Happy New Year to California's Hens

Eggs are happier at the farmers market
Eggs are happier at the farmers market

Back in February of 2014, I urged egg producers (via a column here) to stop playing obstructionist games and get behind AB 1437, the California law passed in 2010 which mandates that all shell eggs sold in my state must come from cage-free hens. As of January 1, that law is in effect.

Why is this important? Because egg-laying hens confined in cages are unable to, in the words of the law, "turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs." And when I and other California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2 in 2008, we were stating we found those inhumane practices unacceptable. AB 1437 followed in 2010, mandating that all shell eggs sold in the state must also come from cage-free hens by January 1, 2015 -- whether laid by California, Iowa, or Maryland hens.

For the past several years, egg producers have been dragging their feet, filing lawsuits and losing. But now all that must cease. So, in addition to the New Year's celebrating we've been doing in general, let's specifically celebrate the fact that millions more laying hens in this country are now living cage-free, thanks to this new law. Egg prices are on the rise, as companies pass on the costs of the new housing, hitting an average of $3 per carton for consumers. That might seem steep, but to me 25 cents for an egg -- one chicken's daily production, with approximately 6 grams of protein -- seems like a bargain compared to what most people happily spend for a cup of coffee.  And of course there are also hidden costs of locking birds in cages that aren't necessarily paid at the register, including increased animal cruelty and increased risk of Salmonella.

There is a saying: "As California goes, so goes the nation." We're the biggest market, so that statement has held true for auto regulations as well as not-so-good things like flame retardants. If national egg producers go with California's flow, the national significance of this law will be staggering. California is already the fifth-largest egg-producing state in the U.S., with over 15 million hens, but it consumes far more eggs than it can produce. The U.S. itself produces more than 750 billion eggs every year. If producers in other states follow California's lead, as they are beginning to, we are dealing a substantive and possibly unprecedented blow to animal cruelty in this country.

So, please join me in raising a glass to happier hens in 2015 and beyond.