Jennifer Fearing is the campaign manager for the Yes on Prop. 2 – Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. We met a couple of years ago when you were about to move to DC.
Did you miss Sacramento?
I did miss Sacramento quite a bit. I underestimated my interest in being part of the Sacramento community. Anyone who has spent time in both would probably appreciate that. But I gotta admit that I mostly missed my role as unofficial animal beat reporter for The Roundup. But truthfully, with respect to the initiative, I really could imagine a historic campaign where so many animal lives and so much cruelty at stake going on in my home state and not being part of it.
Let's do a quick recap on your career.
I went to Harvard. I'm trained as an economist. I got my masters in public policy with a business and economics focus. I went on to work for an economic research and consulting firm in LA for two years, and then moved up to their Sacramento office for the next six.
Somewhere in the last two years of that job I started getting interested in animal issues. I found a dog in a parking lot and went to an animal shelter with him and found out what happens. I got really engage philanthropically with animal issues in Sacramento. I started a spay/neuter group that's still going strong today, the Sacramento Area Animal Coalition. Then I found that my job was impeding my philanthropic work.
Then there was an opening at a group called United Animal Nations. That's primarily disaster relief work for animals but also lobbying work. I jumped to work professionally on animal issues and become the CEO of UAN after a few months. After a couple rounds in the legislature and a couple of giant disasters-you might have heard of the one called Katrina-I saw an opportunity to really merge my training as an economist with public policy issues.
I felt there was rarely a voice for the economic issues that come up in every single bill. We were prepared to show up to policy committees, but not to fiscal committees. We were open to attack on issues on the economic front. But I could find holes all the time in those arguments.
The Humane Society of the United States is the world's largest animal protection organization, with 10.5 million members nationwide, 1.2 million in California. They just really have the most capacity to do our mission, which is to celebrate animals and prevent cruelty. I just felt like I could make a bigger difference in an organization of that size. So I've done my couple years on the mother ship in DC, where I was the chief economist and still am. I'm working as campaign manager as an in-kind donation from the Humane Society.
Let's talk about the initiative and the economic arguments being raised against it.
To be clear, the Humane Societies position is that it's cruel to keep animals in cages so small they can't even turn around or extend their limbs. The economic argument is one we are reacting to as raised by our opponents. We see this as a modest measure. There is a phase-out period through 2015 that producers have to comply.
After more than a year of studying the ag industry, particularly in California, I still feel comfortable relying mostly on a report that was done by a California-based poultry economist for the industry that concluded that the difference in pricing for hens raised in cage-free environments versus in the confining cages this initiative seeks to phase out is less than an additional penny per egg.
The only opponents were really facing on this are the egg industry. Even though there are three abuses this initiative addresses-the tethering of veal calves in crates and the keeping of pregnant pigs in cages they can't turn around in. Because of our successes in other states on the other two, the industry is already moving away from those voluntarily.
The economic issues are really being raised by the egg industry. The price difference you would see in the grocery store between cage free eggs and caged eggs is not indicative of the true cost difference. There's an ethical premium that's being charged. And frankly there's a supply shortage that's allowing grocery stores and producers to charge a higher price on caged free eggs than is justified by the cost difference. The cage free, free range and organic market-called the specialty market-experience dramatically higher profit margins. They've been making record profits in the egg industry, even on battery cage eggs.
So you used to run with Lloyd Levine?
Yes, and we've gone running together since I got back. I'll also pick up my mantle as one of his animal advisors, though he seems to be quite busy in my absence.
You have a reputation as a pretty hard worker. What do you like to do when you're not working.
I hiked Half Dome last weekend. We started at 4 a.m. and were back down by around 2:30, so we were cooking. The cables are scary enough without factoring in tons more people. I've climbed it before, but I actually went out on the diving board this time, the little tiny lip. I had a bit of a fear of that, so I conquered that.
I like to spend time with my dog, which probably wouldn't come as a surprise. [His name is] Yoda. He's some kind of greyhound/pit bull/something mix. He's the best kind of dog there is, a dog from the shelter.