The debate on Proposition 2 continues in California. Last week, agriculture industry leaders gathered with the president of the Humane Society of the United States to debate the ballot measure.

More than 300 people attended the debate in Modesto, Calif. The event was held as part of the First United Methodist Church in Modesto’s Faith and Politics series. There was a wide mix of people in the audience — dairy producers, veterinarians, poultry producers and consumers.

According to attendees, it is estimated that there will be a drop in several million dollars in tax revenue from farm businesses if Proposition 2 passes in November.

Panel members included:

Yes Proposition 2

  • Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States.
  • Michael Bruner, Presbyterian minister, adjunct professor of religion, Azusa Pacific University; consultant, the Humane Society of the United States. (Bruner’s bio says he is also a former and advertising executive and writer)

No Proposition 2

  • Bill Mattos, California Poultry Federation.
  • Jill Benson, JS West & Companies, fourth generation egg farmer.
  • Nancy Reimers, veterinarian, specializing in poultry medicine.

Natural behavior argument
Michael Brunner says that at a minimum, animals should be allowed to express God-given natural behaviors.

Wayne Pacelle says that the Hallmark/Westland meat packing incident is a good indicator that the agriculture industry is failing to pay attention to animal welfare. He states that they believe the public’s response to Proposition 2 is going to be just like the Hallmark/Westland meat packing incident. “Should we treat animals as production units, or let them exhibit natural behaviors?” he asks.

Pacelle points out that states do have anti-cruelty laws for animals. However, farm animals were left out and HSUS want them included in the laws. He repeated over and over again, “Is it too much to give to a creature that is going to die for human consumption?”

During the debate, Pacelle defined the term “factory farming” as anything that is considered a concentrated animal feeding operation. He also asked the audience several times “If you were an animal, would you want to move?”

Food safety concerns
Nancy Reimers says that she is very concerned about food safety. She states that eggs are covered with thousands of pores and bacteria can go in like air during incubation, and if the eggs come in contact with the poultry litter there will be a lot of food safety issues. She notes that California’s eggs are the safest that California consumers can obtain. Her other concern was that the housing proposed by Proposition 2 would expose the birds to avian influenza.

Economic considerations
Jill Jensen produces 100,000 dozens eggs each day. Her birds are kept in climate controlled barns at 77 degrees F.

She states that Proposition 2 would triple her production cost. Eggs will be outsourced — out of California and out of the country if Proposition 2 passes, she says. Jensen adds that Proposition 2 will eliminate safe, affordable, locally produced food. And that the eggs probably will not be produced under the same the safety standards as they are currently produced. “Proposition 2 doesn’t change how eggs are produced, it changes where they are produced,” she says. Jensen also points out that trucking eggs into the state also pollutes the environment.

Bill Mattos, of the California Poultry Federation, notes that eggs are the cheapest source of protein, and with the housing market crash, several counties in California are amongst the poorest in the nation. He estimates that Proposition 2 would raise the price of eggs to $5 and people wouldn’t be able to buy them.

Pacelle counters that more than 1,000 veterinarians, as well as a number of organizations have voted to endorse the measure. He also says that the poultry industry has the highest profits ever, and if they are so concerned about poor consumers why haven’t they lowered their prices. He pointed to an egg company who had a 39 percent increase in earnings this year.

He also says that animal welfare isn’t going anywhere. “We continue to believe animals should have the opportunity to walk and move freely.”

For more information on Proposition 2, click here.