California's Animal Rights Initiative Is an Abuse of the Ballot Box

Voters shouldn't be asked to make decisions about how much space a chicken needs in its cage.


Critics of California's voter-initiative process often rail against "ballot-box budgeting," which refers to the way these measures often impose major budget outlays by democratic fiat. Average voters probably can't even name all of their representatives, let alone explain how the state's finances work. Yet they are called upon to make complex fiscal decisions based usually on campaign mailers and ballot titles.

I've got no problem with voters deciding broad, easily understood issues. Should a gas tax increase be repealed? That's the topic of Proposition 6. Had the state attorney general given that one a fair title and summary, it would at least be a simple up-or-down vote on gas taxes. The voting public is perfectly capable of making such decisions—or at least as capable as the not-always-so-brilliant lawmakers who represent them in the Senate and Assembly.

But, increasingly, initiatives involve complex budgeting and regulatory matters that might take hours of analysis to cast an informed vote. They sometimes are placed on the ballot by special interest groups and arguably are money grabs. Others are placed on the ballot by groups with an ideological agenda, but they often are no easier to understand than the bond measures.

A good rule of thumb: If you read the ballot summary, pore over pages of explanation from the admirably fair-minded Legislative Analyst's Office, peruse the official pro and con arguments in the voter booklet and still have no clue what the darn thing would do, then that measure has no business on the ballot. The best thing is to vote "no" on such measures, which are a misuse of the initiative process.

Perhaps the best—but not only—example of this foolishness on the Nov. 6 ballot is Proposition 12, which "establishes new standards for confinement of specified farm animals" and "bans sale of noncomplying products." It sounds simple, in that it proposes minimum space requirements for farmers who raise veal calves, breeding pits and egg-laying hens. But delve into the details, and this one is anything but clear cut.

One finds animal-welfare advocates on both sides of the issue, thus making it nearly impossible to determine whether this potentially costly spate of regulations would even improve the lot of some of the state's farm animals. After spending too much time researching it and still having no idea how to vote, I called my daughter, an agriculture student, and had her explain it to me. Voting really shouldn't be this difficult. (She's a "no.")

For instance, the "yes" argument, signed by the state director for the Humane Society of the United States and two others, argues that the measure "will eliminate inhumane and unsafe products from these abused animals from the California marketplace" and "reduces the risk of people being sickened by food poisoning and factory farm pollution." It argues that it's "wrong to cram a hen tightly in an overcrowded wire cage for her entire life."

There really isn't a spate of food poisoning caused by the state's already highly regulated farms. I'm not immune to concerns about the life of animals, even chickens. In fact, I took a break from writing this column to go into our back pasture and provide some overripe peaches and stale bread to our six hens, and they squawked with joy (hey, it sounded joyful). Nevertheless, wasn't that cage issue resolved a decade ago?

That's when California voters approved Proposition 2, which according to the LAO, "generally prohibits California farmers from housing pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens in cages or crates that do not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs." My entire family voted "yes" on that, even though we're aware of the downside of imposing costly new regulations on the people who provide our food. We have quite a few farm animals (goats and chickens, mostly) and it seems inhumane to have them spend their short and dreary lives in a pen that doesn't allow them any movement.

Proposition 12 would apparently make these restrictions tougher and eliminate work-arounds from the 2008 proposition. But the "no" argument, penned by other animal activists, argues that the initiative will make things worse for our feathered friends: "Falsely promoted as a 'cage-free' measure, Proposition 12, in fact, explicitly legalizes the continued use of egg-factory cages for years to come." Opponents call it "a reckless exploitation of California's initiative process" that "puts in grave danger a wide array of existing consumer, animal, and environmental protection laws."

There need to be limited regulations that reduce animal cruelty, but which don't impede the ability of farmers to provide affordable and healthy food. Does this new initiative advance that idea? I'm as confused about it as ever, but I am certain that measures such as this should be resolved in the Legislature and not at the ballot box.

