In an unprecedented alliance, The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers are calling on the U.S. Senate to pass an amendment to the Farm Bill to improve the treatment of more than 250 million egg-laying hens and provide a stable and secure future for U.S. egg farmers.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has filed the amendment, No. 2252, with a bipartisan list of cosponsors. Her proposal is identical to S. 3239 and its House companion, H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012.
The HSUS and UEP have been locked in a decade-long battle over egg production practices, but with this carefully negotiated legislative initiative, they’ve come together and identified common ground to move forward on hen housing standards that balance animal welfare and the economic realities of the industry. The groups reached an agreement last summer to work together to seek federal legislation and that agreement expires on June 30, 2012.
“With so much division and acrimony in Washington, D.C., here’s a remarkable example of two adversaries and key stakeholders working hard to find common ground and charting a way forward that’s better for animals and better for the egg industry,” says Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS.
“It’s my hope that senators break free of the old paradigm–animal advocates versus agriculture industries–and recognize that this solution serves all parties, especially consumers. Failure to enact this provision will mean that the egg industry and animal advocates will go back to costly state-by-state battles that will slow down progress, cost both sides hundreds of millions of dollars, and leave all parties with uncertain outcomes.”
The legislation will require egg producers to essentially double the space allotted per hen and make other important animal welfare improvements during a tiered phase-in period that allows farmers time to make the investments in better housing, with the assurance that all will face the same requirements by the end of the phase-in period.
The legislation has a diverse coalition of backers in industry, animal welfare, science-based groups, and consumer protection, including the UEP, The HSUS, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Avian Pathologists, Association of Avian Veterinarians, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Farm Sanctuary, Mercy For Animals, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League, and state and regional agricultural and egg producer groups including the Arkansas Egg Council, Association of California Egg Farmers, Colorado Egg Producers Association, Florida Poultry Association, Georgia Egg Association, Michigan Agri-Business Association, Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, New England Brown Egg Council, North Carolina Egg Association, Ohio Egg Processors Association and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.
“This legislation will help ensure the American consumers continue to have a wide variety and uninterrupted supply of eggs at affordable prices,” says Gene Gregory, president of UEP.
“Our industry is being endangered by the growing patchwork of differing and contradictory state laws and ballot initiatives that are impeding the free flow of interstate commerce in eggs that is so vital to grocers, restaurateurs, food manufacturers and consumers. The Farm Bill is a perfect opportunity to enact a national standard which is important to the egg industry, improve the lives of animals, and protect family farmers and agricultural jobs.”
“This is a matter of self-determination for the egg industry,” says David Lathem, second-generation egg farmer from Georgia and chairman of UEP. “No other sector of animal agriculture should prevent our industry from innovating, improving animal welfare, and finding best practices that will protect our farmers and answer major questions posed by consumers.”
The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 would:
- require conventional cages to be replaced during an ample phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide each egg-laying hen nearly double the amount of current space;
- require that, after a phase-in period, all egg-laying hens be provided with environmental enrichments such as perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas that will allow hens to express natural behaviors;
- require labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs: “eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from hens in enriched cages,” “eggs from cage-free hens” and “eggs from free-range hens”;
- prohibit feed- or water-withdrawal molting to extend the laying cycle, a practice already prohibited by the United Egg Producers Certified program;
- require standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association for euthanasia of egg-laying hens;
- prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses; and
- prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements.
If enacted, the proposal would require egg producers to incrementally increase the amount of space hens are given over the next 15 to 18 years. (Phase-in schedules are more rapid in California, consistent with a ballot initiative approved earlier by that state’s voters.)
Currently, the majority of hens are each provided 67 square inches of space, with up to 40 million receiving 48 square inches. The proposed phase-in would culminate with a minimum of 124 square inches of space for white hens and 144 for brown hens nationwide.
A very limited number of farmers have begun to invest in enrichable cage housing systems in hopes that this legislation will pass and provide clarity for what is acceptable hen housing in all states in the future.
An economic study conducted by the independent research group Agralytica indicates that the changes are expected to increase consumer prices by fewer than 2 cents per dozen, spread out over an 18-year period. This very small increase, which will only happen years into the future, is much less than natural price fluctuations based on a variety of other factors such as energy, feed and distribution costs.
S. 3239 is cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Scott Brown, R-Mass., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Susan Collins, R-Maine, John Kerry, D-Mass., Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., David Vitter, R-La. and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. It is identical to H.R. 3798, introduced in January by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif. and Jeff Denham, R-Calif., which now has approximately 70 cosponsors.