Caged hens are far from happy

Had Prop. 2 contained what backers claimed, California would be cage-free

Bradley Miller is the national director of the Humane Farming Association (, a San Rafael-based nonprofit dedicated to combating factory farming and other forms of animal cruelty.

It is true that the price of eggs has gone up. The market factors responsible, however, have nothing whatsoever to do with “happy” hens. Far from it.

Right now, millions of egg-laying hens remain suffering in cramped egg-factory cages throughout California. But wait. Didn’t voters overwhelmingly enact a ballot measure six years ago that outlawed those cages?

No. They just thought they did.

The measure was Proposition 2. Its sponsors promised voters that it would ban all egg-industry cages statewide by Jan. 1, 2015. Not merely increase their size, but ban them. Voters approved the measure by the largest margin in the history of our state’s initiative process. Which brings us to this heartbreaking reality: Had Prop. 2 actually contained what backers claimed, California would be cage-free at this very moment.

Instead, the egg industry is now investing in new cages and modifying old ones. This obscene reversal of voter intent was made possible by the determined negligence of Prop. 2’s sponsor, the Humane Society of the United States.

The Humane Society was repeatedly warned by the Humane Farming Association and many other animal advocates that the continued use of cages would be the result of Prop. 2 unless its fatally flawed language was corrected.

At the time, there was still ample opportunity to make clear in the initiative that cages would be banned. At the very least, it needed to specify how much space would be required per hen. All those warnings were ignored.

Now, six years later, the chickens have come home to roost. And, not surprisingly, they’re being put in cages.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture requires only 116 square inches per hen. That’s roughly the size of a sheet of legal paper and is exactly the kind of confinement voters were told that Prop. 2 prohibited.

The department has been explicit in stating that it is not enforcing Prop. 2. The same goes for local law enforcement, which is laughing off the measure entirely.

What we’ve been left with is the worst of both worlds: higher prices, and no meaningful benefit for animals. So, the next time you see eggs costing more than usual, don’t blame the hens. It is not their fault that Prop. 2 turned out to be an empty vessel of false promises and wasted resources.