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The states of Oregon and Washington are attempting to follow in California’s footsteps by expanding the size of cages that egg-laying hens are confined to. In 2008, Californians passed Proposition 2 in a landslide decision which essentially phases out cages to confine hens. Since then, California also passed a law requiring that all whole eggs sold statewide be battery cage-free by 2015. The rest of the Pacific Northwest took notes and are now trying to get their own initiatives on the upcoming ballots.
Washingtonians for Humane Farms has been collecting signatures to place its measure on this November’s ballot, which would require that egg-laying hens have enough room to extend their wings. The measure would require that eggs sold in the state are produced in compliance with this modest standard. It would prevent Washington factory farms from cramming over six million egg-laying hens into tiny cages where they can barely move for their entire lives. And Oregonians for Humane Farms recently began efforts to place a similar measure on the November 2012 ballot—one that would improve the lives of about 2.5 million egg-laying hens in the state.
Various veterinarians, small farmers, businesses, and animal welfare, environmental, and food safety organizations have endorsed the Washington and Oregon initiatives. Many Pacific Northwest restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, and schools have joined the national movement away from serving consumers eggs from caged hens.
Caged hens are kept in cramped and dismal conditions. They are caged alone for most of their life, even though chickens are social creatures. These factory farms do little in the way of hygiene, allowing the chicken feces to gather up in huge mountains underneath the cages. The hens on lower cages are also covered in feces from roommates on the top levels. A normal hen produces 100 eggs a year; these caged hens are forced to lay 250-300 eggs a year. The nearly daily egg laying has depleted the hen’s system of calcium. Because of the tremendously small cages, nearly 90 percent of egg-laying eggs have osteoporosis.
These factory farms have put rural farmers out of business by forcing the hens to overproduce so dramatically. Whether you care about the chicken’s plights or you want to support small, locally owned businesses, consider paying the extra dime or two to buy caged free eggs at your market. Until all states follow California’s lead, which they will eventually, you can lead the charge in your state.