Getting Cagey about “Humane”

With “Governator” Schwarzenegger signing an HSUS-backed bill extending "Proposition 2" egg requirements to out-of-state farmers selling eggs in California, one thing seems clear: HSUS will continue proposing policies that drive up the cost of eggs, and then fight tooth and nail to get them implemented.

One California egg producer has already spent $3.2 million on changes to its facilities just to comply with Proposition 2’s future requirements. And HSUS is saying that it’s not enough.

Why? Because the company upgraded its cages to add more room. (The result is known as “enriched cages” or “furnished cages.”) HSUS wants all California egg farmers to go completely cage-free.

So is HSUS being a bunch of uncompromising ideologues, or is this one egg producer trying to skirt the rules?

Consider a few things: The American Humane Certified program, run by the American Humane Association, took the position last month that enriched cages for egg-laying are indeed "humane." Animal welfare specialist Temple Grandin—yes, the Temple Grandin, herself oft-quoted by HSUS leaders—thinks these new cages are a big improvement over the old ones. And enriched cages will be standard in most of Europe in 2012.

Somebody is left out on the fringes here, and its initials are H.S.U.S.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has published a comparison of different hen housing systems, judging them all on various measures of animal welfare. Comparing enriched cages with the free-range systems that HSUS wants, the former offers several benefits over the latter—including lower rates of mortality and disease among the birds. The newer cages also let hens express natural behaviors, just like HSUS seems to want.

In other words, it’s hard to claim—scientifically, that is—that these newer cages are inhumane. (Emotionally manipulative claims, however, are a different matter.)

So what’s really at stake here? That word: “humane.” HSUS seems to want a monopoly on it, even though other animal welfare-oriented groups (and plenty of science) disagree with HSUS’s agenda.

HSUS looks prepared to continue throwing its legal weight around in California. One indication of this is how HSUS has opposed attempts by California lawmakers to specifically define what “Proposition 2” compliance means. The (very vague) language that voters approved in 2008 gives HSUS’s legal team enough wiggle room to hassle farmers who don’t see things HSUS’s way. In the long run, that's yet another way of driving up costs.

Let’s be honest: Enriched cages for egg-laying hens could be furnished with couches, Jacuzzis, treadmills, and satellite TV, and HSUS would still complain about them. That’s because the animal-rights vision of what’s “humane” is ultimately outside the mainstream.

HSUS's leaders don't believe in eating eggs. Period. (Same goes for meat and cheese.) The only “humane” diet, in their view, is a vegan one. So the whole "cage-free" campaign is a stalking horse, meant to shift the whole game closer and closer to HSUS’s ultimate objective.

There’s nothing wrong with having that viewpoint, of course. But it looks like HSUS, with its covert agenda, can only make "progress" by being dishonest about it.