Passage of California’s Proposition 2 last week has given animal welfare groups reason to celebrate. It has also given Iowa livestock and egg industries reason for concern.

The Humane Society of the United States, which spent more than $4 million on the campaign for the California measure, predicted the passage of Proposition 2 would usher in a new era in farm standards.

That's just what the nation’s livestock interests are concerned about. They contributed millions to a campaign to defeat the measure, which would effectively ban the use of sow stalls, hen cages and veal crates. Farming interests in Iowa alone contributed about $300,000 to the campaign to defeat the measure.

Although the measure won't take effect until 2015, it is widely expected that backers of the Proposition 2, such as HSUS, will seek to push the changes nationally. "It's too soon to say what's going to happen," said Kevin Vinchattle, executive director of the Iowa Egg Council, the trade organization for Iowa's egg industry, which is the nation's largest.

The passage of Proposition 2 affects mostly the egg industry. California is the sixth-largest egg producer, and if farms there shrink, "that's a lot of egg production that's going to have to be picked up somewhere else," Vinchattle said. California does not have a significant hog industry, so the measure primarily affects egg operations.

"No state in the U.S. and no agribusiness titan anywhere in the nation can overlook this mandate,” HSUS president Wayne Pacelle said. "People do not want their farm animals treated with wanton cruelty.” The California measure will require that all livestock have room to lie down, turn around and extend their legs.

Pacelle said before the vote that passing the measure would bring new pressure on retailers to raise animal-welfare standards for the suppliers. Burger King and others already have been doing that. Smithfield Foods, the nation's largest pork producer and processor, announced it would phase out use of the sow gestation crates.

Farm groups concede changes in farming practices are coming. They also say that producers have to do a better job at public relations. Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said Proposition 2 passed because of emotion. "It highlights the need for us in agriculture to frankly talk about what we do, put the face of the farmer on it," he said.

Brent Gattis, an agribusiness lobbyist in Washington, predicts animal-rights activists will push the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass similar standards nationwide. Pending legislation backed by animal welfare interests would set standards for meat, milk and eggs purchased by the government for schools and the military. Mitch Head, a spokesman for the United Egg Producers, however, says that would increase federal spending at a time when the budget already is squeezed. Cage-free eggs cost about 20 cents each, about double the price of conventionally produced eggs.

Food safety concerns arise for regulations brought about by Proposition 2. “In cageless operations, eggs can get broken or contaminated by manure,” said Suzanne Millman, an animal welfare specialist at Iowa State University.

Passage of the California measure shows "the average citizen has the concern about the amount of space we're giving animals," Millman said. "That is something we're going to have to work on long-term."

Source: Des Moines Register