Animal welfare on the ballot

The US midterm elections are upon us, and here at FAIRR we’ve been looking at ‘Proposition 12’ in California which has put intensive farming issues on the ballot.

This week, Californians will get a chance to vote for ‘Proposition 12’ that seeks to establish higher standards for confinement of farm animals and ban products that fail to meet these standards. The proposed rules include cage-free environments for egg-laying hens and new minimum space requirements for confining veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens.

It’s no surprise to see the issue on the Californian ballot. It is a state with a giant intensive farming sector, and where the environmental and social impacts of the sector are especially high.

California is the sixth largest economy in the world and its huge livestock industry accounts for over 23% of the state’s gross cash receipts. California is responsible for over 13% of total agricultural value in the US [1].

Following growing demand from consumers and welfare advocates, Purdue University analysed the cost to producers of moving towards slower-growing chicken breeds. The study found that such a conversion would result in retail prices increasing by 1.17% [2].

While producers will face increasing costs of higher welfare measures, the current system of production, including in California, does not price in the exceptionally high environmental and social impacts of intensive farming.

The industry leaves an enormous environmental footprint — including contributing to the recent drought. According to the Pacific Institute, agriculture accounts for 80% of California’s total water usage, with meat and dairy responsible for an enormous 47% of California’s use of water that cannot be replaced.[3]

The negative impacts of intensive farming have also led California to legislate to reduce antibiotics use in livestock production.

Perhaps this is the reason the state also has a booming alternative protein sector, with the likes of Impossible Foods and Perfect Day emerging from Silicon Valley as global leaders.

It’s often said that where California leads, the world follows. So it will be intriguing to see the outcome of Proposition 12 this week.