Central Valley firm says it is building first Prop 2-compliant hen house
September 16, 2009
• J. S. West & Companies to build in Merced County
• But Humane Society says it won’t work
What is claimed by its owner to be the first commercial egg production facility that complies with the stringent hen housing goals approved by Californians voters in Proposition 2 is to be built by J. S. West & Companies of Modesto.
The new system will be built in Merced County and will feature what West calls an "enriched colony system" for egg-laying hens. This system of housing hens has been in place in Europe for more than 10 years and serves as home for millions of UK and European laying hens. Enriched colony systems are incorporated in the existing researched and approved European Union standards, the company says.
But the Humane Society of the United States says West is wrong and that the facility “will not meet the standards established by the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.”
The company says the system will satisfy and enhance Proposition 2 requirements for improving animal welfare, incorporating perches, scratch areas, claw shortening mats and privacy areas for hens to lay their eggs.
"California voters made it clear that they wanted to give hens more room and we have risen to that challenge and delivered a solution," says Eric Benson, president of J.S. West.
Not so, says the Humane Society.
“A legal sheet of paper's worth of space for each bird is not even close to compliant with California law, and it's unwise of producers to spend millions of dollars to build a facility that will be obviously illegal in 2015," says Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for society. A slightly modified cage system does not comply," continued Fearing. "California egg producers should begin their efforts to move to cage-free systems to comply with Proposition 2 and to meet the wishes of voters."
Housing will be constructed for more than 150,000 birds, which represents approximately 8 percent of the company's total hen population, and will cost more than $3.2 million. The project is projected to be complete in June of 2010.
"This project represents a substantial investment for our family and, frankly, a serious financial risk since our state still hasn't adopted standards to clarify the vaguely written Proposition 2," says Mr. Benson. "We felt now was the time to show Sacramento, the industry and animal welfare interests how a post-Proposition 2 facility might look. We are under serious time constraints, with only 4 1/2 years to decide the future of California egg production and we need to move the dialogue forward."
Mr. Benson says he hopes that the construction of the facility will spur continued debate and encourage lawmakers and others to come up with clear guidance and specific standards.
J.S. West is a 100-year-old family farming business based in Modesto. The company employs more than 285 people and sells more than 100,000 dozen eggs per day.