As of January 2024, California is now cage-free. This rule applies to all products, including imports, a precedent that should pave the way for the EU. The ban on cages, known as Proposition 12, was put to a vote and approved by more than 62% of voters in 2018. The legislation bans extreme confinement of laying hens and calves raised for veal from 2022, but pig producers (the biggest sector impacted by the legislation) were given a transition period until the end of December 2023.  As of January 2024, the legislation applies to all sectors.

This is one of the most progressive pieces of animal welfare legislation in the world. It will significantly reduce suffering for animals as it sets specific minimum space requirements for animals raised for food, effectively banning cages for laying hens, sows, and calves. The legislation has the potential to improve the lives of millions of animals in California, but also around the world as it bans sales of imported products derived from animals raised in these conditions.

Businesses and producers exporting to California, the biggest economy in the US  valued at around $3.8 trillion in 2023, will have to comply with the ban. Producers such as the Canadian pig company DuBreton announced it was Prop 12-certified in November 2023. In the UK, the Red Tractor Certification scheme, which already assesses farms to ensure they meet certain animal welfare requirements, will also give farmers the option for Prop 12 checks.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) had challenged the cage-free rules considering they breached the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. However, the Supreme Court upheld the right of California to set its own animal welfare standards for all products, regardless of their origin.

Now, the legislation is  having a spillover effect across the country. The wheels are turning in Massachusetts, which will impose housing requirements for animals. Michigan also passed a bill which mandates cage-free conditions for laying hens and prohibits the sale of caged eggs by December 2024. At least 15 other US States have already banned sow stalls, battery cages for hens, crates for calves raised for veal, and other practices that negatively impact animal welfare.

Proposition 12 paves the way to include imported products in the much awaited revision of the EU’s animal welfare legislation. At the moment, most of the EU’s animal welfare standards do not apply to imports, thereby making low welfare products from abroad cheaper to import, which fuels cruel animal production in third countries.

As shown in the latest special Eurobarometer on animal welfare, 84% of Europeans believe that something has to be done to change the way we import animal products, either by imposing import requirements or a very strict labelling system.

The European Commission must take the opportunity to listen to EU citizens and adopt more import requirements related to animal welfare.


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