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California sets eggs-ample for rest of country with humane hen cage law

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California Gov. Schwarzenegger signed the humane cage law for laying hens into law this week. But this generation of hens won't benefit from the change. The new rules don't take effect until 2015.

Animal right activists and voters with humane leanings won a huge victory over well-financed, powerful egg ranchers in 2008 by overwhelmingly voting for a humane cage law for laying hens.

With no explanation as to why it took so long, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger finally signed the legislationA.B. 1437, requiring all eggs produced in the state must be from chickens caged in containers that allow the hens to stand up, fully extend their legs, heads and wings, and turn around freely without touching the sides or tops of the cages or another animal.

The law also applies to pregnant pigs and veal calves, but since there are few veal farmers in the state, that portion of the bill is almost moot, and the state’s largest producer of pork has promised that it will eliminate the small crates before the law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

The delay in the effective date is to give farmers a chance to convert to the new cages, but others say it’s to give them time to move their egg production businesses out of state.

The bill will affect as many as 19 million laying hens. The law does not apply to eggs produced in other states.

Such legislation has been in the works for more than two decades, but it took a ballot proposition by the people to pass the law, which was supported by such notables as the son of singer Mel Torme, Tracy, Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Oprah and the Humane Society of the United States.

"Californians have made it clear that they don't want unsafe eggs from hens crammed into cages, and we applaud the Legislature and governor for heeding this call," said Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society president.

The ASPCA, Sierra Club California, Planning and Conservation League, Center for Food Safety, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Bon Appétit Management Company and dozens of other organizations also backed the legislation, according to the Humane Society.

California voters also passed Prop 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act in 2008. With 64 percent of voters supporting, Prop 2 recieved more votes than any citizen initiative in California history. Prop 2 goes into effect at the same time as A.B. 1437.

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