must be laughing hard at seeing how easy it is to make chickens’ advocates acquiesce and how willing they are to allow those who profit from exploiting animals to set the standard.
This ballot initiative doesn’t make hens happy—it maintains their misery.
It’s absurd to claim that cage-free hens have “significantly” better lives and that this initiative would “dramatically reduce the suffering” of all farmed animals, and we all know it. If an initiative were proposed for puppy mills that said, “Sure, still keep dogs in these facilities, but give them just enough room to turn around,” no one would accept it, so let’s not accept such conditions for chickens, either. Instead of institutionalizing such severe cruelty, we need to oppose it.
Please search your heart and reject continued imprisonment and suffering for birds whose plight deserves to be recognized and fully remedied. Please work hard to inform others about the reasons why they shouldn’t eat eggs and show them what, at best, this initiative will condemn hens to.
Education is liberation. We have the pamphlets, videos, recipes, mentors—everything that anyone could need to make the case for egg-free eating. Let’s do all that we can to help people go vegan and show them how easy it is. You can’t stop an idea whose time has come.