Proposition 12: The Persecution of Farmers to Promote a Vegan Agenda

By Beverly Schwenning for Protect The Harvest

In the Riverside County farming community of San Jacinto, California, operations on family owned Demler Farms are returning to normal after Proposition 12 upended its egg production during the past few years. The Demler Family has been in the egg business for 70 years, yet the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) funded, 2018, Prop. 12 ballot initiative imposed unnecessary regulations on California’s egg farmers that nearly led the Demler family to shut down their farm. It was only with a great deal of patience and perseverance that the Demler family was able to struggle through the daunting construction and logistical mandates of Prop. 12 to meet the state’s unscientific, factually inaccurate, unnecessary, restrictions and requirements of the new regulations. 

California Prop. 12 was established to allegedly improve the welfare of farm animals and was backed by dozens of animal rights organizations and lobbyists. The proposition set minimum space requirements for the housing of breeding pigs, veal calves, and egg-laying hens. Under the proposition’s requirements, egg-laying hens need one square foot of floor space but, when a farmer has thousands of chickens, that can be a daunting requirement. While Demler Farms has always been committed to the ethical and humane treatment of its egg-laying hens, the new regulations imposed on their farm due to Prop. 12’s passage posed significant challenges for egg farmers throughout the state. 

Financial burden creates uncertainty

When Prop. 12 passed in 2018, pork and egg farmers throughout California, and those across the nation who supplied to California, had to scramble to implement new plans. Many outside California have not, and may not, make the required investments to meet Prop. 12 requirements. For Demler Farms, one of the most challenging aspects of the process was funding a project of this scope, as it would require a multi-million-dollar investment to modify housing for their chickens. New chicken barns would need to be constructed to comply, as upgrading existing structures would not be feasible. The Demlers also had to invest in upgraded equipment, infrastructure, and cover labor costs for this project.

Finding a lender willing to provide the money necessary to build chicken houses that would comply with the state’s new standards was no easy task since, like many farmers, the Demlers have limited resources. Convincing lenders to provide funding for costly infrastructure upgrades that would yield minimal, if any, additional income or profits made the task that much more difficult. After months of meetings, plans, and proposals, the Demlers secured the capital needed to start construction. The Demlers prefer not to disclose the construction cost, but they did say it was an amount that was hard to wrap their minds around and question if they will ever fully recoup the investment. 

The long road to compliance 

Prop. 12 gave farmers about four years to update their animal housing before the new law went into effect. While that may sound reasonable, building new structures in California is not a simple process. As one might imagine, California has some of the most stringent building codes and environmental restrictions in the country. The Demlers had to present their plan to multiple entities, and undergo numerous rounds of revisions, before they were granted building permits. This process took nearly a year, which caused a tremendous amount of stress. The Demlers still had a business to run while managing the construction of their new facilities, which added to the complexity and stress of Prop. 12 compliance. 

Throughout construction, the project was inspected by the local government, CalFire, and other state agencies to ensure all state and local building ordinances were being met. This resulted in multiple changes to the project and subsequent construction delays. Building supply and labor shortages added to the delays, which got so bad the Demlers considered scratching the project and shutting down the farm. Dealing with the requirements to meet Prop. 12’s mandates led the Demlers to question if the construction work could be completed before the new laws went into effect. Eventually, construction wrapped up and the Demlers could focus on the next logistical hurdle – transitioning birds into their new housing. 

The ordering and delivery process of chickens had to be timed perfectly to ensure there would be no disruption in production. With the Prop. 12 compliance deadline looming, and orders to fill, the new chicks were delivered just in time, and the new, cage-free, chicken houses were up and running. 

An unexpected challenge

Changing how their chickens were housed has been more challenging than the Demlers anticipated. Since the regulations were created without considering the animals’ natural behaviors, the chickens are now exposed to unnatural living situations, which has proven dangerous. Chickens enjoy being close to one another but also like to peck one another to assert dominance. The “pecking order” was more manageable when the chickens were housed in smaller cages with fewer birds and limited contact. 

When the chickens were caged in smaller groups their behavior and health were much easier to monitor. If one became ill, or needed more food, it would be quickly identified and handled. Now, because so many birds are moving around a large space, it is challenging to determine if one isn’t eating or is injured by the other chickens. Additionally, when a chicken does become ill, or injured it is no longer allowed to be nursed back to health in a hospital cage. The Demlers are now seeing a higher mortality rate than before moving to cage-free facilities, which is another adverse impact to their production and income. 

Farmers need our support

Not all affected farmer operations made it through Prop. 12’s requirements, and those who did need our support moving forward. In 2018, more than 60 percent of California voters were persuaded by HSUS’s multi-million-dollar anti-animal-agriculture crusade to vote in favor of Prop. 12, without truly understanding the implications for farmers, food inflation and food security. Prop. 12’s mandates reach beyond its borders to prescribe animal housing requirements for all pork, eggs and veal sold in California, even though the state produces only about one percent of the eggs and pork consumed by its residents.

Like everything HSUS and other animal rights extremist organizations advocate, their ultimate goals include reduced animal agriculture, increased prices and less affordability for animal products, and a cult-like crusade for a vegan society. 

Policymakers, industry stakeholders and consumers/voters need to better understand why the ideologies spewed by animal rights extremist organizations don’t make sense and discourage other states from pursuing similarly restrictive laws lacking science, facts, truth and proven practices to back them. Educated citizens who vote can better ensure A Free and Fed America™ for the long-term benefit of the vast majority of Americans who enjoy consuming safe, nutritious, accessible, abundant and affordable products resulting from the hard work of this nation’s farmers and ranchers engaged in animal agriculture.

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