Cage-Free or Just Bigger Cages?

When California voters passed Proposition 2 two years ago, they thought they were banning the confinement of egg-laying hens in tiny “battery cages.” Unfortunately, the language of the ballot measure did not specifically ban cages and also failed to provide a minimum space allowance for each bird. Instead, the wording relied on a vague “performance” standard—requiring that hens be able to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely, but failing to mandate that all hens be able to do these things simultaneously. As a result, the exact meaning of the new law is subject to debate. Instead of going cage-free as voters no doubt intended, some California egg producers have begun switching to slightly larger enclosures referred to as “enriched” or “colony” cages. Egg producer JS West filed a lawsuit seeking clarification of Prop. 2, saying it doesn’t want to invest a lot of money in new equipment until the exact dimensions for cages are spelled out.

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