Thursday, March 12, 2015

Californian chickens to be happier under the new law? That is a million dollar question!

Is it humane to apply human standards to animals? That is the million dollar question now being asked by some critics who feel that the new law promulgated recently in the Californian state of the US has gone too far in upholding animal welfare. The issue is simple but the answer can be very complex! The new law stipulates how large a chicken cage must be and unless poultry farmers raise the layers in such cages their eggs cannot be sold in any market in that state. On the face of it it looks very "humane" but scratch a little deep then the realization comes that it does not make much sense. This is what the critics tell us.They ask the question whether the birds are happier now than before? Who can answer that question except the chickens themselves! If the contention that larger cages are more dangerous to the birds is some what difficult to understand but they illustrate their view by pointing out that birds in larger cages are more prone to physical harm and diseases. One of the reasons for small cages being order of the day is that if more moving space is given the birds start attacking each other, waste the energy through unnecessary movements and do not put on weight which in turn affect the meat yield. Listen to these opposing arguments and decide for yourself where the truth lies!

"California's revolutionary animal-welfare rules — which mandate that chickens be given enough room to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely — are finally going into effect with the new year, 2015. Voters passed the law (it was a ballot initiative) in 2008. Since then, there have been legislative tweaks and a lot of legal wrangling, all culminating in a law that bars selling eggs in California unless they come from chickens that are given a little more room to move around. There are two things that make this fascinating to a food-policy nerd like me. First, instead of primarily regulating farmers, the rules primarily regulate eaters. So far, voters and lawmakers have been a lot more interested in telling farmers what to do than in passing laws that constrain what eaters can buy. The distinction has massive implications for the effects of the law. Second, the rules institute a completely new logic for determining animal welfare than has traditionally been used in American farming. That has chicken farmers tearing at their hair in frustration: If you accept the traditional logic, these animal-welfare rules may actually leave the chickens worse off; but if you accept the logic of the reformers, it's clear that this will be an improvement (if only a marginal one). It's one of those tricky situations where the conclusions matter less than the reasoning used to reach those conclusions."

Traditionalists always feel that old is gold and chicken and egg produced by large farms to day do not taste as well as they did during olden days, say about 50-60 years ago. It is difficult to vouchsafe for this bland statement without any comparative scientific study. But it a fact that even to day many consumers have a distinct preference for cage free chickens and free roaming pasture animals for which they are ready to pay a little more in the market. If this is the trend industry has to fulfill the consumer asp[aspiration by changing their current practices irrespective of the cost involved. One of the problems inherent in a vast market with no boundaries is that such standards, if not accepted by all the producers across the country, there is bound to be wide price differences with most consumers invariably choosing to go for the cheaper versions whether they are bad or indifferent! If Californian eggs become costlier because of new cage rules, cheaper eggs from neighboring states are bound to dominate the domestic market. If that happens, what will happen to the domestic poultry industry? Probably the new law which started kicking in only recently, let us wait and watch the consequences of its operation, if any.  


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