Opinion: Egg-laying hens in California win another court battle

cage free hens
An uncaged hen on a Prop 2-compliant farm: Third-generation farmer Frank Hilliker holds one of his 8,000 brown Leghorn and white Leghorn chickens in a cage-free aviary system barn at Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs, in Lakeview, Calif.
( Los Angeles Times)

California’s egg-laying hens—and their advocates--won one more round today in the long legal battle over a new state law outlawing confining and inhumane battery cages.  The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, again, upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 2, the ballot measure that won by a landslide vote of 63.5% in 2008.  The measure requires that egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and veal calves have housing—whether it’s a cage or an open barn or farmland—that allows the animals to stand up, stretch their limbs, lie down or turn around.    There are few pig and veal factory farm operations in the state, so the law mostly affects farmers who raise the state’s 15 million egg-laying hens.  And farmers have had six years to prepare. It only went into effect at the beginning of this year.

But instead of retrofitting barns to insure they can comply, farmers--and state attorneys general from other states—have spent time and money in court railing against this new law (and a companion law, AB 1437, which requires eggs from out-of-state that are sold in California must come from hens housed under conditions that comply with Proposition 2).  Yes, it is costly to retrofit farms, but they’re being retrofitted only to a fairly modest new standard of humane treatment.  The older method left hens barely able to move in tiny cages.

In fact, if the lawyers arguing against Prop. 2 had to make their cases standing in cages that didn’t allow them to turn around or sit down, chances are they would drop their suits and we could all get on with following the new law.

Today the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court’s dismissal of an egg farmer’s complaint that Prop. 2 did not specify the exact dimensions of new housing for hens, so it’s too vague to be implemented.  Not so, said the appellate court in their short opinion:


“All Proposition 2 requires is that each chicken be able to extend its limbs fully and turn around freely… Because hens have a wing span and a turning radius that can be observed and measured, a person of reasonable intelligence can determine the dimensions of an appropriate confinement that will comply with Proposition 2.”

That’s it for the pending challenges to Prop. 2.  The case from the out-of-state attorneys general challenging the constitutionality of the companion law, AB 1437, lost at the federal District Court level and is on appeal.

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