A state Assembly bill aims to expand the reach of Proposition 2, which will ban small hen cages at California egg farms as of 2015.
The bill, endorsed by some of the opponents of the November ballot measure, would extend the ban to out-of-state farms for eggs they sell in California.
This would get around one of the main complaints about Proposition 2 — that California's industry will suffer if companies elsewhere can use the less expensive small-cage production.
The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and has support from animal-rights groups that were behind the ballot measure.
Co-authors include Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, who had opposed Proposition 2. He could not be reached by The Bee on Friday, but he told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that the bill would "keep our folks competitive."
The bill has passed that chamber's Agriculture and Appropriations committees and awaits a floor vote.
Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, another opponent of the ballot measure, voted for the new bill as chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee.
The two lawmakers represent a region that is one of the top egg producers in the state. Industry leaders here fought hard against the ballot measure, arguing that the small cages are humane and that a changeover would mean high costs for hen housing, labor and other needs.
Egg industry neutral
The state's egg industry is neutral on the new bill. Jill Benson, a vice president at J.S. West & Cos., a major producer based in Modesto, said the attention for now is on just what Proposition 2 will require of her company and others.
The measure, backed by the Humane Society of the United States and other groups, took aim at cages that, under industry standards, can have as little as 67 square inches of floor space per hen. Each cage typically has six hens.
The ballot wording requires that the birds be able to "turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs."
Benson and other industry leaders said it's unclear whether all the hens in a cage must be able to do this at once. That would require 720 square inches of cage space per hen, an expensive change.
Jennifer Fearing, chief economist for the Humane Society, said that was not the intent of the measure. She said companies can comply by simply meeting the United Egg Producers standard for "cage-free" systems — at least 216 square inches of floor space per hen.
Fearing said Assembly Bill 1437 could help California egg producers compete against out-of-state companies, but the main goal was the well-being of the hens.
"While this is distinct from Proposition 2, it still allows even more hens to engage in these basic behaviors," she said.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2385.