SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec. 8, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Seeking a clear understanding on what housing systems will meet the standards of Proposition 2, JS West, one of California's leading egg farmers, filed a lawsuit today against the State of California. The suit is only asking for clarity on what Proposition 2 requires, it is not challenging the legality of the law.
"We need clear regulations for hen housing so our company and our industry knows exactly how much space to provide for egg-laying hens and what type of housing systems will be legal," said Jill Benson, a JS West vice president and family member. She added, "We aren't challenging the law but simply asking for the legal standards so we know how to comply."
The lawsuit seeks a determination of the specific types of housing systems that will meet the requirements of Proposition 2 because the law does not provide the exact size or dimension for an enclosure. Farmers need more specific housing standards beyond simply stating that "neither farmers nor their employees" may confine any egg-laying hen in an enclosure "for all or the majority of any day, in a manner that prevents" the hen from "lying down, standing up, or fully extending" her "limbs" and "turning around freely." The law also says a hen must be able to fully extend "all limbs without touching the side of an enclosure, including, in the case of egg-laying hens, fully spreading both wings without touching the side of an enclosure or other egg-laying hens." It defines an enclosure as "any cage, crate, or other structure" which is "used to confine" a hen.
Proposition 2, however, does not state the size of the enclosure, the number of hens that can occupy the enclosure, the density, or otherwise specify the furnishings within the enclosure. JS West believes it understands what is required but without a legally binding determination, this is simply an opinion that can unfortunately be disputed after JS West spends an estimated $30 million over the next four years to convert all its housing to be in compliance with Proposition 2.
"The law raises more questions than answers which is why we filed the lawsuit. Compliance requires such a significant amount of time and money to be spent before the law takes effect that our family simply cannot wait until 2015 to comply nor can we afford to guess wrong," said Benson of JS West.
JS West recently spent millions of dollars to provide a more suitable living area for hens which is consistent with the European Union standards and the company believes the new living area complies with Proposition 2. The new housing, called an "enriched colony housing system," includes enclosures that are four feet by twelve feet, which enables each hen to sit, stand, stretch and turn around. With the filing of the lawsuit, JS West is specifically seeking a determination if its new enriched colony system is compliant with Proposition 2 so the company has sufficient time to convert the rest of its hen houses prior to the 2015 implementation.
The American Humane Association has certified the enriched colony housing system at JS West as humane as it gives hens the opportunity to participate in activities that come naturally. The same housing system has been used in the European Union for more than ten years and complies with the stringent European Animal Welfare standards which go into effect in 2012. Studies have found that the enriched colony housing system is superior to other systems.
With the enriched colony housing system, there are furnishings such as perches, scratch pads and nest boxes which enable the hens to engage in their natural behaviors. The new enclosure protects hens from outside predators while providing a clean, safe environment for the hens. JS West's enriched housing system can be viewed twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week at www.jswest.com.
The lawsuit, filed in Fresno, comes at a time when many California egg farmers are pondering if, how and where they will farm when the law goes into effect on January 1, 2015. It is hoped that the lawsuit will result in guidance so that JS West and other egg farmers have the necessary time to fund and make the necessary changes.
"No one wants to file a lawsuit but California's egg farmers and consumers need the State of California to step up and resolve the confusion of Proposition 2 as soon as possible. If egg farmers don't know what the rules are soon, there is a real risk that they and the jobs of the more 4,000 people they employ may be jeopardized," said Benson.
California is the nation's fifth largest egg producer. Each year, more than 19 million laying hens produce more than 4.9 billion eggs in the state.
SOURCE JS West