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

Animals
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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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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