In May California Assembly member Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) withdrew a bill she had introduced to ban the use of gestation crates for pigs and enclosures/tethers for cows.
The bill was supported by a number of animal rights groups, including Farm Sanctuary which successfully pushed a ban on pig gestation crates in Florida. The bill apparently did not have the seven votes it would have needed to clear the Assembly Agriculture Committee.
The bill will likely surface again and if it fails Farm Sanctuary or some other group will likely try to put it on the California ballot as an initiative. Why California? Because, as in Florida, the bill would affect almost no one in the state. As an analysis of the bill commissioned by the Assembly Agriculture Committee noted,
California has roughly 27,000 sows and gilts (or first time pregnant female pigs) being farrowed (per CDFA Resource Guide 2001), which is down from 58,000 in 1993. Nationally, the total number of sows and gilts are estimated at 5.8 million, as of April 1, 2003, per National Pork Producers’ Council. California is a net importer of pork products, producing an estimated one-half of 1% of the state’s demand. California has one large sow-gilt operation, estimated to house between 5000 to 10,000 animals, and another 350 operations with over 50 animals.
The total number of calves slaughtered in California, under federal and state inspection for 2001 totaled 105,000, down from a high of 296,000 in 1996. This is believed to be a very small percentage of the nation-wide total calves slaughtered. It is roughly estimated that California veal processors import well over 98% of their veal from out-of-state producers. There is one known full time veal producer within the state, and his production method is referred to as the European method, which complies with and would be permitted under the definitions of AB 732.
So passing the ban would largely be meaningless except animal rights activists could then portray such legislation as being adopted across the country when they start to push it in states where pig production is more significant. Not a bad strategy.
The committee’s analysis was not impressed by the science either way, though it did note the American Veterinary Medical Association’s statement that “Current scientific literature indicates that gestation stalls meet each of the aforementioned criteria [for acceptable sow housing], provided the appropriate level of stockmanship is administered.” But overall, the analysis concluded,
What science is correct? Scientific references made by the proponents and opponents have used different parts of the same or similar studies to support their positions. The age of some of the studies referenced may no longer be relevant due to the changes in the swine breeds, knowledge gained and improvements made to gestation pens used today versus those used 25 years ago. Most studies have focused on specific health issues and have made assumptions regarding other observations which have been referenced by supporter and opponents to support their conclusions. Studies must have the ability to have a consistent environment or control, and test animals in a fashion that can be evaluated for specific purposes, in order to have a valid conclusion.
Because the level of cattle and pig production in California is so small, the main effect of the bill, in fact, would likely be to shift jobs in these industries into other states,
State law cannot and will not influence the husbandry practices of other states, so sows, gilts and veal calves will likely to continued to be produced using current methods. The impact to our state farm workers will be that fewer year-round employment opportunities will exist.
The full text of the proposed bill can be read here.
Bill Analysis: AB 723. May 1, 2003.
Bill banning crates for pregnant pigs pulled. Larry Mitchell, Chico Enterprise Record, May 9, 2003.