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Animal Welfare on the Ballot

Late last week the Humane Society of the United States announced that it had secured enough signatures to put an animal cruelty measure on the ballot in California this November.

The “Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act” would outlaw three of the most controversial methods used in farm operations: Veal crates for calves, battery cages for egg-laying hens and gestation crates for breeding pigs.

Past efforts in which the HSUS took part have met with some success — gestation crates were banned in Florida as of 2002, and Arizona outlawed veal and pig crates in 2006. There are two reasons to believe this latest effort will succeed as well: It’s California (volunteers collected 800,000 signatures, nearly twice as many as required); the state is also home to the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company, were undercover activists recently filmed downer cattle being abused with forklifts and bang sticks.

Investigations like the Hallmark case are accelerating consumer demand for food animals that are raised and slaughtered with compassion. Demand for cage-free eggs in particular is growing. More and more retailers (including California-based Safeway and Trader Joe’s) have already gone cage-free, and are in the process of adopting the other measures as well.

What about everyone else? The law wouldn’t take effect until 2015, ostensibly to give producers enough time to transition to more humane systems. In all likelihood, consumer demand will have eclipsed the need for any legislation by then.