This column was first published by the Orange County Register.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at

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43 responses to “California's Animal Rights Initiative Is an Abuse of the Ballot Box

  1. What all of the attempts at “humane” farming fail to understand, or properly account for, is that “Nature is red in tooth and claw”

    The bucolic fantasy farm is just that…fantasy. Without “inhumane” farming practices like pens, fences, concentrated feeding, de-horning, castration, sex selective killing of chicks etc…

    50% of all calves would be bulls and a danger to all.
    50% of all chickens would be roosters and by violence would develop a “pecking order” in their flock.

    Far more land and a far greater number of animals would be needed to produce food because of the gross inefficiencies of letting “nature” have its way without man’s forcible intervention.

    1. Well written! And then when we want to eliminate de-horning by genetically engineering the cows to not even have horns in the first place, the ninnies and nannies get their panties in a wad about the genetically engineering!

      You can NOT out-ninny or out-nanny the world-champion ninnies and nannies!!!

      1. not for lack of trying it appears…

        1. Hey U Radioactive Dude or Dudette U…

          U tryin’ ta scare us all into thinkin’ U scary? Not working!!!

          On radioactive wastes (ionizing radiation), Google “radiation hormesis”, and see USA government study of the Taiwan thing (accidental experiment on humans) at…..MC2477708/ ? Low-dose radioactivity is actually GOOD for you! Seriously!!!

          So you are actually GOOD for us in low doses! Wrap yer brain around THAT!!!!

          1. On “helminthic therapy”, AKA gut parasite worms are GOOD for you, too, see (USA government again) or others ?
            Well anyway, WHAT is a summary of what I am saying? I thought I heard you asking about that, through my tri-cornered aluminum-foil hat, as I am sitting here?

            HERE is your summary: Holyweird is WAY off base, with their horror movies! A Giant Gut-Parasitical Radioactive Teenage Mutant Ninja Tapeworm would be GOOD for us!!! Bring it ON, ah says!!!

    2. You harvest male steers for meat before they become bulls.

      1. Veal, yes. And charge extra for veal, because it isn’t very economically efficient.

        When you castrate a young male cow (young bull), that’s when you start calling them a steer instead of a bull. Then you fatten them up some more, and a steer is less aggressive (and puts on meat faster, not converting as much feed to bullish-type behavior and attributes), and then you sell the fattened STEER, not bull, as being economically efficient. The extra efficiency pays for the castration.

        And you can sell the excised gonads as “Rocky Mountain Oysters” to boot!

    3. Agree, also nature is cruel and violent. Natural death in nature is almost never peaceful.

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  2. None of us can really, truly live in the heads of chickens or goats or pigs, and know how they think and feel; what they like and dislike… Well OK, we can reasonably surmise that they like to be fed edible animal feed, and don’t like pain. But imagining that a bunch of bureaucratic bullshit is going to improve their lot is pretty arrogant or presumptuous. Let the farmers decide!

    What next, are we going to vote each day on what we collectively are going to eat for breakfast?

    1. How else could we possibly decide what foods need to be brought in each day?
      Why, without the vote, it would be chaos!

      1. True freedom will only come when our betters (like Mike Bloomberg) choose our meals for us.

      2. Paris feeds itself — Bastiat

        Obviously some damned dead foreign male liar who couldn’t appreciate the complexities of modern society.

  3. Measures such as this should be resolved in the Legislature and not at the ballot box

    Or, if you have any faith at all in the free market, you might believe measures such as this should be decided at the cash register of the supermarket, grocery store, farmers market, restaurant or taco truck of your choice.

  4. The line about ‘everyone should serve in the military for X years,’ really should be ‘everyone should live and work on a farm for X months.’

    The lack of perspective and disneyification of the last 3 generations has caused a very large gap in reality vs perception.

    Kids should hunt and clean game. They should see what it is to raise and slaughter animals. They should see why we really have cats and dogs.

