Helping animals, or hurting farmers?

VALLEY CENTER, Calif. Armstrong Egg Farms in Valley Center has both cage-free hens and those confined to cages. The caged hens make up the majority. Together, the hens produce more than 650,000 eggs each day. The family business has been around for 60 years, but the Armstrongs worry about what will happen if Proposition 2 goes through.

"It would put us out of business. It would make it so we couldn't farm in California," said Ryan Armstrong, Armstrong Egg Farms.

Video on the "Yes on Prop 2" campaign Web site shows caged chickens stacked on top of each other in dark, dirty conditions.

"All animals deserve humane treatment, including animals raised for food," said Wayne Pacelle, CEO, Humane Society of the United States.

The initiative, supported by the Humane Society of the U.S., would ban California farmers from raising egg-laying hens, calves and pigs in small cages or crates by 2015.

"Proposition 2 simply seeks to allow certain animals on factory farms to be allowed to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs," said Pacelle.

Meanwhile, "Yes on Prop 2" has gained star power.

"You would never think putting animals into confined area when it could not move at all," said TV talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres.

Critics argue there are no veal producers and only one major pork farm in the state. But egg farms, a $330-million-a-year industry, are at risk.

There are 60,000 cage-free chickens at Armstrong Egg Farms, but even the cage-free hens would be affected if Proposition 2 went through. Armstrong farmers say they would have to get rid of two-thirds of their birds just to meet the requirements. In addition, the Armstrongs say reconfiguring equipment and buying another 200 acres to make more room could cost them as much as $20 million. Those costs could lead to doubling the cost of locally produced eggs.

"There will be a one cent per egg increase if all the current battery-cage operations convert to cage free," said Pacelle.

Both sides on the issue also have their own scientific studies.

"Twenty times higher rates of salmonella in these battery cage facilities than cage-free facilities," said Pacelle.

Armstrong argues cage-free chickens have a higher mortality rate. He says they have more health problems since they are free to roam in their droppings, unlike the caged birds.

"The risk of salmonella in caged birds has dropped dramatically since we started housing them in modern cage systems," said Armstrong.

Armstrong admits chicken farming is not glamorous, but they make sure their chickens are treated well.

"Our veterinarians are out here monthly to make sure we have the best farming practices for our hens," said Armstrong.

It seems this is an emotional issue for those for and against Proposition 2, as both try to get voters on their side.

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