Agriculture

How much space for hens? Industry wants specifics

Leaders in the state's egg industry are asking lawmakers to define just what kind of hen housing they will be able to use.

The Association of California Egg Farmers said state Proposition 2, approved by voters in November, is unclear on what housing will be allowed once it takes effect in 2015.

"California egg farmers respect the voters' desire to give egg-laying hens more space," said Debbie Murdock, the group's executive director, in a news release. "Our farmers need clear-cut housing standards to determine how they can comply with the law and to continue to humanely produce fresh, local and affordable eggs in California under Proposition 2."

The measure took aim at standard industry cages with as little as 67 square inches of floor space per hen. It said enclosures would have to have enough room for hens to stretch and turn around without touching the walls or other hens, but no specific dimensions were included.

The industry group is asking that this be accomplished in an amendment to state Assembly Bill 1437. This measure, awaiting state Senate action, would apply Proposition 2 to out-of-state producers selling eggs in California.

The Humane Society of the United States, a leading sponsor of the ballot measure, has said the industry can comply by following its own definition of "cage-free" housing.

This standard, adopted by United Egg Producers, requires at least 216 square inches of floor space per hen. Such systems usually are inside a barn or other large structure.

The industry group contends that Proposition 2 does not require going to cage-free systems. It also says new housing will be costly.

The new bill was introduced by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. It aims to deal with complaints that Proposition 2 will put California egg producers at a disadvantage versus out-of-state companies that can still use the smaller cages.

The industry group said it will oppose the bill unless it is amended to include detailed standards for hen housing.

Merced County accounts for about 40 percent of the state's egg production. Stanislaus County produces 10 percent and San Joaquin 8 percent.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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