California Hen Rules Get Humane Society Backing

     FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – An animal rights group wants to defend a California law that regulates how farmers can cage egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and veal calves.
     The Humane Society of the United States moved Monday to intervene in, and dismiss, a lawsuit filed by the Association of California Egg Farmers in Fresno County Superior Court.
     That November complaint alleges that California passed an unconstitutionally vague law in Proposition 2, which requires, among other things, that egg-laying hens cannot be confined in cages that prevent them from “lying down, standing up, and fully extending his or her limbs” and from “turning around freely.”
     Since the law allegedly fails to state the required dimensions or densities of hen enclosures, farmers say they do not know how to avoid the criminal punishments and fines for noncompliance once the law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2015. Penalties include up to 180 days imprisonment and fines of up to $1,000 per violation.
     The farmers’ group says most of its members do not meet Prop. 2’s requirement, and that the law will force them to replace or remodel housing systems for more than 19 million egg-laying hens on commercial egg farms in the state.
     Since its 2008 approval by voters, Proposition 2 has already beat two court challenges.
     The first unsuccessfully tried to clarify the type and dimension of housing for hens.
     The second, filed by egg producer William Cramer, challenged Prop. 2 under the U.S. Constitution, but a federal judge dismissed that case with prejudice in September.
     “Proposition 2 establishes a clear test that any law enforcement officer can apply, and that test does not require the law enforcement officer to have the investigative acumen of Columbo to determine if an egg farmer is in violation of the statute,” U.S. District Judge John Walter said.
     The Humane Society says the latest challenge will similarly fail.
     “The people of California have spoken, and the federal courts have spoken – California will phase out some of the cruelest confinement practices as of 2015,” Humane Society senior vice president Jonathan Lovvorn said in a statement. “Instead of filing duplicative and frivolous lawsuits, the egg industry should be working to implement Proposition 2’s straightforward animal welfare requirements.”
     The Humane Society says it is working with egg farmers nationwide to pass federal legislation that cover the entire U.S. egg industry, which includes 285 million U.S. laying hens.
     It is represented pro bono by Schiff Hardin in San Francisco and its own animal protection litigation section, which Lovvorn heads.
     On Friday, the group asked the court to sustain its general demurrer.

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