By WES SANDER

Capital Press

A bill that would apply California's animal-welfare law to out-of-state egg producers has gone to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk without the amendments that producers originally hoped for.

The bill, AB1437, would apply the rules created by Proposition 2 to producers whose shelled eggs are sold in California. Prop. 2, enacted by voters in 2008, mandates that food-animal enclosures allow freedom of movement. It applies mostly to the state's egg production.

California's egg industry saw the bill, by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, as an opportunity to define the cage sizes permissible under Prop. 2. But the Humane Society of the United States, the initiative's principal proponent, has argued that there exist no commercially viable cages that could satisfy the law.

Producers have said they need the cage sizes specified in order to plan construction of new barns and approach banks for financing. With Prop. 2 set to take effect in 2015, time is beginning to run short, said Dennis Albiani, spokesman for the Association of California Egg Farmers.

"We will continue to pursue that," Albiani said. "We'll work with the administration, we'll work with the Legislature. We do believe that ambiguity is difficult to deal with for a producer."

Huffman put his bill on hold last July to allow the sides to settle the argument. But an unrelated court decision later established that a ballot initiative cannot be amended by the Legislature.

The state's egg industry has taken a neutral stance on Huffman's bill. It is divided among members who produce in California only, those who produce in and out of state and those who purchase outside eggs to supplement deliveries.

HSUS said it pushed for a "performance-based" standard for the statute, mandating that animals be allowed to move freely.

An "engineering" standard specifying cage measurements would have generated resistance for "over-architecting how farmers produce," HSUS California director Jennifer Fearing said.

Fearing said the standard also leaves the possibility open for future systems that might comply. Currently, only a cage-free system offers that possibility, despite farmers' protests that it allows hens to pile up in corners and results in dirty conditions, Fearing said.

"Good animal welfare is at least possible in a cage-free environment," she said.

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