Building a better hen house in Modesto

J.S. West and Cos., an egg producer based in Modesto, announced Tuesday that it will build a henhouse aimed at complying with Proposition 2.

This will be the first commercial project that meets the standards for hen enclosures approved by state voters last year, company President Eric Benson said.

The Humane Society of the United States, a leading backer of the proposition, disagreed. It said the new housing, increasing the floor space per hen to 116 square inches, would leave the birds too cramped.

Benson said he was not surprised by the reaction and plans to move forward with the $3.2 million project. It will house about 150,000 hens, 8 percent of the company's flock, at one of its operations near Livingston.

"No matter what the Humane Society thinks, we believe at J.S. West that this housing is Proposition 2-compliant," Benson said.

The project is scheduled for completion in June. Benson said he would like to convert the rest of the company's henhouses by the measure's 2015 deadline, but its wording needs to be clarified before much more money is invested.

Jennifer Fearing, senior state director for the Humane Society, said both sides in the battle over Proposition 2 agreed last year that it would not allow the enclosures planned by J.S. West.

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