    1. That would certainly change folk’s perspective.

      I suspect that if we were to include internships on farms as a part of elementary education, the controversy about sex education would kinda fade away as well…. there was a time when that sort of thing was kind of “picked up” by seeing examples all around.

      ….well, I suppose the fact that every kid has a smart phone with internet access means we’ve come full circle on that topic… albeit with an entirely different sort of example…

      1. You are advocating for education that would NOT include hours and hours of how to obtain continuing affirmative consent at every stage of what used to be sex. How un-woke can you get?

  5. But, increasingly, initiatives involve complex budgeting and regulatory matters that might take hours of analysis to cast an informed vote.

    That is the best way to cut funding to politicians. Just vote NO. The Californian majority wants super high spending levels, so they vote for it.

    Stop being so elitist and thinking that Californians dont know what they are voting for.

    1. With that being said, spaying and neutering animals is cruel if animal cruelty is defined so broadly. No male cat wants his balls cut off.

      Whenever I raise that point to lunatic animal rights people, their eyes get glassy and foam forms at the corner of their mouth. They cannot imagine that THEY…the “righteous’ are cruel to the animals that they treat better than humans.

      1. I don’t know if you live in a ballot initiative state, but these guys are really, really deceptive. Most of the “citizen initiatives” are really being pushed by some big-money interest or another. The ad campaigns and signature-gathering, as well as the pre-election litigation are really expensive. So you tend to see a lot of regulatory capture masquerading as “saving us from industry”, a lot of “support the teachers” (or firefighters, or nurses, or ex-military) initiatives that cost a fortune and have no real return for the state or voters, a lot of “stop X”, where stopping X doesn’t really stop X but it sure does end up putting a huge pile of money in some government contractors pocket….

        The paragraph summary method is really deceptive, as they litigate and wrangle over the wording, intending to make sure that it sounds like babies will die if you don’t vote yes. Meanwhile, it would take reading a few dozen pages at a minimum to even begin to understand the implications of the proposed amendment. And that’s if you are willing to take some journalists’ opinions as authoritative.

      2. Simply ask the activist to let you neuter him as he descibes the feeling. By the way, “breeding pit” was what the guys called my apartment in graduate school.

      3. Oh GOD. When I tried to talk my last girlfriend out of cutting her poor kitties balls off, and basically used the “It’s fucked up yo! Men like having their balls! It’s Cruel!” argument… She got SOOOOOOOOOO pissed. So pissed. And then had tons of excuses.

        I get getting a female cat fixed if you don’t want kittens. It’s like a must do thing. But I’ve had male cats with their sacks intact, and they’re not some unmanageable beast monsters. And you don’t have kittens to worry about. Even with female cats, they don’t have their psychology fucked up and changed as much as males either, as their hormones don’t get changed as much by the process.

        I will NEVER cut the sack off any animal I own. Never.

      4. Oh GOD. When I tried to talk my last girlfriend out of cutting her poor kitties balls off, and basically used the “It’s fucked up yo! Men like having their balls! It’s Cruel!” argument… She got SOOOOOOOOOO pissed. So pissed. And then had tons of excuses.

        I get getting a female cat fixed if you don’t want kittens. It’s like a must do thing. But I’ve had male cats with their sacks intact, and they’re not some unmanageable beast monsters. And you don’t have kittens to worry about. Even with female cats, they don’t have their psychology fucked up and changed as much as males either, as their hormones don’t get changed as much by the process.

        I will NEVER cut the sack off any animal I own. Never.

  6. I have a short story for y’all? Illustrative of the futility of much of petty regulations. I used to tell it to my non-libertarian friends. It may sound strange, but it is no-fake-Jake true!

