The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and United Egg Producers (UEP) today announced a major initiative that will attempt to create a new national standard for egg farmers.

The two organizations, which have long been adversaries debating the welfare of hens used for the nation’s egg supply, jointly announced their new partnership, which will ask Congress to pass federal legislation for the egg industry.

“It is for us a very exciting moment not only because animal welfare is important … but because we are finding common ground,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS, in the announcement.

“It’s a truly exciting moment for the nation when two powerful organization like the HSUS and UEP can come together and find a pathway forward.”

The proposed legislation will require egg producers to replace their conventional cages. The UEP currently requires cages to offer each hen at least 67­–86 square inches of space, but the new plan will require nearly double that amount.

The legislation would also require producers to enrich their hen housing systems with things like perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas; prohibit excessive ammonia levels in houses; and prohibit feed- or water-withholding molting to extend the laying cycle.

Further, a new labeling system will be mandated for egg cartons, creating four distinct type of eggs: eggs from caged hens, eggs from hens in enriched cages, eggs from cage-free hens, and eggs from free-range hens.

Pacelle said producers would have 15­–18 years to make the changes. The sale of eggs and egg products that don’t meet the requirements would be prohibited.

“It’s essentially a graduated program to allow egg producers to invest in what they need to invest in to refurbish all of the hen houses in the United States,” he said, adding that it will be a roughly $4 billion investment for the industry.

“We think its time for that to happen. The American public … supports animal welfare.”

The proposed legislation would supersede state laws, such as those passed in California and Michigan and those proposed in Washington and Oregon.

“We believe a national standard is vastly preferable to conflicting laws and regulations,” said Bob Krouse, chairman of the UEP, during the announcement.

The partnership ends years of disagreement between the HSUS and UEP, which represents an industry that houses around 280 million egg-laying hens.

“For many years the HSUS and egg farmers have been adversaries trying to prove our points,” said Chad Gregory, senior vice president of the UEP, in the announcement. “Today we stand together shaking hands, publicly stating we’ll make a difference for all of the millions of hens in this country.”

By Sam Oches