California eggs are more expensive – thank pseudoscience

There are lots of things that annoy scientists. Creationists. Climate change deniers. The antivaccination horde. GMO haters. The list really is quite long.

I talk about most of them quite a bit, because they are so fun to mock. And their denial can be harmful to our society and many species (including our own, humans). And these anti-science groups seem to ignore the consequences of their denialism.

One day I was grocery shopping, and I noticed that my California eggs are more expensive – why? Then I investigated it, and found out there were two reasons: first our massive drought. Not much we can do about that, except glare at the climate change deniers.

But the second reason troubled me quite a bit. And that’s the point of this article.

Background

 

There’s one anti-science group that can truly irritate the scientific community–animal rights activists. With little or no consideration of the effects of their “beliefs,” they attack scientific research on animals, they attack most kinds of livestock agriculture, and whatever else is the cause of the day.

Yes, these activists sometimes have good motives. They essentially rely upon the words widely attributed to Mohandas Gandhi, but not found in his works, “the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Whether or not Gandhi ever said that (more likely not), it really should state that the “greatness of a nation should be judged on the way it treats its weakest citizens.”

You know, like making sure that all citizens are vaccinated against infectious and deadly diseases. Making certain that everyone has access to affordable and high quality health care. Not causing food prices to rise because of GMO labeling and other nonsense.

However, I will concede that the animal rights groups sometimes do good things. They fight against abuse against pets. They have fought for appropriate standards for how we treat animals in movies, laboratories, and other places.

The problem is that they then push some sort of pseudoscience as the basis of their activism, without any realization of the consequences of their activities.

For example, they make some really broad unscientific claims, especially in basic medical research that uses animal models. They think that biomedical research can be mostly done by using cell cultures or computer models. Yes, some of it can be, but those models are overly simplistic, and before we endanger human life with a new drug or treatment modality, mammals, everything from rats and mice to dogs and cats to primates are used as human proxies to understand if something is safe and/or effective.

Sometimes I wonder if these groups would rather we just drop new drugs in human volunteers without animal testing, because maybe they think the value of human life is different (let’s put it out there, less than) animal life. Sure, I might be pushing this to some extreme, but that’s how I feel.

What’s this got to do with why California eggs are more expensive? Well, there’s a story.

Proposition 2 and California egg prices

 

In 2008, California voters were asked to vote on Proposition 2, Standards for Confining Farm Animals.  The proposition required that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.

The proposition made exceptions made for transportation, rodeos, fairs, 4-H programs, lawful slaughter, research and veterinary purposes (surprising exceptions actually). The law provided for
misdemeanor penalties for violations, including a fine not to exceed $1,000 and/or imprisonment in jail for up to 180 days.

California does not raise much veal or pigs, so really this law was focused on egg-laying hens. And therein lies the problem.

The Proposition 2 proponents basically made one basic argument – chickens under stress, caused by intense confinement, have compromised immune systems. This then leads to contamination by pathogens such as Salmonella.

The problem is that the evidence is rather weak, probably nonexistent. Typical of many political arguments, both sides tend to over-exaggerate claims that support one side or refutes the other. It’s rather difficult to find a scientific consensus, because there is none.

But generally, the Centers for Disease Control make a case that the poultry industry does a pretty good job in controlling egg pathogens (pdf). Egg processors constantly test for Salmonella contamination, which is the best way to prevent contamination.

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Furthermore, “free range” chickens are less controlled. They can encounter animals that harbor avian flu or other pathogens, transmitting it to the eggs. The chicken’s food sources are less controlled which can lower productivity and increase risks of disease. So, it’s complicated, very complicated.

The research is this area is generally a back and forth with biased claims, although there is just no evidence that chickens raised in the tight spaces that were used in California mattered all that much in pathogenic contamination. That didn’t stop the proponents for jumping on the precautionary principle, that is, we should stop it until we have guaranteed evidence that it’s safe. That’s why it’s a logical fallacy.

But the Proposition 2 proponents then moved on from weak science to pure pseudoscience and economic misinformation. Here’s some of their other claims:

  1. The measure ends the cruel and inhumane confinement of specified animals on factory farms, requiring their living spaces to be big enough for them to turn around, lie down, and fully extend their legs and/or wings.
  2. The initiative does not require that they be kept outside of cages or live outdoors.
  3. The supporters claimed that “family” farms will have an increased competitive edge over larger factory farms.
  4. Finally, the proponents of the proposition stated that the Big Agra maximizes their own profits by compromising on animal welfare and human health.

