The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) applaud the introduction of S. 3239, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., with Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Scott Brown, R-Mass., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., David Vitter, R-La., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. joining as original cosponsors. This measure is the Senate companion 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.
Sen. Feinstein introduced the bill to push forward improvements in housing for 280 million hens used in U.S. egg production, while providing a stable future for egg farmers.
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 an unusually diverse coalition of backers in industry, animal welfare and consumer protection, including the UEP, HSUS, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Avian Pathologists, Association of Avian Veterinarians, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Farm Sanctuary, 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,” said Gene Gregory, president of United Egg Producers, which represents farmers who produce nearly 90% of the eggs in the U.S. “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 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 increase space per hen in a tiered phase-in, with the amount of space hens are given increasing, in intervals, 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 50 million receiving just 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.
“This is legislation that egg farmers want and need to survive,” said David Lathem, second-generation egg farmer from Georgia and chairman of United Egg Producers. “Because it is an amendment to the Egg Products Inspection Act it only affects egg farmers: no other farmers would be impacted. We thank the Senator for her leadership.”
This legislation (and the unusual pairing behind it) does have many opponents within agriculture including National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Egg Farmers of America; the National Pork Producers Council; the National Milk Producers Federation; the American Sheep Industry; and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“This bill would result in mandated animal care standards based largely on the political goals of an animal rights group that seeks to eventually shut down animal agriculture by government mandate,” said Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau president. “The bill ignores the science supporting the consensus among mainstream agricultural veterinarians, animal scientists and livestock producers. We see this legislation as an attempt by a radical animal rights group to legitimize a policy package that will undoubtedly be used to bully other livestock producers.”