The Economics of Animal Welfare Regulations Proposed for Ohio
By: Luther Tweeten, Emeritus Chaired Professor, Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, Ohio State University
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) seeks to phase out battery cages for Ohio's laying hens, gestation crates for its pregnant pigs, and crates for veal calves in favor of group housing (FarmPolicy [firstname.lastname@example.org], May 5, 2009). As the nation's second largest producer of eggs (27 million laying hens) and a major producer of swine and dairy cattle, Ohio agriculture has a major stake in the outcome of this HSUS effort.
HSUS is likely to put its proposal before Ohio voters next year if poultry and livestock producers don't cooperate with HSUS to write legislation changing the way producers operate. This is no idle threat. Last year California voters approved a similar measure (Proposition 2 or Prop 2) mandating as of January 1, 2015 that it shall be a misdemeanor for any person to confine a pregnant pig, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen in a manner not allowing the animal to turn around freely, stand up, lie down, and fully extend its limbs. At least four other states have passed laws similar to California's Proposition 2.
Is such legislation a good idea? The following discussion is especially focused on laying hens, the enterprise likely to be most affected in Ohio. The following analysis addresses animal welfare dimensions of Prop 2-type regulations before addressing the economic dimensions.
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When legislation like Prop 2 is passed, it has consequences that extend much further than just livestock farmers. All of the supporting industries of the livestock business suffer as well. This results in family farms going out of business, farm workers losing their jobs, and consumers losing choices at the grocery stores. The worst part is that the welfare of the livestock this affects doesn’t improve. Voters need to start making decisions on animal welfare based on what is best for the livestock, not what makes them feel better.