As for “cruel and inhuman,” it’s hard for me to accept that, since it’s based on a magical doctrine that there is some sort of morality involved with a food animal. Since I completely and utterly dismiss concepts like souls or other nonsense, a chicken and its eggs are food. There is not a chicken god that will come down from Mt. Poultry and zap me.

There is no morality when it comes to food. It’s ridiculous, as much as it to think that a lion should consider whether killing a gazelle is morality. Sure, one could make a case that growing animal protein contributes to the carbon footprint of the planet, but that’s not really an argument regarding “cruel and inhumane” confinement (which are human-centric concerns). A carbon footprint can be objectively measured, and then that could become the basis for an argument that it contributes to global climate change.

Maybe if you think that chickens are sentient, a characteristic that is difficult to pinpoint, you could make an argument against the conditions that the chickens encounter. But I would need a lot of evidence to convince me that a chicken is aware of itself, one of the components of sentience. I am troubled that I would have to accept someone’s definition of what is “moral” on something so nebulous as a chicken’s self image. It’s food, and eventually it will be killed as food.

Nevertheless, the proposition passed by an overwhelming margin, 63.4% to 36.6%. The only counties in the state that voted against the Proposition were in California’s agricultural counties in the Central Valley. And regulations based on the proposition were effective 1 January 2015.

But let’s move away from the philosophical argument that will be pointless because once one accepts the pseudoscience that chickens are sentient, it’s not possible to have a logical discussion.

About those egg prices

 

The proponents used that hackneyed canard that “Big Agra” is evil. Their claims were essentially that small farmers would be more competitive in the market. Well, what it really means is that the expensive eggs from small farmers would be priced competitively with the now expensive eggs from Big Agra. That doesn’t sound like a good thing.

The average wholesale price of large eggs in the USA is around $2.00 per dozen. The average wholesale price of large eggs in California is around $3.00 per dozen, or 50% higher than the rest of the country. The difference would be greater in a normal year, because an avian flu influenza epidemic in the midwest and southeast (about which I was surprised to learn) reduced flocks by more than 47 million during the winter of 2014-2015, causing large increases in prices there.

That epidemic bypassed California (thank you Rocky Mountains). In a normal year, where non-California chicken stocks remained high, the differences in prices of eggs would be larger.

Once again, part of the California price difference is drought which increases the cost of feed and water. But it’s not all of it.

California egg producers have had substantially increased costs because of the implementation of Proposition 2. I was thinking that maybe less costly eggs could be shipped in from Iowa or something – great idea, except the animal rights activists, and, ironically, California egg producers, got the state legislature to pass a bill, AB1437, that blocks eggs from anywhere else in the country that were not produced under the regulations of Proposition 2.

Furthermore, because of the new regulations, according to the Los Angeles Times, “California chickens produced about 311 million eggs in April (2015), down nine million from March and down 78 million from April 2014. The number of laying hens was about 13 million, down from 16.7 million at this time last year.” One does not have to be an Nobel Prize winner in economics to understand that if supply drops with constant demand, prices go up. A lot.

And here we are. A new law that substantially raises the prices of eggs based on no science, bad science, and pseudoscience.

Eggs are a great protein source for many people. They are relatively cheap (except in California). They are easy to cook. They are fairly easy to store. And this law has it’s greatest effect on those who most need the protein in eggs – the disadvantaged.

This frustrates me beyond anything. Bad science, pushed, in this case, by those progressives who think they’re doing good things, causes harm to those who can least afford the price increase. Again, based on weak or bad science at best, pseudoscience at worse.

It’s the same exact ignorance pushed by other (or similar) groups that wants to label GMO foods, which has only one real effect – raise food prices for those who cannot afford it.

I know, you environmental fascists are happy in your anti-GMO, unvaccinated, free range world in Beverly Hills. But most Californians don’t live in that fantasy world.

And this is more evidence that you care more for your white privileged junk, cargo cult science than you do for your fellow human beings.

Well, every week I buy a few things, including 3 or 4 dozen eggs, and drop them by the local food center for the poor (this is how I knew egg prices went up). I do it because I am white and privileged, but I have a responsibility to humanity because I got where I got because of so many other people.

Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you don’t realize that school districts across the state, that have to feed kids who aren’t white and privileged, need to pay more to feed them properly. Or that a working mother has to decide to switch to a lower quality protein to feed her kids. Maybe you’ll just claim that if they ate organic lentils instead, it would be better for their children.

California eggs are more expensive, so I guess I can blame the climate change deniers and animal rights advocates. Irony meter broken, again.

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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!