for National Geographic News
The party of the donkey may have prevailed on Tuesday, but the real animal victors may have been the farm animals of California.
Close to two-thirds of the state's population voted in favor of a proposition requiring that laying hens, pregnant pigs, and calves raised for veal be kept in larger enclosures.
The increased space must be enough to allow the animals to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs, according to the law.
Farmers will have until January 1, 2015, to phase out so-called battery cages—small wire cages often stacked in rows—for chickens and tight crates used to house pigs and veal calves.
"This is the most sweeping animal-protection measure ever passed by ballot initiative in U.S. history," said Jennifer Fearing, chief economist for the Humane Society of the United States in Sacramento, California. The society was the main backer of the initiative.
Opponents said the measure vilified the large majority of farmers and ranchers who treat their animals humanely.
Some industrial farmers also warned that the new regulations will lead to skyrocketing costs that could cripple California's thriving egg industry.
"This will put me out of business," said Ryan Armstrong, president of family-owned Armstrong Egg Farms in San Diego.
Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon have passed similar laws for swine and veal, but California will be the first state to mandate that all egg-producing chickens have more space to roam.
(Related: "Mail-Order Chickens: USPS Ships Live Birds by the Thousands" [May 25, 2006].)
The main focus was on California's U.S. $337-million egg industry, which produces about 6 percent of the nation's table eggs. (Watch a video of the world's 'biggest' chicken egg.)
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