It’s not even 2008 yet, and we can already see the feathers flying. The ultra-rich Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and its Ol’ MacDonald sidekick Farm Sanctuary are collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that could do to California what they’ve already done to two other states. In 2002, Florida farmers had to slaughter their pigs wholesale when they found there was no affordable way to guarantee the Constitutional “rights” voters were fooled into giving them. (Farm Sanctuary paid a $50,000 fine for election fraud, but that’s another story.) And in Arizona last year, animal activists succeeded in guaranteeing both hogs and calves a level of care that people generally reserve for, well, other people.
For the Third Act of this bizarre drama, HSUS and Farm Sanctuary are focused on California. And in addition to veal and pork producers, chicken and egg farmers are under attack. The animal rights argument? it’s “cruel” to house hens in cages, and the only government-approved eggs should be “cage free.”
Egg producers warn that applying animal rights logic to real-world grocery shopping would literally double the retail cost of eggs in California. In Canada, according to Toronto’s Globe and Mail, “cage-free” eggs already cost 80 percent more than the regular kind. Consumers who want to pay extra for a warm-and-fuzzy feeling — and can afford it — are welcome to do so. But should Californians force everyone to go that route?
And, more to the point, if you’re an animal rights activist, is it really better for the chickens? Here are four reasons why wing-flappers in California might want to re-think having HSUS and Farm Sanctuary in their corner:
Bird flu — Free-range chickens, turkeys, and egg-laying hens kept outdoors are more susceptible to bird flu, as the British are regrettably learning again and again.
Death rate — Dr. Joy Mensch, a leading Animal Science professor at UC Davis, told the Sacramento Bee on Sunday that cage-free hens die at more than twice the rate of caged hens, likely the result of increased exposure to one another (and to their own manure).
Broken bones — Dr. Mensch adds that cage-free hens, left to jump around the barn, suffer high rates of broken bones, as high as 67 percent in one study.
Stress — This year scientists at Sydney University in Australia found that free-range chickens experience just as much stress as caged birds, since they have to deal with extra pressures such as extreme temperatures, parasites, and predators.