Drivers of Resident Support for Animal Care Oriented Ballot Initiatives

By Tonsor, Glynn T.; Wolf, Christopher A. | Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, August 2010 | Go to article overview

Drivers of Resident Support for Animal Care Oriented Ballot Initiatives


Tonsor, Glynn T., Wolf, Christopher A., Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics


Recent high profile incidents and public debates in the United States have highlighted the increasing interest residents have regarding animal rearing and handling practices. This paper examines resident support for national legislation that mirrors Proposition 2, which in November 2008 passed in California. Results suggest perceptions regarding animal welfare information accuracy of livestock industry and consumer groups are particularly influential determinants of voting behavior and demand. The analysis also suggests residents may not fully appreciate price or tax implications when supporting additional animal welfare legislation. Implications for livestock industry and policy makers are provided along with suggestions for additional research.

Key Words: animal handling and welfare, ballot initiatives, information accuracy, legislation, Proposition 2, voting behavior, willingness to pay

JEL Classifications: Q18, Q13, Q11

U.S. residents are increasingly concerned with practices used in producing their food, demanding increased transparency and more information on production practices employed through their support of related ballot initiatives and new legislation in multiple states. The highest profile example is the passing of Proposition 2 in California on November 3, 2008. Proposition 2 prohibits California livestock producers from the "confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs" (California Secretary of State, 2008). The particular species and production segments discussed in Proposition 2 were calves raised for veal, egglaying hens, and gestating sows/gilts. Similarly, ballot initiatives were previously passed in Rorida and Arizona imposing similar restrictions on the use of gestation stalls by swine producers (Videras, 2006). Moreover, Oregon, Colorado, Maine, and Michigan have adopted related boundaries on livestock production practices via state legislation, rather than ballot initiatives. Most recently, residents in Ohio have voted to create the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which is charged with establishing statewide livestock care standards (Ohio Secretary of State, 2009).

There are several key aspects of these stateby-state events that raise important policy and economic implication issues. First, it is noteworthy that the timeline of implementation varies across the states in question. For instance, Proposition 2 in California provides about 6 years for adjustment while the legislation adopted in Michigan provides producers with over 10 years to adjust their practices. Second, these passed ballot initiatives and adopted pieces of state legislation vary with respect to the species in question. This patchwork of adjustments across the country leads to a range of developing (at least short-run) comparative advantage disparities across states. For instance, at the time of this writing, pork producers in Iowa are free to use gestation stalls while producers in Michigan and California will legally have to remove existing gestation stalls by 2019 and 2015, respectively. If national markets for hogs and pork do not differentiate based on gestation housing practices, these changes create regional cost differences and hence profit advantages for some producers.

One can envision a political push in the near future to "level the playing field" by imposing national legislation that establishes common animal welfare standards for all livestock producers of a particular species. Precedent exists for national animal welfare legislation. For instance, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has been a vocal supporter of federal legislation permanently banning the slaughter of horses (HSUS, 2009).

A relevant question to assess is whether animal welfare legislation has support nationally. The only known analysis of animal welfare legislation voting behavior of U.S. residents is provided by Tonsor, Wolf, and Olynk (2009). …

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