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This Victorious California Ballot Measure Could Improve the Lives of Farm Animals Nationwide

Lester Lefkowitz / Stone / Getty Images

One of the biggest winning groups in Tuesday's midterm elections didn't even get to cast a ballot: the nation's farm animals.


California's Proposition 12, which requires farmers to give more space for hens, pigs and veal calves, passed with 61 percent of the vote, as ABC 7 News reported Wednesday.

But the new law could impact animals well outside California's borders, as The Huffington Post pointed out:

Proposition 12, also known as the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, also will eventually ban the sale of agricultural products in California that don't meet the state's new requirements. That means the new law may influence how farmers across the country raise their animals.

The law will be implemented in two stages.

1. By 2020, all California egg-laying hens must have at least one square foot of space, and each veal calf must have at least 43 square feet of space.

2. By 2022, female breeding pigs must have at least 24 feet of space, all chickens must be raised cage-free with at least 1 square foot of space each, and all agricultural products sold in California must have been raised in conditions that meet these standards, even if they come from other states.

California voters already tried to legislate more room for animals in 2008 with the passage of Proposition 2. But that law didn't end up being effective enough for animal rights advocates because it only called for more space without setting numbered requirements. That meant that state officials decided that farmers could still keep chickens in cages as long as they were large enough.

But Proposition 2 provided a successful trial run to see whether its requirements for out-of-state farmers would hold up in court. Twelve states sued to stop the law from applying to producers in other states, and judges so far have rejected those suits, The Palm Springs Desert Sun reported.

However, the implementation of both laws is threatened by a provision in the House version of the Farm Bill, as The Desert Sun explained:

The so-called "King Amendment," introduced by Steve King, R-IA, whose district produces more eggs than any other in the nation, stipulates that states can't impose animal welfare standards onto products imported from other states.

King says the law would mitigate "the serious economic harm the California law is currently causing to egg producers and consumers in Iowa and elsewhere."

There is no guarantee that King's amendment will make it into the final draft, though. More than 30 senators have written a letter opposing the amendment, and the 2014 version of the Farm Bill excised similar language before passing.

While Proposition 12 was supported by a wide coalition of animal welfare and environmental groups including the Humane Society of the United States and the Sierra Club California, not all animal lovers thought it was a good idea.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) opposed the proposition because, they argued, it would still allow birds to remain caged until 2022, and didn't mandate nearly enough space after that date.

"We can't and don't consider it remotely humane to confine birds to a miserly 1 square foot of space—and this wouldn't even be required until years in the future," PETA wrote in a blog post explaining its position.

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