We had a departmental seminar yesterday by Professor Dan Sumner of the University of California at Davis and former Assistant Secretary for Economics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He spoke on Proposition #2 in California: the animal welfare proposition*. In particular, the passage of the proposition requires egg laying hens be housed in cages which allow them to stretch their wings for a majority of the day. In his discussion Professor Sumner raised an interesting behavioral anomaly (in a scratch-your-head kind of way). Before proposition #2, cage-free eggs were already available in supermarkets alongside traditional cage eggs. Yet, cage-free eggs accounted for only a tiny portion of total egg sales in California. Proposition #2 passed with roughly 63% of the vote, thereby banning cage-egg production in California. If Californians really cared about the welfare of hens, wouldn't they have bought cage-free eggs without the regulation?
Why would 63% of Californians vote to impose a restriction on themselves (and others) which they have failed to reveal when free to make the choice on their own?
*Here is Wikipedia's summary of Sumner's work on Prop 2: "In July 2008 the University of California, Davis conducted a study through their University of California Agricultural Issues Center (AIC). The study concluded that "the best evidence from a variety of sources suggests that (non-organic) non-cage systems incur costs of production that are at least 20 percent higher than the common cage housing systems". This is due to higher feed costs, higher hen laying mortality, higher direct housing costs, and higher labor costs. The study also estimated that almost the entire California egg industry would relocate to other states during the 5-year adjustment period. The study does not analyze implications for animal welfare. By demonstrating that most egg producers would leave the state, the report estimates that the initiative would not affect how eggs are produced, only where eggs are produced."