Two recent studies indicate that agricultural regulations proposed by the Humane Society of the United States for Ohio, and that passed in California, spell bad news for consumers as well as farmers. One of these studies, done by Dr. Luther Tweeten, Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University, is on "the economics of animal welfare regulations proposed for Ohio." The second was from Dr. Don Bell, Poultry Specialist Emeritus, the University of California titled "The Implications of California's Proposition 2 On the Nation's Egg Industry."
These studies were done independently of each other but had many of the same conclusions about the adverse effects of the HSUS proposal for Ohio and that was passed in California. In Ohio, consumers would be affected but in a somewhat different way than California.
California had about 19 million laying hens in 2007 compared to 27 million in Ohio. Few states adjacent to California had much egg production while Indiana and Pennsylvania are not far behind Ohio in numbers.
The passage of the regulations impacting the poultry industry in California will essentially shut down the industry in that state in the next six years unless the courts rule it unconstitutional. The price of eggs to consumers will increase from 26 to 45 percent, depending on the kind of housing finally adopted.
Economic losses in California will include the loss of about 5,750 jobs in that state. Egg sales had amounted to about $370 million a year, which will be lost plus the ripple effects of that amount which will be much greater.
So, you see, everyone in California will be losers if that legislation holds.
In Ohio, legislation such as that in California, according to the studies, would cause the loss of more than 7,900 jobs and the income associated with those jobs. Ohio's laying hen enterprises will be essentially destroyed.
Fewer poultry farms would mean less demand for Ohio crops, such as corn and soybeans. The economic impact of that would be serious.
While Ohio would lose jobs and wage earners, consumers would not see quite the same increase in egg prices that Californians will see. Surrounding states such as Indiana and Pennsylvania would be happy to ship eggs to us. They would gain jobs at Ohio's expense and can easily and quickly ship their eggs to us.
Even more concerning is that HSUS can be expected to pursue national legislation to impose regulations on all U.S. livestock producers.
Are laying hens any more comfortable and healthy using the proposal that would outlaw cage laying systems? There is no research or science that supports that notion. Cage forms of poultry housing was introduced in this country in the 1930s. Since that time poultry farmers have made continuous improvements in housing, equipment and management. This has been done by farmers with the help of various research programs by universities and others.
As a result of this more than 70 years of experience, today's poultry flocks are healthier and more productive with lower level of mortality than any time in our history.
Confined types of animal housing has a number of benefits. Animals are protected from extreme temperatures, predators, and various diseases and parasites from the soil. They can be closely watched for health problems and eggs can be fresher and cleaner.
With sound management, large confined operations can produce food at low cost to consumers without harming the environment. In those rare cases where we have poor management and problems, governmental inspections have either brought about the needed changes or shut the farms down.
Parker is an independent agricultural writer for the Tribune.