California has long been considered a progressive if not radical state for the number and types of ballot measures that voters face every election season.  This year is no different.  With most of the focus centering on Proposition 8 and gay marriage little attention has been paid to another measure that could have a wide economic effect on the state’s economy.

Proposition 2 which is an animal rights measure would give farm animals the right to spread their hooves and claws , rather than being confined to small cages that limit their movement as is the case with many chickens, pigs and cows.

But California doesn’t have a major veal or pork industry so the focus is on the henhouses in the state and their resident egg layers.

The battle lines are drawn with egg producers on one side claiming that this meausre would drive up production costs and therefore prices to consumers while as Wayne Pacelle, the president and chief executive of the Humane Society of of the United States (HSUS) feels that if they are going to killed for food that they deserve to be treated with decency and a semblence of life.

Maybe Mr. Pacelle insists that everything he eats be labeled as having been raised and treated more like a human being but my main concern is having a reliable and safe food supply.  I have eaten free range turkey compliments of a friend of mine and while it was vey tasty it wasn’t worth the substantial premium they paid to salve their conscience.

There is a lot at stake here.  California is the fifth largest producer- and number 1 consumer of eggs can’t afford anything that puts a dent in their economy.  Facing a massive budget deficit the last thing the state needs is a neasure that drives up costs to businesses and consumers as the economy softens.

Both sides have poured a lot of money into this campaign with the Humane Society dropping about $4 million thus far and the pro-egg Californians for Safe Food raising $6.7 million .  All this over hens and eggs.

Besides veterinary groups that have split on the issue Hollywood couldn’t resist getting in on the action.  Oprah Winfrey the Obama kingmaker recently devoted an episode of her show to the subject, complete with  mock-ups of animals in cages.  We all know what an expert Oprah is on animal rights.

There is a good chance that the measure will pass but with a soft economy and the threat of increased food prices it isn’t guaranteed even in California.