    My Dearly Beloved and I used to help our offspring volunteer at an animal shelter (Requirement for school Honor Society). Classic crazy old cat lady (and her hubby), with many-many un-adoptable feral, sick, etc., domestic cats in cages. We’d clean out the poop and what-not, and try not to get bit too often. ? SHE HAD A HAIRDRESSING SETUP in the middle of all of the smelly cat cages!!! To do the hair of her old-lady friends, incredible as it may seem!!! “Would you like some essence of cat poop with your hairdo?”

    Once a year, with prior warning, the hair-dressing police would come by to inspect. Out go the cats (we helped), in comes the inspector, a day or two later. In comes the cats again, later-later!

    So you can mandate all day, that the cows will be gently scratched behind the ears, twice per day, and so forth, but it’s all worthless!!! Are we going to mandate body cameras on all farmers? We do that with cops, and we STILL have abusive cops!!! Give it up, all of ye micro-managing ninnies and nannies!!

    1. But it does produce an opportunity for inspectors to have jobs. Why are you opposed to people having jobs?

      And it also produces opportunities for the extraction of bribes or the coercion of cooperation with other demands made by the state… ( I had a buddy who was forced to spend a quarter million paving a section of road in order to get his occupancy license for his building. No such law or regulation… they just told him they’d hold up the permit unless he did as the “requested”. All this came *after* the building was finished. Nice.)

    2. My biggest takeaway from this story: another idiotic school district that thinks it’s a good idea to have an unpaid labor requirement for school honors/graduation, etc.

  7. Worse is the dialysis clinic referendum. Why should people with no knowledge and no connection to the issue decide how dialysis clinics should be run. That is clearly a job for the legislature, the health department, and for dialysis patients.

    1. I’m waiting for a series of questions in the Cosmology Referendum…

      Are there entire separate universes inside black holes, yes or no?

      Is “dark matter” a bunch of scattered, small black holes, or is it an illusion caused by gravity being slightly more powerful than we’d thought, at enormously large distances, or is “dark matter” caused by some unknown small, weakly interacting, massive particles?

      Is the universe going to continue expanding forever, or will it eventually reverse in a “giant crunch”?

      Is the universe finite or infinite, in time as well as in space?

      Behold Ye, Democracy and “the wisdom of the crowds” knows ALL things!!!

    2. If you think only knowledable people or connected parties should decide issues why did you include the legislature?

  8. We have these ballot initiatives in Florida also. During my first Florida election I adopted the “if you don’t understand it, vote no” strategy. Many, if not most of these things are crafted to deliberately obfuscate their purpose. They will often have language in the summary that is directly the opposite of the actual outcome, and they will often have “grass roots” groups pushing them who’s names are directly the opposite of what they are.

    Such as: A pro-gambling industry measure proposed and pushed by the gambling industry pushed by a group called “Voters in Charge” – entirely supported by the existing casino gambling industry. Why? Well, it keeps the legislature from legalizing gambling – except for existing gambling and Indian Tribal Lands. So one could guess that this is an attempt to pull the ladder up behind them, protecting existing gaming powers from competition.

    But it is being sold as “Keep casinos from buying off the legislature”…. by the existing casinos and the Indian tribes.

    So, when in doubt…. vote no. If you really wanted my vote, you shoulda been clear about what it does.

    1. A quick google produced this summary of the proposal.

      Of note… the fake “voters in charge group has nearly $40 million.
      Voters in Charge, registered in support of the measure. The committee had raised $37.32 million and expended $22.67 million.[7] The top three contributors were Disney Worldwide Services, Inc. ($19.66 million), the Seminole Tribe of Florida ($16.78 million), and No Casinos Inc ($851,009).

      Holy crap, that’s a lot of lettuce.

      1. Meanwhile, the “vote no” side has managed to raise almost a million bucks! That’s right.. a cooooool million.

        Vote No on 3 PAC is registered to oppose the measure. The committee had raised $981,832 and spent $904,747. The top two contributors gave 100 percent of the donations to the committee. West Flagler Associates, LTD gave $900,000 in cash and Hialeah Park gave $81,832 in in-kind services. West Flagler Associates, LTD owns and operates Magic City Casino and operates Flagler Greyhound Track, a dog and horse racing facility. Hialeah Park is a racing and casino gaming facility.[8][9]

        So really only one company opposes the measure…. the one company who is trying to get a casino gaming license approved for their properties (not on indian land).

