Feds funding egg industry effort to defeat California anti-caging initiative, suit alleges

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2008:


SAN FRANCISCO–U.S. Agricul-ture
Secretary Ed Schaefer personally approved giving
$3 million collected from egg producers for
co-promotions by the American Egg Board to the
agribusiness campaign against the California
Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, alleges a
lawsuit filed on August 13, 2008 by Californians
for Humane Farms.
The California Prevention of Farm Animal
Cruelty Act, Proposition Two on the 2008
California state ballot, would reduce the
stocking density for caged laying hens by 2015,
and after 2015 would prohibit raising pigs and
veal calves in crates that prevent them from
turning around and extending their limbs.
The American Egg Board money would more
than double the campaign fund in opposition to
Proposition Two, which had raised $2.16 million
as of August 12, 2008, according to the
California Secretary of State’s office.

Supporters had raised $4.3 million, $3.5 of it
from the Humane Society of the U.S. and
individual HSUS employees. The United Egg
Producers Association has predicted that animal
use industries will need to spend about $50
million to defeat Proposition Two.
Californians for Humane Farms is the
umbrella for the Yes on Proposition Two
committee, whose major funders are Farm
Sanctuary and the Humane Society of the U.S.
“As reported in Egg Industry magazine,”
explained a Yes on Proposition Two committee
media statement describing the lawsuit, “the
American Egg Board ‘unanimously passed a motion
at its 2007 fall meeting in California that $3
million be held in reserve to assist the state if
necessary in the industry’s current battle with
animal activists [concerning] a referendum on the
November 2008 ballot that would eliminate cage
production in California.’
“As a federal commodity promotion
program,” the Yes on Proposition Two committee
statement continued, “the American Egg Board is
strictly prohibited from expending any checkoff
program funds ‘for the purpose of influencing
governmental policy or action,'” according to
the Act of Congress that created it. “The USDA
is required to approve all American Egg Board
expenditures, and ensure that AEB activities are
limited to non-political advertising, education,
research and marketing,” continued the Yes on
Proposition Two committee statement.
Alleged the Yes on Proposition Two
committee, citing several examples, “Internal
agency documents show that USDA officials are
aware of the unlawful purpose for which the AEB
set aside the $3 million, and that AEB intends
to give federal funds to private individuals or
trade industry groups to spend in opposition to
the ballot initiative. The Yes on Proposition 2
campaign contacted the USDA and the AEB directly
to try to resolve this matter. The group
requested that the USDA disallow any AEB
activities in California intended to influence
voter opinion on the ballot initiative. These
requests were denied.”
Charged HSUS president Wayne Pacelle,
“Expending these funds within 90 days of the
election is a transparent attempt to influence
the vote on Proposition TwoĊ and that’s unethical
and illegal.”
Battery caging of laying hens is the
pivotal issue for agribusiness, since political
trends in California, the most populous state,
often go national.
“Since there is no [crated] veal
production in California and farmers are
voluntarily phasing out confining pigs in
breeding crates by 2008,” which in California
affects just 20,000 of the 121 million pigs
raised for slaughter in the U.S. each year, “the
initiative primarily targets the state’s 19
million egg-laying hens,” assessed Aurelio Rojas
of the Sacramento Bee in April 2008, when
Proposition Two qualified for the November 4
ballot. Needing 434,000 signatures from
registered voters to to on the ballot, and
expecting many attempts by agribusiness to
invalidate signatures, Californians for Humane
Farms submitted more than 800,000 voter
signatures to the California Secretary of State’s
Farm Sanctuary and HSUS have had previous
success with similar measures. A 2002 Florida
ballot initiative banned gestation crates for
breeding pigs, passing with 55% of the vote.
Arizona voters in 2006 banned crates for both
breeding pigs and veal calves, winning 62% of
the vote. The Oregon legislature banned
gestation crates in 2007.
California, however, is the first state
in which intensive confinement farming is
practiced on a major scale where animal advocates
have pursued a ballot initiative against
intensive confinement methods. California egg
production has declined from nine billion per
year circa 1971 to just five billion a year in
2007, but the value of California egg sales in
2007 was a record $337 million.
Agribusiness anxiety about the precedent
that the passage of Proposition Two could set was
whetted in July 2008 by Daniel A. Sumner,
director of the Agricultural Issues Center at the
University of California in Davis. Sumner
predicted in a report entitled Economic Effects
of Proposed Restrictions on Egg-laying Hen
Housing in California that if Proposition Two
passes, the entire California egg industry would
be lost to eggs brought from elsewhere.
“If a shift to non-cage production were
to be imposed nationwide,” Sumner concluded,
“we could expect consumer costs to rise by at
least 25% and perhaps much more. Under this
scenario, lower-cost eggs produced from caged
hens would not be available to supply U.S.
consumers, unless it was possible to expand
low-cost egg production in Canada or Mexico for
shipment to U.S. markets.”
The Agricultural Issues Center board
consists of prominent representatives of
agribusiness, but Sumner stipulated in the last
two lines of his executive summary, “This
research was supported with University of
California funds. AIC did not seek or receive
any outside financial support for this project.”
Global trends also worry U.S.
agribusiness. The European Laying Hens Directive
1999, if not amended under industry pressure,
will ban the sale of battery cage-produced eggs
in Europe after 2012. The opinion research firm
Mintel in August 2006 reported to the British
Department of the Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs that caged egg producers had already lost
40% of the British market.
Proposition Two is endorsed by the
California Veterinary Medical Association, in a
break from American Veterinary Medical
Association policy. Endorsements have also come
from the California Democratic Party, Defenders
of Wildlife, Greenpeace USA, and the California
chapter of the Sierra Club.
An especially telling endorsement came in
July 2008 from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning
New York Times human rights columnist Nicholas
Kristof, who has not written favorably of animal
advocacy in the past.
“The law punishes teenage boys who tie up
and abuse a stray cat,” wrote Kristof. “So why
allow industrialists to keep pigs in pens barely
bigger than they are? Defining what is cruel is
extraordinarily difficult. “But penning pigs or
veal calves so tightly that they cannot turn
around seems to cross that line. More broadly,”
Kristof finished, “the tide of history is moving
toward the protection of animal rights. The
brutal conditions in which they are sometimes now
raised will eventually be banned. Some day,
vegetarianism may even be the norm.”

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