        And the pro-amendment side (who have $40 million to blow on an ad campaign) is supposedly worried about these guys, who can’t even come up with a million bucks, buying off the legislature? Disney generally opposes all gambling in Florida, probably because it hurts their family-friendly brand. And they are the big dog in the legislature, being one of the state’s biggest cash cows with an army of employees located relatively closely to the legislature. The other big money source is the indian tribes casino lobby… the ones who are exempted from the amendment and who stand to have their monopoly on gambling permanently protected.

        But yeah, it is all about “voters”

        1. Legislatures are cheap.

    2. It’s a waste of time to overthink this. I vote no if the mailers regarding the ballot measure have pictures of kids or endorsements by teachers, cops, firefighters or nurses.

  9. I say let the chickens decide, once they reach voting age.

    1. 18 in human years or chicken years? If in chicken years, I may eat them first!!!

  10. Pretty much universally I vote NO on any such initiatives, including and especially constitutional amendments. We have about 2 or 3 amendments every time in my state and they always sound like something we want, but I never trust them. I’m cynical, but expect that something named “Victims Bill of Rights” will quickly become the worst possible thing for victims, and that “Timmy’s Anti-Cancer Initiative” will cause cancer in innumerable Timmy’s.

  11. When I lived in Cali, my voting method was simple. Read the Con argument for reasons to vote yes. Read the Pro argument for reasons to vote no.

    If in doubt, vote no.

    Takes very little time.

    1. LOL

      This is how most of these are in Washington state anymore too! There is actually one I might vote for though… It proactively forbids local governments from throwing on soda taxes and the like. While I generally prefer local control on all things, it’s specifically tailored enough to where all it’s really doing is banning retarded TARGETED local taxes. I think I might go for that one.

  12. Yet they are called upon to make complex fiscal decisions based usually on campaign mailers and ballot titles.

    And most are smart enough to vote no on anything requiring spending of tax dollars.

    (now an initiative to put politicians into small cages would win by a landslide)

  13. Funny thing is, I probably feel worse for animals being “mistreated” than humans… Why? Because humans usually cause their own problems, and animals are at our mercy.

    I try to buy free range/cage free type meat/eggs most of the time. I can afford it, and the animals do usually get a slightl quality of life bump out of things.

    That said, it’s really not the governments place PERIOD to prevent animal cruelty… Even if it IS cruel by reasonable standards.

    Thing is with something like this, you KNOW it’s not using reasonable standards. And you know it will be just horrible structured, none of the specifics will make sense, etc. So I would definitely shoot something like this down, even though I personally have a little bit of a soft spot on this issue.

  14. I disagree. California’s legislature is so given over to cronyism and corporate interests that the people do have a need to take matters into their own hand. If criticizing this measure endangers the real forces that brought in Prop 13, then I’d rather keep the opportunity to vote no on this one. To be honest, I don’t think food from corporate farming is that healthy, it’s already subsidized, and the regulatory authorities can be – and have been – bought. Regarding the argument most Californians don’t know much about the issue: well, maybe you should know something about your food. What I wish they did was put who paid for the signature collection in the ballot handbook so it’s more clear this is, in fact, a wolf-in sheeps clothing measure. The worst one right now is San Francisco’s Prop B – it’s a “Privacy” measure that actually overturns the sunshine ordinance to protect the “privacy” of corrupt officials.

    There are important reforms such as requiring minimum turnout (I’m a bit of a libertarian heretic when I say I would go as far as mandatory voting as is the case in Australia – you are still allowed to spoil your ballot by leaving it blank as long as you cast it. Otherwise you get a fine.)

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